Egan's Rats: The Untold Story of the Prohibition-Era Gang That Ruled St. Louis
“We never shoot unless we know who is present,” gang boss Tom Egan declared in a candid interview with a leading St. Louis newspaper. Just who was this man who could boast in public about ordering murder? After nearly a century, the story of the Egan’s Rats can finally be told: how a group of Victorian-era street punks mushroomed into a powerful force that controlled Missouri’s largest city for nearly thirty years.
Led by two childhood pals, Thomas “Snake” Kinney and Tom Egan, the Rats emerged from the city’s Irish slums. They learned their trade the old-fashioned was, via robberies, brawls, burglaries, and shootings. When Kinney ran on the Democratic ticket in the Third Ward, his friends were at the polls to ensure he received enough votes to win. For nearly ten years, the gang cut a large swath in St. Louis, spreading fear wherever it went. With Snake Kinney elected a Missouri state senator and Tom Egan entrenched as St. Louis’s most dangerous gangster, the gang boated nearly 400 members. Nearly everyone who lived in St. Louis was touched by them in some way or another.
Soon the Rats became overconfident and careless, beginning with a public shooting war against a gang led by Missouri beverage inspector Edward “Jelly Roll” Hogan. When the once-fearful public grew tired of the gangs, their leadership ended up in federal prison for twenty-five years, largely on the testimony of one of their own who turned state’s evidence in fear for his life.
Egan’s Rats provides a fascinating glimpse into a past that wasn’t always idyllic. It was an era in which roving gangs of thugs terrorized voters with impunity, when alcohol was illegal, when a gangster could brag of his power in the newspaper, and when the tendrils of St. Louis crime reached all the way into the White House.