This article was last modified on December 8, 2016.


Blackie Sullivan, the Mafia’s Favorite Punching Bag

John Michael Sullivan, also known as John Paul Jones or “Blackie”, and later “Blackie the Sieve”, was born on March 3, 1905. Later newspaper reports alleged that he used “John Paul Jones” because this was the name of his stepfather.

Early Days

Sullivan, 17, was arrested in Los Angeles on August 24, 1922 for suspicion of burglary. Charges were apparently dropped or never filed.

The Chicago Years: 1924 – 1948

Sullivan was arrested in Chicago on June 10, 1924 for robbery. On June 27, he was sentenced to 1-10 years in Pontiac State Prison (as inmate #4888), but was soon transferred to Joliet State Prison. Sullivan was paroled May 11, 1929.

Sullivan was arrested in Chicago on May 14, 1930 for conspiracy. He spent one day in the county jail before being returned to prison for the parole violation. He was re-paroled July 14, 1930 and discharged March 1, 1931.

Sullivan was arrested in Chicago for burglary on January 21, 1932 but the charges were nol-prossed.

Sullivan was arrested for “V.S. #155 Chap #38” in Chicago on September 29, 1932 and was fined $25.

At one point, he married Minerva Lillian Peckham. They had a daughter who went by both Sally Anne and Diane at various times in her life, born in 1934.

Sullivan was arrested for robbery on March 20, 1934 in Chicago but the charges were nol-prossed. He was arrested for robbery again May 28, with the charges again nol-prossed. A third arrest for robbery came on June 13, which yet again was nol-prossed.

Sullivan’s luck ran out when he was arrested for armed robbery on June 21, 1934 and sentenced to one year to life in Joliet prison (inmate #9651). He was paroled on February 4, 1941.

Sullivan was picked up in Chicago on “general principles” on February 6, 1942 and March 9, 1944. He was called in for an investigation on February 16, 1945.

Sullivan, still on parole, was arrested on March 9, 1945 in Grand Crossing, Illinois by Sgt. John Sullivan (coincidentally). The ex-convict denied that he had stolen anything recently. He was hauled in for investigation on August 11, 1945 and June 14, 1946.

He was discharged from parole on August 13, 1946. He was called in yet again for investigation on October 7, 1946.

Sullivan was shot and wounded January 27, 1947 outside the Torch Club, 900 North State Street (near Delaware Street). He walked out of the club accompanied by two women, and recognized men he knew to be enemies. Sullivan tried to duck behind his automobile, but took a .38 bullet to the stomach. Police found Sullivan’s gun in the back seat of his car. At Henrotin Hospital, Sullivan confessed that he knew who his assailants were, but declined to name them. Hospital staff said Sullivan was abusive and had attempted to flee.

John E. Golding, an associate of Sullivan’s, was shot and killed on February 14, 1947 at the corner of Madison and Halsted.

The home of Alderman John Duffy at 9033 South Hoyne Avenue was bombed March 24, 1948. Police suspected Sullivan.

The John Walter Company, an upholstering firm at 4212 South Halsted, was bombed on April 16, 1948. A few days before, Sullivan had threatened the owner, James J. O’Brien.

Sullivan was shot May 3, 1948 by a .45 slug at the corner of 73rd Street and Yale Avenue. His assailants were in a new, blue car and fired twice — once into Sullivan’s car window and once towards Sullivan as he fled through St. Cathage’s school grounds. The second bullet shattered his right arm, and he was forced to take refuge inside an apartment building at 7304 Yale Avenue. From there, police took him to St. George’s Hospital, where doctors said his arm might have to be amputated and he was put under police guard. The Chicago American pinned the shooting on Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt.

Captain Patrick Groark rummaged through Sullivan’s pockets and found paperwork indicated that he had made considerable headway as an independent slot machine dealer… unfortunately, he was working in territory claimed by the Paul “the Waiter” Ricca and Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik syndicate. In the trunk of his car was found a slot machine. Sullivan was believed to be connected to gambling racketeer John Joseph Williams. Williams had previously stood trial and was acquitted for killing gangster Martin “Sonny Boy” Quirk; soon after, he was shot seven times by rival James “Red” Fawcett, a Capone associate.

