28th May 2015
It was good to welcome some new faces in the audience for Rod Evans' fascinating and entertaining account of Llewelyn Morris Humphreys' mid Wales background and his life of crime in the United States. Rod's own interest in his subject stemmed from a chance find of a second hand copy of a biography of Humphreys in a charity shop, which led to him to research him more widely.
Humphrey's parents were both from the locality. His dad was from Carno and his mother from Staylittle, (nee Wigley) and they married at the Methodist Chapel in Llanidloes. The young couple farmed near Carno towards the end of the 19th century, but struggled to make a living, and made the decision to emigrate to the US. They settled in Chicago, where they continued to struggle financially, with a growing family. Llewelyn was born in 1899, the middle child of five. He left school aged 7 in order to sell newspapers to help support the family. He was very bright and confident, and soon became involved with petty crime on the streets of Chicago. By the time he was 13 years old, he had come to the notice of Judge Jack Murray who was impressed by the lad, but was unable to persuade him to become a lawyer! However, Humphreys did value the Judge's interest, to the extent that he took on his name.
Murray Humphreys' criminal career developed through his teenage years, mainly burglaries and jewellery theft. In 1921 he moved to Oklahoma to his brother's home and while there met his future bride Mary Brendle (known as Clemi), whom he married, and took back to Chicago. For a short time he had a 'proper' job as a restaurant cook, but he was quickly drawn into dealing in bootleg liquor, by stealing consignments from others in the same business. Then came the day when he and his partner Fred Evans high-jacked liquor from Al Capone's gang, but instead of eliminating the opposition, Capone took Murray under his wing. Still only in his late twenties, Murray was then involved in crime on a rather different scale, including a wide range of business and tax evasion rackets. He also was a key figure in the Mobsters' take-over of labour unions across the US. Murray's role as a fixer for Capone, his ease in all levels of society, and his great intelligence, brought him into contact with the US judiciary and key political figures. He outwitted them at every turn, securing prison releases for Capone's cronies, 'influencing' Supreme Court appointments and political leaders including President Truman. By the 1950s, Murray was at the top of the FBI's 'most wanted' list, but he managed to evade arrest for many years more.
Murray had a philanthropic side to his character unusual in mob culture, in that he gave money or food to the poor, ensured that the widows of deceased gang members and disabled gang members received pensions and support. He was also much loved by Clemi's family in Oklahoma, and they had one child of their own, daughter Llewella. Murray was divorced by Clemi in 1957 after 3 years of separation, and he married his mistress Jeanne Stacy. Even after his second marriage, Murray and Clemi remained close.
Eventually, in 1965, the FBI were able to issue a subpoena for Murray to appear before Court. The agents' attempt to deliver the subpoena were thwarted initially by Murray's hurried departure by train to Oklahoma. He was arrested en route, and returned to Chicago, where he was given bail by an associate. The FBI never had the satisfaction of seeing Murray on trial, since, as reported in the Chicago Newspaper, "Murray died of Unnatural Causes - a heart attack" on 23rd November 1965, the day of his arrest and subsequent release on bail.