Johnny Jack Nounes

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Johnny Jack Nounes
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Johnny Jack Nounes' Gravesite Picture
Born (1890-01-12)January 12, 1890
Galveston, Texas, U.S.
Died March 11, 1970(1970-03-11) (aged 80)
Galveston, Texas, U.S.
Other names John L. Nonus, Johnny Jack, The Beau Brummel of Galveston, The Robin Hood of the Gulf
Occupation Gangster, Mob Boss
Title Boss
Criminal charge Bootlegging
Criminal penalty Imprisonment, Leavenworth Penitentiary and Atlanta Penitentiary
Criminal status Deceased
  • Willie M. Nounes (c. 1920 – c. 1926)
  • Ollie Nounes (c. 1926 – c. 1930)
  • Mary L. Nounes (c. 1932 – c. 1935)
  • Theresa Colunga Nounes (c. 1940 – 1970; his death)
Children John Louis Nounes Jr., Louis John Nounes, and Helen Nounes Cordray
Parent(s) Emanuel Nonus and Angelica Pinto Nonus
Allegiance Downtown Gang
Conviction(s) 1924 and 1929
Mayor of West Beach, Galveston, Texas
In office
1947 – ?
Mayor of Pirates Beach, Galveston, Texas
In office
c. 1960 – ?

Johnny Jack Nounes, also known as the "Beau Brummell of Galveston", was an organized crime boss in Galveston, Texas, United States, during the early 1900s. He, with one-armed George Musey, led the Downtown Gang, one of the two gangs which controlled most of the Galveston Crime Syndicate until the early 1930s. They fought for control of the island against the rival Beach Gang led by Ollie Quinn and Dutch Voight. As the prohibition era began, his gang came to be one of the dominant forces in the Galveston Crime Syndicate. Galveston became the main port of entry for liquor supply in Texas and many parts of the Midwest.

Nounes' flamboyance attracted the attention of federal authorities, leading to his conviction in 1924 and sentencing to Leavenworth Penitentiary.[1] His prison term was short but only two years after being released he was again sentenced to prison after being caught with a shipment of liquor in Seabrook.[2] Frank Nitti, a business partner of Nounes, would go on to become the "enforcer" for Al Capone's crime organization in Chicago as well as the future boss of the Chicago Outfit.[3]

Family and early life[edit]

Johnny Jack Nounes was born John Louis Nonus in Galveston, Texas, to Emanuel and Angelica Nonus, both immigrants from Portugal. They both immigrated to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1872 and married in Galveston soon after meeting. The Nonus family had fifteen children but six died at infancy; the remaining nine were Mary, Lyda, Annie, Mellie, Lily, Beatrice, Mabel, Johnny, and Francis. In 1900, the 1900 Galveston hurricane hit the island. During this devastating storm, Emanuel managed to break a hole in the house's ceiling in order to get all the children to safety; Johnny was ten years old.

One of Johnny's earliest jobs was a butcher. At the end of the day he would save all of the meat scraps and would give to his younger brother Francis so that he could take it home to the family. The family was struggling on hard times and so they would eat whatever they could get. Around 1914 Johnny changed his last name from "Nonus" to "Nounes" because he rounded up the Downtown Gang a few years earlier and didn't want to ruin his family name as well as releasing it to rivals, and so that how his name was born, Johnny Jack Nounes. He was a very cocky fella who liked to street fight and loved violating the law. With his early crime life, he was probably most associated with gambling and prostitution while being in competition with the Beach Gang led by Dutch Voight and Ollie Quinn.[4]


As prohibition of alcohol started to take its toll in the early 1920s, Nounes grew the gang with soldiers and went right to work rum-running. During this time a young Syrian in his early named George Musey stepped into the picture. He would become Nounes' right-hand man, running the Downtown Gang with him. Among the earliest gang members were Theodore "Fatty" Owens, Otis Skains, Mitchell "Mitch" Frankovitch, Kye Gregory, Morris "Kid" Ross, Joe Varnell, Lawrence "King Coal" Balkey, and Tom Lera. The gang was stronger than ever with Nounes and Musey leading. Their midnight travels through rum-row made them more money than ever; Nounes soon became a millionaire because of his guts and his boat.[4]

Johnny owned a boat called the Cherokee which had an airplane engine installed in it and so it could out run any federal prohibition agent that tried to catch it. That boat was loaded with many cases of liquor from the Bahamas, Cuba, and Jamaica. Prostitution and gambling was now a side business operating in his clubs downtown. Among his first notable customer was Frank Nitti, who met Nounes back in 1917 before prohibition. Nitti would come down from the Chicago Outfit to meet with Johnny Jack in order to conduct business dealing with liquor. Southern gangsters attracted a lot of northern gangster because of their direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. Frank Nitti would later become a regular customer of Nounes and friend to his brother Francis. Francis lost his job at the Santa Fe Railroad at the start of the Great Depression, and so Johnny gave him a job bar tending at one of his speakeasys. Therefore, Frank would give furniture and other lavish gifts to the Nonus boys because he liked and respected them very much.