The police also picked up for questioning Harry Walsh, 29, who had previously accused Sullivan of paying too much attention to his wife Muriel, 27. They found Walsh in bed and he said he had been at a movie. James J. O’Brien was also to be questioned due to his recent troubles with Sullivan.

Mrs. Muriel Walsh was called in for questioning on May 5, and took a lie detector test. She said she had known Sullivan for about three years and had gone on several dates with him, but had not seen him in three months. She was released, but on her way out was served with a summons from her husband seeking custody of their 6-year old son Lawrence.

By May 7, Blackie was considered healthy enough to stand trial and the Englewood Police booked him on charges of possessing a slot machine for gambling purposes.

The next day, May 8, St. George’s Hospital received anonymous calls saying that an attempt might be made on Blackie’s life. He was transferred to Southtown Hospital (where his doctor was) and put under 23-hour police watch by Captain Walter Healy of the Chicago Lawn district police.

Police asked on May 11 if charges of disorderly conduct and possessing a slot machine could be deferred to June 16. The request was granted by Judge Gibson E. Gorman of State Street Court.

Two gas company employees were in a prairie on August 12, 1948 when they found a wallet belonging to Blackie Sullivan on 63rd Street one block west of Cicero Avenue. The wallet contained Sullivan’s drivers license, canceled checks and other personal papers. Police conducted a search and found more papers four blocks west. Police at this time truly — and incorrectly — believed that Sullivan had finally been killed.

The next day, after getting a tip, Chief of Detective Storms telegraphed Police Chief A. M. Nelson of Rochester, Minnesota. Nelson confirmed that Sullivan was a patient of St. Mary’s Hospital there. Sullivan spoke long distance with the Chicago Tribune and claimed not to know how his wallet and papers ended up in the prairie. He said that he had left the Southtown hospital about a month ago and went to Rochester in order to have surgery performed on his shattered shoulder.

The Milwaukee Years: 1948-1956

Sullivan was pushed out of Milwaukee by police on August 27, 1948, after being found at a hotel, and began staying at a cottage near Okauchee Lake, Waukesha County.

Sullivan was picked up from a downtown Milwaukee tavern by four men on the afternoon of September 16, 1948. They drove him out to Waukesha County (on Highway C near Dousman/Waterville) where he was badly wounded. A bullet grazed his face and he was hit with a blunt object before being dumped in a ditch in front of Lloyd Owens’ farm. A bullet entered his cheek and shattered his jaw. One of the men suspected of being in the car was John DiTrapani, a Milwaukee Mafia member who would later be murdered. One bullet hit Sullivan in the right arm, which was still in a cast from May. Another bullet was said to have missed Sullivan and hit one of the gunmen in the stomach.

Mrs. John Clay and her son-in-law Douglas Leighton came by and saw Sullivan in the ditch. “At first I thought he was wearing a red sweater,” Mrs. Clay said. “Then I saw it was blood. We thought he had been run down by a car. We stopped and he said, ‘I’ve been hurt. Will you take me to a doctor?’ We put him in a car and took him to Dr. (Theodore) Watry at Dousman.” From there, Blackie was taken to Waukesha Memorial Hospital where surgeons said the wound was not serious. He also wrote down the phone number of Chicago newspaper writer Ray Brennan and asked that someone call and have him come to Waukesha.

Undersheriff Theodore Steffen said witnesses described the vehicle as a blue Buick convertible with four occupants and Illinois license plates. Waukesha County District Attorney Homer J. Williams questioned Sullivan, but he refused to talk. Williams placed Sullivan under guard and potential arrest, considering the charge of obstruction of justice. Williams told the press, “I have not determined yet whether or not charges will be placed against Sullivan because of his physical condition. He refuses to say whether he knows the men or where he got into the car. All he says when we try to learn their identity is, ‘I’ll settle this in my own way.’ He says he was ‘framed’ into taking the ride.” This was due not only to Sullivan being a victim, but also the fact that if charges were pressed the county would be responsible for Sullivan’s medical bills. The attending physician, Dr. J. C. Frick, said that Sullivan was “just about good enough for release” and described his condition as “satisfactory”. He had received blood transfusions from two Waukesha police officers.

Authorities tried to find the car involved in Blackie’s abduction, and Williams said, “If there are any other hoodlums around, we’ll bring them in on vagrancy charges.” An “attractive Milwaukee woman” described as “an old friend” of Blackie’s was brought in for questioning, but soon released.

