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William Sharkey – The Tammany Hall Politician and mobster who escaped hanging by law

William J. Sharkey is regarded to be a pickpocket, a crook, a murderer and Tammany Hall Politician. He is well known for making a daring escaping when sentenced to death row at the Tomb’s Prison, New York City.

His early life

It was in 1845 that Sharkey was born in the city of New York to a well to do family, residing in Manhattan’s 9th Ward. He is said to have been lured by Manhattan’s darker side and was seen with crooks, gamblers and pickpockets. He had himself become a skillful pickpocket and gambler. However, he got arrested for pickpocketing and a photograph taken by municipal photographer had ensured having a record as well as picture with the Policy Department of the city.

He started to deal in stolen bonds and rose high among criminals and went on to form ‘Sharkey’s Guards’, his own gang having Wooster Corner and Houston Streets as the gang’s headquarters. It is here that he got motivated to join the political scene and very soon became darling of crooks, running Tammany Hall.

He preferred to wear the best clothes, sparking diamonds on neck and finger. He soon ran for the post of Asst. Alderman. Although he had the backing of Tammany Hall, he lost the election. Once again he went back to gambling and stealing. He amassed huge money and moved to Buffalo in New York for starting a faro game. Again his venture proved to be unlucky, compelling him to get back to the city of New York.  He befriended with Robert Dunn, his old friend, who was employed with the Comptroller’s Office at New York City. Dunn also ran a faro business, at a gambling house in Fulton Street. But as faro partners, they again lost at Buffalo. On 1st September 1872, Sharkey killed Dunn and was convicted and later sentenced to death by hanging.

His great escape

In jail, he lived the life of a luxury using his money while awaiting his death sentence and was assisted by Maggie Jourdan. On 19th November 1873, with her help as well as that of Mrs. Allen, Sharkey managed to escape wearing the dress of a woman. But the two women got arrested and later Jourdan was acquitted.

In the meanwhile, Sharkey had made the escape by availing Frank Atwood’s schooner and reached Haiti. Later, he travelled to Cuba to settle there. Sharkey never got back to New York and enjoyed the remaining part of his life in Cuba.

Tim Sullivan – The mobster and perfect Tammany Hall politician

‘Big Tim’ as he is popularly called, was actually Tammany Hall hack.  It was he who is said to have given the correct meaning to ‘Crooked Politician’ term that is otherwise commonly used.

His early life

In 1863, it was at 25, Baxter Street, a slum building of the city of New York that Sullivan was born. This building according to an article in New York Times was called the city’s filthiest tenements to exist. His parents were poor and had immigrated from Ireland’s County Kerry province. At the age of 8, he was compelled to sell newspapers and shine shoes. However, he was quite enterprising from his childhood days and saved sufficient cash for establishing his very own newspaper delivery trade and had poor kids in dozens from the neighborhood to be employed for making the deliveries. Very soon, he owned four local bars. A Tammany Hall ward leader and a notorious one named Thomas ‘Fatty’ Walsh was one of his bar customers. Sullivan got influenced by Walsh and joined his political wing. He got elected to State Assembly of 3rd District in 1894.

His criminal activities

He was regarded to be quite corrupt in Tammany Hall and as appointed Lower East Side’s District Leader. This is when he bridged the gap that existed between street thuggery and public service and recruited well known mobsters of that time like Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly for performing his dirty work. Their activities included election site voter influence, beating up voters for failing Sullivan, etc., against which, he helped them to be away from jail. Moreover, he also enjoyed receiving shares from their activities in Lower East Side, which included gambling, prostitution, extortion and loan sharking. In the front, he also got into several legal endeavors like becoming partners with Loews and MGM Cinema operations.

His downfall

But in 1911, he contracted Syphilis which was due to his visits to the prostitution houses and became delusional and paranoid. Being judged to be mentally incompetent, he got removed from senate seat. Later his family in 1912 got him to a mental institution, making his condition all the more worse. He escaped the sanitarium in 1913, a fatal mistake committed by him. A day later, his body was noticed near Pelham Parkway’s railroad tracks and not being recognized was sent for disposal as a vagrant. But with one police officer recognizing at the morgue, he was given a proper burial.

