Red Kane kills the Yellow Kid, June 1909

Thomas “Red” Kane, a member of the St. Louis Irish gang Egan’s Rats, murdered Fred “The Yellow Kid” Mohrle in a hallway of the Four Courts Building in June 1909. The slaying was an act of retribution for the murder of Kane’s friend, Constable Sam Young. A feature about the murder appears in the April 2009 edition of St. Louis magazine. (To read the St. Louis magazine story, go to  http://www.stlmag.com/St-Louis-Magazine/April-2009/Raising-Kane/ . Here’s a related interview about the killing, conducted with Daniel Waugh, author of Egan’s Rats.

In your opinion, did Red Kane act on orders from someone in the gang — or was this personal?

In my opinion, it was a bit of both. Personal, as Red was Sam Young’s deputy constable and both had been members of the gang for several years. It not a stretch to imagine that they were good friends. But I also believe that the order for something this big had to originate with the Egan gang hierarchy, specifically Tom Egan. Even before the Four Courts shooting, it was said that Egan gangster Pat Clancy had been picked by Tom to do the actual job. Whether this was true or not, Red Kane ended up getting the nod. Remember also, Constable Mike Kinney (Snake’s brother) tapped Red as his deputy constable (the second such position Kane held) just days before the attack, thereby giving Red a reason to be in the Four Courts and permitting him to carry a firearm. These actions strongly point to an overall conspiracy.

If Red Kane did something like this without Egan authorization, it would have opened them all up to tremendous government pressure. Not just Tom Egan and his gangsters, but possibly the Kinney brothers and their political contacts. If this was the case, I’m almost certain Kane would have gotten the book thrown at him, thrown to the wolves … pick your cliché. While their names were not given in the accounts that I have, Kane apparently had some quality legal representation. They are referred to as “multiple” on more than one occasion. Multiple lawyers didn’t come any cheaper then than they do now. Someone had to be footing the bill for them. The Egans and Kinneys make handsome suspects.

What strikes me about the Four Courts shooting is that everything went off so smoothly . . . pre-arranged almost. The Yellow Kid being lured out of the courtroom and Red shooting him down and calmly walking across the street to give himself up. Kane’s attitude and demeanor that morning don’t suggest a man driven by rage or irrationality, but a trained soldier on a dangerous mission. And he followed his orders without question. So in sum, I think it was personal but business as well. If I had to give a percentage, I would probably say 70/30 in favor of business.

I also think it was specifically plotted this way by Tom Egan. While much more of a street thug than his pal Snake Kinney, Egan was by no means a stupid man. Even with Fred Mohrle on his guard, there is little doubt that he could have been “hit” at night under discreet circumstances. Many of the beat cops in Mohrle’s neighborhood seemed to have been on the Egan payroll. The Yellow Kid had made a blatant public defiance of the Egan’s Rats, in both the15th Ward political kerfuffle and the killing of Sam Young. It seems to me that Tom Egan wanted an even stronger message sent in return. By killing the Yellow Kid so publicly and in such a “secure” place, it sent a powerful message to all the town’s tough guys that the Rats could get to you anywhere, or anytime. And I think that Tom Egan realized that this would be the real benefit to avenging Sam Young in such a manner.

It is notable that after June 1909, virtually no one in St. Louis, on either side of the law, openly crossed the Egan’s Rats again. The only ones that dared were the remnants of the drugged-up, self-destructive Bottoms Gang. In later years, Dint Colbeck, who was running the gang, was fully capable of busting hell wide open, but their gang’s fearsome reputation was really born in the hallway of the Four Courts, in 1909.

Do you think Red expected to get a light sentence or get rewarded by the gang?

My own opinion was that Red expected either to walk or get off with a slap on the wrist. I don’t think there was ever any doubt in his mind that he would not get a heavy sentence. Even with a 12-year sentence, Kane could expect a primo position in the Egan’s Rats once he got out of prison. He still would have been a relatively young man when he finally emerged in 1921. Tom Egan and Mike Kinney had taken care of their imprisoned comrades in the past, and there’s no reason to think they would have treated Kane any differently. Even if he ended up going away to prison for a short time, Kane would have come out ahead.stlouisrepublic

There’s also a possibility I didn’t touch on in the book; that Red Kane may have volunteered for the shooting because he was in poor health. Of course, it’s impossible to know too much about someone’s physical well-being a century after the fact. Red’s death certificate notes that the kidney disease that killed him in 1910 was “chronic.” Perhaps Kane realized that he may not have had much time left.

In Egan’s Rats, you wrote that Red’s widow was taken care of — how do you know?

A newspaper retrospective said that Mike Kinney had paid “Yellow” Mohrle’s assassin a “handsome pension” of $500. I haven’t seen any additional documentation for this, but I find it plausible under the circumstances, as both Kinney and Egan showed they took care of their men.

