A Memory of Murray Humphreys
Written by Irvin Owen
– Owen was a prominent attorney in Shawnee –
One of the smartest and most successful gangsters who ever lived is buried with his wife half way between Tecumseh and Norman in an above ground cement crypt. It’s a few hundred yards south of Highway 9, 2 miles inside of the Cleveland County line. The name on the outside reads Brady – Humphrey – Brendle.
I learned of Murray, the Camel, of “Hump” Humphreys over 50 years ago and I’ve been in a position to learn more as time passed. It would be part of the folklore of this area and the actual facts make Alice in Wonderland look like a piker. Long time residents know part of the story, and those who enjoy gangster movies and read about organized crime will recognize some of the incidents related, or have personal knowledge of the geography involved.
In September, 1937 I was almost broke but lacked one semester to finish Law School at Oklahoma University. My wife took a teaching job at Little Axe 15 miles east of Norman, Oklahoma. We lived in a small frame teacherage on the school premises, and I commuted to Law School.
The Little Axe School has since been moved a mile east on Highway 9 toward Tecumseh. Just 2 more miles east on the highway, there was a nice native stone home, a tree shaded lawn, well back from the road inside a chain link fence. This was the second home of Murray Humphreys and the school patrons discussed him, but always in hushed tones.
Later, in my Shawnee law office, different clients knew him and told of incidents. Carpenters who remodeled the original house told about hidden cupboards, and a plumber told of working at the home while armed men stood guard.
In 1985, a book, THE PRINCE OF CRIME was published. The author, John Morgan exhaustively reviewed the files of politicians and others who knew Murray Humphreys. In 1990 I had several lengthy interviews with Luella Brady, Humphrey’s only daughter. She talked fondly of her Dad and has boxes of pictures, films and clippings.
Luella was born in 1934, and at age 58 has to walk with an aluminum walker as the result of a stroke. She is poised and alert and apparently hasn’t soured.
On January 8, 1990 the Daily Oklahoman reported that a certain Norman Attorney was disbarred as a result of Mary losing over a million in pledged collateral to protect an interest in the Midway Downs.
The daughter is intelligent, and tells incredible stories without a trace of exaggeration. In careful cross-examination she was consistent and truthful.
The daughter showed me a 30-minute television documentary tape made by an English firm with exclusive rights in Wales. Richard Burton, the famous actor, was the principal stockholder. Hump Humphrey, born in this country of Welsh immigrant parents, was known in Wales as a result of gangster publicity.
The Hump grew up on the streets of Chicago, with little or no education. He sold papers, ran numbers and did jail time as a result of petty thefts.
In 1920 at age 20, young Humphreys was involved in a shooting and left Chicago. His brother had a music store in Oklahoma and concentrated in selling the old Victrola record players. The Hump took a portable model, with a hand crank, and killed time by demonstrating and selling the Victrola in the countryside.
At Brendle corners, 3 miles west of Pink and 2 miles inside Cleveland County on Highway 9, he met lovely Mary Brendle, half Irish and half Cherokee. After several sales calls, a romance flourished. They ran off to Dallas to get married. Soon after, the young couple set up house keeping in Chicago.
Young Humphreys was good looking, and a natty dresser, but could barely read or write. Mary, with 2 years at Oklahoma University, set out to teach him. With innate intelligence, and a good personality, the Hump was a willing student and soaked up knowledge like a sponge.
The Chicago newspapers and friend and foe alike referred to Humphreys as the “Hump”. He always carried $10,000 in cash at all times in order to make bond if arrested. Personal spending money was kept in a separate pocket.
Humphrey was a stand up guy, reared in Chicago Italian neighborhood. This led to a job as driver for Al Capone and thrust him within the inner circles of the mob as Capone rose to power.
Mary was a partner from the beginning and consistently taught him to keep a low profile and push others forward. His personality and negotiating gifts were considerable and he soon was a messenger and bag man for Capone.
The mob took over several large breweries in Chicago after prohibition. Soon there were hundreds of speakeasies in and around Chicago..
Murray was assigned the Labor Union rackets. With the help of Mary who had an amazing memory and total recall, the Hump built a labor organization, the fore runner of the Teamsters which ultimately reached a national scope.
