I love learning about local history. One of my favorite things to do is to do research and see if there are any local people who have become famous and have made it onto the national radar of notice. My newest local famous Quad City discovery is John Looney.
My journey into John Looney’s life began with the movie, Road to Perdition. This movie stars Paul Newman as John Looney, an Irish Gangster, and his adopted/surrogate son, Michael Sullivan, played by Tom Hanks. Sullivan is a hit man committing murders for his boss, Looney, who just happens to be in tight with Al Capone and the Chicago mobsters. Looney is highly involved with mobster scene in the “Tri-Cities,” which are Rock Island, Moline, and Davenport. (This is when my interest was piqued!) Mass confusion and violence happens when Sullivan’s son stows himself away in his father’s car and unwittingly witnesses a murder at the hands of his father and Looney’s biological son, Connor. After that murder, Connor feels the need to protect his father and sees the only option to be killing Sullivan’s entire family.. This movie is loosely based on part of the lives of John Looney and his son, Connor.
(This movie was based on a graphic novel, Road to Perdition, that was also written by a Quad City native, Max Allan Collins, born in Muscatine, Iowa.)
With my interest piqued after watching the movie and then reading the graphic novel, I wanted to learn more about John Looney’s real life. I found a biography entitled, Citadel of Sin: The John Looney story. In this book, Richard Hamer and Roger Ruthhart map out Looney’s life from birth to death. John Patrick Looney was the oldest boy of eight children born to Patrick and Margaret Looney of Ottawa, Illinois in 1866. His father moved to America in 1855 from Ireland and the family eventually settled in Ottawa, where John was born. John worked for the Western Union at the Rock Island train station in Ottawa as a telegrapher in 1881, before he moved to Rock Island in 1885 and became the head of the city telegraph station there.
In Rock Island, John’s life changed. He became interested in politics and wanted to become a prominent, wealthy, and respected member of the community. Before he turned 23, Looney was in charge of several precincts in Rock Island and was elected President of the Fifth Ward Democratic Club. Looney then passed the state bar exam and opened up a law practice. The law practice introduced him to many shady underground characters and that way of life eventually consumed Looney, leading him to manipulate the law to get what he wanted and descending into lawlessness. Check out this book to learn more about the infamous John Looney and the impact he left on the Quad Cities.