Johnny Jack had the island in his pocket he had the money coming in from the booze, gambling, and prostitution. He would even hijack the Beach Gang's shipments and cheat the Cuban's out of thinking soap coupons were money for buying booze. If anyone gave him any lip he would beat them with his gold-headed cane. He had all the popular gangster of the time looking at him from Chicago's Al Capone to New York's Arnold Rothstein. He was a funny flamboyant man who liked to be the center of attention. He would carry around a bundle of $100 bills and would give them to anybody in need. He would drive around in his fancy cars and buy toys for the kids around town on Christmas. He made a lot but he gave a lot.

"Beau Brummell of Galveston"[edit]

Therefore, New York's society was looking at this flashy prominent mobster head of the Galveston Crime Syndicate. Nounes took a trip up to New York City and threw a $40,000 party at the Hotel Pennsylvania. Many gangster and Hollywood actresses would attend. Among some of them were Clara Bow and Nancy Carroll, who were both said to have bathed in tubs filled with champagne. His character and personality attracted starlets, therefore, Johnny also dated actress Theda Bara for a short time around 1919-1920, with her also having a champagne filled bath. He had his suits custom-tailored in New York while having an apartment over looking Central Park for when he went up to conduct business and throw one of his extravagant parties. Johnny had some great times, however he come to face the trials that would come ahead of him.[4]

Trials and prison[edit]

Nounes was convicted in 1924 due to bootlegging. He received up to two years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. When Judge J. C. Hutcheson fined him $5,000, he grinned at him and said "Hell, Judge, I've got that much in my right pocket!" Nounes called Leavenworth his home for two years. However, after being released he met with his right-hand man George Musey. They took the gang on a run and were unloading the booze at Seabrook, Texas, and were caught by agents. Nounes was then tried over the next two years and was sentenced to two years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1929. J.C. Hutcheson stated that Nounes has bothered him more than any other person in his district.[4]

Post-prohibition and later life[edit]

Soon after Nounes's release, around the time prohibition was ending, Chicago Outfit boss Frank Nitti was looking for new money. He stole $24,000 from Johnny Jack and opposing mobster Dutch Voight. However, Johnny Jack and Voight found Nitti at a Houston bar one night. They then high-tailed him back to the island where they talked over a nice plate of spaghetti on Seawall Boulevard. Johnny then confronted him that it would either be his money or his brains next to that plate of spaghetti. The next day Nitti forked over the $24,000 and was riding a train back to Chicago never to be seen in Galveston again. Furthermore, Sam and Rose Maceo Maceo have taken over the Beach Gang and the Galveston crime underworld during Nounes' absence. They established the Maceo Crime Syndicate and would come to take control of the island.[4]

Therefore, Johnny would go on to own clubs selling booze like he always has with a little gambling going on the side. He would then run for mayor of West Beach, Galveston, Texas and win in 1947. He also ran for mayor in Pirates Beach, Galveston, in the early 1960s and won again. His stardom and flamboyance were a vital role in his fiddle with politics. No matter how old the Beau Brummel got he always had his hand in the game trying to make money one way or another. Even in his last days Johnny Jack still carried about four body guards with him just in case an old rival wanted to pick a fight.

Health problems and death[edit]

By the late 1960s Nounes had lost both of his legs due to diabetes. However, on his worst day he could still beat the mess out anybody. Two men learned that the hard way when they tried to rob the wheel-chaired Nounes' club and were corrected by the end of his baseball bat. However, Nounes died on March 11, 1970, at St. Mary's Hospital, Galveston. One of his pallbearers at his funeral was mobster Dutch Voight. He is buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

Preceded by
Boss of the Downtown Gang
Johnny Jack Nounes

Succeeded by
George Musey (acting)
1925-1927; 1930

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haile (1998), p. 15. "Johnny Jack’s free-spending flamboyance earned him folk-hero status among tolerant Galvestonians but also attracted the attention of federal agents, who succeeded in sending him to Leavenworth in 1924."
  2. ^ Haile (1998), p. 15. "Less than two years after his triumphant return, Nounes and partner Musey were caught red-handed at Seabrook with a boatload of booze."
  3. ^ Cartwright (1998), pg. 210.
  4. ^ a b c d e url=