The loyalty between Al Capone and Moscow-born Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik was one they still talk about in mob circles.
Starting under Capone, Guzik was the trusted treasurer and financial wizard of the mob, and in the years after Capone’s fall, he was considered the real brains of the organization, along with Paul “the Waiter” Ricca and to a slightly lesser degree Tony Accardo. Because Guzik was incapable of using a gun or killing anyone, Capone protected Guzik, and once killed a man for him out of pure friendship. Such friendship was not forgotten, and Jake Guzik to his dying day a quarter century after Capone’s removal from the scene, continued to be one of the most honored chiefs of the Chicago Outfit, and some say virtually its boss.
During the 1940s and 1950s, when the national syndicate was dominated by what was called the Big Six, it was Guzik and Tony Accardo who flew east weekly to meet with the other heads of the organization: Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky and Longy Zwillman. It was an interesting ethnic division of three Italians and three Jews and told precisely what the Mafia’s role in organized crime was at the time.
Guzik, a childhood pimp, had come into the Capone organization early on when, without even knowing the Big Fellow, he had saved Capone from an ambush, having overheard two gunmen from a rival gang planning the hit. Once a man did him a good turn, Capone embraced him and would never turn on him—unless that man later first betrayed that trust.
In May 1924, Guzik got into an argument with a freelance hijacker named Joe Howard, who slapped and kicked him around. Incapable of physical resistance, the rotund little Guzik waddled back to Capone to tell him what had happened. Capone charged out in search of Howard and ran him down in Heinie Jacobs’s saloon on South Wabash Avenue, bragging about the way he had “made the little Jew whine.” When Howard saw Capone, he held out his hand and chimed, “Hello, Al.” Capone instead grabbed his shoulders and shook him violently, demanding to know why Howard had mistreated his friend. “Go back to your girls, you dago pimp,” Howard replied. Capone wordlessly drew a revolver and jammed it against Howard’s head. The bully hoodlum started to snivel. Capone waited several seconds and then emptied the revolver into Howard’s head.
After the Howard killing—which required a certain amount of fixing—Guzik was Capone’s faithful dog, ready to do anything for him. Years later when Capone was in fading health, it was Guzik who saw to it that Capone and his family never wanted for anything.
Capone quickly came to depend on Guzik’s advice in the various gang wars that developed as he tried to organize Chicago. Jake also served as the mob’s principal bagman in payoffs to police and politicos, hence the origin of the nickname Greasy Thumb. Actually, the name was applied years earlier to Jake’s older brother Harry, a procurer of whom it was said “his fingers are always greasy from the money he counts out for protection.” Later, the title was transferred to Jake, whose thumb was much more greasy sine he handled much more money. One of his chores was to sit several nights a week at a table in St. Huberts Old English Grill and Chop House, where district police captains and sergeants who collected graft for themselves and their superiors could pick up their payoffs. Also calling at Guzik’s table were bagmen sent over from City Hall.
The only serious legal problems that Guzik ever had were with tax men, and he eventually did a few years behind bars. He handled incarceration with aplomb and afterward returned to mob money duties. At the Kefauver Committee hearings, he made an interesting if uncommunicative witness, pleading the Fifth Amendment on the ground that any response to the questions might “discriminate against me.”
Never once was Guzik’s position in the mob questioned, even though the Outfit was in many ways a dog-eat-dog crime family. All the big bosses—Nitti, Ricci, Accardo, Giancana, Battaglia—gave Jake complete authority on legal matters. They were not Capone, but they knew Guzik’s loyalty was firm to the gang that Capone built. When Al Capone was released from prison in 1939, reporters asked Guzik if the Big Fellow was likely to return and take up command of the organization. “Al,” Jake said, “is nutty as a fruitcake.” From anyone else the remark might have been taken as a disparagement, but it was Guzik merely being honest; all the other gang members knew his devotion to Capone was unwavering.
Guzik died on February 21, 1956, fittingly, at his post at St. Hubert’s, partaking of a meal of lamb chops and a glass of Moselle, and making his usual payoffs. He keeled over of a heart attack. At his services more Italians were in the temple than ever before in its history.