Showing posts with label Bronx. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bronx. Show all posts

25 April 2020

Sláinte: The Strange Tale of “Durable Mike” Malloy

One of my favorite criminal stories of Prohibition isn’t gangster-related, but the story of “Durable Mike” Malloy, a New York derelict who had the misfortune of being targeted for murder by a group of grubby Bronx speakeasy habitués, who intended to collect a life insurance policy upon his demise. Only trouble was, Malloy refused to die. It was as if Rasputin had relocated to the Bronx. The clumsy murder attempts of the four perpetrators, nicknamed by the tabloids “The Murder Trust,” are both disturbing and darkly funny, as if they were ripped straight from the script of a Coen Brothers movie. The saga of Durable Mike Malloy and the Murder Trust is so strange and off-the-wall; it’s the kind of story that just can’t be made up. The truth is crazy enough on its own…

New York City, like the rest of the country, was getting the shit kicked out of it by the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The carefree America of the Jazz Age had vanished like smoke. In its place, a somber populace waited in blocks-long breadlines for food. Unemployment was skyrocketing to near 30%. Banks were closing at a rapid rate. Once wealthy Wall Street bankers now sat in gutters beginning for change. Prohibition was still the law of the land, though it had no real teeth. The increasingly large block of poor and homeless transients that roamed the city often scrounged whatever free food and drink they could at their neighborhood speakeasy.

Twenty-seven-year old Anthony Marino managed to weather the Dirty Thirties by the skin of his teeth. A grungy man who suffered from perpetual financial troubles and an advancing case of syphilis, Marino ran a small, bare-bones speakeasy in the back of an abandoned storefront at 3775 Third Avenue in the Bronx. It wasn’t much; a sofa, four tables, a twelve-foot long plywood bar along the back wall, and a modest supply of bootleg liquor (the saloon was so bland and nondescript that it didn’t even have a name). Marino's bartender was a twenty-eight-year-old Joseph "Red" Murphy, an alcoholic simpleton and one-time chemist who had been a vagrant for most of his life. While Tony sporadically paid Red a dollar-a-day wage, it was unspoken yet understood that Murphy’s real payment was the free run of his boss's stock of booze behind the bar. The homeless Murphy usually crashed on the bar’s couch after he closed, curling up under a single blanket to stay warm. By his own later admission, he "had nowhere else to go."

The front of Tony Marino's Bronx speakeasy at 3775 Third Avenue (New York Daily News)
It was a miserable way to make a living. Sometimes Marino’s customers paid him, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they’d empty whatever coins they had in their pockets and put the rest of their bill on a tab. Sometimes they paid the tab, sometimes they didn't. Some nights it seemed to Tony Marino as if he was pouring his meager profits down the collective gullet of his lowly clientele.  

By the beginning of 1932, Marino was up to his asshole in bills and he couldn’t seem to find a way out of the red ink. One evening, while looking out at his cruddy barroom, he hatched a particularly odious plan. Most of the people who drank here were tough neighborhood residents or shifty bums looking to cadge free booze and sandwiches. No one would miss those latter types. Tony Marino began sizing up a young homeless woman named Mabel “Betty” Carlson. After giving her food and a place to sleep, Tony carefully questioned her about her past. She had no family, no friends, and no future.

A couple of weeks later, Marino produced an official-looking document for the inebriated Carlson. Tony explained that he was running for alderman, and his petition needed signatures so he could get on the ballot. Miss Carlson gladly obliged. Little did Betty know that she had signed a $2000 life insurance policy that made Anthony Marino the sole beneficiary in the event of her death. A week later on St. Patrick’s Day, Marino got Carlson so drunk she passed out. He then carried her to an upstairs bedroom, stripped off her clothes, and doused her with ice water. Marino then opened the window, wheeled the bed right underneath it, and let the cold March air do the rest. Betty Carlson was found dead the next day. The cause of death was listed as bronchial pneumonia, and Marino collected his $2000 without incident. This money managed to hold Marino until the summer of 1932 when the bills began piling up once again…

Anthony Marino (New York Daily News)
It all began, like many bad ideas, with drinks at a bar. Two of Tony Marino’s trusted friends, Francis Pasqua and Daniel Kreisberg, joined him for a glass of hooch at one of the saloon’s four tables on a sweltering afternoon in late July 1932. The three men discussed how hard times were and how they just couldn't catch a break. It was a grim, desperate era they were living in. Marino harped on his two foremost concerns; a bad case of blue balls and his saloon’s extreme lack of business. In fact, at that moment, they were the only customers in the place. Well…except for the tall, rail-thin Irishman standing at the end of the bar trying to wheedle another drink out of bartender Red Murphy.

No one knew much about Michael Malloy – not even Malloy himself, it seemed - other than that he was originally from Ireland. The man had no family or friends. No known date of birth (they guessed him to be about sixty). It was said that he was once a firefighter, but nowadays his chief vocation seemed to be drinking. The man was a hopeless alcoholic. From dawn to dusk and back again, Malloy would drink whatever was placed in front of him; gin, whiskey, rum, beer, or anything else that could be distilled or brewed. He got by doing occasional odd jobs such as sweeping stores or collecting garbage. He was more than happy to be paid in booze instead of money. Malloy was, according to the New York Daily Mirror, part of the “flotsam and jetsam in the swift current of underworld speakeasy life, those no-longer-responsible derelicts who stumble through the last days of their lives in a continual haze of ‘Bowery Smoke.’ ”

Frank Pasqua sipped his drink as he turned his flat, lizard-like gaze on Malloy. Twenty-four years old, Frank was an undertaker by trade who ran a funeral home on E. 116th Street in East Harlem. A clever, cold-blooded type, Pasqua was one of the only people around who knew what Tony Marino had done to Betty Carlson. As he listened to Tony go on about his penurious business, Pasqua said softly, “Why don’t you take out insurance on Malloy?” Marino looked at his friend with a kind of famished hope, as if Pasqua had just tossed him a life preserver made of cash. “I can take care of the rest,” the young undertaker assured.

Tony agreed, “He looks all in. He ain’t got much longer anyhow. The stuff is getting’ him.” Both Marino and Pasqua turned to look at the stone-faced Dan Kreisberg. A twenty-nine-year-old greengrocer with a wife and three kids at home, Dan wasn’t quite as benign as he seemed on the surface. Despite being married, Kreisberg was an accomplice of Marino’s cousin Marie Baker, known to the police and media as “The Pants Bandit.” Marie, with a Bonnie Parker-like flair, would hold up men on the street and after relieving them of their money and valuables, force them at gunpoint to remove their pants. The victims’ lack of trousers made them unable (or unwilling) to give chase to the fleeing robber. Baker’s lone male companion would stand guard during the proceedings. For that minimal task, Kreisberg was paid a small share of the take. All things considered, however, Dan Kreisberg wasn't cut out to be a criminal; he lacked Pasqua's cunning and Marino's brutality. Kreisberg would later tell police he took part in the coming shenanigans only to support his family. Nevertheless, with the specter of murder placed on the table before him, Kreisberg gave his pals a firm nod. He was in. After all, it beat being the sidekick of “The Pants Bandit.”

With the plan in place, the insurance policies had to be set up. The boys convinced Mike Malloy that he needed some insurance on himself. Malloy, who had spent untold years in an alcohol-induced haze, didn't seem to think anything was amiss and allowed Frank Pasqua to steer him towards the insurance office. Malloy was instructed to identify himself as Nicholas Mellory and claim to be a florist, a detail that one of Pasqua’s funeral business colleagues would verify. However, no amount of pomade and toilet water could clean up the pestiferous Malloy. The policy application came back stamped REJECTED. As did a half-dozen others. It occurred to the boys that if Malloy was going to be insured by some gullible company, he could not show his face.

Frank Pasqua (New York Daily News)

It ultimately took Pasqua a total of five months (and the assistance of an unscrupulous insurance agent) to secure three policies – all double indemnity- on Nicholas Mellory’s life; two with Prudential Life Insurance Company and the final one with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Marino’s barkeep, Red Murphy, was enlisted to identify the deceased man as Nicholas Mellory and claim to be his brother and beneficiary. If all went as planned, the four plotters (Pasqua, Marino, Kreisberg, and Murphy) would split $3,576 (about $67,400 by current standards).

