Joe Bruno on the Mob – John Allen – The Wickedest Man in New York City


He was a con artist, drunk, murderer and a pimp, who ran one of the most obscene dance halls in the history of New York. For the vastness of his transgressions, John Allen was dubbed “The Wickedest Man in New York City.”

John Allen, the youngest of eight sons, was born in 1823, in upstate New York. His father was a prominent Presbyterian minister and two of Allen’s brothers became Presbyterian ministers too, while a third became a Baptist minister. The rest of his brother absconded to New York City and became burglars, crooks and confidence men, who owned various bawdy bars in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Allen’s father sent him to the Union Theological Seminary, hoping young John would pick the righteous path, rather than the wicked road his brothers had chosen in New York City. Allen studied religion for a few months, then packed his bags and joined his evil siblings in downtown Manhattan. Allen’s brothers showed him the tricks of their trade, and in no time, Allen became proficient at the crimes his brothers taught him. One of his brothers became suspicious of Allen, when he realized the police in the area seemed to know what they were going to do, before they did it. His brothers accused Allen of being a stool-pigeon. He reluctantly admitted they were right, which induced his brothers to beat him to a pulp and cast him out into the street.

In 1855, Allen met and married a known criminal named Little Suzie. Little Suzy’s specialty was rolling drunks, after she seduced them with sex, then put knockout drops in their drinks. While Little Suzie plied her trade in the waterfront district of the 4th Ward, which included Cherry, Water, Dover and Catherine Streets, Allen got a job working for a waterfront crimp, who ran a boarding house for sailors. Allen’s job was to entice sailors into the crimp’s establishment, where they would get the sailor drunk, then drug his drink. When the mark was out cold, they robbed him, then carried him to an outgoing vessel, where he was shanghaied to faraway places.

One day, Allen was stupid enough to have a drink with his boss, and the next thing he knew, he was on a ship to South America, not to return to New York City for a full six months. Soon after he hit Lower Manhattan, Allen’s former boss was found beaten to death, courtesy of an iron belaying-pin, which was a device used on ships to secure lines of rigging. Allen was the obvious suspect, but since the cops had no evidence, and because the dead man was so intensely disliked by everyone, no charges were ever brought against Allen.

Allen reconnected with Little Suzie and they went to work for Hester Jane Haskins, called Jane the Grabber, who ran several houses of ill repute in the area surrounding Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street. The Allen family’s job was to travel all throughout the northeastern states, and bring back young girls, with the promise of getting them well-paying jobs. Of course, when these poor girls were introduced to Jane the Grabber, she immediately beat them and drugged them, and forced them to work in her brothels. This went fine for Allen and Little Suzy, until Jane the Grabber got greedy and started abducting women from prominent families, including the daughter of the Lieutenant-Governor of a new England state. Feeling the heat from the police was inevitable, they quit their jobs and headed back to the evil confines of the 4th Ward. Good timing for them, since Jane the Grabber was soon arrested and sent to prison for a very long time.

In 1858, the Allens opened John Allen’s Dance Hall at 304 Water Street, which became known as one of the most licentious establishments in New York City. Allen dressed his twenty or so “dance girls” in short skirts and red-topped boots, with sleigh-bells circling their ankles. All types of vice and sexual obscenities were performed in private rooms, and sometimes right out in the open, so much so, journalist Oliver Dyer wrote in Packard’s Monthly that John Allen was “The Wickedest Man in New York City.” Allen was so proud of his new moniker, he made up business cards, saying:

John Allen’s Dance Hall
304 Water Street
Wickedest Man in New York:

John Allen’s Dance Hall was so prosperous, in just ten years, Allen banked more than $100,000, making him the richest pimp in New York City.

Soon, Allen came up with a new angle to make even more cash. Falling back on his seminary experience, he decided to turn his dance hall into a semi-religious experience. In spite of what was going on inside his joint, Allen placed a Bible in every room, and on Saturday nights, he gave away copies of the New Testament as souvenirs to his guests. In time, he held religious sing-a-longs, where his scantily-clad girls would sing spiritual songs, while Allen read from passages of the Bible. Showing no shame, Allen placed on every bench and table in his dive the popular hymn book “The Little Wanderers Friend.”

Yet Allen’s intended windfall never materialized. His usual guests fled his premises and headed for other joints like The Haymarket, McGuirk’s Suicide Hall and Paresis Hall. So Allen decided to go with another gimmick and turn his business into a place for local clergymen to hold marathon prayer meetings. Men like the Reverend A.C. Arnold paid Allen $350 a month to hold such meetings, and Allen even thickened the crowd by paying “newly reformed sinners” 25 cents a head to take part in the festivities. Allen was so certain he would hit the religious jackpot, he closed down his dance hall completely, putting a sign on the outside door saying, “This Dance Hall is Closed. No gentlemen admitted unless accompanied by their wives.”

Yet Allen overlooked the power of the press. In an expose’ on Allen and his motives, the New York Times ran a series of stories exposing Allen in absolutely the worst light. Immediately, the duped Reverends stopped holding prayer meeting at Allen’s establishment, causing his cash flow to stop completely. Allen tried opening his bawdy dance hall again, but his previous customers chose to stay away. After a few months of losing money, Allen closed down his dance hall completely.

Allen disappeared from the public for a while, then resurfaced in late 1868, when he and Little Suzie were arraigned in the Tombs Police Court for stealing $15 from a sailor. The Allens were released on $500 bail, which they promptly jumped and fled to places unknown. “The Wickedest Man In New York City” died from causes unknown in West Perth, Fulton County, New York, in October 1870.

After Allen’s death, a New York Times reporter revealed for the first time Allen’s true intentions when he appeared to go all pious. Allen had confessed to him; “I duped them religious fellers because I thought I could make more money out of silly church folk than I could out of bad sailors.”


2 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob – John Allen – The Wickedest Man in New York City”

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