Joe Bruno on the Mob — Owney Madden


Owney “The Killer” Madden was an anomaly in the world of New York City gangsters, mainly because he was not Italian, or even Jewish. Madden was British, the son of an relocated Irish dockworker; born and bred, and dedicated for life to his homeland — merry old England. In fact, even though Madden was an American criminal for six decades, he didn’t give up his English passport until 1950, after he was threatened with deportation.

http://www.amazon.com/Mobsters-Gangs-Crooks-Creeps-ebook/dp/B006H99D1U/ref=zg_bs_11010_5

Owen “Owney” Madden was born at 25 Somerset Street, in Leeds, England, on December 18, 1891. In need of work, his father moved the Madden family to Liverpool. In 1903, when young Madden was only 12, his father died and his mother re-located the family to America, settling on the west side of Manhattan, in a treacherous neighborhood called “Hells Kitchen.” Madden fell in with a rough-and-tumble gang known as the Gophers and he became proficient in the favored crimes of the era; robberies, muggings and labor racket beatings. Madden was adept at using a myriad of weapons, including a slingshot and brass knuckles, but his favorite weapon was a lead pipe wrapped in newspaper. His main source of income was the “insurance business,” where Madden sold “bomb insurance” to scores of local merchants, who were worried about having their businesses bombed, from none other than Madden himself. As a member of the Gophers, Madden was arrested forty-four times, but managed to stay out of prison every time.

When he was seventeen, Madden earned his nickname “The Killer,” because he shot to death an unarmed Italian in the street, for no reason, other than he could do it. After the killing, Madden stood over the dead body and announced to the assembled crowd, “I’m Owney Madden!” By the time he was twenty-three, Madden had at least five other murders to his credit.

One time, Madden’s braggadocio almost cost him his life. On November, 6, 1912, at the Arbor Dance Hall, which was in the heart of the territory controlled by the Gopher’s rivals – the Hudson Dusters, Madden strolled into the hall by himself during a dance given by the Dave Hyson Association. He was watching the proceedings from the balcony, when eleven Hudson Dusters surrounded him and filled his body with six pieces of lead. He was rushed to the hospital, where a detective asked Madden who shot him.

“Nothin’ doin,’” Madden said. “It’s no business but mine who put these slugs into me. My boys will get them.” By the time Madden was released from the hospital, six of his eleven assailants had already been shot dead.

While Madden was recuperating, one of his fellow Gophers, Little Patsy Doyle, thought he could use Madden’s weakened condition as a reason to take control of the gang. Yet the main cause of Doyle’s ire was that Madden had stolen Doyle’s girlfriend Freda Horner away from him. When word got back to Madden about Doyle’s intentions, he used Miss Horner to lure Doyle to a saloon on Eight Avenue and Forty-First Street, where Madden and two of his gunmen shot Doyle dead. Madden was arrested three days later, and at his trial, Miss Horner turned the tables and testified against Madden. He was sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for 10-20 years, but did only eight, being released in 1923.

When he hit the streets again, Madden found his Gophers gang had dissipated, so he threw himself head-first into the bootlegging business. There Madden moved up in class and was considered the equal of such mobsters as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Louis Lepke, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Madden also dabbled in the night club business, opening the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, which he bought from former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.

His relationship with Johnson, segued Madden into the boxing business, where he nurtured the career of Italian carnival freak, the six-foot-six-inch, 285-pound, Primo Canera Madden fed Canera so many stiffs and set-ups, the no-talent Canera was able to win the heavyweight championship of the world. He did so by landing an invisible punch against champion Jack Sharkey in the 6th round at the Madison Square Garden Bowl, in Long Island City. Sharkey obviously took a dive and was reportedly paid handsomely to do so. The first time Madden put Canera in tough, against Jewish heavyweight sensation Max Baer, he was knocked down ten times, before the referee mercifully stopped the fight in the 11th round. Of course, Madden made big money betting on Baer, who, because of Canera’s feared reputation, went into the fight as a slight underdog.

http://www.amazon.com/Mobsters-Gangs-Crooks-Creeps-ebook/dp/B0058J44QO/ref=zg_bs_11010_1

In 1932, Madden was arrested on a parole violation, and when he was released a few months later, he decided he had accumulated enough cash in a lifetime of crime to relocate to Hot Springs, Arkansas. There Madden opened several casino/hotels, which were used as hideouts for New York City mobsters on the lam, and he even married the Postmaster’s daughter. Madden was granted United States citizenship in 1943, and after being stricken with emphysema, Madden died in his bed in 1965, at the ripe old age of 74. He was said to have amassed a fortune of $3 million, but not surprisingly, none of that money was ever found after his death.

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2 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob — Owney Madden”

  1. Great posts. Anything about Owney Madden’s relationship with Sing Sing warden Lewis Lawes? I know they were friends and that Lawes would visit him in Arkansas as well as frequent the Cotton and Stork club. Lawes was warden for 20 something years. Seems like there could be a “I help you, you help me” relationship there.

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