Showing posts with label Great Depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great Depression. Show all posts

29 November 2020

McKeever-McNeiley: Troublesome robbery gang

 Jeffery S. King, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dillinger Gang, The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd and Kill-Crazy Gang, here turns his attention to less well known Depression Era gangsters of the American Midwest, George McKeever and Francis McNeiley. Noting their physical (and professional) similarities to Pretty Boy Floyd and Floyd's bank robbery partner Adam Richetti, King persuasively argues that McKeever-McNeiley robberies and violence were mistakenly attributed to Floyd-Richetti, adding significantly to the Floyd-Richetti legend.

Built upon FBI files, court and prison records and other government documents, in addition to published book, newspaper and magazine sources, One of the Most Troublesome Robbery Gangs is a record of the murders and robberies committed by McKeever, McNeiley and their associates. The book establishes the often overlooked McKeever-McNeiley gang as one of the more successful and elusive outlaw bands of the period.

Along with the dramatic details of the McKeever and McNeiley careers, King provides broader context, exploring regional economic ills, the condition of penal institutions and the organization and techniques of police agencies in the era. King follows his subjects through their final arrests and to the ends of their lives - one expiring at the end of a rope in Missouri and the other surviving a lengthy prison sentence to pass away decades later.

King includes eighteen pages of photographs, extensive source citations and a select bibliography.

One of the Most Troublesome Robbery Gangs is an informative, entertaining and easy read. It is not without some technical flaws - there are a number of typographical errors in the text and some photos and captions are skewed on their pages - but these do not significantly detract from the book.


Disclosure: I have been acquainted with Jeffery S. King for about a decade. He has contributed several articles - on Baby Face Nelson, George McKeever and Tommy Carroll - and several advertisements to my Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement publication since 2011.

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.