These four initial conspirators would soon be nicknamed “The Murder Trust” by the New York tabloids. By the time D-Day approached in December 1932, their ranks had swelled to include a handful of Marino’s regulars. Two petty crooks wanted in on the scheme, John McNally and Edward “Tin Ear” Smith (his prosthetic ear was actually made of wax). A vicious lower level member of the Dutch Schultz mob called “Tough Tony” Bastone learned of the plot and coerced a piece of the pie out of the plotters. Also tagging along was Bastone’s sidekick Joseph Maglione. After this, Tony Marino’s peculiar club was closed to further memberships…for the time being.

The lethal octet assembled in Marino’s speakeasy a few days before Christmas 1932 to remove Mike Malloy from the land of the living. When the shabbily dressed target wandered into the warm saloon, he was surprised to hear Tony Marino greet him by saying he now had an open tab. A price war between other neighborhood gin mills had forced him to ease his rules. Malloy, who was more accustomed to getting the bum’s rush from local taverns, grinned with gratitude at the news and happily sat down at the bar.

The boys initially tried to get Malloy to drink himself to death, but the man had been drinking so much for so long, his tolerance for alcohol seemed inhuman. That first night, Mike had so many refills that Marino's wrist got sore from tipping bottles. After putting away enough Prohibition-era alky to paralyze the New York Giants’ entire offensive line, Mike bid his new friends farewell and staggered out into the Bronx night. For three straight evenings, Malloy returned to the saloon and drank prodigious amounts of liquor with no ill after-effects. The plotters were stumped. Perhaps Mike would choke on his vomit or fall and fracture his skull if they just kept serving him. Nothing happened. It seemed as if Tony Marino would run out of booze before Mike Malloy breathed his last.

Tough Tony Bastone grew impatient by the fourth night and suggested that they stop fucking around and just blow Malloy’s brains out on a deserted side street. Red Murphy had a cooler head and suggested they feed their target wood alcohol. As a bartender and chemist, Murphy was intimately familiar with all the lethal poisons floating around the country’s speakeasies. The main ingredient of wood alcohol is methanol, a highly toxic chemical substance often found in such industrial compounds as paint thinner and automobile antifreeze. Consuming just ten milliliters of methanol was enough to induce blindness in humans. Two to eight ounces was enough to kill a grown adult. Marino loved the idea. Even the normally staid Dan Kreisberg broke into a grin, “Yeah, feed ‘im wood alcohol cocktails and see what happens.”

The next afternoon, Murphy procured several ten-cent cans of wood alcohol from a nearby paint store. Red then spent the next hour or so transferring the poison to innocuous-looking liquor bottles. That evening, Mike Malloy arrived for his usual gargantuan ration of booze. Murphy gave him a few pops of Marino’s standard rotgut to get him “feeling good.” He then announced to Mike that some “new stuff” had just come in today. Would he like to try it? As the plotters anxiously watched, Malloy downed a shot of booze laced with wood alcohol. To their amazement, he commented that it was quite smooth. Could he have another? Red poured him another…and another. Malloy kept drinking shots of whiskey mixed with wood alcohol and showed no signs of discomfort other than the usual symptoms of drunkenness. In the coming nights, Murphy and Marino took to lacing Malloy’s drinks with stronger doses of wood alcohol. Finally throwing caution to the wind, they served Mike straight wood alcohol. Seemingly oblivious to the noxious odor and taste, Malloy guzzled this poison night after night as the Murder Trust looked on in utter disbelief, probably wondering just what the hell Malloy had been drinking all his life.


After a full week’s diet of raw wood alcohol, Malloy suddenly collapsed to the floor of the virtually empty speakeasy one night. The crew fell silent. Frank Pasqua, the undertaker, moved in close to check Malloy’s vital signs. Mike was still breathing, but slowly and erratically. The boys eagerly watched for his chest to stop moving. Malloy let out a long, seemingly final ragged exhale…and then began snoring loudly. Mike woke up early the next morning to greet Red Murphy with, “Gimme some of th’ old regular, lad!”

The plot to kill Mike Malloy was not only turning into a giant pain in the ass, but it was also costing Tony Marino increasingly large sums of money; Mike’s open bar tab, the cans of wood alcohol, the monthly insurance premiums. Marino complained that he was going to go bankrupt before they knocked off Malloy. Tough Tony Bastone flashed two pistols and proposed to cut off Malloy’s tab the easy way. Frank Pasqua had another solution. He claimed to have once seen a man die after eating raw oysters mixed with alcohol. And their target had a well-known fondness for seafood. Pasqua suggested they pickle some oysters in wood alcohol, let them sit for a few days, and feed them to the unsuspecting Malloy while he boozed. As Frank told his partners, “Alcohol taken during a meal of oysters will invariably cause acute indigestion, for the oysters tend to remain preserved.”

Per Pasqua’s plan, Mike Malloy dug into his putrid meal. He amazingly sang its praises, “You oughta open a restaurant Tony, you know first-class food!” Malloy continued to gorge himself on Oysters Ptomaine while requesting refills of that “new booze” to wash them down with. The Murder Trust dealt themselves a few hands of pinochle while waiting for their mark to finally give up the ghost. Instead of dying, Malloy downed another glass of wood alcohol and issued a loud belch.

The conspirators were growing angry and well as desperate. By this point, killing Mike Malloy was as much about pride as it was about profit. They didn't even bother giving Malloy regular booze anymore, serving him straight wood alcohol from a large jug kept behind the bar. Some of the plotters started bitching about how they’d have to divide the loot with so many people that they wouldn’t see much of a reward.

Meanwhile, a dim light flickered in the corroded neurons of Red Murphy's alcohol-sodden brain. He opened a tin of sardines, proceeded to let them spoil for several days, and then ground the sardine tin itself in tiny metal shavings, which he proceeded to mix in with the rotten sardines. Several shards of broken glass were added, as well. Chef Red then garnished his pièce de résistance with a few small carpet tacks. After smearing this abysmal concoction onto two slices of bread, Murphy served Mike Malloy the sandwich. Mike tore into it with aplomb. The Murder Trust watched him with the intensity of vampires staring at a shaving cut. Any second now, the minuscule shards of metal would begin shredding Malloy’s internal organs. Mike was unfazed, however, and after snarfing the rest of his sandwich down polished off another glass of wood alcohol. Malloy politely asked Murphy for more of both, his breath fairly reeking of fish and chemicals.

Tony Marino called the plotters together to discuss what course of action to take next. The name “Rasputin” was muttered more than once during their conversation. Just how was this fucking guy still alive? One suggested merely beating Malloy over the head until he died. They could do it while he sat at the bar, or jump him out in the street and pass it off as a random mugging. In a flair of gratuitous ultra-violence that had Tough Tony Bastone’s name written all over it, the Murder Trust discussed getting their hands on a Thompson submachine gun and giving Malloy a Chicago-style sendoff. As tough as Malloy was, he certainly wasn’t bulletproof. The boys combed the underbelly of the neighborhood until they found a young Black hoodlum who was willing to sell them a “Tommy Gun” for $50. However, the plan fell through because Marino was unwilling to part with such a large sum of money. Mike Malloy had dodged yet another bullet (pun intended).

Ironically, Malloy took a week-long break from his booze consumption during this period to seek treatment for a festering sore on his leg at Fordham Hospital. It showed the Murder Trust that despite everything, Mike Malloy was indeed physically fallible. There was still hope...

From left to right, Dan Kreisberg, Joseph "Red" Murphy, and Tony Marino (New York Daily News)
By mid-January, the city of New York was locked amid a dangerous cold snap. Tony Marino harkened back to his successful dispatching of Betty Carlson. If the ice water and cold air could kill Carson, they could kill Mike Malloy.

That very night, Marino and Frank Pasqua waited until Malloy passed out drunk at the bar and hauled him outside to Pasqua’s roadster. The weather, the worst of the winter of 1933, was perfect for their mission. An intense blizzard was in progress and a demonic wind straight from the bowels of hell blew in from the northwest. The temperature was a bone-chilling -14 Fahrenheit. The two conspirators drove in silence to Crotona Park, a few blocks to the east. Once there, they dragged the unconscious Malloy into the snowy park. This task was not as easy as it sounded. Neither Marino nor Pasqua were great physical specimens, and Malloy was not a small man. In addition to Mike’s dead weight, they were also lugging a 5-gallon jug of water. Before long, their cumbersome stroll had both men panting and popping sweat despite the Arctic-like weather conditions. After laying Malloy on a suitable park bench, they stripped off his shirt and doused his head and bare torso with the contents of the water jug. Through it all, Malloy never stirred. Confident that Mike would quickly freeze to death, Marino and Pasqua retreated to the car.

