Showing posts with label Gophers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gophers. Show all posts

06 November 2017

Jealousy nearly kills a Gopher

On this date...

Madden
In the early morning hours of November 6, 1912, twenty-year-old Owen "Owney the Killer" Madden, leader of New York City's Gophers gang, was shot in the abdomen while attending a dance at the Arbor Cafe, Fifty-Second Street and Seventh Avenue. 

The gunshot perforated Madden's intestines and left him near death. Doctors gave him no more than a one-in-ten chance of surviving, but Madden managed to pull through. In later years, he rose to the leadership of bootlegging and gambling rackets and developed alliances with some of the top organized criminals in Prohibition Era New York City. In addition to his underworld endeavors, Madden became involved in managing boxers, entertainers, hotels and nightclubs. For a time, he held a financial interest in Harlem's Cotton Club. He is said to have aided the careers of actors George Raft and Mae West.

But back in the 1910s, Madden and his Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea-based branch of the old Gopher's gang, was fighting for survival against its rivals, particularly the Hudson Dusters and the Buck O'Brien Gophers of the Upper West Side. Due to a prolonged squabble with his young wife, Madden let his guard down just a bit in early November of 1912.

NY Sun, Nov. 7, 1912
On Election Night, November 5, Mrs. Madden antagonized her jealous husband with an announcement: she would be attending the David Hyson Association Dance at the Arbor Cafe (formerly known as the El Dorado) and would feel at liberty to dance with any of the men attending. Owney followed her there - many blocks north of the territory controlled by his gang. Mrs. Madden was aware of his presence but refused to acknowledge him. Madden took a balcony seat to watch her activities and probably to take note of her dancing partners. It appears he was not taking much note of those who were moving into the seats near him on the balcony.

The dance continued past midnight. At two in the morning, November 6, a friend told Mrs. Madden that someone wanted to see her outside. As she reached the door, a muffled gunshot was heard. Word that Owney had been shot circulated quickly through the crowd.

Madden gave different accounts of the shooting, but reportedly did not reveal the identity of the gunman. Initially, he insisted, "I done it myself." When his wife reached him, he responded to her questions about the gunman with, "How'd I know?"

At Flower Hospital (where he told a surgeon, "Git busy with that knife thing, doc"), he stated to police that he had been surrounded on the balcony by eleven members of the Hudson Dusters gang. As they closed around him, he became aware of the threat and responded with bravado, telling the gangsters they didn't have the nerve to shoot him. But one of them, according to Madden's story, had just enough nerve. He pressed a handgun to Madden's side and fired.

Madden (back row, center) and some of his Gophers gang.
The press speculated that the shooting was payback for Madden's recent killing of a young man named William Henshaw, but noted that Madden had no shortage of enemies in Manhattan.

As doctors were tending to the five holes the bullet created in Madden's intestines, police determined that John McCauley of 440 Tenth Avenue was the shooter. They arrested him on Nov. 7. McCauley admitted being at the dance and being near Madden at the time of the shooting. His account of the incident sounded ridiculous, but it was in agreement with Madden's odd first remark.

According to McCauley, as Madden saw his rivals around him, he handed his own handgun to McCauley and said, "You'll get me someday and it might as well be now." McCauley insisted that he handed the weapon back to its owner, took no further action and merely watched as Madden then shot himself.

Sources:

  • "Chase for a slayer," New York Times, Feb. 13, 1912, p. 1.
  • "Held on charge of murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 13, 1912, p. 3.
  • "Oweny Madden, 'Killer' shot, sneers at sleuth," New York Sun, Nov. 7, 1912, p. 9. 
  • "Prisoner says Gopher leader shot himself," New York Evening World, Nov. 7, 1912, p. 2.
  • "Dry padlocks snapped on nine wet doors; 'Owney' Madden's 'Club' is one of them," New York Times, June 23, 1925, p. 23.
  • Waggoner, Walter H., "Herman stark dies; owned Cotton Club from 1929 to 1940," New York Times, July 9, 1981.
  • "Owney Madden, 73, ex-gangster, dead," New York Times, April 24, 1965, p. 1.