Thomas E. Dewey – The man who curbed the mafia of New York

Thomas Dewey was a Special Prosecutor whose only mission was to curb and eliminate the different gangsters and mafia groups that infested in the city of New York. He was a little man, sporting a large moustache and a snarling face.

His early life

It was on 24th March 1902 that Dewey was born in Michigan’s Owosso town. His father was a publisher and editor of a local newspaper and had an objective of having all the wrongs present in the political world to be eradicated and right done. His main focus was Tammany Hall’s tyranny, since it had its corrupt tentacles across the country. Junior Dewey admired his father a lot and was motivated by the senior Dewey to a great extent, so as to go after New York City’s organized crime and gangsters, which was done with a vengeance.

Initially, Dewey wanted to be a singer and was regarded to be talented with operatic baritone. He became a member of Men’s Gee Club from University of Michigan. He also wrote for ‘Michigan Daily’, student newspaper of the university. He also came third at the Nationwide singing contest. But throat problems led to his dropping music as a career and opting to become a lawyer.

He enrolled with Columbia Law School and after graduation started to practice between 1925-31. He married Frances Hutt, an actress in 1928 and both gave birth to two sons.

His rise to fame

He rose to the position of New York Southern District’s Chief Asst. U.S. Attorney in 1931, which acted as a platform for furthering his political boundaries. It is from here that he took on popular gangsters like Waxey Gordon and had him charged and convicted for hidden taxes and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.

His next target was Dutch Schultz in 1935, he was appointed Special Prosecutor of New York County and more specifically Manhattan. Having Governor Lehman’s solid backing, Dewey had assembled a crack team of investigators, assistants, stenographers, clerks and process servers. Schultz wanted to kill Dewey,  since he was sure that the latter would have all the mafia family members to be behind bars to which the national crime Commission refused  and killed Schultz instead, fearing retaliation from the government.

Although he was successful in his mission to curb mafia control over New York City, he was not considered as Presidential candidate especially with the Second World War looming large, due to his inexperience and young age.

The Gophers – The gang that was ruled by several bosses

It was during the 1890s that Gophers street gang had been formed. Since this gang after performing a particular misdeed used to hide in various cavernous neighborhood cellars for avoiding arrest, it derived such a name. Their territory during the initial days was from 7th – 11th Avenues, which is from 14th Street – 42nd Street.  However, with time they expanded their territory till 57th Street. With each passing day, they increased their numbers, which at its height reached to about 500 members, of whom all were murderous hooligans.

Few leaders of the gang

Their initial operation base was Battle Row, a notorious saloon, owned by Mallet Murphy, a thug. This gang throughout its operational days had several bosses, with one of the most well known being Owney Madden, also called ‘The Killer’. However, in 1913 his reign ended with his killing of ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend named Little Patsy Doyle, who also vied to become the gang’s leader.

One Lung Curran was another boss and is known to have originated a particular practice, determining the gang’s fashion wear. He had presented his girlfriend with a winter coat, stolen from a police officer, which she had modified to make it a fashion symbol of the Gopher gang, who followed the trend.

Happy Jack Mulraney was another Gopher boss. He had this name, since his faced appeared to have a permanent smile, which was rather caused due to quirky paralysis of his face muscles. Being a psychopathic killer, his cohorts used to enrage him by stating of someone having made fun of him. Having shot a bar owner, he got sentenced to life imprisonment.

In August 1908, few Gophers when wandering around found themselves in between a shootout between the gang of Monk Eastman and Five Pointers of Paul Kelly. Just to have fun, the Gophers also joined the shootout to take shots at both the warring groups.

Income source

For several years, plundering train depot and freight cars belonging to Central Railroad of New York was the source of income for the gang. To protect its assets, the railroad had organized its very own ‘special police force’ comprising of those ex-cops who were at some point of time, had become victims to the Gopher gang. This special force with great satisfaction started to fight the Gophers into submission using brutal force.