When Tony Marino arrived at his saloon the next afternoon, he was astounded to find a half-frozen Mike Malloy asleep in his basement. It seemed at some point during the night, Malloy had woken up and instinctively staggered through the snowstorm back to Marino’s Third Avenue dive bar, where a drink-befuddled Red Murphy let him in. The sheer barbarity of Marino and Pasqua’s act was overshadowed by Malloy’s mind-boggling survival. As the New York Daily News would later put it, “He didn’t even get the sniffles and was back the next day for his alky ration.”

Not long after his icy jaunt through Crotona Park, Frank Pasqua began trying to cover his ass by spending as little time at the Bronx speakeasy as possible. Probably the shrewdest passenger on the ship of fools known as the S.S. Murder Trust, Pasqua and his father-in-law had just opened a beer garden of their own to the rear of their East Harlem funeral home. It was a nice touch; the bereaved could enjoy a cold glass of suds while their loved ones were embalmed in the next room. Unlike the syphilitic Marino, Pasqua wanted to at least try to appear respectable. Unlike the slimy Pasqua, however, Tough Tony Bastone was itching to kill someone, anyone. Unable to whack Malloy, Bastone set his sights on fellow conspirator John McNally. When Tony Marino asked why, Bastone merely replied, "I don't like that Irish cocksucker." Marino was coerced into helping Tough Tony and Joe Maglione stake out McNally’s house late one cold January night before bailing on the deranged plot. The bloodthirsty Bastone managed to back off for a bit.

February rapidly approached. Another round of insurance premium payments was due. By now, the increasingly frantic Murder Trust had reached a Clausewitzian state of total war against Mike Malloy. As such, the days of tainted oysters and broken glass sandwiches were long past. Far more drastic measures were required. Joe Maglione had a friend who, on the surface, was a harmless cab driver. In reality, Harry Green was a heartless sociopath who was eager to try out murder for the first time. For a $150 cut of the insurance money, Green was willing to run Mike Malloy down in the street with his cab. It seemed that deliverance was finally at hand for the Murder Trust.

The next night, January 30, Mike Malloy was gotten near-comatose drunk and loaded into Harry Green’s cab. Five of the conspirators (Tony Marino, Red Murphy, Tough Tony Bastone, Joe Maglione, and John McNally) crammed themselves into the vehicle (the insensible Malloy was shoved down onto the floorboards to serve as a crude footrest.) Snow had just begun to gently fall as the Murder Trust headed northeast towards Baychester, then a remote, sparsely populated section of the Bronx. They stopped in the northbound lane of Baychester Avenue, not far from Gun Hill Road. The street was deserted at midnight, so there were no witnesses to worry about. Bastone and Murphy dragged Malloy out of the cab and held him upright, crucifixion-style. Green backed his cab up two full city blocks to make sure he had enough room to accelerate to a high rate of speed. The cabbie gunned his engine as the boys tensed with anticipation. Bastone and Murphy ducked out of the way. Maglione suddenly screamed, “STOP!” Green halted the cab in a loud cacophony of squealing tires. Maglione had seen a light out of the corner of his eye. It turned to be just a local woman turning on a light in her room.

Green reversed his hack the requisite two blocks for another try. Once Malloy was propped upright in the street, the cabbie floored his accelerator. The weaving drunk rapidly swelled in the windshield, looking to the plotters like some crazy camera trick at the picture show. Just at the moment of truth, the completely oblivious Malloy blundered out of the path of the speeding taxi, which rocketed past him with inches to spare. Tony Marino and his pals literally howled with frustration.

Harry Green was angrily muttering curses under his breath as he backed his cab up yet another time. Bastone and Murphy, who were bickering incessantly by this point, once again stood up poor old Mike Malloy in the middle of the street to await his miserable fate. This time, Bastone and Murphy held up Malloy until the last possible second. Green was traveling between 45 and 50 mph when his cab struck the drunken man head-on. Malloy briefly flung up on the hood before disappearing from view. The plotters felt two pronounced thuds as the cab rolled over the body. The cab came to a stop. Just to make sure Malloy was dead, Green threw his hack in reverse and shot backward directly over Malloy’s unmoving form, which was spun sideways by the force of the impact. However, the headlights of an approaching vehicle scared off the boys before they could confirm their success.

Red Murphy, who had been cast in the role of Nicholas Mellory’s “brother,” was tasked with calling the area hospitals and morgues in an attempt to locate his “sibling.” No one had heard a thing. Nor was there anything in the newspapers about a man being run down by a hit-and-run driver in Baychester. The conspirators were mystified. Mike Malloy had seemingly vanished into thin air. Five days rolled past with nary a peep.

Harry Green (New York Daily News)
On the fifth night, his mind almost audibly snapping loose from its moorings, Tony Marino sat at his bar feverishly planning to shanghai and kill another anonymous derelict – any fucking anonymous derelict would do – and pass him off as Nicholas Mellory. Bastone and the others agreed. With Mike Malloy gone to who knew where they need someone to fill in. The boys decided to search the speakeasies and dive bars across the river in Harlem, where no one would recognize them.

Joseph Patrick Murray was a thirty-one-year-old unemployed plasterer's assistant when, on the night of February 6, 1933, he unknowingly wandered into the violent, insane universe of the Murder Trust. Like Mike Malloy, he was a heavy drinker. It was his misfortune that he bore an astonishing physical resemblance to the durable barfly whom he had never (and would never) meet. Murray was approached outside a 128th Street speakeasy by a "gentleman", later identified as Tough Tony Bastone, who offered him a job. With a little urging, the tipsy Murray was coaxed into Harry Green's cab. Despite the crowd of hungry-eyed men inside, Murray leaned back and drank heavily from the whiskey bottle they offered. Amazingly, they saw fellow Trustee John McNally on the sidewalk and flagged him down. Still unaware of Bastone's threats, McNally climbed inside the crowded taxi.

By this time, the Murder Trust wasn't wasting any time on niceties. Once they arrived back at Marino's Bronx dive bar, they offered the intoxicated Joe Murray a Malloyesque line of unlimited credit. The Murder Trusters certainly didn't care; they merely wanted Murray drunk enough so he could be run over with ease. Within just an hour or so, Murray obliged them by passing out cold at the bar. Tony Marino, perhaps sensing an end to this ordeal, let out a ghoulish chuckle, "Gee, he's almost a double for Malloy!" The hapless Murray was then shoved down onto the floor of Harry Green's cab. As they set out for Trinity Avenue to do the job, the Murder Trust was dismayed to see that there were far too much vehicle and pedestrian traffic to hit their target.

Since it was still too early in the evening, the boys retreated to Marino's speakeasy, where the unconscious Joe Murray was dropped on the grimy floor like a sack of potatoes. The Murder Trust perched at the bar like vultures and guzzled booze while they waited for the slender black hands of time to move around the clock. By midnight, they set out again. Harry Green said, "I know a place by Southern Boulevard." Murray was shoved back onto the floor of the cab as they set out.

While no one who knew John McNally would argue that he was some choir boy proudly sporting a chestful of Boy Scout merit badges, this whole situation had gotten just too crazy for him. An indestructible bum, missing bodies, kidnapping...and now on his way out to God knew where to run this poor bastard down like a dog in the street. McNally barked at Green to stop the cab and let him out. At the corner of Westchester and Forest avenues, McNally opted out of the whole mess. Before long, the Murder Trust would have good reason to wish that Tough Tony Bastone had killed "the Irish cocksucker" as he had originally intended.

After finding Southern Boulevard suitably deserted for their nefarious deed, Bastone and Red Murphy shoved a phony "Nicholas Mellory" ID in Joe Murray's pocket and propped him up to receive a kiss from the Mike Malloy Express. If possible, this attempt was even sloppier than their previous runs at Malloy. Harry Green was going a mere 30 miles an hour when he hit Murray's staggering frame. After seeing the poor man crunch under all four wheels, the Murder Trust figured he had to be dead. They split from the scene after seeing the lights of an approaching car.

