Gib Yost Cracks His Vault

The name of Gilbert Yost appears twice in The Gangs of New York, in different sections of Chapter X, which deals with the career of bank robber George L. Leslie. Asbusy repeats some fairly well-established connections between Leslie and Yost: that they were arrested together in 1870 for a Norristown, Pennsylvania jewelry robbery; and that in 1878 Yost shared a Brooklyn house with other famous thieves suspected of murdering Leslie: Shang Draper, Johnny Irving, Sam Perris, etc. These claims appeared in newspapers not long after Leslie’s death, and are based on files on Leslie compiled by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which had been tracking the thief.

Ever since George L. Leslie was killed, accounts of his criminal career began to suface portraying him as a suave, romantic, criminal mastermind: a meticulous planner who understood the architecture of banks, the mechanics of combination safes, and how to rehearse break-ins so that they could be pulled off with clockwork precision. Gib Yost, it was said, appeared to most people to the exact opposite. Judges and prosecutors mistook him for a country bumpkin. As certain times, he spoke gibberish and was sent to lunatic asylums. His only legitimate trade was as a canal boatman. However, within the criminal underworld, Yost might have been more valued and respected for his thieving ingenuity than the “king of heists” Leslie.

Yost was finally trapped by the Pinkertons in Chicago for a jewelry store robbery committed in LaPorte, Indiana. In 1884 he was sent to the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City to serve a fourteen year sentence. Barely two years into his stretch, news of his demise was announced by Robert Pinkerton:

Thus ended the career of Gibert “Gib” Yost, cracksman. Or did it? A month later, the Brooklyn Union cast doubt on his demise:

However, no further rumors or indicators of Yost’s survival saw the light of day. Three years after his announced death, his mechanical legacy lived on:

“Were it not known that Gib Yost is dead–for he died in Michigan City Prison, Indiana, while serving a term for robbery in Laporte, Ind.–there would be no hesitation in pronouncing him the inventor of this new device.”

Plug Uglies, Unplugged

In The Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury frequently mentions the Plug Uglies as one of the city’s notorious gangs, but offers very little detail about them: their leaders, when they flourished, the neighborhood that spawned them, their demise, etc. (See Gangs…, Chapter VI, Section 2 for one specific claim). The Plug Uglies of the 1850s were indeed a terrible gang of rowdies who engaged in street fights, beat and killed innocent civilians (“furriners”), and controlled polling places during city elections. Like the Bowery Boys, they were xenophobic thugs heavily aligned with the American (Know-Nothing) Party that flourished in that decade. However, the city that the Plug Uglies swaggered through and terrorized was not New York–it was Baltimore. They made one or two occasional forays to Washington, DC and Philadelphia, but not to New York City.

Asbury does not mention it, but there was one contemporary report that Plug Uglies had journeyed northward to join the 1863 Draft Riots in New York. It appeared in the New York Times on July 16, 1863, and referred to events of the previous day. The Times building itself was under siege; what little information the editors received was from police officials. Without trained reporters to witness events, they relied on hearsay.

“The scoundrels and roughs–the Blood Tubs and Plug Uglies of Baltimore, and the Schuylkill Rangers and other rowdies of Philadelphia are reported to have come to the city in large numbers to make common cause with the Dead Rabbits, Mackerelvillers, and other leading spirits of the riot in their work of carnage and plunder.”

Note the phrase “are reported,” which means, “we were told this, but can not confirm it.”

The Plug Uglies did not exist at that point. They had been broken up by a reform local government crackdown in Baltimore in 1860, and what remnants survived fled the arrival of Union troops when the Civil War started and headed south to Virginia to support the Confederacy. The Dead Rabbits–largely Irish and Catholic–would have been the traditional mortal enemies of Plug Uglies.

It seems that whenever street protests devolve into riots, there is always a claim made by authorities that violent outside agitators have arrived as reinforcements.

Big Josh Hines, Criminal Chameleon

To Herbert Asbury, Big Josh Hines was a feared member of the Whyos, who barged into Manhattan’s stuss parlors (gambling dens where a variation of faro was played) waving revolvers in each hand, demanding a share of the house profits. (see Gangs…, Chapter XI, Section 1). To city police departments around the country, he was a notorious “spark grafter,” i.e. a pickpocket specializing in the theft of jewels from a person wearing them. In New York, prosecutors were convinced that Hines was a murderer, shooting and killing another pickpocket in 1899, “Big Stretch” alias John McGann, in a saloon during a dispute over the proceeds of a crime. To Pinkerton Detective Morris Glatz, Hines was (according to some accounts) a vengeful specter who drove him to suicide. For more than a century, this criminal’s true name was unknown: John Murray, Joshua Hines, Robert Hayes, and Richard F. Harden were some of his aliases.

There is evidence for all the above claims–even for the one that caused Asbury to mention Hines: that Hines was a Whyo gang member. Hines was already an ex-convict when arrested in New York in 1889 at age 22, so it is possible that he was a young member in the early 1880s. As has been mentioned in other blog posts, by the 1890s all the notable true Whyos were dead or jailed. However, the term was still applied to the whole community of Bowery-based pickpockets and small-time thieves. Hines spent much of his time in Lower Manhattan when he wasn’t roaming the country with other pickpockets, following large crowd events. He was doubtless bolstered by his clean-cut, smooth-faced appearance.

He was born Richard Francis Hines in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1863. However, by 1880 the family was fatherless, and could be found living in a tenement in Lower Manhattan. According to the Albany Argus of June 30, 1895, Hines’s first arrest took place in Washington, D. C., in 1884, when he was picking pockets at Grover Cleveland’s inauguration. The same year he was sentenced to three years in prison in New York City. He was arrested again in October 1887 while working the crowd at the Danbury, Connecticut Fair. His 1889 arrest for grabbing money out of a man’s pocket on Broadway near Pearl Street resulted in a two-and-a-half year sentence at Sing Sing. In 1894, Hines and three other pickpockets were nabbed for working the crowds at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the Corbett-Mitchell prizefight in Jacksonville, Florida. Hines escaped prosecution, but two of the four were jailed. In 1895, he was detained when caught working the audience of the Tammany Hall Association parade in New York City.

Hines shot “Big Stretch” in a saloon in 1899, but the NYPD could not find a single witness willing to testify against him, so the charges were dropped. In 1906, Hines was alleged to have been a member of the Five Points Gang that raided several stuss parlors and held guns to the foreheads of the game bankers, demanding a share of the house profits. There may have been an ethnic element to this: the Five Points Gang was mainly an Irish/Italian gang led by Paul Kelly, while stuss shops often were the game of choice in Jewish communities. Newspapers claimed that the gang was desperate to get money in order to gamble on a locally-owned racehorse who had just won a race at 100 to 1 odds.

In 1907, Hines was arrested in Ballston, New York after picking pockets at the Saratoga races. He offered an alias, but one of the detectives who identified him was Morris Glatz, who was formerly a pickpocket and had known Hines. Thanks to the identification made by Glatz, Hines was sent to Auburn State Prison at Dannemora for a five-year sentence. While behind bars, Hines allegedly sent several threatening letters to Glatz, who was working as a railroad detective. Glatz committed suicide just before Hines was released, leading many to believe that he was haunted by the threats of revenge sent by Hines. However, Glatz’s co-workers declared that Glatz had no fear of any criminals, and suspected other causes.

Robert F. Hines had no documented crimes after leaving prison in 1911. He returned to Brooklyn, where his brothers lived, and worked as a clerk. By 1928, Hines was 65 years old, living alone as a boarder, and in bad health. He turned on the gas in his room and put the tube in his mouth. He was found dead a few hours later.

Michael McGloin, Populist Tough

There isn’t much in Herbert Asbury’s mentions of gang leader Mike McGloin that is correct (see The Gangs of New York, Chapter XI, Section 1). McGloin was not a Whyo, although they were contemporaries. McGloin and his gang flourished in the Twentieth ward, several wards distant from the Bloody Sixth Ward haunt of the Whyos. The Twentieth included most of the area identified as Hell’s Kitchen. Although one newspaper mentions McGloin being a member of the “Eighth Avenue Gang,” from 1882 forward it was known as the “McGloin Gang.” It was still called by this name seven or eight years after his 1883 execution for murder, a tribute to his unusual populist appeal.

Michael E. McGloin was about twenty years old when he was hanged in March 1883 for the murder of saloon-keeper Louis Hanier in December 1881. McGloin and three of his associates had unsuccessfully attempted to rob the till of Hanier’s saloon the day before, during regular hours. They came back the next day and broke in; Hanier started to come down to the saloon from the upstairs through a dark stairwell. McGloin thought Hanier was armed and fired a shot up the stairs, hitting and killing Hanier. Through good police-work (which included Inspector Byrnes’s use of a expert to match the caliber of the fatal bullet to a pawned revolver), McGloin was tracked down, interrogated, and admitted to the crime. [Note that Asbury’s version is that McGloin was interrupted by Hanier as he was stealing from the till, and that McGloin hit him with a “slung-shot”, i.e. a black-jack.]

McGloin was jailed for a year before he was executed, during which time it was widely reported that he wrote and received dozens of letters from his well-wishers. The most accurate version of his famous quote was related by McGloin himself, recounting what he said when one of his gang members told him Hanier was dead: “A man can’t be a ‘tough’ till he knocks his man out.” Many, including Asbury, have interpreted this as meaning murder was a real merit badge for gangsters (as tear-drop tattoos have been in recent times), but it’s also possible that McGloin was just making an inappropriate boxing analogy.

McGloin had been in trouble before as a teen. He had served prison terms before for stealing a barrel of sugar; and again for assault and battery. It was said that McGloin and his gang had their own wagon, and used it to steal goods from other delivery men. They were also known for till-tapping, i.e. stealing from cash drawers. Their headquarters was a saloon operated by an African-American man named Cooley. One of the interesting aspects of the McGloin Gang (post-McGloin) is that it had African-American gang members.

A huge throng of hundreds of people appeared for McGloin’s funeral procession–a fact that shocked many in New York, and raised calls to bury executed prisoners on prison grounds. McGloin appeared to be honest in his confession, and wrote words of cheer while on death row to his neighborhood friends. Even so, looking back a hundred and forty years, it is difficult to fathom why he came to be revered.

Whyo Who-o?

Ever since the demise of their most recognized leaders in the late 1880s, the Whyos Gang of New York City’s “Bloody Sixth” Ward (with Five Points as its center) has had more misinformation printed about it than any other gang mentioned by Asbury. The first point to clarify is where the Whyos operated. The Sixth ward was bounded by the Bowery to the east, Broadway to the west, Canal Street to the north, and Park Row to the South, and lay just north of City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan. Its reputation for poverty, vice, crime, and street violence stretched back decades, to at least the 1820s.

Asbury muddied the waters considerably in his Chapter on the Whyos (Chapter XI), but even some accounts published in the 1890s began to use the term “Whyos” generically, applying it to almost any young street criminal in lower Manhattan. However, Asbury was far off-base by citing the histories of Mike McGloin, Piker Ryan, Johnny Dolan, Denver Hop, and others in the same chapter as real Whyos, like Daniel Driscoll and Dan Lyons.

