Sunday, February 11, 2007

Jack McGurn

Amanda J. Parr's biography of Vincenzo Gibaldi (aka "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn) is better than most of the genre. Jack McGurn is another individual whose story is so much better than fiction.

Most people who follow 30's crime know that Jack McGurn began his career as a boxer and eventually caught the eye of Al Capone and became Capone's chief bodyguard. What isn't usually told is the story of how McGurn became a criminal. His father was a victim of a Black Hand shake down that ended his life. McGurn methodically tracked down is father's killers and exacted vengeance. According to Parr it was this act that brought McGurn to Capone's attention.

Parr manages to flesh out McGurn's character; her portrayal is a man who is decidedly human. She writes about McGurn's transformation from hardworking family man to lethal "family" man. The man who orchestrated the largest hit during prohibition comes across as more than a cold calculating killer. Don't get me wrong, Parr doesn't sugar coat McGurn's story or motives. A complex individual- yes: a good person -no.

I almost felt sorry for McGurn in the end when Nitti (who comes across as a jealous bastard) kicks McGurn out after Capone is jailed for tax evasion. Almost but not quite, it's impossible to read the book to the end and forget how much blood is on McGurn's hands. In my book McGurn goes down as yet another person who made a bad choice about how to live life and he died like he lived.


Maddog said...

Actually, Parr's McGurn bio, while very well written, is historically awful. There are so many grossly inaccurate factual errors throughout the book that nothing in it is trustworthy. Her knowledge of Chicago gangsters, politics, history, and city geography is so far off the mark that one wonders if she's ever set foot in the city. Most of it is erroneous and much is pure fiction.

bestyegg said...

I'm really disapointed to hear this, but I shouldn't be surprised. I have to amend my post to say that one of my biggest detractions for the book is a lack of a notes section.

maddog said...

In fairness, she does deserve credit for getting McGurn's true name (Gibaldi, not Gebardi as commonly supposed and on his grave) right but that's about all and it was uncovered years ago by Bill Balsamo. Very little else in her book pans out tho. It is a well written book all the same.

maddog said...

By the way, I really enjoy your blog here. Just now figuring out how to post. This is one of the better historical crime sites around and I enjoy your analytical approach to the legendary old bad guys. You've got some great contacts there too. Bob Winter, Ellen Poulsen, Ron Morgan, all fine folks and some of the best in the biz.

Amanda Parr said...

I am Amanda Jayne Parr, author of The True and Complete Story of 'Machine Gun' Jack McGurn. I find it both very strange and very disappointing that Rick 'Mad Dog' Mattix finds it necessary to continually give my book bad press. Everything in my book can be verified with written evidence from various sources and agencies, and as I state in the introduction, based on all the evidence I have, this is what I believe to be the true story of McGurn.
I do not wish to get into a tit-for-tat argument with Mr. Mattix, however, his comment that I 'deserve credit for getting McGurn's true name right' is somewhat tainted with a certain hypocrisy given the fact that in his own collaboration with William Helmer, he states that the name 'McGurn' is on McGurn's tombstone in Mt Carmel Cemetery. Since I have indeed set foot both in Chicago and Mt. Carmel Cemetery, I know for a fact that this is erroneous.
The saving grace in all of this is that anyone reading this blog is blessed with the power of reason. I would therefore like to invite you all to visit my web site buy my book and judge it for yourselves.

bestyegg said...

Thank you for posting your side. I think debate from all parties is important. I would encourage you to add a notes section to your book; though, it's one of the ways that I get leads on other sources to read and such.

Maddog said...

There is no hypocrisy at all in my comments. I don't know which "collaboration" Ms. Parr is referring to and I suppose we might have missed something somewhere but I have never at any time written that Jack was buried under the name McGurn. I know full well that McGurn's headstone at Mt. Carmel reads Vincent Gerbardi, that his true was Gibaldi, and have never contradicted this. But he also had a half-brother named Anthony DeMora, killed a few weeks after Jack, whom Amanda doesn't even mention. So how does Amanda explain her assertion that the DeMora name was an alias taken from Jack's first wife? Also the fact that both Chicago police records and the Chicago Crime Commission's list of gang murders list the January 1923 murder of Jack's stepfather Angelo DeMora (a murder also confirmed in contemporary newspaper accounts)?

As for verifiable sources, Ms. Parr doesn't list any, so the reader has no opportunity to check her "facts" but there are a great many ludicrous errors.
There were two O'Donnell Gangs in Chicago, not one. Spike's gang was on the South Side and he and his nine brothers were no relation to the West Side O'Donnells, headed by Klondike and brothers Myles and Bernard. There was no "East Side" O'Donnell Gang and indeed Chicago does not have an "east side." If it did their territory would have been in Lake Michigan. William Z. Klenha never ran, unsuccessfully or otherwise, for Mayor of Chicago. With Capone's backing he was elected mayor of Cicero. John Moore, a.k.a. Claude Maddox, never left Chicago and was never a part of Murder Inc. He was active in Chicago rackets until his death on June 21, 1958 and received a great amount of local publicity until then. Maddox was a graduate of the Egan's Rats gang of St. Louis (not New York) and the "Circus Gang" was an Outfit ally in Chicago, not St. Louis. The Circus Cafe was located on Chicago's North Side. George "Red" Barker was not related or in any way connected with the Barker-Karpis Gang. Frank Nitti shot himself along a railroad track, not in the basement of his Riverside home. Numerous wrong dates and addresses appear scattered throughout the book and compromise the reader's faith throughout.

The biggest howler in the book is a supposed jailhouse conversation in Italian involving death threats by McGurn against Jack Zuta in 1930. Ms. Parr has taken considerable literary license with this episode. The discussion, which is well-documented and familiar to all Chicago crime historians, actually took place in 1927 and the protagonists were not McGurn and Zuta but rather Louis "Little New York" Campagna and Joe Aiello. And, by the way, Ms. Parr, Zuta was not Italian.

I supported Amanda Parr when I first heard of her book and offered to help her find a U.S. publisher. But that was before I saw it. The book is very well written. Amanda is a talented author. But reliable history it's not.

I'm not the only one who has criticized Ms. Parr's "facts," nor her severest critic. I'm fairly well connected in the true crime community here and have yet to meet any historian who's seen her book and not rolled their eyes in disbelief. I also find her overreaction to even the mildest criticism strange, however. Very strange that all negative reviews of her book -- even some that praised her writing style -- have been deleted from Amazon. No one else in the world seems to have that kind of pull. Not that it really matters.

But I agree on our moderator's last point. If your book is so well researched, Ms. Parr, then you owe it to your readers to publish source notes. You've completely rewritten Chicago's underworld history of the 1920s and '30s and your extraordinary statements require extraordinary proof or at least some form of documentation if you mean to be taken seriously in this business.