Not only was Joe Murray still alive, but he was also found in the street by a passing policeman. He would stay in the hospital for the next fifty-five days. Unfortunately for our grubby anti-heroes, a nearby watchman had seen this whole grisly farce from start to finish and recorded the license plate number of Harry Green's cab.

When Green and Joe Maglione returned his cab to the garage around two that morning, Harry got word that the cops wanted to see him. Both Murder Trustees blanched. Green was interviewed by NYPD Detective Lloyd of the 40th Precinct, who wanted to question him about reportedly hitting a pedestrian earlier in the evening. Unaware of the bizarre conspiracy that he had inadvertently stumbled onto, Detective Lloyd allowed Harry Green to leave around five that morning. He and Maglione promptly woke up Tony Marino and told him of their grilling. All three agreed that even if Murray died, they couldn’t collect the insurance money. While they weren’t in jail yet, the sudden prospect of heat from the cops was unsettling, to say the least.

With Joe Murray clinging to life in the hospital and Mike Malloy still missing, the Murder Trust was at a crossroads. They could either call the whole thing off or search for yet another victim. Less than two days after the Murray fiasco, the door to Tony Marino’s speakeasy flew open and in hobbled Mike Malloy. Although banged up and swathed in bandages, he was otherwise as fit as a fiddle. In a strange touch, like a hat on a horse, the downtrodden Malloy was dressed in a brand-new suit. Marino, Pasqua, and the rest of the Murder Trust could only stare, jaws agape. 

Mike didn’t remember too much. He’d been pretty tied, after all. He remembered the taste of Tony’s booze. The sharp cold of the night air. The bright gleam of car headlights. Then, bang, blackness. Next thing he knew, he was in the hospital with a broken collar bone and a concussion. A passing beat cop had come upon him and called an ambulance to take him to Fordham Hospital (it turned out that Mike Malloy had been listed in the hospital under his real name, thus explaining why Red Murphy had come up empty when he called Fordham looking for ‘Nicholas Mellory.’) A charity organization took pity and outfitted him with this here suit. Anyhoo, he was just glad to be back here with his good friends! And…“I sure am dying for a drink!”

Taking his cue, Red Murphy reached for the jug of wood alcohol and poured Malloy a stiff one. The eye-watering stench of methanol rose heavily from the bar and quickly permeated every crevice of Marino’s shitty little saloon. It was a wonder the paint on the walls hadn’t started to dissolve. It was later left to the New York Times to dryly sum it all up with this headline: GIN RESISTS MOTORCAR.

The Murder Trust was utterly defeated. Every plan they cooked up that should have succeeded ended up failing miserably. In a bitter yet fitting irony, even if their early attempts to kill Malloy had worked, they would not have been paid a cent. The insurance policies for “Nicholas Mellory” were double indemnity. While death by automobile qualified for double indemnity, death by liquid poisoning, hypothermia, tainted seafood, and carpet tack sandwich did not. The Murder Trust had been unknowingly shooting themselves in the foot since Day One. As a bonus, Malloy (blissfully ignorant of the sinister forces at work against him) was still hanging around the bar, drinking large amounts of wood alcohol. Indeed, Malloy probably thought he had never had it so good. Unlimited booze and free lunch. A warm place to hang his hat on cold winter nights. Good conversation with his friends. Never mind that he might occasionally wake up half-naked on a park bench or concussed in the middle of the street. Mike Malloy had finally found a place where he felt… at home.

It was the very definition of insanity. By mid-February, both Tony Marino and Frank Pasqua were teetering on the edge of nervous breakdowns; that point of dementia where they began to believe that Mike Malloy could not be killed under any circumstances. A small fortune was so close they could taste it. Only one apparently indestructible man stood between them and their money. Finally, they decided that Tough Tony Bastone had been right all along; only straight-up murder would work.

Late in the afternoon of February 22, 1933, all appeared to be normal in Tony Marino’s speakeasy. Red Murphy stood behind the bar helping himself to the inventory while Marino sat at a nearby table glancing indifferently over a newspaper. Tough Tony Bastone and another man named James Salone were drinking at the bar, as was charter Murder Truster Dan Kreisberg. Per usual, Mike Malloy sat at the bar nursing a drink. For a change of pace, Malloy was drinking regular whiskey; the small saloon was blessedly free of the overpowering stink of wood alcohol.

In a surprise move around suppertime, Bastone challenged Malloy to a drinking contest. Already quite sloshed, Mike eagerly accepted. Glasses of whiskey were poured. Soon after starting, Tough Tony gave Red Murphy a menacing look. The feeble bartender knew what that look meant and deftly switched out Malloy’s whiskey for wood alcohol. Bastone and Malloy slugged it out for about twenty minutes; Kreisberg later estimated that Malloy drank nearly two quarts of wood alcohol in that brief period.

As strong as he was, a survivor of so much violent incompetence over the last two months, Mike had finally reached his limit. Malloy swayed at the bar, clutching the rail as his cast-iron constitution struggled against the surfeit of methanol now coursing through his system. Mike slowly sank to the floor as he passed out, while Tough Tony whooped and raised his arms as if he had just won a title fight. Red Murphy got his arms around Malloy and half-dragged, half-carried him nearly a mile through their Bronx neighborhood to a furnished room at 1210 Fulton Avenue. Dan Kreisberg and Tough Tony Bastone trailed behind them. None of the Murder Trustees seemed too concerned that passerby would notice them dragging an unconscious derelict along the sidewalk. 

As Bastone stood guard outside (just to make sure the little fucksticks didn’t chicken out), the huffing-and-puffing Murphy lugged Malloy up to the room. The landlady of the building, Delia Murphy (no relation), heard the commotion and asked what was happening. A surprisingly quick-thinking Red told her that his brother was feeling ill and that he needed to lay down. Once inside the room, Red Murphy deposited him on the bed. Murphy and Kreisberg put into the motion the plan that Frank Pasqua had outlined over the last week. A rubber hose would be connected to a gaslight fixture and the open end fed down Malloy’s throat. The resulting stream of poisonous fumes would succeed where they had so frequently failed.

After they connected the hose to the valve, they were dismayed to discover that it wouldn’t reach the bed. Murphy and Kreisberg merely stood over the semi-conscious Malloy, blinking stupidly at each other and the too-short hose. They solved their dilemma by dragging Malloy onto the floor. Murphy then stuffed a towel in Malloy’s mouth and fed the open end of the hose down his throat while Dan Kreisberg turned on the gas valve. A hissing sound filled the room as Murphy held the hose down fast. Malloy seemed to sense what was happening and began squirming and moaning. Mike’s face turned purple as he fought valiantly to live. Suddenly Red Murphy let out a disgusted grunt, “Christ, the sonofabitch pissed all over me!” Seemingly in response, Malloy stopped struggling and breathing.

The moment they had been so desperately seeking was at hand.

The furnished room where Durable Mike Malloy met his end (New York Daily News)
Dan Kreisberg quickly exited the death room while Red Murphy dragged Malloy’s body back up onto the bed. They had to make it look good for the old bitty that would eventually find him, after all. After Kreisberg made his way back to 3775 Third Avenue, he saw Tony Marino and Tough Tony Bastone. Not saying a word and probably disgusted with what had just gone down, the mild-mannered greengrocer sat at a table and began to drink. Red Murphy followed him in about ten minutes later. Although he had just erased a human life, he seemed vaguely nonplussed. Red stepped behind the bar and poured himself a drink, as if by habit. “Well, Red, how is it?” Tough Tony asked. “I think it is all right.”

Marino and Bastone were skeptical. After all, how many times had they tried to kill Mike Malloy? For all they knew, he would be staggering in the door any minute, demanding a tall glass of whiskey and a sardine sandwich. Needless to say, all the drastic failed attempts of the last two months had made the boys more than a little paranoid. Red Murphy was instructed to spend the night with the body at 1210 Fulton Avenue, to have a proper story for the landlady who would inevitably discover the body. Red didn’t kick up a fuss; after all, how often did he get to sleep in an actual bed? After arriving back at the crime scene, Red shoved the now-dead Mike Malloy over onto the other side of the bed. Mike smelled of sweat, funk, methanol, and urine, but Red didn’t mind. The room was blessedly quiet. After drawing the single sheet over him, Red Murphy slept soundly. 

