This article was originally published in the SABR Black Sox Scandal Research Committee’s December 2017 newsletter.
The jury in the Black Sox criminal trial took two hours and forty-seven minutes to return its heavily anticipated verdict on August 2, 1921, in Chicago. As soon as the courtroom clerk began reading the announcement — “We, the jury, find the defendant, Claude Williams, not guilty” — the room erupted into pandemonium after the acquittal of the 1919 World Series fixers.
As the Chicago Tribune reported: “The courtroom was like a love feast as the jurors, lawyers, and defendants clapped each other on the back and exchanged congratulations.”1 Shoeless Joe Jackson and Lefty Williams were lifted onto jurors’ shoulders2 and paraded around the courtroom before the entire group gathered on the Cook County Courthouse steps for a photo.
Later that night, the ballplayers and their attorneys reportedly gathered for a celebration party “at a little Italian restaurant on Chicago’s west side.”3 During their dinner, they “accidentally met the twelve jurors” in an adjoining room. The “doors were thrown open” and the joint celebration “did not end until sunrise.” The jurors and the ballplayers “left the restaurant together singing, ‘Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here.’ ”4
It was an unusual confluence of events, to say the least, but the entire trial was full of strange shenanigans in Prohibition-era Chicago. One question that has seemingly never been answered: Where did this wild party take place?
The daughter of Eddie Cicotte’s attorney provided a clue to unlocking this mystery. Dan Cassidy was a childhood friend of the White Sox pitcher and a lawyer based in Detroit. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press in 1975, Betty Cassidy Swift talked about her father’s most famous case:
“I remember Dad telling us how Cicotte snuck into town from Chicago to see him. Dad went back to Chicago and successfully defended him. After the trial, Dad said they threw a big party at a place owned by Joe Esposito that was eventually taken over by Al Capone.”5
Giuseppe “Diamond Joe” Esposito was an influential bootlegger, labor racketeer, and political operative in the “Bloody 19th” Ward on the west side of Chicago. Overseeing a large district filled with Italian immigrants, Esposito helped former Illinois governor Charles S. Deneen get elected to the U.S. Senate. Deneen led a faction of the Republican party that clashed with Mayor William Hale Thompson and State’s Attorney Robert E. Crowe, whose office spearheaded the Black Sox prosecution in 1921.
At the time, Esposito owned and operated the popular Bella Napoli cafe, on South Halsted Street near Jane Addams’s Hull-House and the present-day University of Illinois at Chicago campus. This is likely where the Black Sox gathered on the night they were set free by the jury. It’s unclear if Esposito had any other connection to the trial, but he surely would have been pleased by the defendants’ victory over Crowe, his benefactor’s rival.
Originally opened in 1913, the Bella Napoli was called “the bright light of the near west side”6 and its owner, called “Dimey” by his friends, made everyone in town feel welcome. Every year, Esposito hosted hundreds of poor and itinerant children for a catered Christmas party and distributed baskets of toys to neighborhood kids. Esposito became renowned for his extravagant banquets, where a who’s who list of guests from the political and gangland worlds freely mingled. Diamond Joe lived up to his nickname by flaunting a gem-studded belt buckle with his initials engraved on it.
After the Volstead Act was passed in 1919, the Bella Napoli became a haven for illegal alcohol sales and distribution and, naturally, it was one of Al Capone’s favorite hangouts. Esposito’s restaurant employed some of the most notorious bootleggers in the country. Paul Ricca — who later took over Capone’s operation after the mob boss was sent to prison — acquired his nickname “The Waiter” after Esposito hired him to be the Bella Napoli’s maître d’.7
Esposito’s political connections couldn’t always shield him from Prohibition raids, and less than a year after the Black Sox and their jurors held a raucous party at the Bella Napoli, a federal judge ordered the cafe to shut down following a massive booze bust by U.S. Treasury agents.8 It re-opened in December 1923 for one night only — when Esposito was allowed to host his annual Christmas party for more than 800 children from the neighborhood slums and tenements.9
As his old friend Al Capone knocked off rival gang leaders and consolidated his power in the city throughout the 1920s, Esposito got caught up in Chicago’s mob wars. On March 21, 1928, one night after hosting a party for Sen. Deneen at the Congress Hotel — where the guest list included Judge Hugo Friend, who was on the bench for the Black Sox trial10 — Esposito was killed by a mysterious volley of shotgun blasts outside his home.
Among those attending his funeral in the freezing rain at Mount Carmel Cemetery were attorneys Michael Ahern and Thomas Nash, who had defended some of the Black Sox back in 1921.11 No one was ever charged with Esposito’s murder.
Here were the jurors selected for the Black Sox criminal trial in 1921:
- William Barry (jury foreman), 5949 West Lake Street, hydraulic press operator
- William H. Deutcher, Forest Park, automobile mechanic
- Andrew A.A. Johnson, 2855 Union Avenue, store fixtures
- Emil J. Groskopf, Harvey, Illinois, clerk
- Herbert J. Jordan, 6121 Kenwood Avenue, stationary engineer at Congress Hotel
- Paul E. Luebcke, 3926 North Hamilton Avenue, employee of Chicago Telephone Company
- Edward Linman, 1366 East 61st Street, clerk
- John Schoenhofer, 5124 South Paulina Avenue, foreman for Darling & Co. packers
- Stephen Shuben, 2524 North Springfield Avenue, a merchant
- Joseph Vesely, 3155 North Ridgeway Avenue, foreman for Air Motor Company
- Harry Willis, 7933 Muskegon Avenue, heater for Inland Steel Company
- Paul J. Zieske, 1635 Olive Avenue, florist
— Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1921
1 “Jury Frees Baseball Men,” Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1921.
2 “Jury Acquits White Sox After 2 hrs.; Lifts Them on Shoulders,” New York Tribune, August 3, 1921.
3 Des Moines Tribune, August 3, 1921, as cited in William F. Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial, and Civil Litigation (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013), 142-144.
5 Toni Jones, “Dan Cassidy is 93 and Still Active as an Attorney,” Detroit Free Press, August 27, 1975.
6 James O’Donnell Bennett, “Killings Show Close Alliance With Politics,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1929. Accessed online at https://chicagology.com/notorious-chicago/gangland9/ on June 14, 2017.
7 “Mob Head Ricca Dies,” The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California), October 12, 1972.
8 “Dry Agents Raid Cafes in Chicago,” The Brook Reporter (Brook, Indiana), July 7, 1922.
9 “When Santa and Uncle Sam Collaborate,” Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1923.
10 Bennett, “Killings Show Close Alliance With Politics.”
11 “Thousands Brave Blizzard to Attend Esposito Funeral,” Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1928.