public enemy no. 29

Pete Kay

When they are irked or excited, the hockey clan here fires a wide variety of missiles onto the ice, ranging from cabbages, card decks and heated pennies, to a brassiere which floated down from the stadium heights recently.

• Associated Press, Chicago, February 4, 1946

This we know: the Boston Bruins were in town that night, February 3, 1946, a Sunday, to play the hometown Black Hawks.

Also this: at some point a fan high up in the gallery seats let go an empty whisky bottle from on high that dropped and dropped until it found Joseph Fusco’s head. He was another fan, sitting rinkside. I think it’s fair to say that he was caught unawares. He was knocked unconscious, certainly, and when he revived he found that his scalp was split open. Attendants took him away for first aid. The AP: “His departure still left 17,362 fans to cheer a 3-1 Hawk victory.”

Black Hawks president Bill Tobin offered a $250 reward to anyone who could identify the bottle-tosser. He was pleased to hear reports, a few days later, of Fusco’s recovery. He was less happy with the Chicago policemen assigned to patrol the upper balconies: they hadn’t evicted a single miscreant from the rink in the Black Hawks’ 16 home games to date. “It is pointed out,” Edward Burns wrote in The Chicago Tribune,

that standing up in a crowd of 18,000 and throwing a bottle or other missile, is not as subtle a crime as many that have been baffling Chicago police. The only explanation of the zero showing of the police detail in the Stadium in the suppression of hoodlum nuisances, as well as gambling, is that lazy coppers who draw the assignments are hockey fans and usually have their eyes glued to the puck instead of the hoodlum element.

Wednesday the New York Rangers came to play. No word on whether Joseph Fusco was on hand, but at least one fan came to the rink prepared for the worst. That’s him here, above, in the photo; his name was Pete Kay. He was (so the caption a contemporary caption ran) taking

no chances of some Stadium balcony boozer saying, “Well, here’s mud in your eye!” and then conking customer below with empty bottle. Pete comes prepared with air raid helmet at last night’s hockey game, then glances up to see whether any “dead soldiers” are heading his way.

Fusco survived and, I guess, recovered. His name disappeared from the hockey columns as quickly as it had slipped into them. Is it possible that hockey-fan-Fusco was the same man as infamous-Capone-mobster-Fusco? Easy to believe it, if you’re willing to credit the slender circumstantial evidence. Exhibit A: supposing a well-heeled ganglander was a Hawks fan and did decide to take in a game at the Stadium, where else would such a prominent Chicago personality be sitting than right in the front rank? It works even better as poetry: big-time rumrunner gets conked (to borrow the AP’s word) by a whisky bottle falling from on high. That’s something you could make up, I guess, but would you?

Fusco was in his 20s when he went to see Al Capone at the Lexington Hotel suite that served as the mobster’s headquarters, and by the time he left he’d been hired as a beer bootlegger. That’s the story that’s told. By 1930, Fusco was listed as Public Enemy No. 29 by Chicago’s Crime Commission. (Capone, of course, headed the charts.) The following year, the papers identified Fusco as Capone’s second-in-command when both men (along with 67 others) were indicted by a federal grand jury for 5,000 violations of prohibition laws.

Post-prohibition, Fusco stuck with the booze, which is to say that he had majority interests in several breweries, including the Van Merritt; the Bohemian Wine and Liquor; and Joliet Citizens Brewing Co. He also headed up a tile and linoleum company.

In 1952 the Illinois liquor control commission heard evidence from six witnesses that Fusco’s reputation was — and I quote — bad.

That must have stung. It also posed a professional problem, since liquor licenses could be withheld from faulty characters. He appealed and got another hearing. This time, some 25 witnesses showed up to testify to his uprightness and integrity while another 200 friends sent in affidavits. There were aldermen and retired assistant attorneys-general, retired secret service agents, even a former chairman of the liquor commission. They all said he was an excellent fellow. Fusco, for his part, offered that Bishop Sheil had recently named him to helm the beer and liquor division of the Catholic Youth organization fund drive.

The commission thought it over. In the end, the vote went 2-1 in favour of renewing the licenses. “The majority opinion,” said The Chicago Tribune, “held in effect that Fusco had been of good reputation and character since 1934.”

At the initial hearing, the commission had heard about some of Fusco’s youthful adventures. He’d been indicted, for instance, on October 3, 1924, for prohibition violations involving 1,446 quarts of whisky. And in 1922 he’d been fined $50 for transporting 21 barrels of beer from Chicago to Lemont, Illinois.

Like the 1931 charges, the whisky rap had failed to stick. Arrested many times, never convicted: an obituary said that, in 1976, when he died in his Chicago hotel suite at the age of 74.

The list of his known aliases included: Joe Carey, Joseph Sayth, Jo Long, Joe Thompson, E.J. Thompson.