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The Insane Chicago Way

The Daring Plan by Chicago Gangs to Create a Spanish Mafia

The Insane Chicago Way is the untold story of a daring plan by Chicago gangs in the 1990s to create a Spanish Mafia—and why it failed. John M. Hagedorn traces how Chicago Latino gang leaders, following in Al Capone’s footsteps, built a sophisticated organization dedicated to organizing crime and reducing violence. His lively stories of extensive cross-neighborhood gang organization, tales of police/gang corruption, and discovery of covert gang connections to Chicago’s Mafia challenge conventional wisdom and offer lessons for the control of violence today.

The book centers on the secret history of Spanish Growth & Development (SGD)—an organization of Latino gangs founded in 1989 and modeled on the Mafia’s nationwide Commission. It also tells a story within a story of the criminal exploits of the C-Note$, the “minor league” team of the Chicago’s Mafia (called the “Outfit”), which influenced the direction of SGD. Hagedorn’s tale is based on three years of interviews with an Outfit soldier as well as access to SGD’s constitution and other secret documents, which he supplements with interviews of key SGD leaders, court records, and newspaper accounts. The result is a stunning, heretofore unknown history of the grand ambitions of Chicago gang leaders that ultimately led to SGD’s shocking collapse in a pool of blood on the steps of a gang-organized peace conference.

The Insane Chicago Way is a compelling history of the lives and deaths of Chicago gang leaders. At the same time it is a sociological tour de force that warns of the dangers of organized crime while arguing that today’s relative disorganization of gangs presents opportunities for intervention and reductions in violence.

320 pages | 10 halftones, 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Chicago and Illinois


Sociology: Criminology, Delinquency, Social Control


“Hagedorn has done it again: charted new ground. He presents clean, clear observations in a field dominated by camera obscura posited images of ‘gangs.’ This book opens new questions about gangs, politics, and ‘disorganization.’ Read it.”

Peter K. Manning, author of Democratic Policing in a Changing World

“An intricate tale of violence, mafia influence, and police corruption.”

Chicago Reader

“This is an important book, reminiscent of Sutherland’s Professional Thief, Ianni’s Black Mafia, and other personal, insider studies of professional and organized crime and criminals. Hagedorn skillfully combines information and insights from multiple sources with scholarly analysis to reveal the nature of organized crime as it evolved during the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. His account of relationships between street gangs of this period and Chicago’s Outfit, the legacy of Al Capone and others, is especially important.”

James F. Short, Jr., coauthor of Juvenile Delinquency and Delinquents

The Insane Chicago Way is quite original and advances our knowledge on gangs in a number of ways. Most criminologists draw a clear separation between organized crime and street gangs, but Hagedorn shows—in a highly compelling account—how Chicago gangs in the 1990s attempted to emulate the mafia. In doing so he paints a new picture of street gangs as they exist in our neighborhoods—not simply as reflections of other forces but as quasi-institutions, major historical agents in the development of violence and violent traditions.”

David Brotherton, author of Banished to the Homeland

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: This Is Not a Movie
Introduction: Lifting the Veil

Part One: Ambitions

1. The Hit
2. The Old Man and the C-Note$
3. The Transition from Turf to Profits

Part Two: Organization

4. Spanish Growth and Development
5. “Two Dagos, Two Spics, and a Hillbilly”
6. Family Feuds

Part Three: Corruption

7. Envelopes and Ethnic Politics
8. Police Corruption from the Suites to the Streets

Part Four: Catastrophe

9. Ecstasy and Agony
10. The War of the Families
11. The Future of Gangs in Chicago


Appendix 1. Major Events in Chicago Gang History prior to SGD
Appendix 2. The Ten Years of SGD, Significant Events
Appendix 3. Factual Charges of Ambrose on La Raza to SGD Board
Appendix 4. SGD Grievance Format
Appendix 5. Independence of the SGD within the Organization
Appendix 6. Grievance of the Insane Spanish Cobras against the Latin Eagles
Appendix 7. By-laws of the Insane Family
Appendix 8. Application of the C-Note$ for SGD Membership
Appendix 9. Leyes of the SGD Union


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