The next morning after the body was discovered, the boys got on the horn to Dr. Frank Manzella, a shady former alderman who moonlighted as a quack doctor. Manzella obligingly filled out the death certificate of “Nicholas Mellory,” citing “lobar pneumonia” as the cause of death with “alcoholism as a contributing cause.” The good doctor was to be paid a total of $150 for this deed.

It was left to undertaker Frank Pasqua to dispose of the body. Pasqua, who by now just wanted to get this mucking fess over with, didn’t even bother to embalm the corpse. Michael Malloy was unceremoniously dumped into an $18 wooden box and buried in a pauper’s grave at Ferncliff Cemetery a mere thirty-six hours after his death. Never one to pass on a quick buck, Pasqua billed his insurance company for an expensive coffin and non-existent floral arrangements.

A post-mortem shot of Mike Malloy (New York Medical Examiner's Office)
After a legendary fight, Mike Malloy had lost his battle against the Murder Trust. Ultimately, however, even though he wasn't around to see it, Malloy would win the war…

Red Murphy successfully passed himself off as the brother of “Nicholas Mellory” and collected $800 from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Murphy and Marino both spent their shares of this money on new suits. Frank Pasqua repaired to the Prudential office to inform them that “Mellory” was dead and to request payout on the other two policies. When Frank finished speaking, the agent surprised him with a question, “When can I see the body?” Pasqua quickly replied that it had already been buried. The agent furrowed his brow. An Irishman buried so quickly, and without a wake? That was unusual. It was suspicious enough to warrant some investigation. The same agent soon asked around for Nicholas Mellory’s “brother,” only to find out that he had seemingly disappeared.

Whatever ACME glue was holding the Murder Trust’s scheme together quickly began to melt away. For one thing, way too many people were involved in this thing. Some of the plotters hadn’t been given their full shares; others hadn’t gotten anything at all. Taxi driver Harry Green had been paid only a fraction of what he was owed, and he complained to friends that that meager amount wouldn’t even be enough to fix the damage incurred to his cab. Not to mention the fact that the cops had grilled him on the Murray hit-and-run. Dr. Frank Manzella had yet to be paid for services rendered. Tough Tony Bastone grew even more unstable and threatened to kill everyone involved if he didn’t get the bulk of the Prudential policies. That intrepid Prudential insurance claims investigator was sniffing around asking for “Joseph Mellory.” The beginning of the end came suddenly in the early morning hours of March 19, almost a month after Mike Malloy’s death.

Tony Marino sipped a glass of whiskey while looking around his nearly empty barroom this late night. Clad in his new suit, Marino was feeling relatively good, all things considered. Not even the ceaseless burning in his crotch could break his mood. Sure the place was almost empty, but they had finally succeeded in knocking off Mike Malloy. Ironically, the long-delayed success of this murder plan had deprived Marino of his most loyal customer. Yes, he was a customer who never paid, but he was one all the same. Everything had worked out in the end. Marino had recently confided to Red Murphy that had the gassing plan failed, he would have scrapped the whole plot. At that moment, the only people in the place were Tough Tony Bastone and Joe Maglione, who were sitting at a table heatedly arguing with each other in a mixture of English and Italian. What else was new? Marino polished off his drink and told his bartender he was heading home. Red Murphy, his blood alcohol content somewhere in the stratosphere, raised a shaky glass at his boss. Tony Marino thus left the saloon in his hands for the night. As long as everyone kept their mouths shut and their heads cool, everything would be alright.

After all these years, Joe Maglione was finally fed up with his friend’s abuse and afraid for his life. He and Tough Tony had known each other for over a decade and Maglione was sure of one thing; that Bastone would kill him when the dust settled. Tough Tony had spent the better part of the last week bitching about the lack of money from the Prudential policies. Maglione countered that Bastone didn’t deserve any more of that money than anyone else. This latest round of bickering had started when the two had gone out to beat up a numbers deadbeat in Harlem earlier in the week. Unable to find him, Maglione declined to come along on future search parties. Word spread through the grapevine that Bastone was referring to his pal as “yellow” behind his back. After running into each other tonight at Marino’s joint, they had been arguing non-stop about the money and the backbiting, getting drunker all the while.

"Tough Tony" Bastone (New York Daily News)
Maglione interrupted his dark ruminations and got up to use the restroom. Bastone refilled his whiskey glass while muttering to himself in Italian. Joe Maglione stepped into the speakeasy’s bathroom. It stank of stale piss and wasted lives. After running some cold sink water on his rough face, Joe had only one thought as he whizzed; get him before he gets me. Fucking A right. After tucking himself away and flushing the toilet, Maglione quickly pulled and inspected his .38 caliber revolver.

Red Murphy had merely stood silently behind the empty bar drinking while Tough Tony Bastone and Joe Maglione argued. Even though most of their conversation was in Italian (which he didn’t understand), Red knew that they were arguing about the money. Things were getting quite hot. A lifetime of living on the streets and excessive alcohol consumption had left Murphy an emotionally hard man, but he felt a vague sense of fear. Red was staring at Bastone’s table when Tough Tony glared at him and barked, “The fuck you lookin’ at, dummy?" Murphy said nothing in response and finished his glass of whiskey. Except for a few grunts and unintelligible sounds, that final profane question represented the last words Tough Tony Bastone would ever speak. 

Murphy heard the sound of the toilet flushing and saw Joe Maglione emerge from the can with a gun in his hand. Bastone didn’t seem him until it was too late. The first gunshot sounded thunderous in the cramped confines of the small speakeasy. Tough Tony staggered to his feet, clutching his shoulder. Maglione fired again and Bastone screamed as he fell to the floor. Frozen where he stood behind the bar, Red watched as Maglione quickly walked over. Joe ran his hands through Bastone's clothes and confiscated his famed two pistols; a .45 Colt automatic and a smaller .25 automatic. Tough Tony suddenly leaped to his feet, a wild look in his eyes. The startled Joe Maglione let out a scream of his own. It turned out both of his shots had missed. Taking advantage of his former friend’s shock, Bastone dashed out of the speakeasy’s door. Maglione quickly snapped out it and gave chase, a gun in each hand. Out on the sidewalk, Joe raised his two pistols and fired at least four quick shots. One bullet caught Bastone in the left thigh and another tore through his heart, killing him instantly. Tough Tony collapsed in a heap to the sidewalk.

Joe Maglione looked to make his escape, but a passing beat cop had heard the shots and collared him after a short foot chase. Red Murphy found himself under arrest as a material witness to the homicide of Tough Tony Bastone. Despite his chronic intoxication and mild mental retardation, Murphy suspected that the shit was going to hit the fan. As the cops led Red away in handcuffs, it may or may not have occurred to him that this was his last night as a free man.

Joe Maglione and Red Murphy were held at the Bronx County Jail (Murphy was so intoxicated it took five full days to dry him out for questioning). Tony Marino read a newspaper account of the shooting at his dive bar and felt his world begin to collapse. Now the cops were crawling over his place with a microscope. After being charged with first-degree murder, Maglione played his hole card and first revealed to police the incredible story of the barfly who just wouldn’t die.

At first, investigators refused to believe Maglione’s outrageous story. Nothing and/or no one could be that convoluted, incompetent, and just flat-out bizarre. Nevertheless, the evidence slowly started to add up from other directions. The Prudential insurance investigator confronted Frank Pasqua with his expensive funeral billing sheet and said he still couldn’t find anyone that actually knew the deceased. For a guy no one seemed to know, “Nicholas Mellory” sure had one hell of a funeral.

The cops and the D.A. sniffed around Tony Marino’s past a bit and uncovered the story of the lonely death of Betty Carlson, whose sole beneficiary just happened to be Marino. John McNally and Harry Green were picked up for carrying concealed weapons while Dan Kreisberg was arrested for his role in a recent “Pants Bandit” caper; these busts were unrelated to the Malloy case and mere blind luck on the part of the police. Frank Pasqua was arrested at his funeral home. Tony Marino, who by now had resigned himself to arrest, went quietly at his Bronx house.

Once in custody, the Murder Trust promptly turned on each other and each man attempted to shift the blame to the others involved. Mike Malloy’s body was exhumed from Ferncliff Cemetery and examined by the coroner. High levels of carbon monoxide were present in his remaining tissue samples, which indicated death by carbon monoxide poisoning, rather than lobar pneumonia. The newspapers had a field day. “Durable Mike” Malloy, as he was nicknamed by the press, was transformed into a quasi-mythic figure in Depression-era New York.