Using Capone muscle, every Chicago occupation was organized into a Union. The Barber Shops raised prices and had uniform prices. If they held out, the shop would be bombed, and resistance subsided. Dry Cleaners were organized, and hold outs soon fell in line as concealed acid would be used to destroy entire loads of suits and dresses.
Public attention was focused on the beer during prohibition, but the labor racket under the Hump was equally profitable.
Mary taught the Hump it was better to use brains over brawn, but with judicious selection of the necessary pressure, putting others out in front, the Hump quietly became the Number 2 man in the Capone empire. The Chicago newspapers were aware of this but the wire services concentrated on Capone while the Hump maintained his low profile.
Capone rose to fame between 1921 at the start of prohibition, which lasted just beyond the St. Valentine Days massacre in 1929. In that year the Hump managed approximately 100 trade Unions, and about 25 Merchants Associations. His name was not on the roster of Officers anywhere. However, he was the negotiator who settled most of the disputes, and with an innate talent the Hump reached quick settlements. The employers always had to pay, but the workers got concessions, everyone saved face, and everyone survived.
Capones’ income reached 35 million a year. He was a heavy gambler, and lived the good life to the fullest.
The Hump was the bag man and fixer with the politicians and police, and soon handled delicate negotiations with Joseph Kennedy who was the Canadian distributor of several recognized brands of Scotch and English whiskey. The Hump met with him, and divided territory, and reached an understanding on their respective interest.
During the twenties, Chicago was the home of the motion picture producers. Carl Laemmic and Adolph Zukor had studios in Chicago. Stars such as Gloria Swanson, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Tom Mix, and Edward Arnold lived in Chicago. The Unions organized the stage hands, projectionists and others, and the Hump had periodic sessions with the film makers which produced good revenue for Capone.
Finally, the movie makers moved to Hollywood under the pretext of having plenty of sunshine, but the move did lesson Union control, as will be explained later.
Mary and the Hump made frequent return visits to Oklahoma. Mother Brendle lived on the northeast corner, and Mary and the Hump remodeled and enlarged a home on the southwest corner.
When Highway 9 was hard surfaced years later, the road was moved about 200 feet north. At Brendle corners one has to get out of the car to glimpse the house through the trees. In 1937 it was on the highway. The book, PRINCE OF CRIME, talks of the house being among blackjack trees on red clay land, but it does not pinpoint the location.
During regular return visits to Oklahoma the Hump bought land around and south of the home, owning 6 or 7 full sections between 1922 and 1965. Different names were used to hold the title to the hunting preserve and cattle ranch. The Hump loved to hunt, and the land contained coyotes, deer and other game. At one point Humphreys bought cattle, and tried ranching. He bought his feed and supplies at Tecumseh, and was known there by the merchants. Mary Brendle, and later the daughter did business in Norman over many years.
The family was in and out of the Brendle area for 44 years while the Hump lived, and Mary Brendle was born and died at the home when 70 years of age.
In 1932 Capone went to prison for tax evasion. The following year Capone and the Hump were indicted together for murder and bombing. The Hump became a fugitive after being named Public Enemy Number 1 and with Mary retired to Mexico. It was 17 months later when a lawyer for the Hump reached a settlement on the criminal charges. Hump and Mary went to California where daughter Luella was born in 1934, and 2 weeks later Humphreys returned to Chicago and pled guilty to a reduced charge. Actual prison time was relatively brief.
Daughter Luella was reared in Oklahoma, and in private schools until High-school. Her parents lived in Chicago during her high-school years. The Chicago publicity was unrelenting. Grand Jury indictments read, “Public Enemy Number 1, heir to Scarface Al Capones power, brains of the so-called syndicate and the brains behind the muscle men who dominate numerous Unions and Trade Associations”.
The Hump was a doting father – a good family man despite other shortcomings. When daughter Luella came home in tears because the other students, meeting her in the hall would cradle their arms pretending to hold a machine gun, and make sounds like bullets spewing forth in an awkward manner.
The Hump advised her to counter in similar fashion, using the identical gestures and sounds, but emphasized that in doing so she must smile and wave. It worked like a charm.
