Tommy O'Connor (criminal)

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Tommy O'Connor
"Terrible Tommy" O'connor.jpg
Born Tommy O'Connor
County Limerick, Ireland
Died 1951 (aged 70–71)
Cook County, Illinois, United States
Other names Terrible Tommy

Thomas "Terrible Tommy" O'Connor (1880–1951) was a gangster who escaped from the Chicago, Illinois, courthouse in 1923, only four days before he was to have been executed at the Historical Gallows[1] for the murder of a policeman.


O'Connor was born in Ballykenny outside the village of Strand in County Limerick, Ireland around 1880 and immigrated to the United States as a boy. He first came to public notice when he was arrested after a shootout in which Chicago Police Detective Patrick J. O'Neil was gunned down March 13, 1921.[2] This came as a result of investigators coming to arrest him as a prime suspect in a previous case. O'Connor fled and was later arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota. They sent him back to Cook County, Illinois. Charged with O'Neil's murder, O'Connor was convicted at trial and sentenced to hang. Four days before the scheduled execution, he and four other prisoners overpowered the guard, took his rifle, and escaped from the courthouse.[3] All but two of the men were last seen dodging through traffic and made their escape.

After the escape[edit]

O'Connor was last seen in 1923 during his escape. Because there was no Cook County Sheriff's Department during that time, he was able to make his way through miles of empty countryside and disappear completely. He then seemed to vanish forever with a fate unknown. Reported sightings continued into the thirties. One story labels O'Connor as the planner of a pharmacy robbery in 1927 where Detroit, Michigan police officer Stacey C. Mizner was shot and killed.[4]It is unknown how O'Connor died, though there is a tombstone at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Worth, Illinois.[5] His year of death is listed as 1951.

A court order in the 1950s forced the city of Chicago to retain O'Connor's gallows sentencing and keep him on the death list until his fate was made known. The gallows were dismantled in 1977, but apparently O'Connor still remains scheduled to hang.[6]

The gangster played by George Bancroft in the silent film Underworld (1927), directed by Josef von Sternberg was modelled on O'Connor.[7] Playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht loosely based character Earl Williams in the Broadway comedy The Front Page (1928) on O'Connor as well.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Lydersen, Kari "Infamous Piece of Chicago History Goes on the Block" Washington Post, October 31, 2006. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  2. ^ "The Officer Down Memorial Page: Detective Patrick O'Neil". Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  3. ^ Gavser, Bernard "Original Gallows Awaits Tom O'Connor 30 Years After Escape" Lakeland Ledger, May 30, 1962. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  4. ^ "The Officer Down Memorial Page: Officer Stacey Mizner". Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  5. ^ "Find A Grave: Thomas "Terrible Tommy" O'Conner". Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  6. ^ Lydersen, Kari "Infamous Piece of Chicago History Goes on the Block" Washington Post, October 31, 2006. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  7. ^ Jay Robert Nash (1981). Almanac of World Crime. Anchor Press/Doubleday. pp. 145–146. ISBN 978-0-385-15003-3.