Ken Eto

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Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto

Ken Eto (衛藤 健 Etō Ken; October 19, 1919 – January 23, 2004), also known as Tokyo Joe and "The Jap", was a Japanese-American mobster with the Chicago Outfit and eventually an FBI informant who ran Asian gambling operations for the organization. He was the highest-ranking Asian-American in the organization and is also notable for his extraordinary survival of a murder attempt.[1][2]


Eto was born in Stockton, California.[3] Eto had an eighth grade education. The last school Eto attended was Virgil Junior High School in Los Angeles, California.[4] On July 1, 1941, Eto registered for the selective service in Seattle, Washington. Eto's selective service registration card states his home address was 306 6th Ave S, Seattle, Washington and he was employed as a farmer laborer.[5]

During World War II, Eto was interned at Minidoka War Relocation Center,[6] and was arrested in 1942 for violating wartime curfew at the camp.

Eto was detained at the Minidoka War Relocation Center from August 16, 1942, unit March 19, 1943.[7]

In 1947, Eto worked as a self-employed gambler in Chicago, Illinois. In 1949, Eto worked as casino dealer at the Oriental Club in Denver, Colorado.[8]

In 1949 he moved to Chicago, where he set up an illegal gambling racket known as "bolito" and was managing up to $150,000 to $200,000 a week, including $3,000 a week payoffs to corrupt Chicago police.[9]

On August 1, 1949, Eto flew from Honolulu, Hawaii to San Francisco, California aboard United Airline flight 648. The passenger manifest for this flight, states Eto's home address was 1234 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois. [10]


On October 11, 1950, Eto was sentenced in Bannock County, Idaho by Judge Issac McDougall to 14 year imprisonment for Obtaining Money Under False Pretenses. Eto's accomplice was Edwin Tetsuro So. Eto's signed statement concerning the details of this crime and legal proceedings states "On April 12, 1950, REDACTED and myself bought what we thought were 50 cars of opium. We paid $14,000 for it. REDACTED put up $5,000.00. I put up $5,000.00, and REDACTED put up $4,000.00. After we bought it, we found out it was not opium. REDACTED made a complaint after he found out the stuff was no good. He thought that REDACTED and myself had deliberately obtained money from him for stuff that we knew was no good. That is where the charge of obtaining money under false pretenses comes in. REDACTED and myself thought it really was opium when we bought it. I pleaded not guilty on advice of my lawyer. This took place in Pocatello, Idaho. I immediately left for Chicago after this deal was made. I was brought back to Idaho sometime in March 1950. REDACTED was also tried and sentenced to the Penitentiary, and appealed the case.[11] On September 12, 1951, Eto was released on parole from prison.[12]

Survival of a murder attempt[edit]

Eto's gambling operation was eventually uncovered by the FBI, and Outfit capo Vincent Solano was afraid that Eto would turn government witness. On February 10, 1983, a few weeks prior to sentencing on his gambling conviction, he was invited to a dinner meeting. Afraid he was going to be shot, he took a bath and put on his best suit before heading out for the meeting. As he was sitting in a parked car, hitmen Jasper Campise and John Gattuso fired three shots into his head; however, the bullets only grazed his skull. After regaining consciousness, he dragged himself into a local pharmacy and called "911".[13] The 911 recording was played on WBBM-TV, with the call taker demanding to speak to Eto and then asking him if he could drive himself to a hospital. Eventually, a Chicago Fire Department ambulance was sent for him. The failed attempt on Eto's life was blamed on an insufficient amount of gunpowder in the bullet cartridges. The two gunmen had handloaded their own ammunition to reduce their chances of being traced to Eto's murder.

Turned informant[edit]

Eto agreed to only work with FBI agent Elaine Smith[14] and turn informant for the FBI. After his trial, he entered the Witness Protection Program. On July 14, 1983, about five months after the unsuccessful hit, the bodies of Eto's would-be killers were found in the trunk of a car in suburban Naperville, Illinois; the men had been strangled. The FBI stated after the failed murder attempt, they went to Campise and Gattuso and offered to place them in Witness Protection if they testified as to who ordered the killing, but both stated that they were in no danger. Eto testified in court against his former mob partners and helped put away 15 Outfit mobsters and their associates, including corrupt police officers.

Ken Eto died in Georgia in 2004 at the age of 84, living under the name Joe Tanaka. He left behind six children.[15]

A documentary on him was made by Ken’ichi Oguri.[16]


  1. ^ "30 Years Later, Mob Hitmen Murders Remain Unsolved". CBS Chicago. July 12, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  2. ^ Kass, John (July 15, 2012). "Thanks, Tokyo Joe, and those lousy gunshots". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ "Japanese American Internee Data File: Ken Eto". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  7. ^ [4]
  8. ^ []
  9. ^ Goudie, Chuck (April 9, 2008). "Tokyo Joe". American Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  10. ^ [5]
  11. ^ []
  12. ^ [6]
  13. ^ Schilling, Mark (December 31, 2008). "Tokyo Joe: The Man Who Brought Down the Chicago Mob (Mafia o Utta Otoko)". The Chicago Syndicate. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  14. ^ Smith, E.C. (June 9, 2014). A Gun in My Gucci. LSI Publishing. ISBN 978-1497347120.
  15. ^ ABC-7 Chicago: Mobster 'Tokyo Joe' is dead
  16. ^ Schilling, Mark (December 26, 2008). "Tokyo Joe: Mafia o Utta Otoko". The Japan Times. Retrieved December 19, 2015.

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