Thursday, Dec. 04, 2008

The Untouchables

The story of Justice Department Special Agent Eliot Ness's battle against the Al Capone bootlegger gang was so sensational, it spawned a popular TV crime show and a Kevin Costner/Sean Connery blockbuster. Ness was hired to run the department's Chicago prohibition bureau in 1929 when he was just 26 years old. Back then, paying off the authorities was a daily routine for racketeering thugs like Capone, so when it came to picking his team of fellow agents, Ness had very particular criteria. According to his autobiography:

"I ticked off the general qualities I desired: single, no older than thirty, both the mental and physical stamina to work long hours and the courage and ability to use fist or gun and special investigative techniques...I needed a good telephone man, one who could tap a wire with speed and precision. I needed men who were excellent drivers, for much of our success would depend upon how expertly they could trail the mob's cars and trucks. Also, I felt it might be well to have some fresh faces from other divisions who were not known to the Chicago mobsters."

The young group of incorruptible federal agents became known as "The Untouchables." Although Ness was never able to snag Capone on murder charges, the team of young guns raided Capone-affiliated speakeasies and breweries and gathered enough evidence to eventually get Capone convicted on tax evasion charges that sent him to federal prison. Unfortunately, Ness never got to see his young team's exploits on the small or big screen. He died of a heart attack in 1957, two years before the TV series premiered and 30 years before the Brian De Palma movie.