The Murder Trust on trial: Dan Kriesberg (A), Joseph "Red" Murphy (B), Tony Marino (C), Frank Pasqua (D) - (New York Daily News)
Harry Green, Joseph Maglione, Edward “Tin Ear” Smith, John McNally, and Dr. Frank Manzella all turned state’s evidence, and in exchange for reduced prison sentences, agreed to testify against the Murder Trust. The now-recovered Joseph Murray told of his run-in with the Keystone Killers from the Bronx. In their trial that autumn, the boys tried to pin the whole scheme on the deceased Tough Tony Bastone. In what had become something of a pattern over the last year, they came up snake eyes. Anthony Marino, Francis Pasqua, Daniel Kreisberg, and Joseph “Red” Murphy were all found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. As the now ashen-faced young men were led out of the courtroom, one could almost hear Durable Mike Malloy cackling with glee.

On June 7, 1934, three core members of the Murder Trust (Pasqua, Marino, and Kreisberg) were strapped into Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair. Red Murphy, beneficiary of a brief reprieve, followed them on July 5.  As a New York Daily Mirror reporter wrote, "Elliot, the official killer, twirls the wheel of death. The 'kwe-e-e-' of the dynamo. Ten-thousand volts and 10 amperes. The rip-saw current that tears one apart. Three shocks."

In a final irony, the electric chair killed all four of them on the very first try.


Sources

Read, Simon. On the House: The Bizarre Killing of Michael Malloy. New York, Berkley Books, 2005.

Bronx Home News, March 20, 1933; May 13-14, 18, 1933; October 10-16, 1933.

New York Daily Mirror, June 8, 1934.

New York Daily News, March 20, October 29, 1933.

New York Herald Tribune, May 13, 26, 1933; October 20, 1933.

New York Times, May 14, 26, 1933; October 3, 5, 11, 14, 17, 20, 1933; June 8, 1934; July 6, 1934.

03 February 2020

'Joe Baker' gunned down on Belmont Ave.

On this date in 1931:

Mafia gunmen working for Castellammarese insurrection leader Salvatore Maranzano on February 3, 1931, ambushed Joseph "Joe the Baker" Catania in the Bronx. A key figure in the administration of boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, Catania was gunned down in front of a candy store at 2373 Belmont Avenue. He was struck by slugs in the head, neck and upper body. He was rushed to Fordham Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Catania
The Mafia's Castellammarese War had been raging for months. The devastating loss of Catania occurred at a time when Masseria was insisting that his loyalists disarm to avoid provoking police. Convinced that the disarmament strategy would cause them to quickly follow Catania to the grave, Masseria's lieutenants began plotting his assassination.

Joseph Catania, twenty-eight,* was a nephew of Masseria group leader Ciro "the Artichoke King" Terranova. The married father of two children, Catania lived at 2319 Belmont Avenue, about two blocks from the scene of his murder. He was known as "Joe the Baker" or "Joe Baker" because of his involvement in the bakery business since childhood.

Catania reportedly was well liked by New York Mafiosi, but somehow managed to deeply offend Maranzano. The rebel leader felt that Catania must be killed before the end of the war. Maranzano sent hit teams to known Catania hangouts in the neighborhood of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street. (The Catania family had a bakery at 2389 Arthur Avenue in this period and years earlier lived in an apartment above it. The address is now home to an Italian restaurant and apartments.) These teams were unable to locate their target.

Maranzano next negotiated with Frank Scalise of the Bronx, a recent convert to the rebel cause, to eliminate the Baker. After two weeks, Maranzano gave up hope of Scalise taking care of things. The Castellammarese leader stationed a team, including Salvatore "Sally" Shillitani, Nick Capuzzi, Joseph Valachi and Maranzano's top assassin Sebastiano "Buster" Domingo, in a top-floor apartment across narrow Belmont Avenue from an office known to be used by Catania. The office was just a two-minute walk from Catania's apartment but was in a busier and more commercial setting.

Valachi later wrote about the assignment in his autobiography, The Real Thing, recalling that he personally liked Catania but hid that fact from his boss Maranzano.

New York Times
From the apartment windows, the team was able to spot and track Catania. They watched him go through the same routine at about nine o'clock every morning except Sunday - he appeared at the office, picked up some money, then came out and quickly walked a short distance to the corner, rounded the corner and disappeared. Each morning for weeks, Domingo prepared to take a shot at Catania as he reached the corner, but Domingo was too high over the street and Catania visible for too short a time to do so reliably.

Valachi became aware that a first-floor apartment in the building was vacant. He suggested that the team burst into that apartment one morning and target Catania from its windows. Maranzano approved the plan.

At eight o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1931, Valachi used burglar tools to open the door of the first-floor apartment, and the team members entered with guns drawn. Three painters were at work inside. When they saw the gangsters, they believed they were being held up and offered their money.

Valachi recalled, "I told them that we did not want their money, just go on painting the way you were doing and everyone will be happy and no one will bother you." The painters, whose names and home addresses were released to the press, later told the police that the gangsters entered with their faces masked with black scarves.

The other team members set up, but Valachi claimed that it was his job to go outside and start the getaway car. (With this claim, Valachi removed himself from the actual shooting of Catania. Interestingly, Valachi did not mention getting the car ready at any of the other times that Domingo had Catania in his sights.) In addition to putting six slugs in Catania, the shooters put numerous holes in the front windows of the candy store and an adjacent butcher shop.

Valachi estimated that he was in the car less than a minute when his associates arrived there. He did not recall whether he heard the gunshots. During their escape, Shillitani told him about the shooting:

He [Shillitani] felt bad because Joe Baker came out of the office and as he reached the corner his wife met him and she handed him something and they kissed and he went the other way and the wife just stayed there and was watching him go when Buster had to shoot... Solly said that he saw the dust come out of Joe's coat as the bullets hit him in the back.

A crowd gathered around the fallen Catania. One of the first to him was taxi driver Daniel Stefano. Catania was loaded into Stefano's cab and driven to Fordham Hospital. The Baker died of his wounds at ten minutes to eight the next morning.

Police questioned Daniel Stefano, Catania friend Daniel Iamascia and Catania's wife Louisa, but could not figure out the killing.

Catania (right) and underworld associates John Savino (left) and Daniel Iamascia

The New York underworld gave Catania a magnificent send-off. Press reports estimated that his funeral cost as much as $35,000, with about $10,000 said to have been invested in his coffin. (The coffin was bronze, according to the New York Times. The New York Daily News reported that it was silver.)

News from Catania's wake reached Maranzano through his spies: Ciro Terranova reportedly stood by the coffin, placed one hand on it and the other hand high in the air, and swore to avenge the killing of his nephew.

"When the old man [Maranzano] heard about this," Valachi recalled, "he sent someone at the funeral parlor to see if there was a chance to get [Terranova] at the wake. Naturally it was a spy but word came that it was impossible to do anything."

The funeral procession on February 7 was watched by about 10,000 people. It reportedly took forty cars to carry the floral offerings of friends, family and associates. Dozens of mounted and foot police officers kept order along the route and dozens of plain clothes detectives mingled in the crowd.

A Roman Catholic Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by three priests at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, about a block from the scene of the murder. Police frisked known crime figures, including Terranova, as they entered the church.

After the services, Catania's remains were placed temporarily in a crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery while a mausoleum was constructed at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


* Different records point to different birthdates for Joseph Catania, ranging from March 1900 to November 1902, but the most reliable available sources point to between September 29, 1902, and October 1, 1902.

Sources:
  • "10,000 at funeral of 'Joe the Baker,'" New York Times, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 30.
  • "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • Birth records of Palermo, Italy, vol. 455, no. 108.
  • "Gang shots fatal to Joe the Baker," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 2.
  • "'Joe the Baker' dies of wounds," Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun pair in Bronx riddle thug," New York Daily News, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 38.
  • Miley, Jack, "$35,000 funeral puts thug in last spot," New York Daily News, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 6.
  • New York State Census of 1905, New York County, Assembly District 32, Election District Special no. 3.
  • New York State Census of 1915, New York County, Assembly District 28, Election District 2.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Bronx County, Assembly District 7, Election District 45.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Palermo, Sicily, on April 15, 1903, arrived New York on May 1, 1903.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 341.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, Bronx County, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 393.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Bronx County, Enumeration District 3-552.
  • Valachi, Joseph, The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi, Member Since 1930, unpublished manuscript, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, p. 323-328.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "Gunmen of the Castellammarese War - Part 5: A lifetime of tangling with the law: Salvatore 'Sally Shields' Shillitani," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2013.
  • World War I Draft Registration Card, serial no. 3655, order no. 736, Local Board 17, New York City, Sept. 19, 1918.

