Every fraternity has several stories of fabled alumni, their tales often told at the end of a long night, with brothers gathered around a fading campfire or a waning keg. But perhaps the most famous of fraternal legends is that of Paddy Murphy, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother and right-hand man of infamous gangster Al Capone. The story of Paddy Murphy has transcended the secretive walls of SAE houses to become a symbol of the fraternity’s everlasting brotherhood. It is often shared publicly in YouTube videos or Facebook groups or on the fraternity’s national website to promote SAE’s annual Paddy Murphy Week, which is how I – a non-SAE brother – came to hear the myth, and why I can impart it to you all without the risk of spoiling a cherished fraternity secret.
The legend begins in 1920s Chicago in the midst of America’s greatest blunder: Prohibition. The city’s social scene lived and died by the supply of unmarked barrels of bootleg whiskey and beer, courtesy of the Five Pointers gang. It is well known in the annals of history that the notorious gangster Al Capone was at the top of the crime ring keeping Speakeasy patrons hydrated. But what the books don’t tell you is that the gears of Capone’s illicit machine were oiled by his right-hand man and most trusted ally: Paddy Murphy.
Murphy was a rowdy Irishman with a long dick and a short temper. Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, they say Murphy was baptized in the Fountain of Youth and breast-fed from a shot glass. As a boy, he gave up guilt for lent. As a man, he once brought a knife to a gunfight just to give the other guy a fair chance. He always had a beautiful woman on one arm and a loaded Tommy Gun on the other. But he wasn’t all brawn.
Though he rarely spoke of it to his fellow mobsters, Murphy was possibly the only man in the Five Pointers to graduate from an institution of higher learning, though the university he attended remains clouded in mystery. After college, Murphy was on track to becoming an upstanding, successful, and law-abiding citizen, but life has a funny way of fucking up plans, and a few things didn’t go his way. Nevertheless, his smarts – cultivated from both the pages of the book and the blood of the streets – allowed him to rise the ranks of the gang at a rapid pace.
Business was a-boomin’ for the Five Pointers. But the feds were hot on their trail. A cop named Eliot Ness assembled a Prohibition enforcement team so skilled in busting mobsters, they became known as “The Untouchables.” Capone and his goons managed to shake The Untouchables at every turn, but their luck would soon run as dry as an above-ground barrel. Nessy and the boys in blue, aided by an anonymous tipster, tracked Capone’s stash of alcohol and cash and weapons to a warehouse.
Now here’s where the story differs from chapter to chapter.
In one version, Capone and Murphy returned to the warehouse to find the cops inside. So they posted up on the rooftop of a nearby building with binoculars and a rifle. Murphy peered through the binoculars to see Ness standing inside the warehouse, and noticed a shiny pin on his uniform. He adjusted the sights to see that the pin was a diamond shape, lined in gold, with the letters Phi Alpha engraved in the center. Murphy immediately recognized the pin – he too received one during his days in college after being initiated into SAE. Then Capone handed him the gun and told him to shoot. Murphy refused, saying he could never kill a brother. Capone trained the rifle on Murphy. “It’s either him or you.” Murphy again refused, and was shot dead by Capone.
In the other version, the cops surround the warehouse while the gangsters were still inside. Ness instructed the men to drop their weapons. Murphy instead pointed his signature Tommy Gun at the Feds and got lit up. As he lay on the ground bleeding out, Ness approached him. When Ness got close enough, Murphy immediately recognized the SAE pin on his uniform and extended a hand. Ness returned the offer, and to his surprise, was met by Murphy with the fraternity handshake. In that moment, Ness put down his arms, rolled a barrel next to the dying Murphy, and went shot for shot with his brother until he faded away.
In an epilogue to the legend, it is said that Murphy, being a very generous man, left all of his fortune to his wife. At least a dozen women came forward claiming to be his widowed spouse.
Today, SAEs across the nation honor the legend of Paddy Murphy in different ways. During Paddy Murphy Week, some hold paintball matches as a nod to the fabled warehouse shootout. Some hold games for sororities to compete in, the winner receiving a large donation to their charity of choice (a nod to the several women who claimed to be the rightful heirs to Murphy’s fortune). Some get incredibly drunk with their brothers, an activity often accompanied with green attire and at least one Dropkick Murphys song. All of them pause to share the incredible story of Paddy Murphy.
Even if you never join SAE, the legend’s teachings hold true for every fraternity man. Always put another brother’s life before your own. And never forget the sacred bond you share with the men who bear your letters — no matter what road life may take you down..
Image via Shutterstock