Paul Newman as John Rooney (inspired by Rock Island gangster John Looney) and Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan (inspired by Daniel Drost) in 2002's "Road to Perdition"

Rock Island, that Citadel of Sin, is the wickedest city in the United States of America, bar none. And the leader of that wickedness is John Patrick Looney.”

– Evangelist Billy Sunday

On October 6, 1922, hundreds of baseball fans gathered around a scoreboard in the front window of the Argus in downtown Rock Island to follow the third game of the World Series.*

Halfway through the game, two large black cars pulled to a stop in the middle of the street. Exiting their cars, several men stood in the street to fire guns at two men who returned their fire. The fans scrambled away from the ricocheting bullets in panic. Several men were shot.

The gunmen had targeted John Looney, Rock Island’s infamous gangster. As he recounted, “They all seemed to be firing at me. I saw they had a shotgun and a rifle. They all wanted to kill me. “ He survived, but his 21-year-old son Connor was shot dead.

John Looney controlled a criminal organization that extended far beyond our community through extortion, corruption, bombings, and murder. As Roger Ruthhart wrote for the Argus, “A federal investigation revealed that 170 or more illegal businesses had been paying for protection from Mr. Looney.” Eight murders and numerous shootings were attributed to him and his men.

However, one of Looney’s most loyal lieutenants, Dan Drost, was one of the gunmen who had tried to kill him in the October 6 gun battle.

Daniel Drost drawing by Bruce Walters

Drost had served as the editor of The Rock Island News, a scandal sheet Looney had created to intimidate and blackmail his enemies. He would serve a year in prison for a libelous story published in the paper in 1921. Upon his release, Drost tried to collect money in compensation from Looney. Instead, he was cheated of his life savings, leaving him penniless. He was in his sixties.

Drost was again sentenced to prison -this time for his role in the ambush that resulted in Conner Looney’s death. After serving eight-and-a-half years in the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet, he returned to live in downtown Rock Island on an old-age retirement grant and from income he received from menial duties at the rooming house when he lived.

Davenport newspaper The Daily Times characterized Drost as “the man of mystery of the once notorious Looney gang” when it reported his death in 1939. He was also a man of contradictions.

Daniel Drost gravesite (photo by Bruce Walters)

Though he served as the editor of Looney’s newspaper, he contended that he could neither read nor write. Though loyal, he kept John Looney’s oldest daughter Kathleen from the gangster’s influence by paying for her to move to a convent in St Louis. Looney would never forgive him for this. Though he married, his wife discovered that he had married her under a false name: Daniel Chandler. She divorced him.

Daniel Drost is buried in Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island (North Public Lot 22, Grave 6), not far from the unmarked grave of Connor Looney, the young man he was convicted of killing. The grave of this “man of mystery” is also unmarked.

(*The New York Giants beat the New York Yankees 3-0.)


Bruce Walters is a Professor Emeritus in Art conferred by Western Illinois University.

This is part of an occasional series on famous (or infamous) people buried in cemeteries in the Quad Cities, and their history that is not so well-known today. If there’s a piece of history buried here that you’d like to learn more about, e-mail the location and a brief description to

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