The Hump was a home movie hobbyist, and expert enough to develop his own moving pictures. Luella has a lot of film, including a copy of the 30-minute professional tape. There are dozens of pictures, one showing Frank Sinatra as her high-school prom date, and the tape shows Tony Martin standing at her crib singing a lullaby when she was 5 years old.
The mob owned night clubs, and some of the theaters. They controlled the stagehand and the projectionists, and had solid control. They could make or break a star and Sinatra, Vic Damon, Tony Martin, Fred McMurray, George Raft, Jimmy Durante and others were favored.
Luella remembers her high-school buddy, daughter of Sheriff Walch the sheriff had a 100 foot boat in Florida where they all socialized. In Chicago they were neighbors.
After high-school, Luella went to Oklahoma University for 2 years as a piano major. Thereafter to Italy for 3 arranged recitals in different opera houses.
Luella eloped with Rossano Brazzi, an Italian movie actor on September 18, 1954. Brazzi had a good role in the movie THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN, featuring Jean Peters who married Howard Hughes. Brazzi was the father of son George, and later in America he played opposite June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, and with Ava Gardner made the hit, BAREFOOT CONTESSA. In the background, the Hump was helpful.
Luella has a lot of memories. She remembers being with her Dad when he usually conferred with Mayor Daley at the Chicago Museum. She would wander off while they talked. Luella knew all of the major mobsters, and was present at hundreds of meals, public and private, when the family oriented leaders regularly socialized. She fondly recalls mama Capone, who loved to cook. Socializing extended to Florida and Cuba. She knew Meyer Lansky and Jimmy Hoffa and often dined with them.
Luella recalls fun times, gin rummy games, and horse play. She was present when her Dad bawled out Tony Accordo for being stupid in buying a Chicago mansion. However, the big shots all had Florida mansions and were careful to flaunt their wealth away from Chicago. Sam Giaconti and Johnny Roselli worked for the Hump. He despised Giaconti and groomed Roselli. The latter, together with the Hump, bribed enough Nevada legislators in the thirties to legalize gambling. However, it was only after World War II that Las Vegas became a gambling Mecca
(After the Hump died, Giaconti and Roselli worked with the CIA in the Castro plots, and both men were later murdered. Giaconti’s girl friend was a playmate of John F. Kennedy in the White House.)
Luella was at the Kennedy estate a number of times, both in Hyannis Port and in Florida. She played with the Kennedy children and considered them wimps. In dozens and dozens of meetings and conferences with Joe Kennedy, the Hump admitted to being ill at ease. Probably because Joe Kennedy was a Harvard graduate.
The Brazzi marriage lasted 6 weeks in Italy before Luella returned to the United States. Brazzi followed, but the marriage did not endure. Later in 1956 Luella married a man by the name of Brady, who helped to rear and formally adopted son George. Today, Luella bemoans the fact that she and her son were reared without financial worries, and developed no skills to make an independent life.
Luella lived many years in California and the Pacific northwest. She is the first to admit that the trappings of success were enjoyable. Her Dad gave her baseballs signed by the Chicago White Sox players, and she mingled with other celebrities such as George Hahas. In California her Dad got her 50-yard tickets to the Rose Bowl and it was a heady life.
Luella loved her Dad, and went deep sea fishing with him in Florida and Cuba, and hunted with him in Oklahoma.
J. Edgar Hoover
Luella claims her Dad had nothing but contempt for Hoover. On the other hand Hoover was a master in creating a public image for the FBI Luella explains that Hoover was a compulsive gambler, and together with his companion and second in command, Clyde Towson, made 3 excursions annually to race tracks in Hialeah, California, and Saratoga in New York. A separate bullet proof limousine was maintained at tax payer expense at each location. Hoover publicly admitted to $2 bets at the race track, but Luella says his losses exceeded many thousands of uncollected bets.
Significant and interesting points were noted in the various interviews when Luella talked frankly. She pointed out that Hoover always denied the existence of an American Mafia, and he bitterly opposed the Communists. Luella claimed this was calculated, and a straw enemy set up to divert attention.
When the Chicago Unions began to work closely with the Longshoremen’s Unions, and other mob controlled Unions on the East coast they were opposed by Harry Bridges, an alleged communist, who controlled shipping on the west coast. It all ties in with the Communist threat in Hollywood, resulting in Senate hearings, noted hereafter.