On September 29, Blackie’s slot machine trial was again delayed, this time due to his recent injuries. The Illinois court date was now set at November 26.

The Milwaukee office of the FBI received an anonymous letter on November 1, 1948 informing them that Sam Ferrara had replaced Joseph Vallone as the head of the local Mafia, because Vallone had not been active enough. The letter said Ferrara was close to John DiTrapani, and that DiTrapani and Mike Albano were the ones who tried to kill Blackie Sullivan. The letter further said Ferrara had sold the Peacock bar for $12,500 and was trying to take control over gambling and prostitution — he showed his power to the underworld by returning an expensive ring to (redacted) after a burglary. Ferrara later extorted $500 from this person and on another occasion $5000.

Mike Albano, a suspect in the September 1948 shooting of Blackie was brought in for questioning on May 13, 1949. Albano was 32 years old with a scar down the right side of his face. He claimed to have gotten the scar as a child when he fell on to a wheelbarrow. Albano worked for a heating and plumbing company. Milwaukee police had received an anonymous note implicating the man and picked him up while he was visiting the Soldiers Home. The man had no criminal record, but was believed to have been a bootlegger during Prohibition. Authorities let him go when he denied knowing Blackie Sullivan.

Lake County Deputy Sheriff Walter L. Atkinson wanted to find Blackie and call him in for questioning on June 9, 1949. An alleged gambling hangout in Fox Lake, Illinois was bombed and Blackie had previously claimed he would control gambling in Lake County.

Blackie was shot — again! — at 9:40pm, October 7, 1949 by an unidentified Chicago man with two prior arrests for keeping a gambling house. This was the fourth attempt on Sullivan’s life in the last two years. Sullivan and Edith Johnson, 32, were getting out of a car near Johnson’s apartment at 128A West Vine Street. One shotgun blast was fired from a nearby parked 1941 light green Ford. Another man got out of the car and fired three shots from a revolver. No one was hit. A window at 128 West Vine (Green’s grocery store) was shattered, as was a window at the residence of Paul Nelson (1802 North Second Street).

On October 11, Milwaukee police escorted Sullivan outside of city limits and made him promise not to come back — they told him they did not want him murdered in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Police Chief Polcyn said on November 18, 1949 that Blackie Sullivan had pointed to a photo of his assailant in a rogues gallery album, and Polcyn asked District Attorney McCauley for a warrant against a Chicago tavern keeper. The next day, Sullivan denied that he ever named or pointed to anybody. Sullivan told the press, “I’ve never met Polcyn and I haven’t seen (Detective Captain Adolph) Kraemer since a year ago. Polcyn sent a guy named (George) Sprague to see me but I gave him a lot of air.”

Milwaukee police received a letter on March 20, 1950 concerning Blackie Sullivan. According to the letter writer, Sullivan had been picked up in September 1948 by John DiTrapani, who then drove to Best Equipment Company and picked up two men, Mike Albano and another man. From there, they drove to Dousman where Albano strangled Sullivan with a wire, the unidentified man shot him, and he was pushed from the car and left for dead until found by an elderly woman and her son. The letter writer further said that Sullivan and Edith Johnson were fired at in October 1949, but he did not know who fired the shots. The rumor around town was that Joe Alioto, owner of the Kilbourne Hotel, had received $30,000 from Chicago gamblers to “have Sullivan taken for a ride.” Allegedly, DiTrapani was given $10,000 of this money.

The letter continued, saying that DiTrapani created an alibi for himself, saying he had been at Lutz’s Bar (743 North Third) and got the following people to vouch for him: Mike DeStefano, Al Susa (owner of the Tic Tac night club), Tony Montello and Joe DeStefano. Allegedly, a Milwaukee police officer was working as a bodyguard for Joe Alioto and made a threatening call to Edith Joghnson, telling her not to identify anyone. The letter was signed, “A Milwaukee Taxpayer”.

Sally Ann Jones, 16, was found sleeping in a chair in a North Side home Friday, September 1, 1950. Jones, daughter of Blackie Sullivan, told authorities that she had come to Milwaukee to look for her father. She was placed in the care of the Home for Dependent Children until she was picked up by an uncle and aunt and brought back to Chicago.