It would serve everyone better to forget Asbury’s chapter on the Whyos, and instead read the classic feature article reprinted below, a full-page history of the gang from the December 27th, 1891 edition of the New York Herald. The author was never given a byline, but his treatment of the Whyos is nothing short of Homeric. This gem tells you all the important names you need to know about the Whyos: Felix Lavelle (Scotchy’s brother), the proto-Whyo; Daniel Driscoll, the king of the Whyos; Dan Lyons, his ferocious heir; Owen Bruen, the crafty survivor, as well as lesser lights like Kid Hunt, Poll Sullivan, Hoggy Walsh, Con Rice, the Harrington brothers, the Hallissy brothers, and Peter “Googy” Corcoran. The language is unique to a certain period of American journalism. Drink it in:

The Whyos

As it looks out upon the former haunts of the Whyos it seems to wear a satisfied expression. For the New York Tombs has an expression. It is night, and the gusty lamps of Center street are winking in the winter wind that sweeps forever up from the big square, at the New York City hall a few blocks distant. To the belated pedestrian, it looks like a huge gray monster lying on its belly like a snake, showing its teeth like a griffin. Its teeth are those low, thick, tusk-like pillars. Its eyes are those narrow windows.

And as it crouches there with the latter half of its monstrous shape hidden in the shadows, that grimly humorous expression seems to be assumed when the narrow windows are lighted up at dusk, Then the eyes seem to blink. The tusk-like pillars seem in the half light to he set in a ghastly grin. It would not surprise me if the jaws beneath the blinking eyes should open and the monster’s black throat emit with a chuckle the syllables which have so often mocked its ears.

“Why—oh! Why—oh!”

For the Tombs has swallowed the Whyos, whose call–musical, alert, the light infantry bugle call of crime–mocked its dread echoes for ten long years and more, and only from within its cavernous viscera shall sound of them be further heard of men. When into its jaws fell the Harringtons, accused by Italian witnesses of a crime in the streets of New York–the assassination of Thomas Hunt–which from all its features—revenge in motive, luring-and lying in wait in execution–might seem more aptly one for New Yorkers to have accused Italians of in the streets of Palermo, the last of the Whyos had “tackled” his last “lush,” carried his last “gun.”

It has swallowed all those who have not swallowed themselves or each other, and the list of the leaders who met in a Chatham street saloon thirteen years ago and thence spread that cry through the labyrinthine mazes of the dark triangle between Centre and Chatham streets, Canal street and the City hall, is this, with the process of deglutition:

“Hoggy” Walsh, burglar, ten years; Jack Shea, thief, died insane in prison; Felix Lavelle, woman murderer, life; James Fitzgerald, thief, in prison; Peter Corcoran, thief; in prison; Daniel Driscoll, woman murderer, hanged; Owen Bruen, thief; nine years and five months for assault; Dennis Harrington, waiting trial for murder; William Hallisay, waiting trial for murder; Thomas Hallissy, waiting trial for murder. And these have swallowed themselves or been swallowed of each other: Daniel Lyons, killed by citizen in self-defence; “Sass” Suggero, killed by citizen in self-defence; Thomas Hunt, murdered by Whyos; Billy McGlory, attempted murder, just sentenced to Sing Sing.

The Whyo organization was founded at the Five Points in the latter seventies. It was many months later before its musical call “Whyo” was found to have a distinct meaning. The echo used to follow quick in the wake of crime. If a wayfarer was struck down, cries of Whyo soon resounded. No other gang had that musical call. No other gang had so Turpinesquely daring a leader as Danny Driscoll, as elusive a one as Bruen, who respectively succeeded Walsh and Fitzgerald, the founders of the dynasty. No other gang had the high lineage of the Five Points behind it. No other gang flourished in a precinct which could show 4,500 arrests in a single year in a single block—that on Mulberry street, between Park and Bayard, known as “The Bend.” No other gang ruled a street (Pell) with a record of ninety years in sentences for its denizens out of a single week’s arrests, and no other gang could show such a high percentage of violent deaths, of assaults on policemen, of wanton crime for the sake of crime.

From 1878 until 1884 must be called the golden age of the gang. In the latter year the little Chatham street coterie was estimated to have grown to about one hundred and fifty in number, although not one quarter of these were probably true Whyos acting under the direction of their leaders.

Every lad who had the courage to follow a drunken “slummer” out of McGlory’s Armory hall, which flourished in Hester street in the Whyo golden age, till he fell exhausted in his tortuous path toward a Third avenue car, called himself a Whyo. So did every young worse-than-rough who squired a pipe-loving damsel in any one of the fourteen opium joints, which in the golden age found shelter in one big building, known as the “Big Flats,” at Canal and Elizabeth streets. But actual membership in the gang meant more than an ability to repeat the musical call, with its sharp inflection rising almost to falsetto on the first syllable and the low, long-drawn baritone note of its second. It meant that a way would be found to dispose of stolen goods. It meant also that considerable political influence would be exerted in behalf of a captured Whyo.

Those who followed Dan Driscoll and Owney Bruen—never committed a robbery in person, or, at least, never were caught at one. In their own parlance they “stood for the stuff.” The band of thieves under their direction operated almost at random in their bailiwick, prowled forth at night almost like ragpickers by day, seeking treasure trove in the human refuse about the surrounding dives, and returned at morn to leave their plunder disposed of and their percentage awarded.

It was in these night excursions that the cry was used. When two or three of them would dart out of a dark tenement hallway and swoop down upon the staggering passerby, another would watch at the corner, and if the victim’s cries had set a blue-coat moving to his rescue the high note and the low note would ring out its warning—“Why-o Why-o!”

The police did not at first comprehend the case, either in its immediate purpose of warning or as a symbol of banded lawlessness. When the first Whyo attained the dignity of murder no one knew that he was a Whyo or that there was a gang. This was Felix Lavelle, Dan Driscoll’s prototype, who killed a woman, but only suffered for his crime the penalty of life imprisonment, though the murder was a far more Whyoish crime than the attempt on the life of John McCarthy, which ended in the death of “Beezie” Garrity.

Lavelle, although he had been graduated through the Catholic Protectory, and the House of Refuge to the penitentiary for robbing and assault, was, like most of the gang, of decent parentage and retained acquaintance, the social ostracism machine of the Sixth ward not being in particularly good working order, with decent people. A month before he met pretty Sarah Hayden on Christmas day, 1878, at White and Centre streets, she had been pretty Sarah Sullivan and he had been, convict though he was, a suitor for her hand.

Doubtless the girl bride’s heart overflowed with good will as she tripped up Centre street from her home at No. 46 that afternoon. Love’s young dream, which is just as radiant in Whyoland as Arcadia, was unbroken yet, and Christmas cheer and salutations had painted its prisms to even brighter hues. Felix Lavelle, her rejected suitor, stood on the corner of White street as the girl came along, neat and rosy and dressed in her holiday and bridal best, perhaps the prettiest human thing on the East Side on Christmas day. She saw the lonely Whyo and felt sorry for him. Poor Felix, all the world had been against him. So out of her store of happiness she gave him a pleasant smile and word.

The Whyo mind misinterprets every good action. What the girl meant for kindness the Whyo took for conquest. He stepped close to her with the light of desire in his shifty Whyo eyes. There was an instant’s parley. Then the bride’s rosy cheeks flushed to a deeper crimson of shame and indignation. With an insulted toss of her head she passed on.

Passed on, yes, but not far. The flame of wrath burned low in the shifty Whyo eyes and then leaped up into the flame of hate.

“Will you take that, then?” was what poor Sarah Hayden heard, next, and before she knew what “that” was which had been substituted for his original proposition a pistol cartridge cracked, a pistol bullet sped, a pistol muzzle smoked on the holiday air and Richard Hayden’s young wife—she was little more than half through her teens—lay gasping on the Centre street pavement, her life blood staining her bridal and holiday finery.

Such was the merry Christmas the Whyo gave her, and death brought her a happy New Year one week later in St. Vincent’s hospital.

The next legal holiday of Washington’s birthday, 1870, saw Felix Lavelle on his way to Sing Sing. The day before, Feb. 21, when Judge Barrett had sentenced him to life, his pious sister had lifted her eyes to the grimy General Session’s ceiling which shut out heaven from her view and cried out, ”0h, Lord Jesus, is my poor brother to be taken from me forever?” and fell fainting to the floor. Thus did the first Whyo murderer set a high Whyo type of crime. But none knew that he was a Whyo, or what Whyos were, and the only effect of his conviction was to debar him from participation in the glories of the gang. Those glories grew in every Sixth ward street during the early years of the 80’s. Skulls fractured by “falls” threatened to grow as plentiful as cut fingers at the Chambers Street hospital. Driscoll, the new leader, fired nightly by the rum which the proceeds of the frequent robberies brought him, ranged Chatham street as boldly as an outlaw might the main street of an Idaho mining camp.

While they confined themselves to robberies in the maze of streets crisscrossing from Chatham square through or about the Points to Centre street or to undetected manslaughter in the same localities, or to assaults which-might be “squared,” the Whyos were safe. But when they sought to reintroduce the customs of Hounslow Heath at Canal street and the Bowery vaulting ambition o’erleaped itself. The time was not ripe for a renaissance of the Turpin or Jack Sheppard style. So when Thomas or “Kid” Hunt, Dennis or “Butch” Harrington, now in the pen for assisting Dennis Sullivan to avenge a murder, and Michael Gaffney attempted to “stand and deliver” a coach at the corner of those two broad thoroughfares, they were promptly arrested and sentenced to five years in Sing Sing. This was in October, 1880.

Danny Driscol winged his man in two impromptu duels as desperate as ever were fought in Texas or Kentucky. For neither did he so much as pay a fine. One encounter was in Wintermayer’s, a tough New York resort, when he and Pete Flaherty, a burglar, but not a Whyo, quarreled in their cups and drew their pistols. Driscoll “got the drop” as his antagonist fired, broke his pistol arm and fled out of the door with a bullet singing after him.

A second duel grew out of the same incident which probably caused the murder of “Beezie” Garrity. It took place at No. 2 Pell street, a lodging house which was kept by John McCarthy, who moved up into the comparatively pure air of Hester street after that week in which the residents of Pell street, largely his lodgers, received ninety years in sentences for various felonies. Driscoll entered the door of the lodging house and opened a rapid fire on the bookkeeper who had ejected him. The latter promptly responded, but the Whyo’s aim was truer, and the result of the exchange of two shots per duelist was a dangerous wound for the
bookkeeper. Driscoll was arrested but when the time came for a hearing, there was no complainant.

One warm summer night in the golden age the leader strolled up town. He was not on plunder bent. It was not necessary. He had simply left the cares of state behind at the boundary of his kingdom. It was simply a case of Le Roi s’amuse. Passing through a cross street between Second and Third avenues, he saw a stout German citizen asleep in his shirt sleeves on his own door step. A street lamp showed the glitter of a watch chain upon his rotund paunch. The spirit of the pickpocket waked in the leader, and two minutes afterward the driver of a Second avenue car on the down track was astonished by the apparition of a wiry, brown eyed, brown mustached man, who leaped to the platform beside him, seized the whip from his hand and lashed his horse into a gallop. More astonished were the passengers as the car went fairly hounding down the track despite the conductor’s angry bell and the even fainter cry behind of “Stop thief” from a lumbering, breathless German citizen. He was captured hut never punished.