Hoover published 2 anti-communist books and each time a hundred thousand copies or more would be purchased by the elder Bronfman in Canada. The Bronfman’s owned the Seagram Scotch and Whiskey brands and are today the majority owners of the Dupont Corporation.
The big cities of America have always been afflicted by political skullduggery. Gamblers, mobsters and crooked politicians had a natural affinity which was strengthened because the crooks put their money behind their mouth. Honest people had no reason to make contributions.
The Chicago history was as bad as the infamous Pendergrast machine in New York City. Bathhouse Coughlin and Hinky Dink ruled in Chicago in the old days and were famous as predecessors to Capone mob control.
The Capone control came on gradually. Competing mobs had to be destroyed, and were systematically killed, culminating in the 1929 St. Valentine massacre. One of the victims was a labor man who opposed the Hump, and who focused mob attention on state and national politics. Kennedy had interests in both Chicago and New York. Kennedy was a native of Boston, the police commissioner was his close friend for many years along with the singer Morton Downey, Sr. Kennedy owned the huge Merchandise Mart building in Chicago, and Hollywood activities included selling the RKO movie studio to Howard Hughes as well as smuggling whiskey in quantity through Canada and along the entire east coast during prohibition.
Later, when Roosevelt was elected in 1932 he appointed Kennedy Ambassador to Great Britain where Kennedy obtained exclusive franchises for top brands of whiskey and scotch after repeal of prohibition. Roosevelt also appointed Kennedy as head of the securities and Exchange Commission.
When Roosevelt ran for the 4th term in 1944, and suddenly replaced John Nance Garner with Harry Truman, it was apparent that insiders knew FDR would not survive the term. Truman was the protégé of the Pendergrast machine in Kansas City, a parallel and cooperating mob in Kansas. Truman was a good soldier. He took orders, and did not personally enrich himself. You will recall that Truman barely beat Thomas Dewey with the help of the big city mobs. Thomas Dewey had put Lucky Lucian in Prison.
The big city vote comes in late and has been the difference in close races. It elected Kennedy over Nixon, and Truman over Dewey. Since World War II most presidents had approval or support from the big city politicians.
Luella tells of walking into a room where her Dad was seated around a table with several men. As a high-school girl, one man asked who her classmates favored for president. She said General Eisenhower was her choice. One of the men stood up and shook her hand. It was General Eisenhower, and she had not recognized him in civilian clothes.
Luella explained that the mob had helped Adlai Stevenson become Governor of Illinois, and he had reciprocated by appointing Hump’s man as State Labor Commissioner.
Later, the mob collected several hundred thousand dollars to build housing for poor people, and a construction firm controlled by Stevenson was given the contract. The work was shoddy to a criminal degree, and the mob never forgave him. For once, they had sincerely tried to help the poor.
Luella maintained that her Dad and Joe Kennedy consulted constantly on political matters, from 1929 until the Hump died in 1965.
You will recall that FDR died 3 months after his 4th term election. When Truman ran for President it looked hopeless. You may recall that his campaign train stalled in Oklahoma City for lack of money and Elmer Harber, a Shawnee banker made a large contribution and got it moving again.
You should recognize that as Humphrey rose to power in Chicago in labor circles, his example was followed by gangsters on the east coast. The construction trades and the Longshoremen were examples. Prohibition, the Union rackets, and politics led to cooperation and to cooperation and to national syndicate crime. Humphreys was the messenger between the groups, and probably more responsible than any other individual for the shrewdness and success of organized crime. In the old days it reached into the business world and politics to a degree undreamed of by the public.
Later, when Hoover and Bobby Kennedy feuded and Bobby fought Jimmy Hoffa, it was disastrous. Luella believes the mob killed Bobby and John F. Kennedy, probably because ingratitude was a sin akin to murder. The mob believed that John F. Kennedy could not have been elected without their help in every big city, and that Joe Kennedy lied when he protested that he was unable to control Bobby.
Hollywood produced a rash of gangster movies. Strangely enough, the gangsters enjoyed them, and made little or no effort to change the story line.
Mary was star struck, and in the early thirties the family moved temporarily to California. Hump’s power and pleasant personality allowed him to merge into the movie social scene. One George Browne, the national president of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees was a heavy drinker and took his orders from the Hump.
