Bug Moran meets Dayton bootlegger Al Fouts

The story so far: Bugs Moran, growing from a petty robber to Chicago's top bootlegger, has lost his gang in the St. Valentine's Day massacre. Now in a desperate search for new enterprises, he is about to be introduced to Dayton's criminal world.

Al Fouts was a little man who cast a deep shadow in downtown Dayton. He was the size of a jockey, rarely seen without a necktie or a frown, a fixture in the rough workingman's taverns on West Third Street.

This glum leprechaun on a barstool was an inviting target for a cutting remark, but nobody was that stupid. Everyone knew Fouts was pure underworld.

He had been a crook since the age of 18, when he was arrested for burglary. He graduated to safe-cracking and manslaughter, and was busted from California to Georgia. No sooner was he released from jail for one scheme than he hatched another.

"I'll live a semi-Christian life," he once said. "I'm no hypocrite, so I had better not say more."

Those who lived in the cramped apartment houses along Fourth Street gave Fouts a wide berth - until they were thirsty. Well after prohibition ended, Fouts sold illegal, untaxed liquor from the rooming house he owned. It was so popular that even the bar association catered its picnics with his whiskey.

It was this occupation, Fouts would later say, that led him to Chicago in 1944 to make the acquaintance of a man who really knew the booze game - a man named Bugs Moran.

Fortune turned her back on Moran in the years after the St. Valentine's Day massacre. With his top gunmen dead, he fled Chicago and tried to re-establish his power in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. The local mobsters, showing little respect for his past glory, ran him out.

He drifted back to Chicago in 1930 after promising Al Capone, who had gobbled up Moran's bootlegging territory, that he'd follow orders. He later changed his mind, and in 1932, set up a brewery and slot machine ring in an adjacent county. Capone supposedly paid him $500 a week to stay away from the city.

When he did show up on Chicago's streets, the police, no longer scared of his reputation or enriched by his payoffs, harassed him mercilessly.

"Why do you keep picking on me all the time?" he once complained after being arrested for vagrancy. "You know I'm legitimate."

"I guess it's because you look like Spike O'Donnell (a well-dressed Chicago hoodlum) with those spats on," the detective taunted.

Moran tried his hand at new enterprises, from shaking down dry cleaners to busting unions. In 1937, a witness told a Minneapolis murder inquest that Moran had threatened to kill a local labor leader if the man didn't stop organizing milk and ice cream truck drivers. Moran was never charged with the man's slaying.

As Chicago mob life raced along quite profitably in his absence, Moran took a desperate stab at returning to the big time.

Together with former bootlegger Frankie Parker, Moran in 1938 printed $62,000 in phony American Express traveler's checks. But the scheme disintegrated when their associates, contrary to the plan, tried passing the checks through retail stores instead of wholesalers. After much court maneuvering, Moran and Parker were sentenced to a year in prison.

Moran had been free on bail, and he went into hiding rather than report to the penitentiary. His escape came to a comical end three years later, when he got into a drunken sidewalk tussle with a Coast Guardsman and was picked up by the Chicago police. He told the booking officer admiring his natty green suit that he was "an asparagus salesman."

Moran served his year, but his luck didn't change upon his release in 1944. He was busted in Gary, Ind., for allegedly robbing a $4,000 dice game. He was indignant about the charge - the amount was beneath him, he said - and it never stuck.

About this time, Fouts, the dapper Dayton bootlegger, came to Chicago seeking new liquor connections. Moran may have been washed up, his once-flashy suits threadbare, but he still knew the racket, and upon their introduction the two became friendly. At some point, the talk of booze turned to other matters.

Fouts was no criminal prince, nowhere near the league of Dion O'Banion or Hymie Weiss, but he was tough, proven. He was the kind of guy a fellow could do business with.

In 1945, Moran left Chicago for good, moving to downstate Illinois and then Owensboro, Ky., where he and his wife lived in a rented mansion. He told people he was "a respectable oil man," pedaling drilling rights to Kentucky land.

But oil wasn't why, in April 1946, three men began shadowing Moran's every move. It wasn't why more were waiting for him two months later when he and a pal - a lanky murderer named Virgil Summers - paid Fouts a visit in Dayton.

A trap lay gaping in front of Moran. And he was heading straight into it.

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