Not less bold a feat than his piracy of a street-car was his rape of a dray. That time he had been prevented from entering a Chrystie street lodging house. He was drunk, and whether his purpose was robbery or wanton mischief does not appear. He shot the man who resisted his ingress. The ball broke his leg. Then he fled to the Bowery, leaped on a passing dray, snatched reins and whip again, and again fled southward. The hue and cry was hard at the wheels, and when a block of vehicles stopped his course, a little boy who had run after him from the lodging house identified him. With a fluent delivery of curses the Whyo leader reached over the side of the dray, and broke the lad’s jaw with his revolver.

But this was before his palmy days. When at his prime he never was pushed to such extremes of daring. He and his gang were a recognized political factor in the ward. It was not that they had so many votes of their own, for the highest census shows twenty five in Mulberry street, twenty in Leonard, ten in Hark and one hundred for all the rest of the Sixth ward. Many of these were not true Whyos, though they sounded the cry and blackmailed the wayfarer for “’ite cents to rush de growler.” Many were not of age. Whyo age ran from fifteen to thirty years. Many more were disfranchised by conviction for felony. But when the Whyo king went or sent a retainer along a block asking respectfully for votes for a certain candidate they were generally given. It was a cheap tribute of blackmail–much cheaper for a small shopkeeper than to have his windows smashed or his stock robbed, or himself “done up” after hours. In fact, the Whyos were a sort of Janissary or Praetorian Guard to certain politicians of the Sixth ward.

Such was the golden age of the Whyos. Into their lives some rain had to fall, like the conviction of Hunt, Harrington, and Gaffney for murder. But they waxed fat and happy as a rule, and the sight of their leader, the great Danny, setting out for the races with his russet grip in his hand and a linen duster over his arm was a thing to charm. And there was an awful halo of successful criminality around his head which made the vicious of both sexes fall down and worship. Among them was “Beezie” Garrity, an ex-shop girl.

A rosy cheeked young man, with a pleasant smile, showing a white, regular set of teeth under a brown mustache and possessing a heavy but rather soft voice, quite unlike the regulation growl of the typical old-fashioned metropolitan police officer, succeeded “Old Jerry” Petty, the martinet police Captain of the Sixth, in 1884. This was “young” Captain McCullagh, so called to distinguish him from his father, also a police Captain, and he seemed not such a very terrible new broom to sweep such a precinct clean.

The social propensities of Whyodom enabled the police to securely set the net. It was learned that there was to be a Whyo ball on the night of Thursday, Oct. 9, 1884. The ball-room was in the very elbow of “the Bend,” on Mulberry street, the heart of the worst block in New York. All went merry as the night before Waterloo that evening.

There was no guard outside to sound the call, and toward midnight “Red” Riley was sitting out a quadrille to talk to a woman, who had just sunk to the Bend. There came a sudden rush of feet through the saloon outside. “Red” Riley stopped in the midst of his story and leaped to the back window, raised it, put one foot over the sill and fell back on the floor. A night stick had struck him square between the eyes. The swarm of uniformed policemen pouring in through the front door, it seemed, was supplemented by an equal number in the yard behind the ball-room in “the Bend.” “Bridgeport Lou’s” ladylike scream at the discomfiture of her cavalier was drowned in the vigorous viragoish yells and oaths of the Molls and Beezies and Brockey Lizzies to the Bend manner born. The lights went out, and in the darksome tumult was heard distinct from other sounds the clatter of stolen watches thrown hastily to the floor. Six of these metal evidences of guilt were found there next morning.

Twelve Whyos, none of them big ones, were the net proceeds of the new captain’s first venture. A day was taken to look over their records and find the prosecutable charges against them. Red Riley had one of robbing Henry Stanley, of No. 9 Pell street, who related the other half of the interrupted story in the Tombs’ police court. “Tim” Sheehan was credited with assisting in the rescue of a prisoner. Similar charges were found against others, sufficing to give six of them six months and the others from ten to sixty days apiece.

Then began the war, which only ended five years after, when Owney Bruen, the last of their leaders, gave vent to the miserable, despairing cry “The police are hounding me!” Driscoll might have made the same complaint with feeling if not justice, for the next two years or less he was locked up twenty-seven times. In the year 1888, the last one of his civil life, Policeman Early impaired his prestige and made himself a terror to the gang by administering a good, sound, all round clubbing, which laid him up for days.

But the war was a war and not a mere “pacification.” Patrolman Cottrell’s leg was broken in one skirmish. Patrolman Adams was ignominlously imprisoned in the doorway of No. 33 Park street while burglar McCormic escaped. Patrolman Lyons had worse luck and was thrown down a flight of stairs when he chased a gang into a hallway. A brick thrown from a roof at Pearl and Park streets broke Patrolman Drafton’s jaw. Patrolman Rankin got a bullet through his helmet as he paced his beat one night at Duane and Center streets. Danny Lyons, who out-whyoed even Driscoll and Lavelle, by a strange savagery, which found expression in the gentle pastime of biting off the tails of barroom cats, looked higher than a mere patrolman, and assaulted Roundsman Shields with a loaded cane.

Night stick and nippers were getting the upper hand all the time, but the Whyo at bay developed constantly in savagery. This was shown on the occasion in 1885 when “Beezie” Garrity first made manifest to the police the same quality of devotion to the gang which shows a kind of burlesque, distorted pathos about her taking off.

There had been some kind of Whyo larks on the roof of No. 9 Mulberry street. In the course of them one of them the belles of “the Bend” was pitched off the roof and picked up a writhing, gasping of broken bones, which soon became a mangled corpse. It was intentional. It was a Whyo joke–much such an example of facetiousness as in circles which the world would hardly call polite would the the pulling of a chair from the place where some one had intended to sit down. “Beezie” had been the girl’s only feminine companion on the roof. Capt. McCullagh thought to terrify her into “squealing” by locking her up with the men of the gang for three days.

But the bold, dark faced girl remained as dumb as an oyster, and when he let her out and sought to coax her into admission her refusal to criminate might have been the result of the schooling of a Tombs lawyer, so perfectly evasive was it.

To the end she went, having successfully protected the gang from the consequences of one murder, trying vainly almost with her dying breath to protect its leader from the consequences of another–her own–to the end that was coming quicker than the prophet dreamed; to the end that was to be the beginning of the end of the wild dance of death in which the Whyos pirouetted in the flame and smoke of their own pistol muzzles in a wild murder craze to their separate dooms; to the end of the night of terror in Whyoland.

Again and again has been told the story of the murder of the hot morning of June 20, 1860, when the king and queen of the Whyos came up Hester street, rolling in their chariot of state, a “night-hawk’s” crazy hack, to execute royal, if drunken, justice upon the rebellious lord of Castle McCarthy. “Beezie” Garrity was shot dead in the melee. What was characteristic of the Whyo leader was the adroitness of his flight–his last desperate effort to double on the police, on whom he had so often doubled before.

Leaving the bleeding body of the queen lying in the lodging house hallway, where he had meant to leave the body of his old Pell street enemy, the Whyo king ran through the steaming streets, just growing gray with the early dawn of the summer solstice. It was a short sprint to his home at No. 128 Baxter street, and every step of the way was quickened by the echo of the foot of some new pursuer. Into the house he plunged and up the stairs. On came police and ward detectives after him. No sign of the murderer in No. 128. Then to the roof the chase mounted, through the scuttle and down through the scuttle of the roof of No. 126. There lay “Apple Meg,” Driscoll’s mother, in bed. She sleepily denied any knowledge of her son’s whereabouts.

Out on the fire escape and thence through the window back into No. 128 the chase by some happy inspiration followed. There in his room lolled the Whyo leader in his shirt sleeves, surprised at the officers’ intrusion, denying all knowledge of the cause of his arrest. It was the last but one of his quickwitted strokes for safety–that clever double-back into the house which the police had searched and, as he thought, would not search again.

Doggedly he stuck to his line of defense that McCarthy had slain the girl in shooting at him instead of his having killed her in shooting at McCarthy. Prop after prop was knocked from under the flimsy structure. McCarthy’s revolver was given up immediately after the shooting, with every chamber loaded and no evidence of discharge and reloading. Then the girl herself, persuaded by relatives–for “Beezie” was the black sheep of an honest Sixth ward family–or by the priest to tell the truth, even at “Danny’s” expense, withdrew before she died her antemortem statement against McCarthy.

Still, with a wondrous sense of dramatic consistency, he took his part of a persecuted Robin Hood of the slums–an impulsive, misguided, merry lad, whom the injustice of the rulers of the land had driven under the east side greenwood. Owney Bruen was his faithful Friar Tuck, cheerfully acting out his part in the labored lie and perjuring himself picturesquely in his fatuous belief in his leader’s lucky star.

That was in the autumn of 1886. Death was not staring him in the face as yet. Death had to do with others of his hand ere it should have time to call for him in the jail yard on a winter morning fifteen months afterward. Death, violent death, had made a tryst with the inmates of the house where he lived, where he sought to hide, whence he was led to prison, and, strange to say, it left him till the last.

Love, Whyo love, was behind “Kid” Hunt’s hatred of “Poll” Sullivan, though “Kid” said that the kicking of his shins by the burly “Poll” and an unpleasant allusion to a recent incarceration on Blackwell’s Island were the causes of his deed. “Kid” thought best to conceal his motive, because he had a wife and two children living at No. 11 Pell street and the wife was not the woman who had told “Kid” of Sullivan’s attention to her during his stay on the island! No, it was Lizzie Gallagher, another black sheep of a Sixth ward fold. She it is who, as his widow–for he married her on coming out of prison–now mourns with a fierce, revengeful grief the final sequel of the tale she told “Kid” of “Poll’s” false friendship.

It was a commonplace murder enough externally, this which hid so strong a touch of nature in its hidden recesses. A pistol shot at Leonard and Centre streets, at half-past seven o’clock on the night of Nov. 29, 1886, a little more than two months after Driscoll’s conviction. No one knows who did it at first, though there is a crowd around the bleeding, big body, and chilling, hook nose of Poll as he lies on the pavement. Then an officer snatches “Con” Rice, finds a pistol on him, extorts the reluctant confession that “Kid” Hunt, who was with Owney Bruen, shot “Poll” and ran away, intrusting the pistol to “Con.” Then all the echoes of the night about the Points are loud with the confident assertion that “Owney gave him de gun,” but no evidence, not a shred, beyond “Con” Rice’s extorted admission, that anybody had given him the gun. Then the police drag net is set and “Poll’s” body made ready for burial.

Then was there seen in Whyoland a bit of warm, pure, human feeling. “Poll” had been a practical joker. A “dead all around kidder,” the neighborhood called him, and he had “kidded” the button works girls so long that when he was gone they missed him. He used to stand on Centre street as they flocked up to their work at Canal and Elm every morning with anxious glances at the “Clipper” clock . Then “Poll” would snatch their dinner baskets to delay them and dodge the sound cuffs which they aimed at his ears, while a shower of Sixth ward badinage filled the air. Sometimes he would vary this formula by uncaging the morning occupant of a neighboring cigar store’s rat trap amid their hurrying ranks and thus hasten their screaming flight up Centre street as much as he had delayed it the day before.