It was only in 1917 after the arrest of Curran and with both Madden and Mulraney in prison for life, the Gophers dissipated gradually and by 1920 ceased to exist.

The Cotton Club – The haven for mobsters and whites at Harlem

The Cotton Club is considered to attract everyone which includes the Whites, Blacks and the mobsters, who were simply fascinated by it. Harlem during the 1890s was regarded to be the dream of every land speculator. The area had been transformed from hinterlands to something known as ‘The Great Migration’ and extended to Manhattan’s 129th Street.

During those days, the residents between 37th Street and 58 Street comprised mostly of Black families, while the society’s upper crust had viewed Harlem to be developed for those upwardly mobile. Hence, fabulous townhouses that costs thousands of dollars were developing quickly, since land of Harlem might be purchased by land speculators. However, the speculator’s expectations fell flat by 1905. They forced the white landowners to hand out their property to the blacks at higher rents, an illegal tactic, thereby making Harlem by the 1920s to become the country’s largest black community. But the blacks found the rents to be too high and took in more tenants, overcrowding the Harlem and slowly infested various illegal activities like drugs, prostitution and numbers games.

The Cotton Club

However, mobsters like Owney Madden and Dutch Schultz came to Harlem and took to illegal activities by force from the blacks and to sell bootleg booze. Schultz had his sights on Club Delux located on Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street for bootlegging purpose. It was Jack Johnson, the world’s first heavyweight black champion had owned this place, but was forced by Schultz to hand it over to him. Schulz had it renamed as ‘The Cotton Club’.  It was his partner George DeMange and Madden who took control of the club.

After taking it over, the whole interior of the club was redone for catering to the taste of the white downtowner’s. ‘Jungle décor’ was used having several artificial palm trees across the spacious establishment having a seating capacity for accommodating 700 people. It boasted of having exquisite fixtures, tablecloths, draperies, which indicated its being plush supper late-night club. It served varied menu and the prices were exorbitant. Even though every staff of the club was a black, customers of black origin was not allowed.

Its success

Right from its beginning, the Club was an instant hit with those who visited it. The rules were very stringent and brutes were present at the door for enforcing its policies. In 1933, with the end of the Prohibition period, the club was formally handed over to DeMange by Madden.

Joseph Ryan – The mobster who controlled the ILA

The ILA or International Longshoremen Association began as a labour union that was legitimate within the region of the Great Lakes. Its purpose was to assist dockworkers to get their fare share from their employers. It later expanded to east cost and a council was created by 1914 for New York District. Very soon, the ILA went o to become a mob stronghold, got manipulated by few of the most dangerous Irish mobsters of those days among whom Joseph Ryan was regarded to be the most prominent.

His entering the ILA

It was in 1917 that Ryan entered the scene, as he organized an ILA branch called ‘Council of New York District’. He became Atlantic Coast District of ILA’s President in 1918. With the New York Port gaining more importance due to its proximity to Europe and IWW (Workers of World), west coast based workers placing strict competition, the ILA in 1919 managed to bring them into their fold.

His early life and rise to fame

In 1921, Ryan was appointed as the ILA’s first Vice President and its President in 1927, during the time of which, the power base completely shifted to New York Port. He had become somebody from nobody, but had to go through tough time.

It was Babylon, Long Island considered to be his birthplace on 11th May 1884. His parents were of Irish origin and immigrants. At 9, both of them died, leaving him as an orphan.  A woman had adopted him and he lived with her in Manhattan’s Chelsea section, just a few blocks south from Hell’s Kitchen region that was completely lawless at that time.

In his early age, he had to undertake menial jobs and then got a work with loading and unloading at Chelsea Piers. But having hurt his foot when unloading, he was never able to work at the docks again. However, he was appointed as ILA Local 791 secretary and from then began his meteoric rise. He was called popularly as ‘Boss Joe’ and was regarded to be a ruthless fighter, hired some of the worst imaginable men to increase his grip. He also organized fund raisers for politicians. ‘The Norris La Guardia  Act’ passed on by Roosevelt only enhanced his power further. But it was the west coast that proved to be his downfall and in 1851 lost control over ILA. In 1955,  after being convicted and fined, he never was seen near the waterfronts.

James Hines – The Successful Political fixer

James Hines was an ordinary blacksmith at Harlem. He got introduced to Tammany Hall and went on to become in New York City’s history for big time political fixing.

His early life

It was at Manhattan’s Upper West Side that he was born on 18th December 1876. His father also was a blacksmith who had his own shop on 8 Avenue and 121st street. Hines had to take over the shop at a young age of 17, as his father had become sick. He befriended Tim Sullivan take benefit of his father’s connections with politics, who was more of a crook and took his share from the street gangs that operated several rackets in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

His rise to fame

Sullivan was considered to be a master politician and knew how to get votes from certain people several times, having their appearances changed constantly. Hines was an ardent student, who learned the trades well from his master and in 1907 became an alderman, because of Sullivan’s manipulation. In 1910 he was elected District Leader and formed Monongahela Democratic Club. This club later on became his operational base and from here, he did good deeds like helping poor people and providing jobs to the unemployed, so that their votes could come in his favor.

He along with Phillip, his brother began a trucking company for supplementing income and then construction firm. Very soon they made it big in both the industry and got wonderful contracts and had it subcontracted to those people, who knew to perform the jobs. However, he had his share of backdraw, like he preferred backroom dealing and not a skilled public speaker. Although he helped his friends generously, those who came in his path were killed without any remorse.

His relationship with the mobsters

At the height of Prohibition, Big Bill Dwyer and Owney Madden were operating the country’s biggest bootlegging operation. They needed the support of the law officials, who were controlled by Hines. Hence, they paid him well to ensure that their men are safe. With his help, Jimmy Walker the ex-Tin Pan Alley Song writer was elected New York City Mayor and was equally corrupt. But in 1932, Walker was taken out of office by Seabury Committee headed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although Hines enjoyed favors from Roosevelt and the mobsters, it was Dutch Schultz, with whom he had relationship with later proved to be his downfall. He got sentenced to 4 to 8 years for corruption and died on 26th March, 1957.

Helen Jewett – The beautiful mobster

Helen Jewett was considered to be a very beautiful prostitute who had become close with a handsome clerk, planning to live together. But fate decided otherwise, when her charred body was found on 10th April 1836 at a brothel bed in downtown Manhattan. Richard Robinson, her 19 year old was the only suspect for this murder.

Her early life

It was in 1813 that Helen was born and her original name was Doras Doyen. At the age of 13, her father died. She had remarkable beauty and was patronized by a local judge, providing her with all essential tools, resources and education for attaining successful status in her life.

But she abandoned her benefactor when she was 17, since she wanted to roam freely and ran off with a Portland, Maine banker who was qu9te prosperous. She was provided with luxury of all sorts by the banker and lived within a palatial mansion, enjoyed flowing champagne and swanky parties regularly. It is during this time, she became a prostitute. Being an impetuous person, they often quarreled and she left him to move to the city of New York and had her name changed to Helen Jewett.

Life as a prostitute

She entered the prostitution profession eagerly when in New York and worked for the town’s most luxurious brothels. She seduced new men or looked for old flames for increasing her business. She dressed in green shades, to match her captivating eyes. Therefore, she earned the nickname ‘Girl in Green’. She went on to become the most sought after in the city. She was also charitable and helped those who required assistance.

About her boyfriend

In 1818, Durham, Connecticut was born Richard Robinson to a well-to-do family. He grew handsome and was provided with good education and well dressed. He also ran away at 17 to New York City, where he was easily employed. He was a ‘roisterer’, someone who did not care a thing in the world. He came across Helen, when she was being accosted by a ruffian and became her hero. She was more infatuated to him that he was to her and also attacked another lady for being with Robinson. But she was killed with a hatchet and burnt by some unidentified person, who was supposed to be Robinson. But he could manage to escape law as his parents had hired the best defense lawyer available in the country to fight his case. However, he also died two years later due to some strange sickness affecting him.

