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North St. Louis: HiStory Repeats Itself

"Murder Capital of America"

I hate this moniker. Our children live there.

They play on streets that are visual nightmares. Not only do many of the homes next door look third world desolate, they are further traumatized by the nationally infamous label put on the neighborhood they call home.

However, headlines in this area have been scandalous for most of the hi-STORY.

Its true; the blood runs deep down the streets of north St. Louis. And MANY are to blame. From roots grown in hatred and bigotry, yet somehow planted in the air of optimism, dreams and pursuits of freedom and happiness, are yet, the leaves of an oppressive landscape.

But, the environment is still hopeful, and the land, still fertile.


In northeastern St. Louis, by 1900 the "Kerry Patch" grew notorious for prostitution, dog fighting and numbers rackets.

Even within the Kerry Patch tenements and courtyards earned infamy for high levels of crime such as "Clabber Alley" (between Sixth and Seventh streets, from Franklin Avenue north to Biddle Street), "Castle Thunder" and "Wild Cat Chute". Most of these could be found in the "Bloody Fourth" ward, so called because of the violence perpretrated by gangs such as Egan's Rats, the Red Hots, and the Cuckoos.

After St. Louis became the first American city to legalize prostitution, by 1870 the police chief reported there were 5,000 prostitutes working in the city. City medical officials offered weekly STD tests for women.


They also established the “Social Evil Hospital and House of Industry” to treat these diseases (across from the formerly called “Lunatic Asylum” on Arsenal Street west of Kingshighway; now Sublette Park.)

To protect their booming black market on liquor during Prohibition, the Irish were unwavering.

Gangs formed deadly allegiances, and many of the toughest of the patch were involved in keeping power through murder, intimidation, threats and domination over politics.

Details of many of these shootouts, retaliations and robberies have been chronicled here: During the prohibition era in St. Louis, there were seven different ethnic gangs; the Green Ones, the Pillow Gang, the Egan's Rats, the Hogan Gang, the Russo Gang, the Shelton Gang and the Cuckoos all fighting to control illegal rackets in the city. The seven rival gangs continued fighting until the end of Prohibition.

The St. Louis crime family, also known as the Giordano crime family, was also active. By the end of Prohibition, the Italian mafia gangsters had combined to function as one family.

After 37 year old Willie Egan was killed in 1921, the gang went on a furious mission for revenge against his 3 murderers and the Hogan Gang, killing anyone who got in the way.

(Post Dispatch photo)

As shootings swept the city, gangsters and innocent bystanders were killed on the streets. Dint Colbeck ordered the killings of James Hogan, John Doyle, and Luke Kennedy. Doyle was shot and killed in a shoot-out with St. Louis police as they attempted to question him. Luke Kennedy was trapped in Wellston on April 17, 1922 and killed while begging for his life. After Jimmy Hogan went into hiding, the rats retaliated by "ditching" the bodies of Joseph Cammarata and Everett Summers in ditches along county roads. They had been shot to death in University City. In March 1922, Hogan gunmen ambushed Colbeck in his plumbing shop. Riddling it with bullets, no one was injured. Colbeck struck back violently. A cavalcade of at least four touring cars full of gunmen slowly drove past the Hogan residence and poured a fusillade of bullets into the house. No one was injured. After the plumbing shop incident, Colbeck moved his gang to the Maxwelton Club and Racetrack on St. Charles Rock Road in the wilderness of St. Louis County.

There the Egan gangsters terrorized local residents. One time they waylaid a farmer and his family. Evicting them from their car, the gangsters cartwheeled it into a ditch. The farmer called Colbeck at the club and demanded reparations. Colbeck was not only a gangster, but he was also a politician. Despite the public fury over the gang war, he knew it was in his best interests to keep the people happy. Colbeck sent the farmer enough money to purchase two cars. [americanmafia]

(Post Dispatch photo)

In 1923, the Rats killed Hogan lawyer Jacob Mackler. They also shot up Jelly Roll Hogan's house at 3035 Cass Avenue on two occasions.

By now, public outrage at the violence in the area had reached a fever pitch and people were scrambling to figure out how to get the gangs from shooting each other. Irish community leader Father Timothy Dempsey stepped in to orchestrate a truce between the Egan Rats and Hogan Gang which resulted in a peace treaty.

By 1924 the gang was unable to escape the many sticky charges against them, and being snitched on by "rat", Ray Renard. Many of the members were sent to prison and the others joined other gangs in St. Louis or fled the city and wreaked habit elsewhere. After their 25 year imprisonment, they were released in the 40s to a vastly different St. Louis that had changed over the 20 years they were in the slammer.