Showing posts with label Patrick Downey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Patrick Downey. Show all posts

18 April 2018

Motor City Mayhem



Detroit was suffering a stifling heatwave on September 3, 1927 when William Gilbreath was driving home at ten p.m. Though somewhat late in the evening, the sidewalks were still teeming with pedestrians and the streets were full of cars. During his trip, Gilbreath remembered that he needed to pick something up from the drug store. Seeing one on the corner he pulled his car to the curb and hopped out. As he approached the store he heard a voice from behind, “Get back in that car and don’t make any fuss about it.” He turned to find a younger man brandishing a gun. Two other men turned the corner and closed in. They escorted Gilbreath back to his car and ordered him to get behind the wheel. One of the men climbed in the front seat with him and the other two hopped in the back. Once they were all in the car, the other two guys drew thirty-eights from their pockets. To Gilbreath’s shock, none of the numerous pedestrians who were walking or driving by seemed to notice the kidnapping.
     “Drive around the block.” The gunman up front demanded.
Gilbreath followed the order. After a bit, the gunman jammed his thirty eight into Gilbreath’s side.
     “All right, you, stop this car and climb in the back.”
Gilbreath switched places with one of the gunmen and for the next two hours they drove around searching for a place to rob. The bandits pulled up to a handful of drug stores with the intention of robbing them but, each time, decided that there were too many customers inside. At 11:15 they pulled into a gas station owned and operated by Ted Malm. The driver told Malm to” fill ‘er up” and, when the proprietor came around to collect payment, instead of cash, he found the business end of a thirty-eight.
“Get in.” the driver commanded. Malm climbed into the car as two of the gunmen walked into the station and helped themselves to the cash in the register.

With their new prisoner, the bandits continued to drive around looking for opportunities. After a while they decided to rob a pedestrian. Just then they saw a guy enter the court to an apartment building and two of the gunmen leapt from the car and approached him. One of them called out to the man, Edmund Weiner, a mechanic who worked for the Ford Motor Company, as he was about to enter the building. As Weiner turned to reply the gunman smashed him over the head with the butt of his gun. Weiner let out a scream and the gunmen proceeded to beat him as he tried to fight them off. Weiner’s yells filled the air as one of the bandits continued to beat him over the head with his pistol while dragging him from the courtyard out to the street. Weiner was pulled to the car and tossed in the back.

Inside the auto it was discovered that Weiner only had two nickels in cash. This, and the fact that he wouldn’t stop screaming, led all of the bandits to start wailing on him again. Pleading for his life, Weiner cried that he had a wife and two daughters to support. The hoodlums couldn’t have cared less. They continued to rain blows down upon him as he persisted in his screaming. A few minutes passed and one of the bandits jumped behind the wheel and pulled away while another yelled at the wounded man to be quiet.

After a short drive, the bandits pulled over and told their three captives to get out and lie on the ground. After searching them for anything of value, one of the gunmen warned the trio that if they got up too soon, they would “get their damn heads blown off.” The bandits got back in Gilbreath’s car and drove off. Gilbreath and Malm helped Weiner to a drug store where some citizens offered to drive him to the hospital. Unfortunately, Weiner took to many blows to his head; he died of his wounds the following morning.


With the brutal slaying of Wiener, the case became well publicized. All of the Detroit newspapers demanded police action, which was slow in coming. In an interview, Gilbreath mentioned that during the ride, they drove past a couple of beat cops standing on a corner. One of the gunmen said that they should bump them off, but another stated that he knew one of the cops. Detroiters wondered why a police officer would be friendly with a gun toting thug. Within a few days, six ranking police officers were walking a beat for being in “contact with the criminal element.” Around the same time, the front page of the Detroit Times quoted Weiner’s wife as saying, “May God punish the murderers of my husband. I don’t know what we can do. We are penniless now without his salary. My baby girl keeps asking where Daddy is but I cannot tell her for she is too young to understand.”

Through the Detroit Times, Gilbreath set up a fund for Weiner’s family and over the next few weeks donations came pouring into the Times. In all, Weiner’s widow was presented with over $5,400. Some folks offered their services. A cobbler offered free shoe repair for a year and a bakery pledged a free loaf of bread every day for the same amount of time.

On September 14, Detroit Police got their first break in the case. While searching for clues regarding a string of drug store robberies, detectives were canvassing the establishments that had been held up and walked into the Saylor Drug Store to question the clerks. When two of the detectives entered, (a third remained in the car) they noticed that no clerks were about. Assuming that they were in the back whipping up prescriptions, they waited. After a moment a guy walked out from the rear of the store. As he walked around the counter, he smiled at the detectives and said, “Well, goodnight boys!” before exiting the store. The detectives got a bad vibe from him but assumed that the drug store was doubling as a speakeasy and the guy simply had a drink or two. Moments later another guy walked out but this one had a gun in his hand and caught the detectives off guard. “Stick ‘em up, both of you.” He barked.