Gallus Mag – The Savage Mobster

The 4th Ward waterfront was considered to be a haven for pirates, killers and robbers right from the 1700s. There were several mobsters like the Buckoos, Daybreak Boys, Slaughter Houses, Swamp Angels and Hookers, who ruled the streets. However, the most feared of them all during mid 19th century is regarded to be a woman called Gallus Mag.

About Gallus

She was around 6’ tall and worked as a bouncer at the Hone-In-The Wall, a Dover Street Bar, owned by Charlie Monell. By birth, she was English and had ruled the bar. Since her skirt was said to fall down with galluses or suspenders, she earned this nickname of Gallus’ from her boss. She always had a bludgeon wrist strapped and carried a pistol in her belt to take care of troublemakers, whose ear she bit and had it kept at a visible place in the bar as her trophy.  Hence, she was called by the New York police officials as a savage female mobster, ever countered by them. She also had defeated the challenger Sadie the Goat and had her beaten to pulp ear kept as a trophy. Sadie although sad to have one of her ear to be ripped off by the teeth of Gallus, was glad enough to see that her life had been spared. After this incident, Sadie had fled 4th Ward to move to West Side Piers to prowl once again, but far away from Gallus. This shows the kind of viciousness and influence that Gallus had among the mobsters in the region.

After accumulating a good amount of wealth on the West Side streets, Sadie went back to Mag to make peace with her. Touched by her gesture, Mag immediately had the severed ear of Sadie and returned it back to the rightful owner, which according to legend was worn in a locket by Sadie over her neck for the remaining part of her life.

After seven murders had been committed in the bar in 1855, within three months space, the Hole-In-The-Wall got permanently closed. Although Mag’s exact death is not known or found, the locals claim that her ghost still haunts this Bridge Café even today.

Francis Crowley – New York City’s most dangerous mobster

Francis Crowley was nicknamed ‘The Puny Killer’ and ‘Half Pint Moron’ as well as ‘Two Gun’. For a brief period of three months, he was considered to be New York City’s most dangerous man.

His early life

It was on 13th October 1912 in the city of New York that he was born to an unmarried German mother, who later had put up little Francis for adoption. Probably his father was police official, the reason for his hatred for those in blue uniform. Anna Crowley, woman adopted him and raised him. It was Anna that he called his only mother.

His entering the mafia world

He stool 5’ 3” at the age of 18 and was about 130 pounds in weight. At this time, he was a full time criminal as well as a murdered, teaming up with Rudolph Duringer, who was considered the largest man to sit on the electric chair in Sing Sing.

Crowley along with Fats and other mobster had busted into Bronx’s American Legion Dance Hall on 21st February 1931. He fired with 2 guns, the reason he derived the nickname of ‘Two Gun’ Crowley. Although no one got killed, the police hunted him for attempted murder and got him cornered within an office building. But he had made his escape killing Detective Ferdinand Schaedel.

His criminal activities

He was involved in numerous criminal activities within a very short span of time.  Along with his crew, he robbed a New Rochelle bank, and then staged home invasion of Rudolph Adler, a wealthy real estate investor. Rudolph was shot five times. He drove a stolen car on 27th April 1931 with Fats who killed a dancer named Virginia Brannen inside the vehicle and had her body discarded later.

His rise to fame

On 29th April, when he was driving a Crysler, he got spotted by the police officials, who shot at him.  But again he gave the slip. On 6th May at a secluded spot, Crowley was spotted by patrolmen along with his girlfriend. When asked for identification, he took up the revolver and shot at both, to flee the scene. It was then he got branded as cop killer, which brought him instant fame.

On 7th May, at 90th Street West took place the most fierce of all gun battles in New York City’s history, with the episode being termed ‘Siege of West 90th Street’, where Crowley was holed up along with Helen Walsh and Fats Duringer. He was greeted by 100 cops and 15,000 onlookers. Crowley was overcome only to be sent to electric chair on 21st January 1932.

