AL CAPONE is probably the most infamous gangster in history, but you might not know the name Murray Humphreys – or Murray the Hump as he was known in the criminal underworld.
Murray, with his Welsh heritage, was one of the most notorious gangsters in America alongside Capone, and took over from the man himself following his death.
Murray the Hump’s parents came from Carno, a few miles outside Newtown, having been married in the Methodist chapel at Llanidloes. However, the final years of the nineteenth century were difficult for the small Welsh farming community and the young couple found it hard to make a living on their isolated hilltop farm.
As a result they decided to emigrate to America in the hope of “making it big” in the New World. Their son, Llewellyn Morris Humphreys, was born in their first American home on North Street, Chicago in the year 1899.
The family’s fortunes did not improve following arrival in America. Humphreys had to drop out of elementary school, aged seven, to get a job selling newspapers because of their impoverished condition.
However, young “Curly” Humphreys (so nicknamed because of his dark curly hair) soon tried his hand at petty theft and became involved with the world of Chicago street gangs.
By the time he had turned 13 years old, Humphreys was in the custody of a Chicago judge by the name of Jack Murray, who apparently attempted to interest the young hoodlum in a law career.
While not inspiring Curly to follow in his footsteps, Judge Murray’s judicial lessons proved of great value to Humphreys later on. It was at this time that Llewelyn Humphreys changed his name to Murray Humphreys.
Murray the Hump, as he became known because of his fondness for wearing fashionable camel-hair coats, quickly moved on, out of newspaper selling, into the world of gangsters and hit men.
During the next few years, Humphreys appears to have been involved in several jewel thefts and burglaries and by age 16, he was serving a 60-day sentence for petty larceny in Chicago’s Bridewell Jail.
The original charge had been one of felony burglary (which would have carried a much stiffer sentence) but Humphreys had convinced the prosecutor to change the charge.
According to a later acquaintance of Humphreys, the young criminal’s private ultimatum to the prosecutor went something like this: “You try to get me indicted for burglary and I will weep in front of the grand jury. They probably won’t indict me because I am only 16 years old. But even if you get me to court, the do-gooders will say that because of my extreme youth I ought not to be sent to prison. However, if you reduce the charge to one of petty larceny, I will plead guilty. I will get a light sentence. You will get a conviction that looks good on your record. Everybody will be happy. What’s more, you will receive a suitable gift before the case goes to court.”
To begin with he worked as a hired gun – one of his early victims was apparently Capone’s arch enemy Roger Touhy, blown apart by a shotgun blast shortly after his release from federal prison.
Forging his way up the ladder, Murray the Hump was one of the planners behind the infamous St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 when seven members of Bugsy Moran’s gang were lined up against the wall of a garage in North Street, the very street where the Hump was born, and machine gunned to death.
He was far too clever and too powerful to be involved in the killings himself but his was the hand that guided the machine gunners.
After that Murray the Hump was clearly destined for the top. He was the man who, when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, decided to channel the mobsters into the semi-respectable world of running bars, keeping saloons and distributing liquor.
He also became involved in controlling the unions and by the early 1950s the mob was making nearly $100,000 dollars a year under his careful and diligent management. The other interests of the mob, prostitution and gambling, the Hump kept to himself.
When Al Capone died in 1947 Murray the Hump succeeded him at the head of the organisation.
The FBI were clear that the Hump was a violent and vicious gangster but one who always preferred to use his brain rather than the machine gun.
He was, they declared, the gangster who introduced money laundering to the mob, investing money from crooked deals in what were otherwise legitimate businesses.
He was the man, they said, who was responsible for the introduction of gambling to Las Vegas.
Violence was, however, a way of life for Murray the Hump. It is believed that he murdered the husband of his mistresses, stabbing him with an ice pick before divorcing his own wife, a Native American by the name of Mary, and then marrying the younger mistress.
Murray the Hump never forgot his Welsh roots, so much so that he had a real desire to see what the country was like. He visited Wales just once, in 1963, travelling to the land of his parents under an assumed name.
He never had the chance to come again as, two years later, at the age of 66, he died suddenly at his Chicago home.
It was perhaps just as well for the Welsh gangster as the FBI had just issued a warrant for his arrest and with his violent and murderous past beginning to catch up with him he was certainly looking at a long spell behind bars – or maybe even the death penalty.
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