The Chicago hoods who followed were Willie Bioff, Frank Nitti, Louis “Little New York” Campagna, Ralph Pierce, Paul “The Waiter” Ricca and Johnny Roselli.
In the depression thirties, the craft unions were enlarged, closed shop and check-off dues were mandatory. The producers each paid tribute. In 1937 Nicholas Schenck was paying $200,000 for Loews, and Fox, Paramount and Warner Brothers were each paying $100,000 annually. The union membership grew to 42,000 and brought in dues of $150,000.
Johnny Roselli married June Lang, an actress, and Mary Humphreys could go on the closed sets of Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Most appeared on the Hump’s home movies, and actress Fay Wray appeared often. Willie Bioff was a muscle man, and it was he who caused problems. His crudeness finally boomeranged when during a New York City visit he extorted $25,000 in an isolated incident. In Hollywood, the screen writers and a few stars, let by Robert Montgomery, were fretting at the conditions, and got support from trade magazines. Since the extortion occurred in New York, the Federal authorities were able to convict him in 1941. In 1943 Bioff became an informer and testified against Nitti, Campagna, Phil D’Andrea, Frank Maritote, a Capone relative, Charles Bioe, John Roselli, Ralph Pierce, the Hump’s personal assistant and one Louis Kaufman who was a New Jersey labor official.
The word on the street that Bioff only agreed to testify if allowed to leave the Hump out of the picture. New York headlines noted this fact in news, movie and political publications. (Several years later, Willie Bioff living in Phoenix and a neighbor to Barry Goldwater, was killed when a bomb exploded in his car.) William Roemer, a retired FBI agent appeared on television as late as 1983 to explain that Bioff refused to testify against the Hump or George Browne.
In 1943 the group was convicted and given a 10-year sentence. Frank Nitti shot himself. Capone died in 1947 and the Hump was one of the 4 men who were present at the services.
In August, following Capone’s death, President Truman pardoned the group of Hollywood gangsters. Since they had served only a third of the sentence, a nation-wide furor erupted, and lasted for months. Truman blurted an explanation. “The Pendergrast machine has made it possible for me to hold office and a politician rewards his friends.” Behind the scenes, one Paul Dillon, a St. Louis, Missouri lawyer, who had served as Truman’s campaign manager, handled most of the arrangements with Humphrey. Congress opened an inquiry, and it was learned that Dillon had represented union officials in the past at Humphrey’s request.
The release of the mobsters came shortly after the end of World War II and overshadowed items in the news about the Marshall Plan, Winston Churchill and other happenings. It finally subsided.
After the Bioff conviction, the United States Senate opened a Hollywood inquiry. Screen writers charged as Communists, claimed that their meetings were aimed at the labor racketeers, but it failed to convince the Senators.
In 1957, after 37 years of marriage, the Hump became enamored of a beautiful young chick, and divorced wife Mary. She returned to Oklahoma and lived there for 6 years, until the Hump returned, conceding that he had been an old fool, and the pair remarried. They toured Wales, England and Europe on an extended trip and in 1965 the Hump was arrested at the Norman railroad station. Luella was bitter about this, because the FBI announced that he was headed for Mexico to avoid a Chicago Grand Jury subpoena. It was also announced that he carried $10,000 cash on his person.
I recall the publicity at the time. Luella was bitter, saying that her Dad had an airline ticket to Chicago and personal cash in another pocket which wasn’t mentioned.
In Chicago the Hump died a few weeks later. A heart condition had plagued him for months, and he died in bed after a criminal career spanning more than 50 years.
In 1973, following a divorce, Luella returned to the family home and cared for her mother until her death in 1980. It was during that time Mary talked about the Hollywood years, since Luella was too young to remember most of it.
I’ve seen the crypt, and it holds Mary with the urn containing the ashes of the Hump alongside.
Wilber Underhill, a famous criminal, was killed in Shawnee. Katherine Kelley, wife of the Urschel kidnapper once worked in Shawnee, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and others have been in Shawnee. Luella says her Dad considered them morons, and in any event, this area has a certain history which should be preserved.
-Thanks to John Nelson for passing along this article.