Thus “Poll” Sullivan’s “kidding” and the exchange of chaff which followed it grew to be quite the event of the day with the button works girls. On the morning of Nov. 30 their shrill chatter was hushed as they hurried up Centre street, particularly as they passed the corner of Leonard. Then it broke out approvingly as someone said, “Girls, let’s get him some flowers.” So on the big, good-natured rough’s coffin, as he lay in his namesake Sullivan’s undertaking rooms, there was laid that night a wreath, the tribute of the button works girl’s, who mourned that they should be “kidded” no more.

Five years for manslaughter was “Kid’s” sentence. He would have gone scott free had it not been for his own admissions.

Then another inmate of the royal household of No. 128 Baxter street stepped into the mazes of the Whyo dance of death. The wildest Whyo figure of them all was this–that of “Danny” Lyons, not “Stable Gang Danny,” then lying with Driscoll in the Tombs for the murder of Quinn, the athlete, but “Whyo Danny,” the biter, stabber, gouger, amputator of the tails of Five Points bar-room cats. “Danny” trod a drunken, carmagnolish measure down Worth street one summer morning in 1887–trod it to No. 199, between the Points and Chatham street, Dan Murphy’s saloon. The pavement in front of it was consecrated by the blood of one Whyo, “Sass” Suggero, dead from the blow of a “bung-starter” administered by a mutinous subject in Whyoland. But “Danny,” full of Five Points whisky, danced over the ill-omened pavement; danced after the new cat, which fled with a yowl, as if mindful of the fate of her predecessor; danced the bartender into the back room; danced the bottles off the shelves; danced howling for the blood of Dan Murphy.

“Why-oh, why-oh,” shrilling no longer in the darkness of Five Points’ hallways. Shrilling rather in the darkness of the night’s Plutonian shore. Oh. They were making rare preparations in the shades for the coming of the prisoned chieftan in the Tombs. “Poll,” the court jester, and Danny, the boldest knight of the Whyo round table of Chatham street, were there, ready to greet his ears with the familiar cry when he came.

He was coming fast. Aug. 16, 1887, Daniel Lyons was buried. Dec. 2 Daniel Driscoll was led forth to receive his death sentence after an appellate court had affirmed the verdict of the previous year.

The window of the cell had by loosening the stone been enlarged almost enough to allow the passage of a man’s body. In another day the Whyo chief would have been free to grasp the rope which the band were ready to throw eras the Elm street wall, and he and “Stable Gang Danny” Lyons who was in the plot with him, would have made one last dash for liberty. It was undoubtedly his wife whose place “Beezie” had taken when be was the king, who had taken Beezie’s place when he was the captive, who brought him the disguise and the saw.

He rewarded her for her devotion. Rewarded her and her mother, too, “Apple Mag,” with whom he hidden after so many of his escapes. The day after he took McCarthy’s medicine they fell a quarreling in his presence—the wives and mothers of Whyoland are more remarkable for warmth than refined of feeling—over the disposition of his body. Tired of their squabbling at last he turned and said:—

“You _ _ _ , neither of you’ll git it. See?”

Such were the last words of the Whyo king, or rather the last veritable expression of his character. What he said afterward was mere gallows yard formulae.

McCarthy’s medicine was taken on January 23, 1888. If it had been taken on January 24 its recipient would have had to be carried to it. The grip of the law broke his moral vertebra before the hemp broke his neck.

A shattered and disorganized band of bandits was Owney Bruen left in charge of, whom neither the fiercest of “hummers” nor the sight of his late majesty’s brown derby hat, which he had willed to his successor, could cheer. Nor could his high example of cajoling into self-sacrificing perjury a luckless lad who had given bim a stolen watch to dispose of
raise their spirits.

A few months after Driscoll’s end he was sentenced to nine years and five for assaulting a German grocer in City Hall place who had refused to “lend” him money.

This was the last sentence on a Whyo for a crime committed under the organization. The Hallissy brothers, William and Thomas, when they were arrested for killing their brother-in-law, Thomas McLaughlin, in East Eighty-sixth street last summer, were simply recognized by the police as members of the old gang who had, like “Kid” Hunt, strayed far uptown. When Captain Brooks, Captain McCullogh’s successor, made the arrest of the Harringtons and Dennis Sullivan for “Kid’s” murder three weeks ago his clue was on the recollection of “Poll” Sullivan’s taking off and the fact that Dennis had been known to blame the death from grief of his father and sister on “Poll’s” slayer.

So the cry of the children of the Points, children of the Tombs, is stilled! Only from the throat of their Minotaur–the grim gray monster crouching there in the flare of the gusty Centre street lamps–can it come.

Cry of the night birds of the slums! Boot and saddle and to the standard call of crime! Silent in death! Silent in shame!

“Why-oh! Why-oh!”

Wild Bill Lovett

Asbury’s chapter on river pirates (Chapter IV, Section 3) concludes with a brief mention of a waterfront gang that was active until just a few years before The Gangs of New York was published in 1928: the White Hands of Brooklyn. Asbury mentions the three successive leaders of the gang: Dinny Meehan, Wild Bill Lovett, and Pegleg Lonergan, with very little expostulation. In doing so he overlooked one of the great gangland sagas of New York City, and the supplanting of the last great Irish waterfront gang by the Italian mafia families. Fortunately, Asbury was not the only newspaperman of the 1920s who wrote about gangster legends. In late 1929, writer Nelson Robins began a series of columns called “Famous Crime Mysteries of Brooklyn” for the Brooklyn Standard Union. The first five installments tell the story of these three gang leaders, with a focus on Wild Bill Lovett. As with Asbury, there are likely errors in Robins’ features; the gang was popularly known as the White Hand Gang from before WWI, but Robins names its post-WWI existence under Lovett as the White Horse Gang. Robins also neglected to mention that Pegleg Lonergan’s final party included insults he hurled at Italians on the premises.

Both Asbury and Robins also missed the fact that Mary Lonergan, who was Lovett’s mother-in-law and mother of Pegleg Lonergan, had also been the sister of John Brady, leader of the Yakey Yakes.

Even so, Robins’ columns present a great gangster saga, published here in its entirety for the first time:


The saga of Wild Bill Lovett, the bloodiest killer Brooklyn ever knew, is an epic of implacable ambition, cold blooded, calculated murder and the courage to “bump off” any man who stood in the way to gang leadership. Possessed of the intelligence which knew when to strike, which more than made up for the handicap of puny physical equipment, he proved that there is no faith between gunmen, no friendship in crime and that to shoot in the dark, from behind, is the quintessence of gang leadership.

So Wild Bill Lovett, as gay a murderer as ever shot an enemy or stabbed a rival between the shoulder blades, was harried like a weasel during his brief period of gang leadership in Brooklyn and died like a rat, bludgeoned from behind while he lay sodden with the vile bootleg which he purveyed. He died as he lived, by treacherous violence, and what glamour and romance that may be gleaned from his life comes from the spirit of the man himself and not from the victories he won nor the death he died.

Spirit he had, spirit to overcome every obstacle between himself and the goal he sought. That the goal itself was pitched in the slime of Brooklyn’s underworld was no fault of Lovett’s-that was all he knew. The manner in which he laid his course straight to his goal and let nothing -ill health, physical weakness, or police-turn him from the course he set, is what makes his spirit gleam.

All in all there are seven murders credited to “Wild Bill” Lovett by the police who watched and failed to pin a single one of them upon him. Five of these men who died with bullets in their backs stood between Lovett and leadership of the gang he longed to rule. One by one they dropped out of the contest, dropped with the look of surprise in their eyes which is typical of men who arc mortally and unexpectedly shot. In not a single case of the seven was there a clue which might connect the slight, tubercular, sharp featured little man of the twisted smile with the bullets which brought death. Police declared the seven were Lovett’s victims, but stopped short with the declaration. Lovett was arrested as a matter of form, held as long as the law allows, and then, when habeas corpus proceedings appeared imminent, turned loose to return to 25 Bridge street where he was the lord of all he surveyed.

During his life Lovett was arrested and locked up some fifteen or sixteen times, most of these in connection with murders. When he died there was but a single blot against his name on the police records. In 1912 he served six months in jail-for disorderly conduct. And that, it may be remarked, was at the beginning of his career, before he had learned the technique of crime which made him so tremendously successful in the last three years of his life.

As a matter of fact, Lovett’s whole career was crowded into less than three short years. That is, the career of which the Brooklyn police still talk and which forms the basis for long-winded and interesting reminiscences in the detective’s room at the Poplar street station, particularly. All that career was packed in between July 26, 1920, when he was discharged from the American Expeditionary force proudly wearing a Distinguished Service Cross for valor in France, and November 1, 1923, when he was found, his head crushed from behind and three steel jacketed bullets in him, in the rear room of his headquarters at 25 Bridge Street, Brooklyn. During those years, though, “Wild Bill” Lovett wrote Brooklyn’s criminal history with a broad-nibbed pen in the blood of slaughtered enemies and ruled the toughest gang of dock-wallopers that any city has ever known. And every move he made was lighted by a cold, calculating courage that would have carried him to the top in any profession for which he had been prepared.

To begin with, William Lovett was born of a respectable family in the Red Hook district in Brooklyn. The boy Bill played with “alley-rats” who came into his neighborhood; stole fruit from the vendor’s cart, cut lead pipes from vacant houses and sold them to grimy, furtive-eyed junkmen, and learned the elementary facts of crime as a basis for his future career. Like most of those with whom he roamed the streets, almost deserted in that section after the six o’clock whistle blew in the evening, he was arrested for minor little crimes. His respectable parentage got him off with lectures from the police or the magistrates before whom he was brought and he always promised not to do it again. By the time he was eighteen, in 1912 it was, his reputation was pretty well established and the police were on the lookout for him. He was educated in crime by that time, knew’ how to “roll” a drunk, pick a lock, rifle an unwatched till and, best of all, had learned where stolen goods might be disposed of without embarrassing questions as to the manner in which they were acquired. Then it was after a particularly devilish bit of skylarking in which blood was spilt, that Lovett got his first and only taste of jail after conviction. He was hauled before a magistrate and sent to jail for six months on the charge of disorderly conduct.

When he came out he had learned what the jail birds of the Raymond street jail had to teach and he was ready for his life’s work. He was alone in the world then and remained alone. From that time on, no matter how. many fawned upon him for fear or favor, he played a lone hand and there was none to squeal to the police about a shot in the back.

The best graft in that day-it was before prohibition had opened a fertile and lucrative field for men such as “Wild Bill”-was down at the docks. The dock-wallopers- stevedores on payrolls but dock-wallopers when one’s profession is proudly spoken of-had a headquarters office at 25 Bridge street. Dennis Meehan, fondly known as “Dinny,” was boss of that outfit. No man worked on the Brooklyn waterfront without Dinny’s permission and every man who rolled a hand truck paid tribute to Dinny. He got them jobs and they paid him for that service. To the docks Bill Lovett naturally gravitated and, because his build was too slight to make the hand truck job comfortable, he began at once to scheme a way to easy money and light work. Whether the bales and packages which were lost from the docks came into his hands is not known at this date, but certainly much was lost and Bill Lovett lived pretty comfortably without straining himself.

Dinny Meehan looked with growing suspicion upon the slight little man who spoke so authoritatively and there were clashes. Dinny, a big, husky Irishman who fought with fists until he was knocked cold or won his fight, could not quite make out the cold-blooded Lovett who looked him in the eye and talked like a boss, but he feared him and when they quarreled kept his eye on the bale hook which Lovett carried. He saw the gleam of the killer in Lovett’s eyes and the big two-fisted stevedore could not quite understand it. Lovett measured the big Irishman with his eye as if for his shroud, but his time had not yet come. He had too few supporters to risk an open break-and then the war came and the war fever seeped down to the Brooklyn water front. When it was at its height, with his place on the docks still unmade, Lovett for some reason enlisted and went to war.
When he enlisted for service In France, Bill Lovett selected no safe and easy job on which to expend his patriotism. He picked what was then called “the suicide squad,” a machine gun company. He wanted no sutler’s job nor easy billet behind the lines. He wanted action and his officers spotted him as a cool and skillful machine gunner as soon as they saw him in action.

One of them, in describing Lovett afterward said: “He was one of the coolest, most courageous men that-ever lived. He was callous in the face of danger and went about the business of killing the enemy as calculatingly as if he wore in a room all by himself with a job of work to do. I believe he enjoyed spraying lead into the German lines and certainly he did his work efficiently.” That officer was not alone in his opinion because when Bill Lovett was finally discharged from the army, with a sliver of shrapnel in his hip and a load of gas in his lungs, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action. He didn’t care particularly for the honor. But he was careful that those with whom he came in contact after his return to Brooklyn should know about it. It gave him a halo of heroism which, combined with his cough and the slight limp earned by the shrapnel sliver, made him a figure in the Red Hook neighborhood.

Once discharged he looked the scene over as a general might and planned his campaign. He was twenty-four years old and his ambition sat heavily upon him, but the coldly calculating spirit which had carried him through a campaign in France and through battles for leadership in early youth was still with him. The doctors had told him that one lung was tubercular, due to the gas he had breathed in France. He was told that six months in a hospital might cure him. He decided that the lung was too much of a handicap and that he must wait until it was well and without protest he entered a hospital and remained there from July, shortly after he was discharged, until the first of January. Then he was told that he was still uncured. He snarled at the physician who told him. “You said I would be well in six months,” he sneered. “I know,” the doctor answered, “but we sometimes make mistakes. You are not fit for discharge yet. Six months more perhaps.” The sneer changed to a twisted snarl: “T’hell with you,” he said. “You said six months and I stuck the limit. Now you say six months more. T’hell with you. I’m going out.” And out he went. Lung or no lung he couldn’t keep down his ambition longer. He wanted action, power, leadership, and dreaming in the hospital for six months more wasn’t to his taste.

“If you go out now,” the physician said, “you won’t live six months.” The Brooklyn waterfront in January is no place, the physician thought, for a man with a bad lung. Bill Lovett smiled his twisted, crooked smile that was half a sneer. “Maybe I won’t live six months anyhow,” he answered.
He was thinking of Dinny Meehan then and of Dinny’s place that he was determined to get and wondering whether he would get Dinny or Dinny would get him. At any rate, he demanded his clothes and an hour after his defiance of health and hospital laws he left the hospital to start on the road which led straight to the dirty little back room, cluttered up with old chairs, a broken table, buckets, brooms, worn out overalls and filth, where he was found less than three years later with his head crushed in from a blow from behind.

Straight to 25 Bridge street Bill Lovett went, to where Dinny Meehan ruled the toughest, roughest gang of dock-wallopers that the world can boast. He weighed one hundred pounds on the hospital scales when he left that institution, and, wrapped in a trench coat, salvaged from his overseas service, he looked even more emaciated. His face was white and he limped a little, but his mouth was a straight slit across his face and his eyes blazed with determination. Dinny Meehan looked as big as a house when he faced Bill Lovett across the little table which he called his desk in 25 Bridge street, but it was the big man’s eyes which lowered first before he asked: ”Whatdya want?” Meehan knew Bill Lovett.

He had worked with him on the docks and there was no friendship between them. But Bill had a following; some ten or fifteen of the stevedores were ready to fight for him at any time and Meehan realized that the thin, drawn little man must be humored. “I want a gang of loaders.” Bill answered. “I’ll drive ’em. I got ’em already picked.” Meehan considered the matter. His graft came from the men he placed in jobs and to let Lovett have a gang meant that the men who worked for Lovett would be a total loss to him. Lovett, He knew, wouldn’t split his graft. On the other hand, Lovett had friends: he was a war hero and to turn him down would mean trouble and dissatisfaction with Meehan’s rule. He wasn’t afraid of trouble; Dinny Meehan loved it, but he had to think of things like that. “I’ll see about it,” he growled, and Lovett, smiling that cold, calculating smile that made big men jump out of his way later, nodded his head. “I’ll be there in the morning,” he said shortly and turning on his heel walked out.

Lovett waited for no word from Meehan, but when the whistles blew on the docks next morning he appeared with a dozen men and reported for work. He selected the job of loading freight on freight cars, the easiest of stevedoring jobs, and himself did nothing but watch his henchmen labor.
Meehan observed the invasion of his rule grimly, with tight lips, but forbore to turn Lovett down. The men whom he had picked were selected scrappers and the pick of his lot. “Wild Bill” had made no mistake in his selections. From then on they were his men. With his place on the docks established Lovett became ostensibly Meehan’s lieutenant, but he must have chuckled to himself when he thought of holding that position. He had marked Meehan’s job and place for his own. It was not long before the chance to take it came.

Lovett’s gang had been working perhaps a month when Meehan came to Lovett. “Say,” he said, “I’m not getting anything out of this gang at all. Put me on the payroll for three or four days a week and it’ll be all right.” “Yeah?” Lovett answered as the big Irishman left. When payday came around Meehan found no envelope with his name on it in Lovett’s distribution. His brow darkened. He knew his rule was being defied. He called Lovett to a corner of the dock shed where they would be concealed by the freight cases. “How about my pay envelope for last week?” he asked. Lovett sneered openly as he answered: “There ain’t any.” Meehan blustered and made as if to smash the little man with his fist. “You —— – ————-,” he thundered. “Think you can buck me, eh?” Show up on this dock to-morrow and I’ll kick you into the East River.” Lovett turned on his heel as if Meehan were not worthy of attention. “Yeah?” he questioned as he walked away.

That night Meehan was shot to death as he lay in bed beside his wife.


Nobody had to tell Bill Lovett that Dinny Meehan had been shot. The stevedores who gathered in the boss’s room at 25 Bridge street were talking about Dinny’s murder and speculating, with fairly accurate results, as to who the murderer was, when Lovett strode into the little room.
His face was white, the stevedores said, and his eyes were blazing with a cold light. He didn’t hesitate when he walked in, and the husky men, any one of whom could have lifted up the slight form and broken it across his knee, parted as he entered. Lovett nodded curtly to those who stood aside and walked straight to Meehan’s chair and sat down. Then looking straight into their eyes he told the big men, most of them holding bale hooks in their hands: “From now on I’m boss in here. I’ll be detained up at the police station for a day or two but when I come back I’m going to be boss.” Before the police arrived to get him, as he knew they would, he had assigned the men to their jobs and promoted lieutenants to take charge of them while he was away.

There was no evidence that Lovett had anything to do with Meehan’s death. The detectives assigned to the case did their best, but theirs was a fruitless quest. Whoever had murdered Meehan had quietly placed a chair in front of his bedroom door-he lived at 432 Warren street, by-the-way-shoved a gun through the transom while he stood on the chair and blazed away. Mrs. Meehan, sleeping beside her husband, was suddenly awakened by the agony of a searing bullet and shrieked out in the dark for her husband’s aid. For a while she could not understand or realize what had happened. The agony of her wound was terrible and she was dazed and weak from shock. Finally she realized that the mighty fumbling, heaving beside her were the death struggles of her husband, who died without knowing what had happened. By the time neighbors arrived in answer to her screams of pain and terror, Meehan was dead and Mrs. Meehan so incoherent that it was some time before she could tell what had happened. Whoever had slain the stevedore boss had gone without leaving any clue by which he could be traced.

And the next morning Bill Lovett had claimed leadership over Meehan’s gang. Whether Lovett was the killer or not the stevedores over whom he ruled now believed him to be Meehan’s slayer and he held his position by bloody succession. They looked on him now with new reverence and when he gave an order there was no slackening of discipline. They obeyed him. His authority from that time until he died was never questioned although attempts were made to remove him from his leadership. And Bill Lovett was no easy boss. He imposed a new scale. Stevedores were making too much money, he thought, so when wages were $6 a day he took $2 from each man who worked under him. When wages dropped to $4 he took $1. No man could get a job on the Brooklyn docks without his aid and woe to the man who held out on the boss. For the first offense the one who held out was given a beating. And a Brooklyn waterfront beating is something to be remembered. For the second hold-out the offender was sent to the hospital, with perhaps a broken bone or two. One or two such offenders were found with a bullet in the back. It was supposed that this was the penalty for a third offense. No rule book was ever issued but there was very little difficulty in collecting tribute.

All this time Dinny Meehan’s friends sat by, saw his place taken by the usurper and planned to avenge his death. One of these was Tim Montague, a husky, two-fisted Irishman who spoke too openly. He and Frank Byrnes were the only two men who, according to the police and members of the gang, were marked for death and still live. Montague had the temerity to speak his mind about the death of Dinny Meehan, and at first he got away with it. Then it was observed that others, emboldened by his immunity, began to talk, too. Lovett watched them between half closed lids that hid the killer gleam in his eyes, and smiled crookedly at their bravado. He spoke sharply to Montague and got a hot reply as Montague left the office of the stevedore boss. That night Montague, in a speakeasy beneath the bridge, boasted of his defiance of the boss. He wasn’t afraid of any Lovett that ever lived, and, with the fog of whiskey on him, wasn’t afraid to meet him right now and have it out. Finally Montague left the speakeasy, unsteady on his feet and careless of the shadow in the rear of the hallway as he came down the steps. As he walked through the narrow hall to the street his figure was outlined clearly against the dim light of the entrance.

From behind him an automatic blazed once, twice, three times and Montague slumped down to the floor with three bullets in his back. Those who were crowded in the same speakeasy upstairs heard the shots but were chary of investigating. Outside the sound must have been less loud because the first to find Montague were those who came carefully downstairs seeking news of what had happened. Montague was carted off to a hospital where his wounds were found to be serious but not fatal. Something had gone wrong with the killer’s aim and the bullets which had been intended for vital organs lodged in solid flesh and muscle. No one had seen the killer emerge from the hallway. No one had heard anything to indicate his identity. But before morning Wild Bill Lovett was safely locked in a cell at the police station where he remained while detectives made strenuous efforts to pin the crime upon him. With nothing to show that Lovett was anywhere near the speak­easy that night, with Montague absolutely ignorant as to who shot him and not a soul among the gang, whether they were friends of Meehan’s or not, to swear even to a battle of words between the two, the police finally gave up in despair and turned Lovett loose. They had no evidence.