08 December 2019

Vitale dinner holdup sparks investigations

Incident leads to city magistrate's removal,
mayor's resignation, Tammany Hall's defeat

New York Times
On this date in 1929...
 
Seven gunmen entered a Bronx, New York, testimonial dinner for city Magistrate Albert H. Vitale early in the morning of December 8, 1929, and robbed the guests, including political leaders, well known hoodlums and one off-duty NYPD detective.

The testimonial, begun Saturday night, December 7, was drawing to a close at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning, when Vitale rose to make some remarks. At that moment, the seven men, who had quietly entered and positioned themselves at the rear of the second floor banquet room of Roman Gardens, 2401 Southern Boulevard near 187th Street, drew handguns and politely instructed the fifty attendees to turn over their valuables. One of the seven had a handkerchief wrapped around the lower half of his face. The others were not masked. Some accounts indicated that the partly masked gunman was the leader of the group. Working at a leisurely pace, they gathered several thousand dollars' worth of cash and jewelry and departed the restaurant at one o'clock.

Vitale
Little is known of what occurred at the restaurant immediately after the robbery. The incident was not officially reported to police until about 2 a.m. The delay in reporting raised numerous questions and eventually cost Detective Johnson his job.

Hours later, the service revolver taken by the robbers from Johnson was returned through Vitale at Vitale's office in the Tepecano Democratic Club, 187th Street, in the Bronx. Published reports indicated that much of the rest of the loot taken in the robbery also was returned. Rumors suggested that the influence of organized criminals, in league with Vitale, forced the robbers to send back the stolen items.

The robbery occurred just a month and a half after the Black Tuesday stock market collapse, when the U.S. was beginning to sink into the Great Depression and Americans were beginning to blame rampant lawlessness and official corruption for their economic woes.

After the robbery and related oddities were reported in the press, investigations were launched into Vitale's associations with crime figures. Special attention was given to the testimonial dinner and to reports that underworld boss Ciro Terranova and several of his men were in attendance. The situation also sparked a New York State Senate investigation (known as the Hofstadter Committee and as the Seabury Investigation) into corruption within the Tammany Hall-aligned administration of Mayor James Walker.

Suggestions of Vitale wrongdoing in connection with that event were unproven. Vitale's explanations for the presence of gangsters in the Roman Gardens restaurant hosting his dinner and for the return of the service revolver were accepted as plausible. But other examples of faulty judgment came to light.

Roman Gardens
The Bar Association found that Magistrate Vitale had acted improperly in accepting a large 1928 loan from underworld financier Arnold Rothstein (a charge first leveled by mayoral candidate Fiorello La Guardia late in his unsuccessful 1929 campaign) and in discharging a thief represented by a Rothstein-retained attorney. It recommended Vitale's removal from the bench.

In March 1930, the five justices of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division agreed that the Rothstein loan brought "the court into public disrepute and suspicion." The justices made Vitale an ex-magistrate but stopped short of disbarring him.

Vitale returned to a private law practice, while investigations led to the removal of a number of corrupt officials, to a reform of the city courts and to an end of Tammany Hall's domination of city government. Mayor Walker resigned in late summer 1932. He was immediately succeeded by Tammany nominee John P. O'Brien. After a year, La Guardia and a reform administration was brought in through the 1933 municipal election.

25 November 2019

Bringing Joe Valachi's memoirs to the Web

The 1000-plus page memoirs of Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi are valuable source material for organized crime historians. The manuscript, entitled "The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra," is one of just three authoritative inside sources on the Mafia during the period of the 1930-31 Castellammarese War (the others are published autobiographies, Vita di Capomafia by Nick Gentile and A Man of Honor by Joseph Bonanno). The Valachi memoirs were consulted and quoted by author Peter Maas for his 1968 book, The Valachi Papers, which grew into a 1972 Charles Bronson motion picture. Until now, these Joseph Valachi papers could only be accessed through the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. I have been working to change that.

I first published a couple hundred pages of the manuscript on the mafiahistory.us website some years ago. The pages were acquired through the assistance of another Mafia historian, who requested anonymity. In summer 2019, I visited the JFK Library to access the remaining thousand or so pages. Since that time, I have been processing and formatting the pages for the web in small batches. At this moment, visitors to mafiahistory.us can access the first 500-plus consecutive pages of The Real Thing and an additional 80-plus scattered pages of the rest of the manuscript.

Copyright of the Valachi memoirs has been a concern. While the papers have been in the custody of the United States government and accessible to the public for decades since their official 1980 donation, the JFK Library has provided no clear guidance on any possible copyright holder. Following my summer 2019 visit to the library, I submitted a Freedom of Information request for access to the internal library paperwork relating to the memoirs. After some initial hesitation, the National Archives agreed to publicly release the "Deed of Gift" and "Donor File" relating to the memoirs. Transcriptions of these documents also have been added to the mafiahistory.us website.

The documents establish that the papers were donated to the library by Peter Maas on Christmas Eve of 1980. Maas stated his wish that they "be made available for research as soon as possible, and to the fullest extent possible." A New Year's Eve, 1980, memorandum indicates that Valachi intended at one time to publish his manuscript. Instead, the memoirs were used as source material for Maas's book, and Valachi received a payment of $75,000 for his story. Following Valachi's death in 1971, his estate went through normal probate procedures. "According to Maas' attorney, no question from Valachi's heirs about the rights to the manuscript or copyright arose during the settlement of the estate," the memorandum states. "Maas, therefore, has had the manuscript and accompanying transcript since 1965 without anyone questioning his right to the material."

This history and Maas' donation appear to place ownership of the memoirs clearly in the hands of the National Archives and the American people. In doing the work of bringing the memoirs to the Web, it is my hope to achieve Maas' goal of making them available for research "to the fullest entent possible."

Visit the Entrance Page for "The Real Thing: The Autobiography of Joseph Valachi" on Mafiahistory.us.

06 October 2018

Murdered at McD's

Sylvester "Sally Daz" Zottola, 71, was shot and killed Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, while waiting at a McDonald's drive-thru lane in the Bronx. Zottola, a reputed associate of the Bonanno Crime Family and once a trusted friend of former Bonanno boss Vincent J. "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, apparently had been targeted by rivals for the past year.

Zottola, alone in his SUV, visited the McDonald's restaurant drive-thru, on the 1600 Block of Webster Avenue near Belmont Street in the Claremont section of the Bronx, at about 4:45 p.m. and placed an order for a medium coffee. He was boxed in, a car in front of him and a car behind him, when a gunman in a dark hoodie stepped up to his vehicle and fired at him six times with a 9mm handgun. One slug struck Zottola in the head, three entered his chest, one hit him in the shoulder. Zottola was unarmed at the time.

The gunman approached through a hole in a fence along Clay Avenue behind the McDonald's property and walked down an embankment to the drive-thru lane. After the shooting, he went back up the embankment, through the fence and into a waiting gray sedan. The car sped away southward on Clay Avenue.

Zottola was pronounced dead at the scene, concluding a series of attempts on his life that date back at least to September 2017...

Read more at Mafiahistory.us.

22 June 2018

Iamascia funeral is 'glittering pageant'

On this date in 1931...

Donato "Daniel" J. Iamascia's gangland funeral on June 22, 1931, became a "glittering pageant" through the Italian neighborhood of Belmont in the Bronx. Though just 29 years old at the time of his death, Iamascia had already put together a lengthy criminal résumé, was well known in the area and well connected politically.

Iamascia
An estimated 20,000 people gathered around the Iamascia home at 2313 Belmont Avenue, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Belmont Avenue and East 187th Street and along the few city blocks between to observe the spectacle.

