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As president of Unione Siciliana, Mike Merlo was able to keep the peace among Chicago's various underworld factions during the early years of Prohibition. When he died of cancer in 1924, Al Capone set his sights on taking over control of the Unione and its fabulously profitable "alky" stills. First Angelo Genna and then Samoots Amatuna were murdered -- each within six months of taking over the Unione – paving the way for Capone's man to become president.
by Allan May
'In Chicago, the 'Unione' was in the early period of Prohibition engaged in a kind of piecework, sweatshop, alcohol-distilling enterprise. Hundreds of Sicilian immigrants were equipped with stills, and they sold their alcohol to the central organization.'
--Theft of the Nation, by Donald R. Cressey:
When Mike Merlo, the president of the Unione Siciliana died of cancer in late 1924, Chicago's Little Italy turned into a battlefield of competing bootleggers. At stake were the immense profits Prohibition had unleashed. His death would trigger a series of events that would change the face of Chicago's underworld, paving the way for Al Capone to gain control of the coveted Unione.
Ironically, Merlo's death did not create front-page headlines. In fact, below is the entire article from the back pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune covering his death:
MICHAEL MERLO, LEADER OF CHICAGO ITALIANS, IS DEAD
Michael Merlo, 44, 433 Diversy Parkway, president of the Union Sicilian society and a leader of Chicago Italians in the Democratic party, died yesterday at his home of a complication of diseases. Mr. Merlo is survived by his wife and six children.
This was hardly a fitting accolade to Merlo's prestige in the community, especially in view of the $100,000 in floral tributes spent on his funeral.