Woodlawn (Chicago) police picked up Sullivan on October 11, 1950 for an outstanding warrant (his slot machine arrest). They found him at the corner of 71st and Jeffery. When brought to court, Sullivan looked a mess. Once weighing 250 pounds, he was now nattily dressed and toothless. Sullivan told authorities he was now living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin but came to Chicago to have a prescription filled for his wife.

The Illinois state attorney’s office escorted Sullivan to the state line on October 13 and dropped him off in Wisconsin. He was acquitted of his slot machine charges on the promise that he would stay out of Illinois.

Sullivan was found badly injured on July 7, 1951 outside his home at 1122 South Layton Boulevard, with a fractured skull and broken right collarbone. Police suspected he was beaten by three other hoodlums, but he swore that he had fallen down the stairs. He was arrested July 8 for vagrancy and a violation of the narcotics laws. Sullivan was sent to the Mendota State Hospital on July 13, 1951 for an apparent narcotics addiction.

Milwaukee police raided Sullivan’s Layton Boulevard home on Monday, July 16, 1951 after getting a call from an East Side pharmacist. They found twelve sticks of dynamite, twelve detonating caps and thirty feet of fuse. Police speculated the dynamite might be from the same stock that was used in an attempted bombing of the Kilbourn Hotel in March 1950 and a successful bombing of “Big George” Ebner’s bookie joint in Kenosha in October 1949. Edith Sullivan, 34, was arrested for narcotics. Her friend, Evelyn Lois Busch, was also arrested for narcotics when she went to pick up Sullivan’s Demerol prescription that was submitted with forged papers. Also in the house were more prescriptions for Demerol, Nembutal and other medicines, as well as a .38 revolver and cartridges. Edith told police she had found the dynamite while cleaning out the attic of her old apartment at 128A West Vine. Police instructed the Mendota State Hospital not to inform Blackie Sullivan of his wife’s arrest — they feared his “intense personality” and attachment to Edith and their 8-month old daughter Maureen might cause his to attempt an escape.

By July 24, Judge Harvey L. Neelen declared that neither Edith Sullivan nor Evelyn Busch were drug users.

Sullivan was released from Mendota State Hospital Wednesday, August 1 by his own request after doctors concluded he was not an addict.

Grand Crossing (Chicago) Police (including Sgt. John L. Sullivan) picked Sullivan up as he was leaving a restaurant at the corner of Cornell and 79th on Wednesday, August 8, 1951. They charged him with disorderly conduct “for his own protection”. Sullivan said he had come from Burlington, Wisconsin for medical treatment.

Chicago Judge Raymond P. Drymalski dismissed a disorderly conduct charge against Sullivan on Friday, August 10, 1951. Drymalski advised Sullivan to “go back to Milwaukee.” Captain Adolph Kraemer of Milwaukee said that if Blackie came back, he would be arrested for vagrancy.

On Friday, August 24, 1951, Edith Sullivan was charged with larceny for not returning a rental car within the 48 hours of August 18 as agreed upon. The complaint came from Allen Wachtl of the Milwaukee Hertz Drive-Ur-Self. Police suspected she might have traveled to Elkhorn, Wisconsin to meet her husband, who had been ordered to stay out of Chicago after being picked up by police and was also banned from Milwaukee after being fired upon by three shotgun blasts.

On September 11, 1951, Sullivan began a six-month stay in the Milwaukee County jail for vagrancy. He was picked up the night before after a bartender was suspicious of his identity and called police. Deputy DA Joseph Tierney urged the jail sentence, saying Sullivan was “the most shot at man we have ever had here. He is a menace to the community.” Sullivan protested, “Can I help it if I am being shot at?”

Edith was given a two year suspended sentence in November 1951 for her narcotics violations.

Sullivan, now 46, was arrested in his wife Edith’s hotel room at the LaSalle Hotel (729 North 11th Street) on January 22, 1952 by detectives Hans Kremreiter and Edward Reitz. Edith worked at the hotel and Blackie came in through a rear door, unobserved by staff. He was put in jail because he had previously been ordered to stay out of Milwaukee. Upon arrest, Sullivan had on “gaudy sports clothes”, a thick black mustache and was about 20 pounds heavier from the last time he was arrested. “Good living?” asked the detectives. “Yes, and regular exercise,” Sullivan replied.