Iamascia, an important member of both Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer's Bronx bootlegging and gambling gang and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova's Mafia organization, was killed as the indirect result of a Prohibition Era gangland conflict in New York City. He had been assisting Schultz in battling an insurrection by Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, and he, Schultz and some other gang members had holed up in a ninth floor apartment at 1212 Fifth Avenue, just east of Central Park at 102nd Street. The four-room apartment had been rented by Schultz under the name of Russell Jones.

In the early morning hours of June 18, Schultz and Iamascia stepped out of the apartment building and spotted two suspicious-looking men across the street at the park. Assuming they were Coll gangsters, Schultz and Iamascia drew pistols and charged at the men. Their targets turned out to be New York City Police Detectives Julius Salke and Stephen DiRosa. Seeing their approach, Salke shouted, "We are the law!" Schultz responded by spinning about, tossing his weapon in the street and attempting to escape. Salke fired a shot into the air, convincing Schultz to surrender. Iamascia was slower to respond, and it cost him his life. As he continued to advance, Detective DiRosa fired a shot into his midsection.

Iamascia was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital nearby, while Schultz was brought to the East 104th Street Police Station for questioning and then locked up in the West Side Jail. Police found that the gang boss was in possession of more than $18,600 in cash at the time of his arrest. Three hours after the encounter with detectives, Iamascia died from his wound.

Schultz (left), Detective DiRosa (right)
After news of his death was released, numerous and massive floral displays began showing up at the Iamascia residence, a two-story, two-family brick building that was home to Iamascia, his wife, his widowed mother, three sisters, an older brother and his family and a younger brother. (Another brother of Daniel lived with his wife nearby at 2319 Belmont Avenue.) By the night before the funeral, the house could not accommodate the flowers. Additional offerings filled a two-car garage behind the building and spilled out into the driveway.

Iamascia's underworld bosses sent impressive tributes. Terranova provided a "gates ajar" flower-covered display that was twelve feet high and bore the simple message, "Sympathy." Schultz sent a diamond-shaped wreath of flowers, eight feet long and five feet tall.

A display said to have been furnished by Iamascia's mother featured a clock of flowers within a six-foot heart. The hands of the clock showed ten minutes past six, the moment that Iamascia passed away. "The Boys" sent a broken-column display eight feet in height. And "A Pal" sent a six-foot heart of roses.

On the morning of June 22, Iamascia's remains were taken from the family home in a "German silver" coffin reportedly valued at $20,000 (probably a vastly inflated figure). A procession of nearly one hundred and fifty automobiles followed the hearse to the church. Thirty-five of the cars carried the flowers. According to one report, it took the procession thirty minutes to pass any given spot on the short route.

Iamascia's coffin is taken from the family home.

Seats within the church were reserved for the Iamascia family. About three hundred and fifty people were seated, all said to be related to the deceased. About three thousand curious neighborhood residents clustered around the building.

Neither Terranova nor Schultz appeared at the funeral. Schultz remained in custody, facing charges including felonious assault and Sullivan Law violation. A government lien was placed against the cash found on him, as it was suspected that he had been evading his taxes.

After a Requiem Mass celebrated by the Rev. John Southwick of Dobbs Ferry, New York, a family friend, the cortège proceeded to St. Raymond's Cemetery. Iamascia's coffin was placed temporarily in a receiving vault. It was reported that Iamascia had recently contracted for the construction of a $25,000 family vault  - his father had died a year earlier - that was not yet completed.

The Iamascia family announced that it was pursuing a civil lawsuit against Detective DiRosa for his conduct during the incident. The NYPD found no reason to criticize either of the involved detectives. In fact, on the morning after Daniel Iamascia's funeral, both were promoted from third grade to second grade detective.

17 June 2017

Fruits, vegetables may be hazardous to your health

Police restrain John and Philip Scalise after they view the body of their murdered brother.
On this date in 1957 - Frank "Don Ciccio" Scalise, a top lieutenant (and former boss) of the Mafia organization that soon would become known as the Gambino Crime Family, was murdered at a Bronx produce shop. (The killing served as inspiration for a scene in the movie, The Godfather.)

New York Times
Scalise, a resident of 211 Kirby Street on City Island in the Bronx, stopped at Enrico Mazzare's produce shop, 2380 Arthur Avenue, in the afternoon. He spent ninety cents on peaches and lettuce and was putting change back in his pocket, when two gunmen appeared and opened fire on the Mafia leader.

Four slugs struck and instantly killed Scalise. He suffered gunshot wounds to neck, head and arm. The gunmen exited the store, jumped into a double-parked black sedan and sped away.

Mazzare witnessed the killing but provided little useful information to the police: "Suddenly two men brushed by me. I heard some shots, and I looked around. These two men were hurrying by me again. They weren't wearing coats and they had their sleeves rolled up. They got into an old black sedan and went up Arthur Avenue." Mazzare was taken into custody as a material witness.

Scalise's blue 1956 Cadillac was parked a couple of blocks away on Crescent Avenue, near the candy store run by his brother Jack. Police brought Jack and Philip Scalise to Mazzare's shop to identify their brother's remains. (Jack left the country for Italy a short time later. He was spotted on a visit to the U.S. in 1959 and quickly brought before a grand jury investigating the 1957 murder.)

Later in the day, Bronx District Attorney Daniel V. Sullivan told the press, "Thus far this appears to be definitely a gangland killing. [Scalise] was regarded as a big shot and kingpin in this area."

Frank Scalise and Charlie Luciano.
Federal authorities suspected Scalise of involvement in an international narcotics smuggling operation. Scalise had been sought by police for questioning related to several murders. Investigators knew that Scalise was a lieutenant to crime boss Albert Anastasia and a close friend of exiled Mafia leader Charlie "Lucky" Luciano.



Sources:

  • "Underworld figure murdered in Bronx," New York Times, June 18, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen end Scalise's life," Albany NY Times-Union (Associated Press), June 18, 1957, p. 5.
  • "Scalise slain; pal of Costello and Luciano, Albany NY Knickerbocker News (Associated Press), June 18, 1957, p. 7.
  • "Scalise bank box divulges no clue," New York Times, June 19, 1957, p. 40.
  • "Scalise data checked," New York Times, June 20, 1957, p. 21.
  • "Hint Scalise doubled as 'loan shark,'" New York Post, June 20, 1957, p. 40.
  • "Police photograph funeral of Scalise," New York Times, June 23, 1957, p. 58.
  • "Bronx' Scalise gets gangland sendoff," New York Post, June 23, 1957, p. 2.
  • Katz, Leonard, "Bail cut, witness to Scalise murder is let out of jail," New York Post, July 9, 1957, p. 21.
  • Katz, Leonard, and Abel Silver, "Scalise: Little Italy's fourth unsolved murder," New York Post, July 28, 1957, p. 12.
  • "Scalise brother flies in, seized," New York World Telegram and Sun (Brooklyn), April 4, 1959, p. 1.
  • "Scalise brother held," New York Times, April 5, 1959, p. 34.
  • "Scalise inquiry begins," New York Times, April 7, 1959, p. 19.
  • "Scalise in Paris," Kingston NY Daily Freeman (Associated Press), April 28, 1959, p. 5.

23 November 2016

Magaddino's wrath

On this date in 1961:

Thanksgiving Day hunters in Penfield, New York (just outside Rochester), discovered the beaten, mutilated and burned remains of a male murder victim. 

Syracuse Post-Standard, Nov. 24, 1961.
Days later, the FBI laboratory - using fingerprints from the remains - identified the victim as Albert George Agueci. Agueci, 39, a resident of Toronto, Canada, had been a narcotics racketeer working with the Magaddino Crime Family based in western New York.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 26, 1961.
Albert Agueci, his brother Vito and 18 other people were charged in the summer with participating in a large narcotics operation. The arrests strongly suggested that regional crime boss Stefano Magaddino was engaged in narcotics trafficking in violation of a Mafia Commission policy.

Albert Agueci
Albert Agueci and a number of co-defendants were released on bail. One co-defendant, William "Shorty" Holmes, was soon found shot to death in the Bronx.

As the date of trial approached, Albert Agueci disappeared. Vito and ten other defendants in the narcotics case were on trial in U.S. federal court in New York City when Albert's charred remains turned up.

The brutal gangland slaying was viewed both as a Magaddino disciplinary effort and as the boss's attempt to distance himself from the narcotics ring.

For more about Agueci, Magaddino and the Mafia of western New York, see DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II.