February 11, 2010

William "Klondike" O'Donnell: Soapy Smith's connection to Al Capone.

William "Klondike" O'Donnell

I have been working closely with Marlene McCluskey of the Skagway Historical Society and proprietor of the Skagway Historical Society blog. Marlene has been researching and collecting names of early Skagway for over three years now and kindly sent me some of her updates and I am absolutely impressed with her findings. She has grouped 8,219 people into categories, including a list of 112 who worked or had an association with Soapy Smith. I predict that by the time her and I are completed with that gang list it will be the most "precise" directory of the Skagway Soap Gang known.

One of the interesting sidebars of studying the Soap Gang is that most of the men have exciting histories of their own. In the past I have uncovered members of Soapy's gang that had association with Wyatt Earp, the Blonger brothers and other characters of the old west. Some went on to continue a life of crime long after they left Skagway. Just how further in time did they go? Most ended their careers not to long after Soapy's death but a few continued on and I lost their trails. Marlene has been doing her own research and sent me an email that suggests that one of the gang may have continued on into the era of Chicago's "roaring 20s," and Al Capone.

William O'Donnell, a member of the Skagway Soap Gang was among those deported after Soapy was killed in the shootout on Juneau Wharf in 1898. Marlene asked me if I had "ever heard of "Klondike O'Donnell" the leader of the west-side O'Donnell mob of Chicago/Cicero?" She questions that the two men could very well be one and the same. If O'Donnell had been about 18 in 1898 then in 1920 he would be about 39. It's enough to take a hard look into. I am currently working with several Chicago gangster historians to see if there is a possibility.

On-line there is little recorded about the early of William "Klondike" O'Donnell, the gangster of Chicago fame. The above photograph, an obvious cropping of a larger photograph, is the only one I could find so far. Wikipedia (always unreliable) says that William was the younger brother Irish born American prohibition bootlegger and mobster Myles O'Donnell. Shootouts with rivals will be very recognizable to patrons of my book on Soapy. In March of 1933 William took over Chicago's west-side operations but eventually failed and ended up penniless. Another website states he died in December 1976.

I should have more to report soon.



  1. About 10 years ago I found out why I'm named William, and why my grandmother didn't like to talk about the Irish family background. I'm named after him.

    Bill Bergman

  2. Hi, Bill.
    Nice to meet a descendant of a member of the Soap Gang.

  3. Hi,
    I am currently working on a book project of a forgotten Chicago 'roaring 20's' minor gangster by the name of James "Jimmy" Doherty. Doherty was childhood friend of Myles as well as McSwiggin (machine-gunned along with Assistant States Attorney WIlliam McSwiggin & Tom "Red" Duffy evening of April 27, 1926) is one of the West Side O'Donnell members, and, as i bring to lite information, was apparently seen as an up-and-comer within the O'Donnell Gang. Myles & Klondike O'Donnell (as well as Bernard) info & pictures I am looking for. Any annectodets, any leads, please keep me in mind. Building the O'Donnell brothers bio is essential in my story. Naturally I include credit in my sources. Thank you in advance, Tom Groh (tegroh@yahoo.com)

  4. Hi, Tom.
    What I posted is all I know at this time. Perhaps others in the family or friends of Soapy Smith might know a thing or two. I wish you all the best.

    Jeff Smith

  5. The photograph is incorrect. That is actually not William "Klondike" O'Donnell, but James "King of the Bombers" Belcastro, who worked for Al Capone.

    1. Thank you, Anonymous. This blog's purpose is to educate and a lot of what we think we know is incorrect. I am always open to corrections. May I ask how you know this to be true?

    2. anytime I saw photo's of WIlliam Klondike O'Donell, the photo of the man looks like a totally different man, and Ive seen Balcastro photo's and they do all look similar

    3. Thank you for your input Tom! It is appreciated. The search continues...


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith