Category: Famous Gangsters

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.

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.

Bowery Boy Gang – The civilian mobsters who took on other gangsters

The Bowery Boys had been formed during the 1840s. They were anti Catholic as well as anti Irish and had fought the other gangs, especially the Dead Rabbits coming from Five Points Area. However, unlike that of the other gangs that existed during that era, who were mostly crooks, plain thugs, murderers and robbers, the Bowery Boys were said to rule Bowery area which lay north to Five Points.  This gang comprised mostly of mechanics, butchers, small entrepreneurs and bar bouncers. The members of the gang wore different types of uniform like black trousers and red shirts and pants that got shoved within the calf-skin boots. Majority of its members had black stove-pipe hats and oil slicked hair.

Their activities

Originally, this gang had volunteered as firemen and aligned towards American Political Party or Know-Nothing, lasting from 1849-1856, after which they supported the Democratic Party. The gang got itself attached to different firehouses having names like Black Joke, White Ghost, Red Rover and Dry Bones. They competed with the other gangs when it came to appearing first after a fire took place. They loved their fire-engines very much.

Famous boss of the gang

Bill Poole or ‘Butcher’ as he was called popularly was among the most well known Bowery Boy. By trade, he was a butcher and volunteer at the Red Rover Fire-Engine Co.  He was also a wonderful fighter and faced his arch opponent John Morrissey, who was an Irish immigrant. Poole was known to have a huge hatred for Catholics and Irish.

On 26th July 1854, both the bosses met each other near Christopher Street at Amos Street Dock and almost had crushed Morrissey to death, when the wiser heads had intervened to separate them. This incident had Morrissey injured severely, leaving him incapable to walk the New York Streets on his own for about 6 months. But this did mean Poole had to face the wrath of his gang. Morrissey’s friend Lew Baker, on 25th February 1855 had shot Poole at a bar to which the latter succumbed and died on 8th March 1855.

Its downfall

After the death of Poole, the Bowery Boys slowly started to lose hold and kind of reputation they had. During the 1863, 3 Day Drafts Riots saw the gang to get involved the riots with the other gangs, which made thousands of people to get injured and many killed, until the State militia of New York intervened to have the riots quelled. After three days, the armed forces had the men of the city to be drafted into its forces, which also saw several Bowery Boys to register themselves. By 1860’s this gang ceased to exist.

Big Bill Dwyer – King of Rum runners

Bill Dwyer is known to have started as an ordinary dockworker, then entered large scale bootlegging and was called ‘King of Rum runners’. He amassed huge wealth and made partners with several famous gangsters of numerous nightclubs in the city of New York. He also was the owner of football team of Brooklyn Dodgers and two professional hockey playing team which included New York Americans. During his death, he was flat broke  and nobody remembered him.

His early life

It was in 1883 at Hell’s Kitchen region of New York City’s west side  that he was born as William Vincent  Dwyer. During this time, the Gophers and Hudson Dusters had ruled the place. He avoided joining any of the gangs and took job on docks working for International Longshoremen’s Union as stevedore.

His entering the mafia world

It is this time that he started bookmaking operation. He used the money during the prohibition time to enter bootlegging business. He bought steel plated speedboats having mounted machine gun on them and numerous bigger rum running ships to offload illegal hooch.

He established ties in England, Caribbean and Canada to bring smuggled liquor into the States. He also made a system, wherein the supplier ships would provide supplies in the middle of the sea, which again was transferred to his speedboats to reach New York City shores. To achieve huge success in the bootlegging business, he also had bribed the Coast Guard and the police to look the other way. Very soon, he became the country’s largest illegal alcohol distributor.

To avoid his trucks being seized by hijackers in  hundreds, operating all over the country, he made partners with the Jewish and Italian mobsters and mafia families  and raked in millions of dollars. However, he was regarded to be more  as an entrepreneur and not a mafia. In 1924, he came across an Irish gangster named Owney Madden, also called ‘The Killer’. He called a meeting with Madden and made him his partner to take care of the hijackings. He also is known to have proposed about creating his own brew in New York City and hence, would require outlets, nightclubs, speakeasies, etc. It is from then that the Irish mob worked along with the Jewish and Italian mob for controlling bootlegging business across the country and this grouping came to know as ‘The Combine’.

Dwyer supplied money for the project, while Madden was the architect to create and nurture the empire.

