The Tragic Story of Johnny Mundo, Prohibition, and Northwest Indiana
By the 1920s, Prohibition had become a battle between classes, with the working-class receiving the majority of Volstead Act violations. Speakeasies offered a solution, where the working class could have a drink or two in the relative peace and safety provided by business owners. The mix flourished, and speakeasies became so profitable a liquor raid was only an inconvenience; as soon as one speakeasy shut down, another would pop up. Fortunes were made.
Looking the Other Way
In Indiana, urban and suburban communities of the 1920s— like those in Northwest Indiana and Indianapolis — tolerated these establishments as long as the gangland violence of the Chicago Outfit (then under the control of Al Capone) stayed out. The balance worked for awhile; these small clubs stayed under the radar of Capone for years, until the notorious gangster’s ambitions grew bigger than the Windy City. Eventually, he turned his eye to expanding his empire, and that meant more territory.
One of those territories was a small suburb of Illinois on the very edge of the Indiana border once known as West Hammond, renamed Calumet City.
Johnny Mundo: Business First
The sheer likability of Frank “Johnny” Mundo led to his success .An ambitious but amiable businessman, Johnny leveraged his acumen into several other establishments, including “Johnny’s Cafe” and “Mundo’s 307 Club.” His strong reputation as a community member dotted the headlines of Calumet City and nearby Maywood, including becoming the president of the Maywood Boosters (while just in his mid-20s), a club which organized and sponsored sporting events and youth leagues for the community. Mundo even dabbled in a sideline as a boxing manager. Despite his proximity to the Chicago Outfit, Mundo relied on his likable personality to grow his trade in the “soft drink” industry.
The Buckley family, a group of Irish immigrants escaping the ravages of Ireland’s Great Potato Famine, established their farm in Northwest Indiana in the 1850s. By the early 1900s, they had a thriving 150-acre dairy farm, which supplied the Chicago markets with fresh milk. Although Rose’s family lived comfortably, they also worked hard. Rose herself loved the farm, but she also loved adventure. In her 20s, the college-educated Rose had earned a teaching certificate, but put her career on hold when she met a young and dashing Johnny Mundo out of Calumet City.
The Good Years
Although the circumstances of their courtship are vague, and the context of their meeting even more vague, we do know Rose and her friends made frequent trips to the speakeasies of Illinois, just over the Indiana border from the Buckley farm. There’s no pile of love letters between the two, but a few items hint at their budding romance. In one, a young Rose Buckley poses in a swimsuit with a small caption reading “Love, Your Irish Rose” and a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream written on the back. They were married on June 14th, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois, then honeymooned for six weeks, touring California, Texas, and New Mexico.
Johnny Mundo Targeted
The death of Johnny Mundo wasn’t a gangland war as much as Capone’s thirst for territory…and plain old-fashioned greed. Despite the two men being in a similar business, Mundo had no history or reputation for violence, extortion, or the darker side of Prohibition. Although the target of a couple raids, he always seemed to emerge unscathed and in good humor. But the Chicago Outfit wanted his businesses and wasted little time getting rid of the Calumet City business owner.
On December 17th, 1930, just as Mundo was leaving home, a car whipped around the corner and gunfire immediately erupted from its windows. Mundo dropped to the ground and then ducked behind his own vehicle as dozens of bullets pounded into it. Mundo remained untouched. The assassins stepped out of the car, shotguns in hand, but Johnny fled down a nearby alleyway and escaped. Later on, Calumet City police asked Mundo what would do after the botched operation, and the businessman joked, “Go on a vacation. To Cuba.”
Mundo Goes for a Ride
Mundo and several associates were fed up with Capone’s business tactics, which tainted their lives and their livelihoods. Despite the inherent risk, they decided to work with police and prosecutors, which were desperate to find any means to indict Al Capone. They would testify against the Chicago Outfit in hopes of bringing an end to the rampant violence.
But Johnny never got the chance.
In late June,1931, Johnny Mundo disappeared. Several witnesses attested they saw him escorted into a waiting car and driven away, and the worst was feared. Newspapers related the era’s euphemism “taken for a ride”, which meant Johnny would be found dead. Although Rose, staying at her in-laws’ house while waiting for news, held out hope for his survival, her hopes were dashed when a badly-decomposed body was discovered on a Dyer farm near the Illinois border.
Identification was nearly impossible. The victim’s teeth had been shattered by the fatal beating and acid had been sprayed on the victim’s face and hands, eliminating identification by photos or fingerprints. In the end, a swath of plaid clothing and a watch were used to confirm the truth: it was the body of Johnny Mundo.
Several newspapers perpetuated rumors of Johnny Mundo’s business interests, but the majority of these rumors could not be substantiated. As Rose stated before, during, and after the funeral, Johnny was not a gangster, or a smuggler, but just a businessman. Hundreds of cars arrived at his funeral, where Johnny was buried at Hammond’s Elmwood Cemetery in a $2500 silver casket (sadly, hermetically-sealed because of the advantaged decomposition)…equivalent to costing almost $40,000 in 2019. Mourners from the business community, friends, relatives, and several Chicagoland gangs showed up to pay their respects.
Even this sincere display of respect couldn’t assuage the grief of his parents. His mother erupted in hysterical tears and had to leave the funeral. His father, furious that he was unable to see his son’s remains, didn’t blame gangsters or speakeasies for his son’s death but instead blamed Prohibition. Unlike Capone and Chicagoland run runners, Johnny had found his business success not because of the unpopular Amendment, but despite it.
Less than two years later, Congress ended Prohibition.