James Edward O’Donnell or better known as “Spike” O’Donnell he was born on November 29,1889, O’Donnell was one of the few gangsters from the Capone era to retire from the rackets, pioneer the Chicago paving of streets, maintain his political clout and die of natural causes.
Spike O’Donnell had 8 brothers and 2 sisters and his brothers Walter, Steve and Tommy also were involved in crime in Chicago, two of the O’Donnell brothers would be shot to death during their criminal careers. The youngest of the family, Philip, was the only male that didnt have an arrest record, Spike O’Donnell persuaded him to avoid hanging out with criminal gangs.
Prior to Prohibition Spike and his brothers, were known criminals who were wanted for crimes including armed robbery, pick-pocketing, bombing, and murder. Spike’s first know arrest came in 1906 when he was caught for payroll fraud at the department of Liquor Licensing but he would have many more arrests. In 1912 after an unsuccessful attempt to be elected to the State Board of Equalization, which was a tax assessing service, however Spike would be arrested in possession of a billy club while being arrested outside an election office.
Spike was eventually arrested and convicted for the robbery of the Stockyards Trust & Savings Bank where he was sentenced to Joliet Prison. Upon his release from prison, which was a full pardon from the governor in 1923. Spike O’Donnell bought into the brewery business but it would be raided by police and twenty of the gang including Tommy O’Donnell were arrested and beer trucks seized.
With Prohibition in full swing, O’Donnell and his brothers began to expand their operations into territory that was controlled by the Saltis / McErlane, and hijacking beer trucks belonged to John Torrio, creating tension, which would lead to a war with the Saltis / McErlane gang, backed by John Torrio & Al Capone, which proved fatal for many of O’Donnells men, 8 were murdered in a two year period.
On the 25th of September 1925, as O’Donnell was talking to a cop in front of a drugstore on Sixty-Third and Western streets, a car pulled up and someone in the car said, “Hello, Spike!” O’Donnell saw what was coming and dropped to the ground, the Chicago Typewriter, a machine gun began firing from the car, before the would-be killers sped away. It was the first recorded use of Tommy Gun in Chicago.
A month later would see another attempt on his life when Spike, his brother Tom and another man named William Barcal are ambushed by gunmen at a railroad crossing at 91st Rockwell in Evergreen Park. Facing gunmen on both sides of 91st-Street, the O’Donnells returned fire and escaped with only a slight wound suffered by Tom O’Donnell.
By May in 1926 O’Donnell would have escaped another two attempts on his life, and another two attempts on his life in 1928. In an attempted hit on the 9th of October 1928 Spike and his brother Percy survived a double machine gun attack by the Saltis-McErlane Gang at his brother Steve’s garage at 5401 S Wood. Neither of the O’Donnells brothers were wounded in that attack. The following day, Spike O’Donnell issued a challenge to fight any member of the Saltis-McErlane Gang in a fist fight.
After another attempt on his life in 1931, gunmen from the McGeoghegan Gang opened fire on O’Donnells house, with his wife and family inside, Spike and his wife were downstairs at the time with the children upstairs asleep, no one was injured in the attack. Soon enough, O’Donnell announces that he is quitting Chicago for London.
In 1932 Charles O’Donnell is shot and died from his wounds, the shooters were believed to be from the McGeoghegan-Quinlan Gang, the same gang that had previously opened fire on Spike O’Donnells home but it didnt end there, later in the same month two men break into Spike O’Donnell’s home but find only his wife Elizabeth at home. Frustrated in their efforts, they throw her down the basement stairs, but she sustains only minor injuries.
In 1932 Spike, his wife and children go to Los Angeles to the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, after a while police say they discovered his presence in the city, though O’Donnell insists he was only there as a tourist, to watch the games and go to church regularly. “There will be no effort on my part to engage in the beer business here in Los Angeles. I am here as any other Olympic visitor, except that I also intend to go to church probably more often than the average person.” O’Donnell said to the authorities.
Seemingly having left the life of crime, or at least the bootlegging part of it Spike O’Donnell found a new career working with paving contractors and went to London to give a lecture on organized crime, however in his new legitimate business venture he had some how forgotten to pay his taxes in 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1934, the IRS filed a suit against him and claimed $247,601.
The tenth and final assassination attempt on his life came in 1943 Spike O’Donnell was shot in the back as he passes an alley between Ada and Loomis on 83rd St. The shooting was believed to be related to a paving contract fee that O’Donnell has been trying to collect, O’Donnell had beaten up a contractor, Robert G McKay once and Superintendent of Streets, Joseph Butler twice.
In the end having lost two brothers, 8 of his gang members and survived ten assassination attempts James Edward “Spike” O’Donnell died on August 26,1962, from a massive coronary thrombosis.