The luck that deflected the bullets from Montague’s vitals came also to Lovett when he was freed from the police cell. Both Meehan and Montague still had friends. And friends with money enough to do their killing in approved style. The rich pickings from bootlegging were being enjoyed. Lovett was up to his neck in that racket now and his henchmen-and some of them, remember, were still friends of Meehan-had their pockets filled with money. As he left the police station Lovett looked for a taxicab to take him back to Bridge street. Pegleg Lonergan had suggested coming for him but the time of his release was uncertain and Bill had rejected the offer. “I’ll come by myself,” he told Pegleg. “Wait for me at the office.” So he sauntered unguarded down the street to the corner and turned. As he turned an automobile which had followed him turned also. The blinds were drawn, but the window was down.

As the automobile came abreast of Lovett, stepping rapidly down the street, the muzzle of a pistol was shoved through the open window and two shots spat out. Lovett leaped into the air as the automobile passed on and then fell in a crumpled heap. A crowd gathered and an ambulance came clattering up. Police chased in the direction of the cloaked and curtained automobile and came back empty-handed. At the hospital Lovett was found to be only slightly wounded and within a week or two he was out again. When police questioned him as to who had shot him, Lovett’s lips closed in a thin line and he turned his back to them. He would tell nothing. He had told nothing when he left the hospital. Then, six months later, he told who shot him.

Garry Barry, Meehan’s right-hand lieutenant, was found shot in the back, stone dead, without a clue to the murderer. As a matter of course, Wild Bill Lovett was arrested. He laughed at the police who took him to the station house. His alibi was as airtight as a can of peaches. Again detectives, as certain that Lovett had killed Barry as they were of their own names, racked their brains and wore out good shoe leather trying to prove who killed him, without getting a clue that would hold water. Then they released Bill. As he started from the police station he grinned crookedly at the detectives who had used him none too kindly. “You guys are all off,” he said. “I didn’t kill Garry. I’d liked to have killed him. The ———— was the guy who shot me when I left the police station after being held for shooting Tim Montague.”

And, having no clues on which to work, the detectives just had to sit there and take his gibes.


For more than a year after the death of Garry Barry, Bill Lovett ruled his small world with a rod of iron, or, in the vernacular of the underworld, with a rod that blazed. The deaths of Meehan and Barry, the cold-blooded ambush of Tim Montague and the razor edge escape of Frank Byrnes brought the leader that respect that an absolute monarch gained from those whose lives depended upon his humor.
The escape of Frank Byrnes from the death that lurked behind the door of the vestibule of his home was something to make those who live down near the docks think twice. Byrnes was another of the gang who would have fought to the death for Dinny Meehan. Meehan had been his friend for years and the two had faced cops and rival gangsters together, fighting shoulder to shoulder. Byrnes lost a good friend when Meehan was slain.

The legend regarding the escape of Byrnes is somewhat hazy but it is fairly certain that Byrnes had failed to knuckle under to the new leader and resented his authority. Such an attitude will not do in gangland and Lovett’s cold eyes gleamed again with the lust to kill. There was no altercation, no threats: that was not the way of the leader of what was now known as the “White Horse Gang.” The name “White Horse,” by the way, was selected because the Scotch whisky which bore the White Horse label was now the chief product of the gang. They brought it into the Red Hook district, over the Brooklyn waterfront, in consignments so large that it flowed like water on off nights.
While Byrnes sulked. Lovett pondered with the cold gleam in his eyes and bided his time. He made no motion to show Byrnes that he was especially out of favor, but Byrnes had that chill foreboding that something was in the air and he walked warily.

One night Byrnes, too careful now to drink overly much, came to his home after midnight. The street was deserted and there was an eerie appearance over the night. His footsteps sounded loudly as his husky feet hit the pavement. There was no soul in sight and there was light enough from the street lamps to see everything pretty distinctly. Byrnes walked more slowly as he neared his home. He glanced behind each tree and into each areaway. There was nothing to disturb him. He began to whistle, probably to keep his courage up, as he neared his front door. Maybe he was glad to get home. Then he noticed something and the hair on the back of his neck began to crawl upward. The door to the vestibule of his home was open. Just a crack, but open just the same. Byrnes, no coward under any condition but a man who loved life, stopped dead in his tracks. His whistle faded into nothingness. What was behind that door?

He did not wait to answer that question but started backward, taking long careful steps until he wan out of the range of a gun pointed from behind that cracked door. Then he turned and, again in the vernacular, “beat it.” There was a killer behind that door. Whether it was Wild Bill Lovett never will be ascertained, but a word dropped here, a phrase caught there told the gang that Frank Byrnes was as near death that night as he ever would be and return to tell the tale. Some time after the last echo of Byrnes’ flying feet bounded in the quiet street, a slim figure, with one hand dug deep into a bulge in his coat pocket, slipped out of the vestibule and with glances up and down the street faded into the shadows of the side street and was gone.

Dan Gillen was not so fortunate. He believed that if ever a man was safe it was in a crowd. He won the disfavor of Bill Lovett and was under the death sign that descended upon Lovett’s enemies. Gillen knew that the shadow was upon him and never went alone anywhere. Even when running liquor in, when all members of the gang were guaranteed safety by the leader, he always made it a point to have others near him. When left alone on the dock, it was said afterward, Gillen would scramble around until he found somebody to be near.
He was sticking to this program one night when a consignment of White Horse had been safely brought in. The speakeasy where the gang made merry was pretty well crowded with longshoremen, drinking their liquor and now and again singing a stave of a deep sea chantey. It was getting pretty late and the liquor had warmed them well when the thing happened. The chantey was led by a young Irishman with a hairy chest and a round full voice, and the whole company came in strong on the chorus. Everybody was singing when something sounded like a smack-but nobody paid any attention until suddenly Dan Gillen gave a sort of a cough and a cry combined and fell in a heap on the floor. “He got me-He got me.” Gillen cried. “Right in the crowd he got me.”

Examination showed that Gillen had been neatly plugged with a steel-jacketed bullet and the cry he gave as he fell was his last. When the ambulance physician arrived he was dead. Immediately there was a charge that Bill Lovett, slipping up the steps to the door, had opened it wide enough to get his pistol muzzle through and, when the chorus was at its height, had put Dan Gillen where he would trouble his leadership no longer. But again there was no evidence.

So with Sammy di Angelo, who incurred the leader’s displeasure. His body, mysteriously shot, was found where the killer had potted him. Police went after Lovett again and again without evidence. Bill didn’t even take the trouble to protest much. He merely asked in a tone of injured innocence: “Can’t anybody be murdered in this district by somebody else? I can’t kill ’em all.”

A little while afterward he was freed and walked into a trap that might have been set by himself for some of the recalcitrants of his own gang.
Members of Lovett’s gang declared this trap was set by another gang, but they failed to specify the gang. As a matter of fact, the White Horse Gang was so strong under Lovett’s leadership that no other gangsters dared challenge them and the police never for an instant believed that it was other than friends of Dinny Meehan and Garry Barry who almost sent Bill Lovett to join that pair.

It was on the cold clear morning of January 3, 1923, that a policeman, keeping an eye open for signs of trouble, always plentiful in that neighborhood, saw the door to the shanty at 289 Front street open. He peered inside and jumped with the shock of it. Inside the room into which he looked were hundreds of bottles of home brewed beer. The floor was literally covered with them, stacked up like regiments of soldiers.
And in the midst of the home brew, apparently dead, lay Wild Bill Lovett.

The policeman shrilled his whistle and before long a wagon-load of policemen and an ambulance from Greenpoint Hospital were racing to that shack. The policemen were not needed. Lovett was unconscious with three bullet wounds through his left breast. The ambulance surgeon shook his head and considered whether to take him to the accident ward or the morgue. He thought the trip to the ward unnecessary.
But none of the bullets had pierced Lovett’s heart, although all were near, and there was life enough in him to get the credit for killing three more men before his time came. Miraculously he regained consciousness and more miraculously he began to mend. Before he began to mend, when the doctors believed this frail little consumptive would “kick off” at any minute, the police asked him who shot him. He shook his head saying: “It’s give and take in this game. When I get it I take it and say nothing.”

And then he recovered to have the most successful murder year of his career.


The physicians who cared for Lovett said afterward that nothing in the world kept him alive but indomitable courage. He was a sullen patient, brooding over his thoughts, mapping out his revenge for the attempt to blot him out of existence. He never hinted at who it might be who shot him. He did tell the detectives who questioned him that he was shot at the corner of Front and Gold streets, a short distance from the shanty where he was found, but never a suggestion of who shot him.

His frailty did not appear to influence his determination to live, although it did make his recovery slow. It was getting on toward spring before he was strong enough to leave the hospital. It had been nearly two years since he had been given six months to live before he died of tuberculosis and he had been shot twice during that time. So he had some right to take his time about getting well.

Once on his feet, however, no time was lost. In May James Martin died very suddenly by reason of a couple of bullets from an automatic passing through his heart. No one saw Wild Bill Lovett fire the pistol. No one saw the shooting, as a mater of fact, but there was no need to publish in the newspapers that Martin had a hand in the shooting of Bill Lovett on Jan. 3. The members of the White Horse Gang nodded sagely and said: “Just what we expected.” Then a little later Lovett, after scouring his district in search of someone, asked a group of gangsters: “Where’n hell is Tom Quilty? I haven’t seen him lately.” Up spoke Jim Healy. “He’s up in the speakeasy at Jay and York streets.” Nothing more was said. Quilty was in the speakeasy with twelve other men, taking their ease and enjoying their liquor, as has been the privilege of longshoremen since ships were invented.

Suddenly there was the sound of a shot. Every manjack in the room swore to the detectives who questioned them later that he had neither heard the shot nor seen the killer. But there was poor Tom Quilty dead on the floor. The longshoremen shrugged their broad shoulders and that was all there was to it. Lovett got full credit for the killing. Then Eddie Hughes got his. Eddie was an excellent and dependable gunman and it was the belief of the detectives who worked on the mysterious shooting of Bill Lovett on Jan. 3 that Eddie had a hand in it. Lovett never mentioned his name but when the time came Hughes paid his reckoning with his life blood and no one could be found to say Bill had murdered him. There was a tremendous hue and cry for a while. It was summer when the thing happened and news was slack.

Newspaper editors demanded that police stop the gang killings and the victims attributed to Lovett’s gun were tabulated but there was no more evidence that Wild Bill Lovett had killed Eddie Hughes than that he had killed President Garfield. Police, of course, said there was no doubt of it. Gangsters whispered out of the sides of their mouths that of course Bill “had done Eddie in,” and why not? But so far as getting a case against the gang leader in court-It just couldn’t be done.

Then a funny thing happened. Police entering a restaurant one night saw Lovett throw something away. They grabbed him and looked to see what had been thrown away and it was a pistol-a little blue steel automatic. They whooped with joy and locked him up on the charge of violating the Sullivan act. It was the first thing they had gotten on him since 1912, when he served six months for calling a policeman a blankety-blanked so-and-so. The Grand Jury brought in an indictment and the district attorney mapped out his case.

There wasn’t much to it. The police testified that they had found the gun which Lovett threw away. Lovett swore with equal fervor that it was a frame-up. That he never had a gun and if he had had one he would have used it instead of throwing it away. That was a telling argument.
The jury, having heard of his alleged crimes, was divided. Some believed he would have used it had he had the gun. Others would have jailed him on his reputation. The result was a disagreement and a mis­trial. Pegleg Lonergan appeared with $5,000 bail money and Wild Bill Lovett was free again.