Constable Sam Young was an officer of the law, but he also answered to Tom Egan and Snake Kinney, right?

That is correct. Sam Young was a member of the Kinney Gang before he was ever elected constable. That one of things that’s always blown my mind about the old days here in St. Louis. Here’s Constable Sam Young, for example, an official peace officer of the city. He is authorized to carry a pistol and make arrests. Technically Sam’s supposed to be one of the good guys, but in reality, he was basically a gangster with a badge. There were more than a few guys like this in the Kinney-Egan gang; both Egan brothers, John “Guinea Mack” McAuliffe, and Walter Costello, to name a few. Young was present with Snake Kinney, Tom Egan, and others on New Year’s, 1900 when they beat up and robbed a saloonkeeper of $500.

I remember seeing a 1901 picture of Sam and the boys in the Kinney saloon at Second and Carr. This same picture appeared in the April 3, 1901 issue of the Post-Dispatch in conjunction with an article Snake Kinney wrote about his past. The photo shows a well-dressed Snake with an overcoat over his arm. A few of his men are standing behind him at the bar. First and foremost is Tom Egan, a sneer on his face and a porkpie hat pushed up on his head. To his left, wearing a light-colored overcoat and snazzy bowler, is none other than Sam Young.

Egan’s Rats were thieves and thugs who were successful, for a while, because they were also involved in politics and law enforcement. What insights did you gain about how St. Louis works in doing the book?

The one thing that surprised me was how closely crime and politics were intertwined in St. Louis one hundred years ago. From the days when Col. Ed Butler and his bunch were on top, right up until Snake Kinney, it seemed as if everyone was on the take. Like most machine-style political set-ups, the relationship between the Kinney-Egan faction and the city was all about money under the table and reciprocal favors. From stuffing ballot boxes to secure an election, passing laws, union busting, no bid contracts for construction projects, the Egans had a mutually beneficial relationship with the St. Louis city government. Those that threw in with them benefited as well, namely brewing magnate Louis Lemp and Harry B. Hawes, head of the police board of commissioners. With Snake Kinney’s position in the Missouri Senate and Tom Egan and Mike Kinney as St. Louis City Constables, they had a lot of political clout. The street-level Egan’s Rats handled the dirty end of the business; they stuffed the ballot boxes, they crashed the picket lines and put the strikers in the hospital, they stabbed and shot those who had committed more serious offenses.

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This influence kept them from more serious punishment for their misdeeds. It’s no accident that Red Kane got only 12 years for shooting the Yellow Kid in the Four Courts in front of a bunch of cops. If Kane hadn’t been hooked up with the Rats, he almost certainly would have done the “air dance” before Christmas of 1909.

For the most part, it ran like a well-oiled machine. Everyone got fat while the status quo was maintained. The occasional dead body that turned up was all a part of doing business. Average Joe citizens didn’t think anything was unusual about all this. Back then, St. Louisans had a very ambiguous view of what was criminal and what was political. To them, the two went hand in hand. In modern times, such an attitude may seem remarkable. But back in 1909, it wasn’t unusual to see a bunch of cold-eyed hoodlums at your local polling place on Election Day telling you how to vote. You may not have liked it, but you sure didn’t kick up a fuss . . . not unless you wanted the goons to kick you back.

St. Louis wasn’t the only place in Missouri where “politics met the gun.” Recent research has shown that more than a few of Jesse James’ robberies were political in nature. In later years, “Boss Tom” Pendergast ruled Kansas City much the same way Snake Kinney did St. Louis; he used Mafia boss John Lazia to enforce his will on the streets in a relationship that was analogous to that of Kinney and Tom Egan.

It seems that the Rats have been largely forgotten — most contemporary accounts of organized crime in St. Louis, if any, don’t really go back to the gangs that existed before Prohibition.

Most of the early gangs of St. Louis have indeed been forgotten. All the people who have first-hand memories of Red Kane, Tom Egan, and Snake Kinney are dead now. That’s part of the reason why I wrote Egan’s Rats, was to tell a story that otherwise would have remained lost. Perhaps the early 1900s gangs of St. Louis were not as romantic as the bathtub-gin bootleggers of the next generation, but they were fascinating to me nevertheless.

Several months ago, I completed a follow-up to Egan’s Rats. It’s called Men Of Respect: The Early Gangs Of St. Louis. It deals with the origins and tribulations of the other major street gangs in the city, namely the Sicilian crime conglomerate (The Green Ones) and their arch-enemies, the Cuckoo Gang (they started out as a sandlot baseball team, go figure). I also talk about the Shelton Gang of East St. Louis and draw a full picture of all the cops who chased them over the years. In my opinion, it’s a much better book than Egan’s Rats; more detailed, broader, and better written. I’m still looking for a publisher; hopefully, it will get put out soon enough.

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Published in: on April 13, 2009 at 1:37 am  Comments (4)