Joe Bruno on the Mob – Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon – Tough Guy Turned Canary

He was said to be the toughest killer in “Murder Incorporated. Tougher than even the sadistic psychopath Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss. But in the end Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon turned out to be just another canary.

Magoon got the moniker “Blue Jaw” because he looked like he always was in need a shave. Of Irish decent, Magoon grew up in the mean streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn, and quit school at an early age. “Fourteen or Sixteen was when I left school,” Magoon later said. “I’m not sure. You see I wasn’t interested in school much.” By 1933, Magoon had already shot two men, but to him that didn’t count. “They were only wounded,” he said.

Mogoon quickly caught the eye of Louie “Lepke” Buchalter, and was inserted as one of Lepke’s top killers, along with Strauss, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, Buggsy Goldstein, Happy Maione, Dasher Abbandando, Dandy Jack Parisi and Allie Tannenbaum, in a group graciously called “Murder Incorporated.” Magoon was the best driver in the bunch, so although he was as capable a shooter as anyone in the group, his usual job was to handle the getaway car after a big hit. All the shooters were given weekly retainers by Lepke, estimated to be one thousand dollars per week. But after an especially big “piece of work,” Lepke was not adverse to paying them an added bonus.

Even though Strauss and Reles were stone killers, Magoon would take guff off none of them. “I can take care of myself,” Magoon would say to anyone who would listen.

Once Magoon and homicidal Strauss got into a beef over a killing, “You can’t talk to me like that,” Magoon told Strauss. Those in attendance figured Strauss, who enjoyed killed as much as he loved his mother, and he loved his mother a lot, would murder Magoon on the spot. Yet is was Strauss who backed off, even apologizing to Magoon, who had murder in his eyes too.

As for Reles, even though they worked together often, Magoon didn’t care for Kid Twist too much either. “Reles is mean and cheap,” Magoon told one of his fellow killers. “When he’s with his superiors in the mob, he wines and dines them, and makes a show at splurging. With his equals, or subordinates, he argues when it’s time to pay a check.”

After almost a decade of murder, the boys were done in because of a hit gone wrong. On July 25, 1939, at 7:55 am, Magoon sat behind the wheel of a sedan parked in front of 250 E. 178th St. in the Bronx. Sitting next to him was Dandy Jack Parisi and in the back seat was a small-time hood named Jacob (Kuppy) Migden, who had spent a week tailing the the intended target. Suddenly, a short, stocky man came out of the building and Migden said, “That’s him!” Magoon put the car in gear and slowly passed their mark. Then he made an easy U-turn, and Parisi stepped out on to the running board and pumped six 32 caliber bullets into the man’s back. The only problem was, Midgen had identified the wrong man.

The dead man turned out to be Irving Penn, a 42-year-old executive with G. Schirmer Inc., a Manhattan classical music publisher. The intended target was Philip Orlovsky, a former garment union boss, who was ready to rat on his ex-partner, Murder Incorporated’s top man, Louie Lepke. Unfortunately for the now dead Penn, he lived in the same building as Orlovsky. The men looked somewhat alike, but Penn was seventy five pounds heavier and wore eyeglasses. Orlovsky was alive only because he had left his apartment an hour earlier to get a haircut and a shave.

The local newspapers had a field day with this one, gleefully reporting on the gruesome murder of a man who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lepke gave orders to all his killers, who could tie Lepke to hundreds of murders, to go on the lam; someplace far far away, until the heat cooled down (which turned out to be never), or until Lepke himself was dead. Magoon split with Buggsy Goldstein by car on a cross-country trip, that led them through Canada, Kansas City, California, Mexico, then back east, until they settled in a known mob hideaway in Newburgh, New York.

One day, Goldstein trekked into town to pick up a money order that had been wired to them. But the cops were waiting and put the handcuffs on Goldstein. In jail, he tried to slip a note to Magoon, telling him to split quick, but the law intercepted the note and arrested Magoon at their hide out. Magoon tried to tell the police his name as Harry Levinson, and when they showed him a mug shot of Goldstein, he said he looked familiar, but couldn’t place him. Because they had nothing concrete on Magoon, they gave him 60 days in the slammer for “vagrancy.”

While he was cooling his heels in the can, Magoon found out that Goldstein had been indicted for murder and that Reles had decided to become a rat against Goldstein. This did not please Magoon the least bit. “It looks like I’m on my way, unless I get into the act,” Magoon told the fuzz. “I better find a peg to hang my hat on too.”

Magoon’s old pals Strauss and Goldstein were tried together for assorted murders and mayhem. Reles took the stand for several days, putting countless nails in his former partners’ coffin. But it was Magoon who put the finishing touches on the trial, when he took the stand and revealed all he knew about every murder Strauss and Goldstein had been involved with, and there were plenty. While Magoon was babbling away in front of the jury, Goldstein jumped to his feet and screamed “For God sake, Seymour, that’s some story you’re telling. You’re burning me.”

And burn him he did. Both Strauss and Goldstein were convicted and died in the electric chair soon after at Sing Sing Prison. Magoon did a few years in the slammer, but then disappeared from the face of the earth, or at least from Brownsville. There is no record of the time and cause of his death. But in 2003, more than 60 years after he turned canary, Magoon’s skeleton was found in a desert near Las Vegas.


One Response to “Joe Bruno on the Mob – Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon – Tough Guy Turned Canary”

  1. I’m surprised by how little information there is on the discovery of Magoon’s skeleton. For instance, how did they identify him? Dental records, I presume, but you wouldn’t think they’d have been kept on file for all those decades.

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