“Bullets For Dead Hoods: An Encyclopedia of Chicago Mobsters, c. 1933” is a curious title for a large-format book with a cover showing a yellowed page with pencil scribbling above the title that seems to say “collection bullets from dead hoods—nickels from gangsters hands make phone calls” and the even more curious line, “Salvaged by John Corbett,” where the author’s name is customarily positioned.
Reading the introduction, we learn that the manuscript was a find from a secondhand shop, where it had languished for decades. Why would Mr. Corbett buy such an item? The skeptic in me wondered if this was a version of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”—a movie about a writer who does forgeries. Looking him up, you will find Corbett is an artist, a gallery owner and a teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, which makes the discovery of the manuscript believable.
Looking at the table of contents, you will find 154 profiles of notorious as well as not-so-renowned mobsters from all over Chicago. These profiles, when compared to other research items about Chicago gangsters, are overly detailed about the early times, while simultaneously leaving out masses of information easily available through a Google search. Also, there are a number of women who are not included or even considered in other lists.
This treasure trove is presented as unedited, unpolished and unchanged from the way it was found. The pages are reproduced in their original form, typos, overstrikes, pencil notes and all. The language has a gossipy feel, as if reporter and commentator Walter Winchell was reading them during his radio show, where he presented facts mixed with snide commentary. It catalogues mobster and molls alike, giving the women profiles that are theirs alone. It even brings to the fore names (male and female) omitted from other gangster almanacs.
The period language, the extensive set of bad guys and gals and the amazing nicknames makes this a recommendable text for its historic grasp on the subject. There is also a pull-out map of Chicago with hangouts, hotels, hospitals, homes and houses of corrections. It was fashioned using the data from the book. Modern mapping techniques places those landmarks at addresses where you would find them today. Very convenient since the city changed the scheme for street addresses in 1909, which makes locating some places difficult even if they still exist. Whether you use it as a reference book or read it like an almanac of mobsters, it is certainly worth enjoying it with a teacup or two of hooch.
L. D. Barnes writes mystery, historical fiction and poetry. She is working on the second novel in her Chicago Street Crime series while living on the far south side. Barnes is a member of FLOW (For Love of Writing), Longwood Writers Guild and Mystery Writers of America. She performs locally.