Early November 1931. On West Madison Street, there is a wonderfully diverse neighborhood made up of gypsies of Romanian, Hungarian and Czech descent. The area is flooded with Capone's rotgut, being distributed by Janos Colescu. There are many colorful characters, including the chestnut vendor with his singsong voice: "Get your red-hot che-e-estnuts, the wind is cold." When the rotgut leads to a drunken knife-fight that leaves a gypsy dead, the 8-member gypsy Senate, headed by Victor Bartok, with his brother Fedor Bartok, convenes. Eliot Ness shows up to offer his help to end the bootleg booze; they decline his help, saying they will handle matters themselves. At night, they set one of Colescu's booze trucks on fire, and give the warning to his boys Alex and Benno. Colescu decides to retaliate.
November 12, late at night. There is an old, almost dead poplar tree on the street, it is called the Death Tree; the chestnut vendor, under orders from Colescu, puts a sheet of paper with the name "Victor Bartok" on the tree. Nobody saw him, then he continues his rounds, with that singsong voice: "Get your che-e-estnuts, it's a co-o-old night." Victor Bartok finds the note and calls Ness' office; Eliot can be there in 15 minutes with Lee Hobson and Enrico Rossi. But Colescu's gang gets to Bartok first; Alex pumps hot lead into Bartok. Next morning, at the morgue, where Fedor Bartok is identifying his brother's body, Fedor decides to cooperate with Ness-- he tips him to an old warehouse, a booze shipment next Wednesday at 11 p.m.
Wednesday night, Ness and his men arrive at the warehouse 10 minutes early, they get there before Colescu and his boys. Inside, someone fires a gun at Ness; then Ness tackles a figure wearing a trenchcoat: it's a beautiful woman, Magda Bartok, Victor's daughter. She had gone there to shoot Colescu. Next day, the now 7-member gypsy Senate decrees: no one in the neighborhood is to buy any of Colescu's whiskey. This hits Colescu hard, he has a deal with Capone to move 300 cases a week. So Colescu decides to rub out Fedor. Late at night, Ness and his men check out the nearly-deserted street with the Death Tree; there is no name on it now. The chestnut vendor with his singsong voice says, "The wind is cold, get some che-e-estnuts." After Ness leaves, the vendor puts a sheet of paper with the name Fedor Bartok on the Death Tree.
Fedor goes to Bartok Groceries, and gets gunned down by Alex. The only witness is Fedor's blind mother, but she heard Alex's voice. Later, Magda Bartok tells Ness the one who ordered the killing is "ogahsho" (an outsider)--Janos Colescu. When Magda Bartok goes to take her rightful place as head of the gypsy Senate, Colescu and his boys Alex and Benno are there. Later, Ness and his men arrest Alex and Benno. Fedor's mother, the ear-witness, identifies Alex as the killer, by his voice. Ness and his men give Alex the 3rd degree; Ness tells Alex that when they read his prior record in court, the jury will convict him of murder. Alex says Colescu ordered the hit. After Rossi takes Alex away, Lee Hobson says, "Eliot, you can't read a man's record into a trial; it's illegal, you know that." Eliot grins and says, "Yeah." (But Alex doesn't know that.)
Colescu goes into hiding. Then Ness puts the pressure on: he puts a sheet of paper, with the name Janos Colescu, on the Death Tree. Magda Bartok is now sitting at the head of the gypsy Senate; Colescu decides to rub her out. When Colescu and Benno go to where the Senate meets, Benno gets cold feet--so Colescu fills him full of hot lead. Colescu breaks through the window above the Senate meet and starts blasting. Eliot shoots Colescu, thus ending his reign of terror, and supply of Capone booze to the gypsy neighborhood.