That was the time when another jury had decided that Pegleg Lonergan’s mother, who was also the mother of thirteen other children, had not killed his father, who had been shot in front of his bicycle store some weeks before, and Pegleg, his mother and his sister Anna were celebrating that event. Wild Bill had fallen in love with Anna some time before. Her frail beauty, and she was a beauty, captured his imagination and she was the only girl he ever really loved. Unfortunately for romance, she was too young for marriage when he first loved her, being only fourteen years old. Now, however, she was fifteen and a beauty and she worshipped Bill Lovett. At the dinner celebrating the freedom of Anna’s mother and sweet­heart Bill turned to ber suddenly and said: “I’m washed upon the whole business now-let’s get married.” Anna squealed with delight, as girls will do under such stress, and nodded happily.
Ten minutes later the whole company, more than a dozen, piled into taxicabs and sped down to the marriage license bureau. That bureau had just closed for the day but the clerk was persuaded, without gun­play, to open it and issue just one more license, and they were married then and there. There was a group of reporters at the ceremony and when it was over Lovett turned to them saying: “Now, if there are any more murders in the next two weeks they ain’t mine; I’m honey­mooning at Long Beach.”

By the time the two weeks *were over Anna had persuaded Bill that the gang leadership was all bunk and that a cottage over in Jersey with a job attached was the real thing. He finally agreed and she took enough of his money to make her dream come true. She purchased a little white cottage near Little Ferry, N.J., with green blinds and a porch. She filled it with furniture and they started housekeeping.
Sometimes Bill would get nervous and fidgety, and she knew the signs. Then she would pack up a lunch and they would go on long hikes along the Palisades. Bill began to fill out. His ribs disappeared under a covering of flesh and the lean face that held so much terror for his enemies became round and smooth. He declared he never enjoyed himself so much. Ho was in love, had married the girl and was living like a human being. He gained weight until he weighed 150 pounds, and most of the extra poundage was due to happiness. Then late in October he told Anna that he had to go to New York on business. Important business. She made him promise not to go to Brooklyn and he crossed his heart-he would go only to Manhattan and come right back. She never saw him alive again.

Two days later a policeman kicked in the door of the back room at 25 Bridge street and found all that was mortal of Wild Bill Lovett. The back of his head had been crushed in with a heavy piece of iron. So crushed that the splintered bone penetrated the brain and death must have been instantaneous. In addition his murderers had shot him three times in the head after he was dead-just to make sure he would not stage another comeback. Pegleg Lonergan and Joe Byrne, both devoted friends and lieutenants, were the last of his friends to see him alive. They told police that they had been drunk, all three of them, for two days. Finally Bill “pawed out” and they took him to 25 Bridge street to sleep it off. Both stayed to finish the bottle they brought with them and then, early in the morning, left him sleeping.

Police detectives believed their story. The friendship between the three was well-known-but there was no clue to the killers. They had done their work efficiently and without display. It was believed that the murderers were friends of Dinny Meehan and the police were content to let it go at that. Privately the detectives who had worked themselves thin over the various murders attributed to Lovett believed that his murderers should have been given the thanks of the city-but they would like to have caught them and made a clean job of the whole gang business.

Anna came all the way from Little Ferry in a taxicab, with the display of hundred dollar bills that gang leaders widows must have, and wept heart-brokenly over Bill’s body. She swore that a woman was at the bottom of it, but detectives knew that Bill had never mixed up with women and they let her have her cry out. Bill was given a military funeral adequate to a winner of the Distinguished Service Medal and a battalion of his overseas comrades of the Thirteenth Machine Gun Battalion, Company C, of which Bill had been a member, fired a salute and blew taps over his grave.
Then Pegleg Lonergan, Bill’s brother-in-law and most trusted lieutenant, took over his leadership of the White Horse gang and for more than two years tried to persuade himself and the other members of the gang, that he was a real leader. That leadership ended on Christmas morning in 1926.


The mantle of Wild Bill Lovett was somewhat ample for the abilities of Pegleg Lonergan. The ends trailed on the ground and Pegleg was so busy gathering up the folds that he lost much time which might have been used in leadership. By that time, though, the gang was dealing exclusively in liquor. The old hard-headed, two-fisted longshoremen had left and in their places came sleek-haired, well-groomed youths who might come as well from Times Square as Red Hook. There was more money in the gang and less willingness to labor. Prohibition had gotten in its deadly work and instead of hard-hitting, rough-and-tumble Irishmen who would fight with their fists at the drop of a hat and have their heads battered off for a leader, there were well-dressed, wisecracking gangsters who knew their stuff- and their stuff had to do mostly with liquor and women.

Not that the later members of the gang were not deadly. They were more so. Instead of trying to knock each other’s heads off they took their enemies for rides from which they did not return. Theirs was the natural evolution of the gang under the influence of easy money during prohibition. While it is hard to ascertain what really happened to the gang, it is safe to say it was not the compact group that existed under Bill Lovett and Dinny Meehan. There was business enough for all, and concerted action was only necessary when there was a load of liquor to be landed. Later they didn’t bother about landing the liquor. That came into Sheepshead Bay and when they could get it they did so. But when real liquor was scarce they were satisfied to peddle cut alcohol and moonshine to their customers.

At any rate Pegleg was the nominal head of the gang and his influence with a certain group was strong. When there was a job to be done Pegleg issued the call, and he was content. He had no overwhelming ambition to be a leader such as that which scorched Bill Lovett’s brain.
He was content to let things rock along if there was enough liquor, sufficient attention from the girls who frequented the speakeasies where he held court, and a man or two at hand to give orders to. Under his easy leadership discipline became slack and the gang became more or less a number of scattered units rather than a cohesive group. This led to what happened as directly as water seeks its level.

The section of Brooklyn which was supplied with liquor by the White Horse gang was rich territory for bootleggers and there were other gang leaders who looked with glistening eyes at the loot to be gathered. The district was organized by Bill Lovett and the speakeasy owners knew to whom to look for liquor. They too were satisfied. It was the yearn for easy money that other leaders had which brought Pegleg Lonergan low.
Things had been quiet on the surface for a year or more when the final blow-off came.

Pegleg, in his genial, rumbling, bluffing manner had warned off the gangsters who wished to cut in on his territory. A man or two had been killed in battles that made citizens hop to one side and policemen curse, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Those who were not in the inner circle of the gang believed that all was well with the world, that Christmas liquor was coming in plentifully, of good grade and reasonable in price, and that Pegleg Lonergan was sitting on the top of the world. Pegleg thought so, too.

Then came Christmas Eve of 1926. And Pegleg decided to “throw a party.” Accompanied by four of his most faithful henchmen Pegleg chose the speakeasy of Jack Stabile, otherwise known as The Adonis Club, as the scene of his Christmas Eve party. The five of them took possession of one of the two rooms which made up the club quarters and proceeded to make merry. The fairer and frailer sex was represented bountifully by two girls whose names do not matter. Each declared later that she had no soft spot in her heart for Pegleg but each wept as though her heart was broken- for Pegleg was quite a lad with the ladles. One of them told the story between sobs to the detectives. But that was after it all happened.

The first intimation of the foray which marked the end of Pegleg Lonergan’s leadership of the White Horse gang, and the final blow that destroyed the gang, came when Patrolman Richard Moran saw something white lying across the curb on his beat at four o’clock on Christmas morning. Moran went closer and bent over the white thing which he had seen. It was a hand, a man’s hand, and attached to it, in the shadow of the gutter, was the body of Needles Ferry, long unfavorably known to the Greenpoint police. Mr. Ferry was very and completely dead.
Moran rapped his nightstick and blew his whistle and soon there was a patrol wagon load of policemen, members of the homicide squad and a deputy chief inspector on the ground. Moran turned the whole matter over to his superiors.

A spot or two of blood led the detectives upstairs into the quarters of the Adonis Club. The detectives found the lights still on, the beer still cold, several untouched drinks on the bar, and the bodies of Pegleg Lonergan and Aaron Harms, back to back, their guns still in their hands, but emptied of all bullets-and both stone dead and laden with lead. A bar rag lay on top the mahogany, right where the bartender’s hand had guided it up to the moment of the first shot. After that first shot the rag never moved from where the bartender dropped it as he fled.

From what they observed the detectives judged that there had been a sudden descent upon the merrymakers in the club, a barrage of pistol shots, quick murder and then a wild stampede of those who were left alive. One of the frail denizens of the place explained later what happened. “Pegleg and his friends came in about midnight,” she explained, “and said they were celebrating. Pegleg was in fine spirits and was all lit up like a church at Christmas. He wanted everybody to drink with him and everybody was willing to drink. ‘Come on in and drink,’ he’d call to everyone who came in. ‘It’s my party and I want to celebrate.’
“That kept up until nearly 3 o’clock. Everybody was having a fine time, liquor was coming fast and the boys and girls were singing, The whole place had a Christmas air. “There were some other people in the other room, but we didn’t pay any attention to them. They hadn’t come into the room where we were and we judged they were celebrating, too.

“Then suddenly something happened. I don’t know what it was, but Pegleg jumped to his feet and pulled out his gun. Three of the men who came in with him made a break for the door. Pegleg didn’t run and Harms stayed with him. There were two doors between the two rooms and I saw four men, two in each door, coming in. They had their pistols leveled and began to shoot.

“One bullet caught Needles Ferry as he went out of the door and I heard him yell and fall down the stairs. One of the men called to another, ‘Get ’em out of the window,’ and that man went back into the other room. The others began shooting.
“Pegleg and Harms stood back to back shooting as fast as they could. I saw one of the men stumble over like he was hit and then Pegleg and Harms went down together, still back to back. The men kept on shooting until their pistols clicked and then ran out. I heard the fourth man shooting in the next room-and then I got away from there.”

That was the last of the White Horse gang. The organization which Dinny Meehan had gathered around him and which Bill Lovett had welded into a compact, efficient bootlegging organization was scattered by the pistol shots which wiped out the last leader of the gang and his lieutenants. A number of men were arrested in connection with the murder but not one could be connected with the shooting. They had descended upon Pegleg and his lieutenants as they made merry, shot them down, quickly and efficiently without the expenditure of any maudlin sympathy, and opened the district for more efficient distribution of liquor.

Among those who were rounded up by the police in connection with the murder of Pegleg, Harms and Needles Ferry was a suave, smooth­-faced gentleman whose rosy cheek was disfigured by a livid scar. He gave his name as Alfredo Capone. Later, after he had been discharged from custody with a clean bill of criminal health, which he still maintains in Chicago, New York and everywhere else but Brooklyn, he became better known as “Scarface Al” Capone, and steered free of all criminal entangle­ments until last spring, when he was unfortunate enough to be caught in Philadelphia with a pistol in his pocket. He is still serving the sentence of a year and a day in the Philadelphia jail.