The detectives complied but since there was about six feet distance between them, the gunman had to swing his pistol back and forth to cover each man. At one point his eyes fell on one of the detectives’ pocket watch. Seizing the opportunity, the other detective drew his gun and fired. The first bullet hit the bandit under the arm and pierced his chest. The bandit turned and fired a wild shot as three more slugs slammed into his body. The hoodlum staggered, reached out and grabbed the pocket watch he had been eyeing and dropped to the floor. He gave his name as Robert Meyers and died a half hour later at the hospital. Gilbreath and Malm were brought to the morgue where they identified Meyers as both the leader of the desperadoes and the driver of the car, the night of Weiner’s murder.


Gilbreath (L) and Malm (R) Identify Meyers


A week after Meyers got his, police received a tip that two questionable men were living in a cottage in nearby Gross Pointe Park. After staking out the joint for the better part of the evening, detectives went in and arrested both men and their girlfriends. One of the guys arrested turned out to be the man who exited the drug store saying, “Well, good night boys!” the other was the getaway driver (Police were unaware that there was a driver that day. During his confession he stated that, when he saw the detectives pull up to the drug store, he honked the horn as a warning and took off.)
Both men admitted to being accomplices of Meyers but denied being in on the Weiner murder. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in and both stated that neither bandit was involved. The gunmen told detectives that Meyers worked with a handful of different bandits but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give any names. It didn’t matter because the next day another one of the hoodlums fell to police bullets.


At three-fifteen the following afternoon, a patrol was standing on the corner when a pedestrian came up and told him that he had been robbed on September 12, and that he just saw the man who did it. The citizen pointed him out and the officer started for the suspect. Seeing the officer approach, the suspect dodged behind a tree and drew a pistol. The officer did likewise and both men started shooting at each other. After a few volleys the desperado let out scream and fell to the ground. His cheek had been pierced by a bullet. Assuming his man was down for good, the officer approached and went to disarm him. The gunman had some fight left in him however, and the two began to grapple for control of the cop’s gun. The bandit wrestled it free and shot the officer in the stomach. As the policeman crumpled to the ground, the gunman ran off. Two citizens rushed the officer to the hospital where he made a full recovery.

Meanwhile, cops began combing the neighborhood looking for the gunman who had ran into a nearby garage. Inside was the homeowner and the hoodlum forced him into the house at gunpoint. The desperado told him to hide him in a closet. The homeowner opened a door, “Get into the closet with me.” The gunman ordered. As the gunman hid himself behind some clothes, a police officer entered the house. The homeowner jumped from the closet doorway and the cop pushed the clothes out of the way and fired into the gunman. With a bullet in his belly, the hoodlum dropped to the floor and began groaning for his mother.

At the hospital the hoodlum identified himself as nineteen- year- old Joe Subko of Akron, Ohio. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in to take a look at him. Without hesitation, Gilbreath identified him as the man who had assaulted Weiner. Although Malm was reasonably certain that Subko was the man, he asked if he could see him dressed in street clothes to make sure. During this time, Subko died of his wounds, so they dressed him in his clothes and let Malm take another look. Once this was done Malm declared him the man.


Subko redressed for identification. Note bullet hole in cheek.



It turned out that Subko was also a mini-crime wave of his own independent of Meyers. Victims of, who the police called, the “Hitch Hike Bandit” an armed man who robbed numerous motorist that picked him up, were also called in and identified Subko as the bandit. Though Gilbreath, Malm and Mrs. Weiner received some satisfaction in the wiping out of Meyers and Subko, unfortunately for Justice, the third man involved in the kidnappings and robberies was never found out.


References

“Snaring Detroit’s Kidnapping Killers” True Detective Mysteries November 1934
“3 Thugs Kidnap W.S. Gilbreath, Slay Another” Detroit Free Press, September 5, 1927
"Familiarity Of Thugs And Cops Under Inquiry"St. Joseph Herald Press September 6, 1927
“Officer Defies Robber’s Gun, Kills Bandit” Detroit Free Pres, September 15, 1927
“Crook Mental Test Failure Blow To Police” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1927
“Hat Identifies Leader of Weiner’s Slayers” Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1927
“Man Slain, Second Dying After Battles With Policemen”, Detroit Free Press September 24, 1927
“Second Weiner Slayer Killed By Policeman’s Bullet”, Detroit Free Press September 25, 1927

23 December 2017

Gangsters move to the Big Screen II



The Public Enemy  - Starring James Cagney and Edward Burns. Released May 15, 1931

This gangster pic was released four months after Little Caesar and like the latter the story takes place in Chicago. Whereas Little Caesar dealt with the Italian underworld, the former deals with Irish hoodlums.


