Frank McErlane and the Chicago Beer Wars

Oct 14, 2009 - by Allan May - 0 Comments

Frank McErlane

Frank McErlane

From 1923 through 1930 the beer wars raged in Chicago. Frank McErlane – the gangster the Illinois Crime Survey called "the most brutal gunman who ever pulled a trigger in Chicago" – stood at the center of this bloody Prohibition Era turf battle.

by Allan May

Frank McErlane – the gangster credited with introducing the Thompson sub-machine gun to Chicago's bloody Beer War during Prohibition – was called "the most brutal gunman who ever pulled a trigger in Chicago" by the Illinois Crime Survey. He was alleged to have murdered at least nine men, a woman and two dogs.

McErlane's rap sheet begins in 1911. In June 1913, he was sent to Pontiac Prison after he was convicted of being part of an automobile theft ring. Paroled in March 1916, he would be arrested eight months later for accessory to murder in the death of an Oak Park police officer. He served just one year in Joliet for this. Several newspaper articles refer to McErlane taking part in an escape from the county jail in 1918. Other than calling it "sensational," no details are given except that McErlane spent another two years in Joliet for it.

Robert J. Schoenberg, author of Mr. Capone, gives us this description of the killer:

"Frank McErlane, despite his habitual glower, looked to one reporter like a 'butter and egg man,' a portly five-foot-eight and 190 pounds, with blue eyes, a rosary ever-present in his pocket. But his face habitually glowed a choleric red, and when drunk (also habitual) his eyes would glaze over, at which sign his closest friends edged for the door."

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