By Jim Iuorio.
Whenever I walk through the rooms of an old house I can't help but wish the walls could talk and tell the stories that have been covered up by the years. Sometimes they do, and over the last several days the Brandt's walls have begun to talk and they've begun to tell an amazing story.
Many stories have been told of the farm in Inverness where Capone would store or make illegal alcohol and of the gun battles that took place there. There are also stories of the 130-year-old building that is now Brandt's and how it was operated as a speakeasy and a casino in the past.
After buying the Brandt's building, I decided to research and see if the true story could still be pieced together after 100 years had passed. The answer to that question was yes, and the story that unfolded reads like an fictional novel that's difficult to believe even as I was staring at the proof.
The story begins in the early years of prohibition when a car salesman turned bootlegger, named Roger Touhy came out to the northwest suburbs in search of an alternative to the city of Chicago's water supply. He found what he was looking for in a stream in Roselle, and set out to make the highest quality beer in the Chicago area. His beer quickly became legendary and attracted the attention of some high profile Chicago gangsters.
Touhy set up some local brewery's, one in Inverness. On September 8, 1928, two federal agents attempted to take down the illegal brewery at the Wilson farm in Inverness ( this is now the Inverness Village Hall, and in some accounts was referred to as "Wolf Stock" farm in the 1920's). Four gangsters were held at gunpoint while the Feds radioed for back-up, which arrived in the form of two truckloads of armed agents, but not before one of the gangsters had escaped by diving out a window. The illegal brewery that was found on the property turned out to be the largest that had ever been discovered in Cook County.
On the morning of September 9, 1928, the 3 remaining prisoners were released (one conflicting account says they escaped, but legend shows Touhy had arranged for their release as his infiltration of law enforcement was well documented through the years).
The official story is that $50,000 of brewing equipment were destroyed that day, although to say I have my doubts is a tremendous understatement. The more likely story is that Touhy paid off law enforcement and the story for the newspapers had little to do with reality. In the photographs of Wilson Farm from the 1920's, the Brandt's building is clearly seen sitting right next to the barn that held the brewery. It sat in that spot until it was moved in the early 1930's to its current location at 807 W. Northwest Highway and was operated as a "speakeasy" for the remaining years of prohibition, and then as an illegal casino after prohibition was repealed. All through these years Al Capone's gang purchased hundreds of barrels of beer per month from Touhy for distribution in Chicago.
As the years passed, Capone became dissatisfied with the business relationship and decided that Touhy had to be eliminated, so Capone could run the alcohol operation in the northwest suburbs. Touhy, who up until this point had soft security, convinced the local police departments that life in the suburbs would be far better with Touhy at the helm than with the thuggery of Capone's gang.
Off-duty police officers constantly surrounded Touhy making a Capone hit near impossible. Several attempts were made and gun battles were fought throughout the suburbs (it has been confirmed that at least one gunfight took place in the Brandt's building, but the details remain sketchy).
Finally, Capone decided that framing Touhy might be his best option. After one failed attempt, Capone solicited the assistance of gangster "Jake the Barber" Factor, the brother of makeup mogul Max Factor. Factor and Capone staged a kidnapping wherein Factor was taken for four days and his wife paid a $75,000 ransom (several books have been written regarding this incident with the conclusion being that it was certainly a set-up).
Factor was the main witness at a trial that convicted Touhy and he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. One longtime Palatine resident has retold a story of when he was in Brandt's as a small child and witnessed "gangsters" arriving and announcing that there was new gang leadership and proceeding to smash the current slot machines (Touhy's) and replacing them with their own.
This could only be explained as rival gangs (Capone) moving in to take over the leaderless Touhy gang. The destroyed slot machines were allegedly thrown into the lake at Deer Grove. While Touhy was in prison, 20th Century Fox released a movie called "Roger Touhy Gangster" which was ironically shown at the Palatine Theater in 1944. Touhy sued the studio and was awarded $15,000 for defamation.
In 1959, 25 years after being sent to prison, Touhy was released by a new governor of the state of Illinois (most likely bribed in the usual Touhy fashion). Twenty-two days after his release, Touhy took 2 shotgun blasts from the remnants of the Capone gang on the doorstep of his sisters house on Lotus Street in Chicago (no one was ever found guilty of the killing, but a strong case was made for Capone's gang being the likely culprits in a 2000 book by John W. Touhy, oddly no relation).
Several years later, Factor was slated to stand trial for other crimes committed but was surprisingly pardoned by president John F. Kennedy after a generous contribution to the Bay of Pigs Fund.
As time wore on and the suburbs moved from farms and woods to Burger Kings and strip malls it is likely that gangster influence faded until only the whispers were left.
I think the main reason that this story remained untold for so many years is that the question that everyone asked was if the Wilson farm in Inverness was a Capone hideout. When the answer to that question proved to be no, most people stopped their search. It's funny how the real story is, in many ways, far more interesting.
A funny side note is that when Walt and I bought the restaurant and building last month, the first thing I did was call a cop friend to ask if I should expect any thugs sniffing around offering vandal protection. Fortunately that era appears to be over..
Historical information provided by the Palatine Historical Society and the book "Roger Touhy the Stolen Years".