|Joseph "Fatso" Negri|
The art of the memoir was not lost on women in hiding. Florence "Cokey Flo" Brown, the chief material witness who testified against Charles "Lucky" Luciano in his 1936 trial for compulsory prostitution, had her story published in Liberty in 1937 while her actual whereabouts were unknown.
Women were not the only gang associates who were called upon to write for these rags that sold for $.25. Joseph "Fatso" Negri, an associate of Lester "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis, became a chronicler of the last weeks of the Nelson gang in True Detective. In the series, which ran for several months, Negri introduced the mob expressions and jargon that might have been lost. "Nelson always used the words 'to charge on,' in speaking of bank holdups, Negri wrote. "The six of us tried to pile into one car, but it couldn't be done, what with everyone lugging along his machino and wearing his bulletproof vest."
With the dawn of the Second World War, the crime-does-not-pay stories became old hat. For those survivors of the 1930s criminal era, these serialized memoirs had helped to pay legal fees and keep the rent paid for a while. These first-person accounts of gangland served a purpose that went beyond twenty-five bucks and a couple of gowns. Today avid crime researchers, jaded by the age of technology, are still fascinated by these original stories of gangland.
Author of "Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang,"
"The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial,"
and a forthcoming biography of Captain Matt Leach of the Dillinger saga.