“ Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks and Other Creeps-Volume 1- New York City”

 

Preface

Having grown up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I’ve always been fascinated by my neighborhood’s history. I spent the first years of my life living in Brooklyn, but when I was six, my parents moved to 134 White Street, the corner of Baxter, about 50 feet from the city prison called The Tombs. I spent the years before I went into the military service hanging out in Columbus Park (originally Mulberry Park), which was built in the late 1890s. Before Columbus Park existed, the area and the streets surrounding it were the site of the notorious Five Points, which was formed by the intersection of Cross (first Park, now Mosco), Anthony (now Worth), Little Water (no longer exists), Orange (now Baxter) and Mulberry streets.

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In 1825, the Five Points is where the first known street gang was formed. It was called the Forty Thieves, named after “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The Forty Thieves originated at Rosanna Peers’ produce store on Centre Street, just south of Anthony. Rotting vegetables were sold out in front of the store and there was an illegal speakeasy in the back, where Ms. Peers sold rotgut liquor at discount prices. Soon the store, under the rule of Edward Coleman, became a haven for pickpockets, murderers, burglars and thieves.

After the Forty Thieves, other gangs sprung up in the Five Points area like weeds sticking out from a rotted landfill. Gangs with names like the Bowery Boys, the Dead Rabbits and the Roach Guards plundered, robbed, and sometimes even murdered. Not only did these gangs accost unsuspecting sailors, or people from other areas who just happened to wind up in a Five Points dive, but these thugs committed crimes against their own neighbors. No one, and nothing was sacred to the Five Point Gangs. If you had something of value, they wanted it and they took it by force. Their reign of terror ended after the Civil War, mainly because most of the gang members were drafted into the army. Some died miserably on the battle fields of the south, and others came home wounded and maimed, and hardly in any condition to resume committing their previous crimes.

Starting in the late 1860s, new gangs, the most prominent of which was called the Whyos, started cropping up again in the Five Points Area. In the late 1880’s, the most prestigious gang in the area was the Five Pointers led by Paul Kelly, real name Paulo Vaccarelli. Kelly’s chief nemesis was a crude, guerrilla-like individual named Monk Eastman, who ran a mob called the Eastman Gang. Kelly was a former boxer, who changed his name so that he could get more fights (Being Italian was not very popular in those days). One day, Kelly, at the urging of Tammany Hall, challenged the hulking Eastman, to a fist fight to determine who controlled the rackets in the Five Points area. Even though Eastman was 50 pounds heavier than Kelly, the two men fought to a brutal draw. When the fight was over, both bosses returned to their gangs and continued doing exactly what they were doing before, as if the fight had never taken place.

The New York gangs were not confined to the Five Points Area. To the south of the Five Points, was the Fourth Ward (where I lived for 32 years – in Knickerbocker Village, the same place where the Rosenbergs lived and were arrested). In the 1840s – 1850s, the notorious Daybreak Boys prowled the streets of the Fourth Ward and the nearby piers on the East River, killing people with the utmost viciousness and enthusiasm. Approximately one mile to the north, a gang called the Gophers fought with the Hudson Dusters for control of the West Side docks on the Hudson River, and the area called Hell’s Kitchen, which runs north from 23rd St. to 57th St, and west from 8th Avenue to 12th Ave.

Not all the crimes were committed by gangs, but also by individual gangsters, some of whom formed organized crime syndicates. Men like Lucky Luciano, Joe “The Boss” Masseria, and Salvatore Maranzano, fought for control of the Italian mobs. They were joined by such notorious Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. Then there were the brutal Morello brothers, who along with Ciro Terranova and Ignazio “Lupo the Wolf” Saietta, formed the vicious Black Hand, which robbed, tortured, and killed other Italian immigrants, who did not pay the extortion money the Black Handers demanded.

New York City was dominated by male gangsters, but there were a few females who were just as vicious as the men. Take Gallus Mag for instance. This hulking 6-foot British woman was a bouncer in the notorious Hole-In-the-Wall Tavern, which was located on Dover Street, near the docks of the East River in the Fourth Ward. Mag patrolled the inside of the bar with a pistol in her belt, and a small bat attached to her wrist. She dispatched unruly patrons by dragging them to the door, then throwing them out by the scruff of their necks. If a rowdy drunk resisted, Mag bit off their ear and put it in a jar filled with alcohol, which she kept behind the bar. Patrons called this display “Gallus Mag’s Trophy Case.”