Ralph Capone – Al Capone’s big mafia brother

It was on 12th January, 1894 that Sr. Ralph Capone was job in Angri, Italy. Ralph is considered to be among the nine siblings of Teresa and Gabriel Capone, as well as Chicago outfit’s future boss, Al Capone’s elder brother.

Migrating to the United States

Ralph, his mother along with Vincenzo, his brother had arrived at Ellis Island in the U.S., on 18th June, 1895.  Already a home was established by his father near Brooklyn, New York’s Navy yards and worked for a barbershop nearby. The family had moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1910.

On 24th September 1915, Ralph got married to Filomena Muscato and had a son on 17th April, 1917 called Ralph Gabriel Capone. But their marriage was short lived, as they got divorced in 1921.

Mafia life

While Ralph was busy establishing his family, Al, his brother was groomed by Johnny Torrio, a famous Brooklyn gangster. On the behest of Torrio, in 1918 Al and Ralph had left for Chicago anticipating the Prohibition.

Ralph took charge of bottling plants for the Chicago mafia family version known as the Outfit. At this time Torrio attempted to have non-alcoholic beverages to be monopolized, which were used for mixing drink. The Outfit in this endeavor made huge profits and also become the country’s 2nd biggest soft drink vendor at World Fair of 1933.

Al, his brother was in full control by 1930 of Chicago Outfit, including all illegal alcohol which flowed through Chicago. Chicago Crime Commission had declared Al to be the public’s number one enemy in April 1930 and Ralph at number three position. By the next year, Al was imprisoned for 11 years for tax evasion and the Outfit’s new boss was Frank Nitti. Ralph was in charge of Cotton Club, the Mafia family’s front with regards to syndicate gambling.

During his entire tenure with the Mafia family, Ralph never held any powerful position, but was regarded to be a loyal, trustworthy front man, who steered clear of the mafia’s dirty side, preferring to make money from the different legitimate business fronts. But for tax evasion, he had to serve three years from 1932.

On his release, he shifted base to Mercer, Wisconsin, and bought a hotel called ‘The Red Hotel’ along with an attached tavern ‘Billy’s Bar’ and a home.  This place was a haven for the mafia members and to help them lie low from the law. In Hurley, Wisconsin, on 22nd November, 1974 he died due to natural cause.

Mickey Cohen – Los Angeles Mobster boss & Hollywood Underworld champion

Mickey Cohen is a Jewish gangster, who had once run the Hollywood underworld. He was well known for his tabloid exploits and violent temper and among the West Coast’s premier gangsters. He had worked along with several high profile Mafia members like Al Capone and Benjamin ‘Busy’ Siegel.

His early life

Cohen was born in Brooklyn’s Jewish neighborhood on 4th September 1913. When he was just a year old, his father died and was raised by his orthodox Ukrainian Jew mother. For several years, they resided in Brownsville neighborhood and later moved on to the city of Los Angeles.

Cohen began his criminal activities starting with petty crime at an early age in the neighborhood of Boyle Heights. During Prohibition, his brothers had run drug store, and it is from them he learnt to prepare bootleg liquor. He robbed the Columbia Theatre box office at the age of 9, using a cudgel, to end up in reform school. By the age of 10, he had been to the reform school twice.

He was considered by his friends to be a tough guy, who preferred to spend much of the time inside the boxing ring taking part in illegal prizefights. At the age of 15, he moved to Cleveland to become a boxer and fought numerous times between 1930 – 1933 as featherweight, having mixed record. He bit the opponent’s ear in one such fight.

His life as a Mafia

It was in Cleveland that he began to make ties with the Mafia and got hired along with Lou Rothkopf, a Cleveland associate of Moe Dalitz, its gang leader. Later, he moved on to New York to work with mafia gangs like Owney Madden and Tommy Dioguardi.

He got hired by the Outfit gang that was run by Al Capone as he moved to Chicago during the Prohibition period. He became an enforcer for Outfit and also ran a gambling center, working along with Mattie, Capone’s brother.

In 1937, he was compelled to leave the city after a dispute took place with another gambler. Since not much was there to be done in Cleveland, he went to Los Angeles for working with Bugsy Siegel. Both had wrestled power of the West Coast, working for the East Coast bosses.

There were many things common between Cohen and Siegel, with both having violent mean streaks, and Jewish climbers, with Brooklyn background. After Bugsy’s death, Cohen became the operation head in Los Angeles for the mafia family and made a place for himself as Hollywood celebrity.