Red Kane or Thomas Kane as he was known as, was a leading figure in one of the most vindictive gang wars to have ever happened in St. Louis. Red Kane was sentenced to serve a 12 year term in prison for the murder of Fred “Yellow Kid” Mohrle, who Kane had shot and killed in the corridor of the Four Courts Building on June 7, 1909.
According to the theory of the police, the murder was done to avenge the death of Constable Sam Young, who was shot and killed by Mohrle in April 1909. Kane was a member of a gang known as Egan’s Rats and was a friend of Young.
Egans Rats were one of the most notorious criminal organizations in St. Louis history, the Rats owed its success to Tom Egan and Thomas “Snake” Kinney, two Irish boys who lived in the North Side neighborhood known as the Kerry Patch. Thomas Egan, a dark-haired thug with a scar across one cheek, established himself early as the leader of the Ashley Street Gang, while, Snake Kinney was a charmer with a temper who found his calling as a political boss.
By the early 1900s, Egan’s gang had become a criminal organization of more than 100 men crimes included everything from petty theft and extortion to political intimidation, election rigging, and murder. They were hired out as strikebreakers. They raided freight cars by moonlight, bullied businessmen, and even worked for the Lemp brewing family, beating saloonkeepers who made the mistake of stocking Budweiser.
In 1904 a Rat named Sam Young became a constable, Sam Young was a member of Egans Rats before he was ever elected constable. A constable was an official peace officer of the city, they are authorized to carry a gun and make arrests. Technically a constable supposed to be one of the good guys, but in this case, they was basically gangster’s with a badge. Young was one of Egan’s most trusted lieutenants and he soon began the violent work of building a political base in the hotly contested 15th Ward, which was then on the city’s near North Side. As Young began to build Democratic support in the weeks before the city’s 1909 primary election, he learned that Fred “Yellow Kid” Mohrle, a fellow Rat who owned a midtown coal yard, was planning to defect to the Republican Party. The Yellow Kid would pay dearly for his treachery.
On Sunday 4th April 1904 Constable Sam Young along with a number of other men arrived at Mohrle’s coal yard, which also doubled as an after-hours drinking establishment. There was of course differing versions of accounts from both set of associates. Constable Young’s cronies later claimed that as the constable knocked at Mohrle’s door, he wanted nothing other than beer and banter. Mohrle’s associates claimed that Young pounded at the gate while demanding the Yellow Kid show himself. When Mohrle failed to appear, they said, Young climbed up the fence and began waving his gun.
Its unclear as to what happened, Mohrle apparently panicked and began shooting blindly through the wooden fence, by the time police finally arrived, officers found Young face down in a bloody puddle, his hand still holding his gun. Mohrle and his sidekick, William Wright were arrested that day and charged with murder, they both stood trial in June, just a mere two months after the murder. Justice moved swiftly in early 20th-century St. Louis, but the defendants must have known they had more to fear from Egans Rats than from any judge or jury.
Days before the trial began, Mike Kinney, Snake Kinney’s brother deputized Thomas “Red” Kane, to become a constable. Red Kane was the son of Irish immigrants who’d joined the Rats with his older brother, John. Red Kane was considered a good soldier, a deputy constable, and perhaps most important, a close friend to Sam Young, who was now permitted to carry a gun freely through the Four Courts Building, and he wore the constables badge with a single purpose, kill the Yellow Kid.
Red Kane’s opportunity came during a break on the trial’s opening day. As Mohrle spoke with a friend outside the courtroom, Kane calmly walked up to him, pulled a revolver from his jacket and in front of dozens of witnesses and shot the Yellow Kid in the head. Kane nearly emptied the cylinder as he pumped four more bullets into Mohrle’s body. He then left the building and gave himself up at the police station on Clark Avenue.
The press had a field day and reported that Kane’s motivation was personal: He and Young had been like brothers growing up in the same neighborhood. The Post-Dispatch had illustrations of the killer and victim, as well as a “photo-diagram” depicting the crime scene. The St. Louis Republic ran an even more detailed illustration the following morning, showing how Kane fled the building while dozens of witnesses watched. Wire services carried news of the slaying across the country, and the story dominated the front page of every local newspaper for several days.
Kane was sentenced to 12 years for the murder. He went to the penitentiary in Jefferson City, but soon became so ill that he was released on $12,000 bond while he appealed his conviction. Red Kane died after four agonizing days at Baptist Hospital, when bacteria from a chronic bladder infection spread to his kidneys. He was 27 years old.
In the aftermath of the courthouse shooting, Mohrle’s widow never recovered from her loss. She blamed the police and Republican bigwigs for failing to protect her husband. The Yellow Kid’s widow asserted that no Rat acted on his own initiative. “Red Kane was detailed to kill my husband,” Marie Mohrle told the Post-Dispatch. She later shot herself in a suicide attempt. “I hoped to cheat the gang killing me as they did my husband,” she said by way of an explanation. Marie Mohrle would eventually get her wish: The bullet missed her vital organs, but she died months later of blood poisoning.
William Wright, the co-accused was later acquitted of Young’s murder but remained so afraid of Egans Rats that he shot two innocent men in separate incidents and ended up in a mental institution.
In an interview Daniel Waugh, author of the book Egan’s Rats claims the order for something this big had to originate with the Egan gang hierarchy, specifically Tom Egan. Even before the Four Courts shooting, it was said that Egan gangster Pat Clancy had been picked by Tom to do the actual job. Whether this was true or not, Red Kane ended up getting the nod. Remember also, Constable Mike Kinney (Snake’s brother) tapped Red as his deputy constable (the second such position Kane held) just days before the attack, thereby giving Red a reason to be in the Four Courts and permitting him to carry a firearm. These actions strongly point to an overall conspiracy.
If Red Kane did something like this without Egan authorization, it would have opened them all up to tremendous government pressure. Not just Tom Egan and his gangsters, but possibly the Kinney brothers and their political contacts. If this was the case, I’m almost certain Kane would have gotten the book thrown at him, thrown to the wolves … pick your cliché. While their names were not given in the accounts that I have, Kane apparently had some quality legal representation. They are referred to as “multiple” on more than one occasion. Multiple lawyers didn’t come any cheaper then than they do now. Someone had to be footing the bill for them. The Egans and Kinneys make handsome suspects.