John Michael “Blackie” Sullivan, 49, 729 North 11th Street, Room 820 was brought in for questioning on March 18, 1954 at approximately 11:35am. Asking questions were Captain Rudolph Glaser, Lieutenant John Zilavy, Sergeant George Pelzman and Detective Tobias Golembiewski. Sullivan said he was working as a boiler maker for Combustion Engineers in Oak Creek, and lived with his wife and two children — one had its first birthday just the day before. Sullivan said he had not seen John DiTrapani since 1949 when they ran into each other at the Home Savings Bank and said hello. They had also both been called in to Captain Kraemer’s office in 1949 when someone had put a bomb in the Kilbourn Hotel. Captain Glaser then read a statement to Sullivan that he had made to the District Attorney in Waukesha County on November 21, 1949 at 7:45pm: “I saw him in the bank at Third and Garfield and I waited in the door and when he turned and saw me, he turned white. I said, ‘Here, Grease Ball, how much money did you get to take me and dump me?’ He got $20,000 and Alioto got $20,000. I wanted to know who paid the dough.” Besides DA David L. Dancey, the statement was witnessed by Sheriff Leslie P. Rockteacher, Sergeant Charles Huepper and Detectives Dunham and Reitz. Sullivan now denied ever making such a statement, and said that it was incorrect because Homer Williams had been the DA in 1949. He further denied he knew who had taken him for a ride in Waukesha County. Glaser then read another section of Sullivan’s statement: “(I was picked up) at 128 West Vine Street. We drove to the place on Kinnickinnic Avenue where they give you service in the car. We went and had a sandwich there. Then Johnny drove down to the Best Equipment Company. Next thing Johnny picked up two workers. Fellows in overalls and they had to work on a tavern in Delafield while he drove to Racine. We drove out Bluemound and then we came to Delafield and turned off on a gravel road and a wire went around my neck. My head was pulled down and after giving me a terrific beating I was shot in the head. Before I got out I asked Johnny to help me, and when I looked, he had my left arm and he said, ‘Give him another one quick.’ They fired once more. I was dragged approximately 50 feet. A car followed and it was a Chrysler — gray. I walked some. Johnny drove off with the other fellows in the car, and I walked.” Sullivan now denied making this statement, too. He did admit that at one time, in 1948, he had planned to buy the Show Boat with DiTrapani acting as the front man. After the interview, Sullivan refused to sign the new transcript.

Police detectives brought Sullivan to the Safety Building on Wednesday, April 14, 1954 to question him a second time about the John DiTrapani murder. Through his attorney, John Craite, Sullivan offered to take a lie detector test for Acting Captain Rudolph Glaser, but requested the police stop harassing him, as it was interfering with his job at a Racine factory. Craite said if the police continued to detain Sullivan without intent to arrest him, he would file a restraining order against the police.

Sullivan died following surgery at 5:30pm on Wednesday, April 18, 1956, at age 51, in the Milwaukee County General Hospital. He had gone in for an emergency abdominal operation on April 17, and the next day suffered “surgical shock”. His reaction was intensified by the amount of scar tissue on his body from prior assassination attempts, particularly around his stomach.

The Milwaukee office of the FBI received an anonymous letter postmarked August 12, 1961. The letter said Vito Aiello had fired several shots at Blackie Sullivan with a shotgun from a parked car.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

5 Responses to “Blackie Sullivan, the Mafia’s Favorite Punching Bag”

  1. maureen sullivan Says:

    my daughter contacted you regarding my father’s fbi files and other info.I would like that info if you are willing to share,please contact me at above

  2. Doug Cline Says:

    Maureen,

    My great grandmother was married to Blackie and they had a daughter (your half sister). Would you be willing to speak to me?

    Thanks.

    Doug Cline

  3. Joanne Walter Wurm Says:

    My Father owned John Walter Co along with his brother and Father. I remember the bombing . The Mafia was all over in those days.

  4. Doug Cline Says:

    You can reach me by email, maureen.sullivan50@yahoo.com

  5. Doug Cline Says:

    Doug, you can reach me by email, maureen.sullivan50@yahoo.com I would love to speak with you as woul my brother.

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