Crazy Butch Gang & Rabbi

Crazy Butch during the 90’s was considered to be Manhattan’s Lower East Side’s youngest mobsters.  At the age of 8, his parents had abandoned him and hence, had become a street urchin, living on the streets. He met a smart abandoned dog on the road and had named it ‘Rabbi’. He taught the dog special tricks to fetch bags from women and run across the streets to come to the place where he was hiding and empty its contents and give the dog a bone as reward. He succeed a lot and slowly made a gang comprising of teenage and pre-teen crooks that he named ‘Crazy Butch Gang’.

With the cash accumulated, he purchased a huge cycle to carry out his next scheme. He would pedal his cycle throughout the crowd and have his dog and gang to follow him. On approaching a target, he plowed the bike onto the unsuspecting pedestrian, mostly a female and shouted for the accident, for which a crowd would gather, during which his gang would empty every person’s pockets, while Rabi grabbed the victim’s handbag and all gang members scattered in various directions to meet later on Forsyth Street, their headquarters for dividing the profits.

His entering the mafia gang

With age, he along with his gang got much bolder, thereby attracting Five Points Gangs’s attention. When word was out that he was involved in pickpocketing a Five Point gangster and the stealing of some of their relatives had caused the other gang to get infuriated, Butch went to check his gang’s defenses. His gang were actually seen to be defenseless. For neutralizing Five Pointers, who had been chasing his gang constantly, he associated himself with Monk Eastman Gang, arch enemy of the Five Pointers.


Everything went alright, until he came across The Darby Kid, a female shoplifter. Both loved each other, but her boyfriend called Harry the Soldier, got jealous and shot Butch dead. This automatically led the Butch Gang to disperse, with some joining the other gangs that existed in Lower East Side and few going solo. Big Jack Zelig is considered to be one member of this gang, who was popular with the police officials as ‘New York’s toughest man’, had made it big time. After the imprisonment of Monk Eastman, he went on to head Eastman Gang. But on 15th October 1912, he shot himself. As for Rabbi, there was no news about the dog and its whereabouts.

Cleveland Mafia families – Its rise and fall

It was during the late 1800s that 7 Porello brothers and 4 Lonardo brothers all of them being childhood friends along with sulphur mine workers had come down to the States from their hometown Licata, in Sicily.  They settled in Cleveland’s Woodland district. Big Joe, the Lonardo clan leader had become a successful entrepreneur in lower region of Woodland Avenue. At the height of Prohibition, he became a successful dealer of corn sugar, used by bootleggers for making corn liquor. He provided raw materials and stills to poor Italian residents in the districts to prepare booze and to sell it to Big Joe for a good commission.  Hence, hear earned their respect and also was feared as godfather or ‘padrone’. He went on to establish a vicious and powerful gang called corn sugar ‘baron’ making Joe Porello, his corporal.

Emergence of the Porello family business

Soon the Porello brothers left their employment with the Lonardo gang and started their own wholesaling of sugar business and had become successful dealers establishing their headquarters in upper Woodland Avenue. The Lonardo’s business flourished as small competitors, bootleggers and sugar dealers died mysteriously of violent deaths leaving the Porellos, their old friends to be their main competitors.

The youngest Porello, Raymond got arrested for arranging 100 gallons of whisky  for sale at a barbershop owned by Porello and got sentenced to Dayton, Ohio Workhouse. The much influential Big Joe was paid huge for helping Raymond out of prison, which he failed, but did not return the money back. Big Joe had to visit Sicily to check out on his relatives and mother in 1926, during which the Porellos took advantage of the lack of business skills of the younger Lonardo. On 13th October 1927, in an ambush at Porello barbershop, Big Joe died when shot at, while Angelo escaped by ducking under the chair. Angelo succeeded Lonardos to become corn sugar ‘baron’ and appointed himself as Cleveland Mafia’s capo.

But problems arose between both the families with each killing the other to seek revenge.

Downfall of Cleveland Mafia

Angelo Lonardo, in 1983 who was once the boss of Cleveland Mafia was said to have turned government informant. He had been sentenced to 103 years for racketeering and drug convictions along with life imprisonment. Thus got reduced the Cleveland mafia families and their activities in the region.