Like its predecessor, The Public Enemy also bases some of its characters and scenes on reality. The model for Paddy Ryan’s gang was Chicago’s North Side gang. One of the main gangsters with the mob is a big shot named Nails Nathan who is a guiding force of Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend Matt Doyle (Edward Burns). In the movie Nails Nathan gets thrown from a horse and is accidentally killed. Upset with the death of their friend and mentor, Powers and Doyle go to the stables and shoot the horse that Nathan was riding when killed. Sounds like pure Hollywood invention right? Nope. Actually happened. The Nails Nathan character is based on an actual Chicago gangster named Samuel “Nails” Morton, a top member of the North Side gang who was popular with his associates. Just like in the film, Morton was thrown from a horse and killed while out pleasure riding and his friends really did go to the stable and kill the horse. 

Nails Morton Chicago gangster rubbed out by a horse
The main foe of the Paddy Ryan mob is the gang headed by “Schemer” Burns. Cute nickname, anyone in Chicago with that moniker? Yup, but it was a North Sider, Schemer Drucci.

In the movie, a gang war breaks out  and there is a scene where Powers and Doyle are walking along the street and rival gangsters, who have been staking out their hideout from a machine gun nest in a second story apartment window, open fire and kill Doyle. This scene is inspired by the murder of North Side gangster Earl “Hymie” Weiss who was taken out by a machine gun nest while approaching the gang’s headquarters.

The film ends with the rival gang kidnapping a wounded Powers from the hospital and taking him for a one way ride. Gangsters wouldn't actually invade a hospital to finish a job would they? Well, turns out that idea may have been snatched from gangdom as well. Though not kidnapped, a year or so before the movie was released, a Newark, New Jersey gangster by the name of John "The Ape" Passelli was bumped off in the hospital while recuperating from a botched hit. 




Any other scenes or characters that are familiar to you?


17 December 2017

Gangsters Move to the Big Screen



The old adage, art reflects life, was never more true than with the rise of the gangster film in the 1930s.  Thanks to years of Prohibition, crime, corruption and gangland violence were at an all-time high and this was reflected in the gangster pictures released by Warner Brothers. Though a Hollywood cliche now, guys in fedoras blasting away at each other and men being mowed down by Tommy-guns was very real for the movie goer of the time.

What modern film fans might not realize is that plenty of the characters and events in these early gangster films were inspired by real gangsters and events from the era. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous of the films. We'll start the series with:


Little Caesar  Starring Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - released January 25, 1931.

Spoilers!

There's not a lot that was ripped from the headlines for Little Caesar but there are a few things that seem familiar to anyone who has immersed him or herself into the gangsters of old. Perhaps it's reaching but, what the hell, it's the movies lets reach.

Little Caesar was first a book loosely based on a Chicago hoodlum named Sam Cardinella, who headed a gang of bandits and extortionists during the years just prior to Prohibition. It was written in Chicago, in the late Twenties and so shadows of Al Capone, who was at the height of his career when the book was published and the film  released, can also be seen.

Robinson plays the title character Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandetto aka Little Caesar. Rico is a small time hood with big ambitions to move to Chicago and become that City's top gangster. To this end, he and his partner in crime, Joe Massara, played by Fairbanks Jr., move to the Windy City where Rico begins his underworld ascent.  First he takes over the small gang from Sam Vettori, next he moves up another notch by displacing Diamond Pete Montana. Along the way he kills Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure.

Like the cinematic Rico, Capone was an out-of-towner who showed up in Chicago as a low level hood and had a meteoric rise to the top. Within five years of his arrival in the Windy City, Capone was running the town’s largest criminal enterprise. Unlike Rico, Capone wasn’t a small town hold-up man, he came from Brooklyn, New York where he was already involved with the Italian underworld. 

Rico or Capone?
Another incident in the film that mirrors Capone’s career is the murder of the Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure. In the film McClure shows up at a night club and, when he learns that it is owned by gangsters, he starts to leave just as Rico and his gang show up to rob it. The commissioner ends up getting killed by Rico. In real life an Assistant District Attorney William McSwiggin was bumped off in Chicago while exiting a tavern with some hoodlum pals and it is believed that Capone was one of the machine gunners who did him in.

The stuff movies are made of.
Regarding Rico’s pal Joe Massara, it may simply be a coincidence but at the time of the film’s release the most powerful Mafia kingpin in New York  was a Capone ally named Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Unlike Massara in the film, Joe the Boss would not have a happy ending. About four months after the release of Little Caesar Masseria was gunned down in a Coney Island restaurant. 

Joe Massara- Movie gangster
Joe Masseria- Real Gangster

One of Rico's early bosses is the rich and successful Diamond Pete Montana, Rico at first admires  and then surpasses him. In 1928 wealthy Chicago gangster/politician Diamond Joe Esposito  said to have been a Capone nemesis, was bumped off.

With the popularity of Little Caesar at the box office, Warner Brothers went into high-gear and mined Chicago and New York's underworlds for box office gold. 

Have you seen Little Caesar? Did you notice any other scenes or characters that the writers "borrowed" from the underworld?