'Old man' Moran dies in obscurity

The story so far: Despite their protestations of innocence, Bugs Moran and his gang got 10 years apiece for the robbery of a Dayton taverner. Their time is now almost up, but their troubles are far from over.

Ten years in the Ohio Penitentiary finally wiped the smirk from Bugs Moran's face.

In 1956, he emerged from the longest sentence he had ever served, a 63-year-old with failing eyesight and the nickname "Old Man." The guy who once brawled with cops and court bailiffs had been thoroughly pacified. He spent his prison time as head nurse of the male psychiatric ward, and his supervisor rated him "better than average in his attitude toward work."

He and his partner Virgil Summers, both serving time for robbing a Dayton barkeeper, were released the same day, but neither tasted a second of freedom. They were under indictment for a 1945 Ansonia bank job, and federal agents were waiting at the prison door to whisk them back to Dayton for another trial.

Local fascination in Moran, the bootlegging legend, had dwindled since his first trial, when the city packed the courtroom and devoured front-page headlines to keep up with the latest twist. The spectators this time were sparse, save for a gaggle of curious Oakwood High students, and the proceedings were shoved to the back of local papers.

Moran, a one-time millionaire, was broke after a decade in the slammer, and his wife was long gone. He couldn't afford a lawyer, so the judge appointed Jack Patricoff to defend him.

Patricoff was a tough-talking, bespectacled criminal law specialist who enjoyed mixing with society's lower elements - as long as he was paid. Though Moran was indigent, he promised Patricoff $10,000, implying, perhaps, that he could still access his ill-gotten cash.

Moran was little help in his own defense. He didn't want to talk about the facts of the case, saying there was nothing to the charges. He told Patricoff to base his argument on the claim that he hadn't been given a speedy trial, and therefore, should face no trial at all.

That approach gave Patricoff little ammunition when Roy Montgomery Foster took the stand.

Foster had been in Moran's bank-and-bar-robbing syndicate, and laid out the plot for the jurors. He said he and Moran acted as lookouts when the gang broke into the Citizens State Bank in Ansonia. Al Fouts - the Dayton crook who had been convicted with Moran and Summers for the barkeeper's robbery - cracked the vault.

The gang tore out the safe deposit boxes, opening them with a sledgehammer, punch and screwdriver. They put the money into baskets they had stolen from a nearby grocery store.

Foster said he came across Summers stuffing money into his clothes during the robbery.

"I got my orders to do my work and not say anything, or I would have been knocked in the head with a sledgehammer," he said.

Patricoff and the lawyers for Fouts and Summers attacked Foster, a life-long jailbird who was serving time in Indiana for assaulting a cop. But their denunciations were as weightless as dust. The men got five years apiece.

Moran didn't kick. He told Patricoff he was disappointed, but that the trial had been fair. He was shipped to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., without a squawk.

A month later, he was dead. Lung cancer had finally finished the job Al Capone botched.

* * *

Drive around Dayton now and you won't catch the slightest whiff of those days when a celebrity gangster set the town afire with gossip and headlines. Even the ghosts are dead.

The city long ago scraped away the rabble of downtown bars and apartment houses where Al Fouts schemed, replacing them with the sterile bunkers of Sinclair Community College. The old county court building and jail are empty spaces on Courthouse Square, and the central police station is a parking lot.

As for Fouts and Virgil Summers, both went to Leavenworth alongside Moran and were released five years later, in 1961. Summers returned to his old turf of East St. Louis and was promptly chopped down by three blasts from a hit man's shotgun. No killer was ever arrested, but suspicion held that the murder was payback for hoarding the loot from the Ansonia robbery.

Fouts came back to Dayton and lived quietly until his death in 1981 at the age of 91. He never said a kind word about his former partners.

"They were vicious, double-dealing, double-crossing people," he told a reporter. "Moran was a bum."

It was a fitting epitaph. If Bugs Moran crosses anyone's mind today, it's as a footnote in Capone's magnificent career. For all history cares, he might as well have been in his warehouse when the men with the Tommy guns arrived that St. Valentine's Day.

But maybe Moran - buried in a cheap gray suit in a prison grave - deserves better. Chicago Judge John Lyle thought so.

Lyle, who had tried numerous prohibition-era gangsters, always thought that one day Moran's conscience would subdue his criminality. Shortly after Moran's death, he received a letter from the Leavenworth chaplain.

It was not a kingpin's requiem. Maybe it was even better.

"George Moran died a very peaceful death and was strengthened with the full Last Rites . . . while he was fully conscious," the chaplain wrote. "This happened some days before he died and was not a 'last ditch' stand. Your theory certainly proved out very satisfactory in his case.

"I am sure God in His mercy was very kind to him in his judgement."

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