One day, a female thief named Sadie the Goat made the bad mistake of getting drunk in Mag’s establishment. Mag asked Sadie to leave nicely, but Sadie refused. Miffed, Mag dragged Sadie to the door and when Sadie resisted being flung outside, Mag bit off her ear and threw Sadie out onto the pavement. Mag immediately placed Sadie’s ear in a jar behind the bar to join her other trophies. Years later, Sadie returned and apologized to Mag. Her heart suddenly warmed, Mag went behind the bar, retrieved Sadie’s ear and returned it to its rightful owner. Rumor has it that Sadie wore her ear in a locket around the neck for the rest of the life.

In “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps,” I also describe several riots and natural disasters that occured in New York City. In 1835, The Great New York City Fire took place, decimating the entire financial center in downtown Manhattan. It remains the worse fire in New York City’s history. When the three-day conflagration ended, 17 blocks and 693 buildings were entirely destroyed. Amazingly, only two people died, but the damage was estimated at $20 million dollars, almost $1 billion in today’s money. A year later, the area was rebuilt with stone buildings, much more resistant to fires. Some of these buildings exist to this very day.

There were also The Anti-Abolition Riots of 1834, The Grain Riots of 1837, The Astor Theater Riots of 1848, and The Police Riots of 1857. But the worst riot of all was The Civil War Draft Riots of 1863. To fight the war down south, President Abraham Lincoln had called for the drafting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 20 to 40. But if a man had $300, he could buy his way out of the draft. Of course, only the rich could afford the $300, so it was the lower class Irish people who were the ones being drafted into the war, against their wills. This did not sit well with them and they decided to do something about.

On Monday, July 13, 1863, the second day of the draft which had started on Saturday, tens of thousands of the irate poor Irish congregated in the Fourth Ward slums of the Lower East Side and marched uptown, gathering fellow rioters along the way, including thousands of Five Point gang members. The mob’s initial purpose was to storm several draft headquarters in uptown Manhattan, to destroy those buildings and all the draft records inside.

But but then things got out of hand.

The ever-increasing mob burnt down the draft buildings, while beating up scores of police officers in the process, including the Police Superintendent of New York City, John A. Kennedy. Then the mob, which grew to be anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 people, turned their anger on every Negro in sight. The reason for their despicable actions, was that the Irish blamed the Negroes for the Civil War and for their present predicament in particular. Some Negroes were beaten to death. Others were hung from trees and lampposts, then tortured by female rioters, using knives to carve up their victim’s bodies. While singing bloodcurdling songs, these screaming banshees mutilated the Negroes, until they finally succumbed to their wounds.

After four days of rioting, Mayor George Updyke wired the War Department in Washington for help. The Federal Government sent in 10,000 armed and trained members of the United States Militia to quell the riots. And that they did, using guns, bats and bayonets to beat the angry mob back to the slums of the Five Points and the Fourth Ward. There is no way to correctly estimate the number of people who were killed during the Civil War Riots of 1863. Under the blanket of darkness, the dead bodies of many rioters were shipped across the East River and buried quietly in Brooklyn. Police Superintendent Kennedy put the dead total at 1,155 people, but that did not include those rioters buried secretly at night.

“Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps-Volume 1- New York City” starts in the period around 1825 and ends at approximately 1940. “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks and Other Creeps-Volume 2 – New York City,” will pick up at that point and continue up until the present time. Yet, there may be some miscreants that I didn’t write about in the time period covered in Volume 1, that may find their way into Volume 2.

The problem is, the more I look, the more felons I find.

After finishing “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks and Other Creeps – Volumes 1 and 2,” I will start a third, and possibly a fourth volume, which will cover the criminals in other parts of the United States America.

Of course, New York City, having the most concentrated population in the country, has more than its share of mobsters, gangs, crooks and other creeps. Yet, the northeastern areas of upstate New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have their share of lowlifes too. Cradles of criminality are also located in the Midwest; in cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. And don’t forget, the states of Texas and California are teeming with hooligans too.

“Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks and Other Creeps-Volume 1- New York City” is written in alphabetical order, starting with “Ah Hoon – The Murder of Chinese Comedian Ah Hoon,” and ending with Big Jack Zelig.

I hope you enjoy mingling with some of the worst human beings God has ever created. I know I enjoyed writing about them.

http://www.josephbrunowriter.com/index.html

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