Battle Annie (not to mention Spitting William, Euchre Kate, and Mallet Murphy)

“Battle Annie” was one among the pantheon of combative women that Herbert Asbury presented to his readers. (see Gangs…, Chapter XII, Section 2) Asbury never ascribed a last name to her, but if you search the Internet today, you will learn that the hive mind has identified her as “Annie Walsh.” She is credited with leading a women’s adjunct of the Gopher gang, which prevailed over the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of western Manhattan in the early 20th Century; except the hive mind suggests her activities took place in the 1870s-1880s. Which means she had nothing to do with the Gopher gang.

Whether you believe Battle Annie was a real person at all depends on your credulity of the writings of a certain 1920’s New York newspaperman who liked to add color to his accounts of underworld doings. No, that writer was not Herbert Asbury. It was Asbury’s source for the story of Battle Annie, New York Herald night editor William A. Davenport, who introduced Battle Annie in the pages of the Herald of September 18, 1921. His article was titled “Hell’s Kitchen Drops From Real Battling to Mere Murder.” Davenport had this to say about Battle Annie:

Ask present day cops how the place became known as Hell’s Kitchen and the consensus of opinion has it that the women of the district were responsible. It might be stretching a point to refer to the adherents of Annie Welsh as a gang or a mob. Certainly it would fall short of gallantry. Yet, they say, Annie Welsh and her “lady friends” could do more execution when irritated than most of the bands of their men folk.

Annie gained the wholly merited nom de guerre of Battle Annie, and, it is said, she gathered around her twenty or twenty-five Amazons who, having washed the supper dishes or having thrown them at their husbands, were wont to assemble in the back room of a saloon near Tenth Avenue and drink beer. After a measure of beer drinking it would occur to Annie that a housewife in Thirty-Eighth street had insulted her or made unflattering allusion to her youngest offspring.

Annie then became Battle Annie. With her Valkyries following on, she would descend upon the Thirty-Eighth street hussy and a fight that only lacked a more worthy cause and vaster numbers to be classified with that which occurred at Montfaucon [WWI battle] was on. That these engagements were not of the hair pulling and face scratching variety is seen in the fact that now and then a “lady” was done to death or was permanently blinded or was scalded or rolling pinned that she subsequently died.

Davenport’s account makes it difficult to place Annie in any particular decade, other than it was before 1914. The locus of misery in Hell’s Kitchen was a notorious tenement block at Thirty-Ninth Street and Eleventh Avenue known as Battle Row. To the great confusion of later researchers, there were two Battle Rows in Manhattan, the other being on the upper east side, a section of Harlem. Brooklyn and Jersey City also had Battle Rows, as did other cities.

Absent from Davenport’s article is any connection between Annie Welsh and the Gopher gang, or Asbury’s “Battle Row Ladies’ Social and Athletic Club” or “Lady Gophers.” Davenport also never mentioned that Battle Annie hired her followers out to strikers or employers.

Somewhere along the way, Battle Annie has earned the title of being “the most feared brick hurler of her time.” Davenport did mention something like this in his article, anointing “the champion heavyweight female brick hurler of the district.” But he was referring not to Battle Annie, but to Euchre Kate Burns, the love interest of Spitting William.

Outside of Davenport and Asbury, no other references to an Annie Welsh/Walsh (or Euchre Kate, or Spitting William, or Mallet Murphy) can be found. From tone of Davenport’s article, it does seem like he talked to several police veterans of Hell’s Kitchen, who may have supplied him with some memorable anecdotes. For that reason solely we can not dismiss Battle Annie as a total fabrication.

Piker Ryan’s List of Thug Services

The block below (from The Gangs of New York, Chapter XI, Section 1) is one of the most famous passages in Asbury’s book, and is likely its most cited and quoted piece of text. It is now found in innumerable histories of New York, gang violence, organized crime, works of fiction and even forensic textbooks. Your humble blog author even has the uneasy feeling that he has quoted it in the past. If you suspect (to your great disappointment) that I’m about to debunk it–read on, because there is hope!

…The pioneer in this method of procuring clients was Piker Ryan, who appears to have been a thug of exceptional enterprise. When he was at length brought to book for one of his many crimes, the police found this list in his pocket:

Punching $2

Both eyes blacked 4

Nose and jaw broke 10

Jacked out (knocked out with a blackjack) 15

Ear chawed off 15

Leg or arm broke 19

Shot in leg 25

Stab 25

Doing the big job 100 and up

Ryan made good use of his opportunities, as was apparent from a notebook which was also in his possession. One page was headed “Jobs,” and below the heading were half a dozen names. Some had check marks after them, which Ryan explained meant that the tasks had been completed to the satisfaction of his clients.

Asbury placed this mention of Piker Ryan right in the middle of his discussion of the Whyos, the gang of all-around thieves and thugs that thrived in the late 1870s and 1880s, but who had all but disappeared by the 1890s. Helpfully, Asbury provided a mug shot of Piker Ryan, set among the other famous Whyos.

Asbury’s Piker Ryan

Asbury found this image in Thomas Byrnes’s 1895 edition of Professional Criminals of America, where it appeared as:

And what does Thomas Byrnes say about Patrick Ryan? Byrnes wrote:

ENGLISH PADDY and his companion, Mike Kelly (No. 497), are two English pickpockets.
They have been in this country but a short time, so that nothing much is known of them.
Either or both of them are liable to turn up at any moment. Ryan was sent to the penitentiary
on Blackwell’s Island, New York City, on February 8, 1893, for an attempt to rob a man at
Barclay Street ferry.
Picture taken February, 1893.

There is no indication that Patrick Ryan was ever a Whyo (he arrived years after their heydey), or a violent thug, or went by the nickname “Piker.” Indeed, if you search newspaper archives, book texts, periodical databases, and prison records from the 1870s through the early 1900s, you will not find anyone referred to as “Piker Ryan.” Nor will you find the supposed shopper’s menu of crimes quoted above. And you will not find any reference to “Piker Ryan” in any of Asbury’s listed source material.

Herbert Asbury first mentioned Piker Ryan in an article on gangsters that he wrote for the New York Sun magazine section of July 20, 1919. In that article, Asbury said that Ryan flourished “about 1900 or thereabout.” There was no mention of the Whyos.

Despite Asbury’s inconsistent framing of Piker Ryan’s list, it turns out he did have a source: an October 23, 1909 article in the New York Evening Post entitled “Under Tammany,” written without a byline. The article profiled the unchecked gang activity that took place in New York under the watch of Tammany politician Big Tim Sullivan. Down in the article, the author writes: “They have their prices for any job politicians or other persons may call upon them to perform. ‘Piker’ Ryan’s price list has become a classic, ranging from $5 for ‘chawing off an ear’ to $200 for the ‘big job.'” [Note the price differences from Asbury’s list].

Asbury was an 18-year-old living in Missouri at the time this article was written, so he was not the author. The implication of the mention is that “Piker Ryan’s price list” had been circulated previous to 1909, and that many people had known about it. Perhaps it was once an object in New York’s police museum. However, the original reference to the list, as well as the identity of Piker Ryan, still remain a mystery.

To conclude, there is hope for believing that the list might have really existed. Needless to say, a crook would have to be an idiot to carry around such an incriminating piece of paper. Unfortunately, the fate of pickpocket Patrick “English Paddy” Ryan can’t be traced, but his infamy (likely undeserved, if he was not “Piker”) outlasted him.

The Many French Madames

Herbert Asbury appears to have had an affinity for ferocious female figures, from Gallus Mag [real, but not documented as savage] to Hell-Cat Maggie and Sadie the Goat [fictions] to “Battle Annie” Walsh [questionable]. In Chapter IX, Section 1 he throws into the mix “the French Madame,” the proprietor of a cafe/sex show in Thirty-First Street near Sixth Avenue. She was described by Asbury as being obese and bewhiskered. He wrote:

“She acted as her own bouncer, and acquired great renown for the manner in which she wielded a bludgeon, and for the quickness with which she seized obstreperous women customers by the hair and flung them into the street.”

This nugget of information needs sorting out, because there were at least four different women–all operators of notorious New York establishments located in many different locations–who were popularly known as “the French Madame.” Two of them, Eliza Porret and Matilda Herman/Hermann, come close to matching Asbury’s physical description, at least in girth. Three of these four came to public notice, but little is known of the fourth, other than that she was identified by Porret as the first and original “French Madame.”

Let us start by looking at the other clue that Asbury offered, the locale of Thirty-First Street near Sixth Ave, for this seems to confirm that he was referring to Eliza Porret. In the early 1880s, she ran the Cafe Riche (named after a much more illustrious Paris nightspot) at 54 West Thirty-First Street, near the intersection with Sixth Avenue. Later in the 1880s, the Cafe Riche moved to 40 West Twenty-Ninth Street, and after being shut down, moved again and resurfaced as the Cafe Bijou. But many referred to her places as “the French Madame’s.” The entertainment they offered was similar to that found at McGlory’s and The. Allen’s: young women dining with men and encouraging them to drink, can-can dancers, and private rooms offering more intimacy. The healthy profits her places made were mainly derived from liquor sales.

Her 1888 marriage reveals that her maiden name was Elise Zimmer of Bern, Switzerland, and that the name Porret represented her first marriage. Her 1888 nuptials in New York City were to Friedrich Carrard, also from Switzerland, but she never used his name in her dealings. As much as she made, she lost huge sums in legal disputes with disreputable partners and patrons, not to mention the bribes needed to keep her places open. After the city Excise Board denied her liquor license in 1889, she retired to a farm in Flemington, New Jersey and lived off property incomes until her death in 1891. While not quite the terror that Asbury described, the New York Herald did note that she was “a large, fat, evil-looking woman, with a masculine manner and an imprudent stare.” More generously, a different writer for the same paper saw her as a “well-preserved and dignified-looking woman of middle age,” attired in rich furs.

Eliza Porret told the newspapers that she had taken over the Cafe Riche from the original French Madame, whom she called Mme. Aimee Vermorel, who died in Paris in 1877. It is possible that Porret was alluding to Vermorel as the operator of the old Parisian Cafe Riche, but there are other references that suggest that Porret had been the protege of a “French Madame” in New York.

Luc Sante, writing in Low Life, Lures and Snares of Old New York, also said the French Madame was fat and bewhiskered, and ran her dive at Thirty-First and Sixth. Again, Sante seem to be talking about Eliza Porret, but names her as Matilda Hermann. In this, Sante is almost certainly mistaken, because Matilda Hermann was a brothel madame who owned several houses on Third Avenue. She was dragged in front of the Lexow Committee in 1894 to detail the bribes she had paid to local policemen to stay in business, and then left the country to help form a criminal community in South Africa with the notorious Joseph Lis. It was the reports of the Lexow Committee that called Matilda Hermann “the French Madame,” so that is likely where Sante found that association.

The fourth French Madame was a contemporary of Eliza Porret, known to New Yorkers as Louisa Chaude. Her maiden name was Louise Fichet, born in France, who came to America and married a Frenchman, Eugene J. Chaude in 1875. They later separated, but she remained known as Madame Chaude, the French Madame, proprietor of the Maison Tortoni. The Tortoni was located on the northwest corner of Lexington Ave and Thirtieth Street.

The Maison Tortoni was a step above a dance-hall dive, and earned a reputation of having excellent food and drinks, as well as being finely furnished. Yet it, too, thrived on offering dances in private rooms. Like Matilda Hermann, Louisa Chaude was brought before the Lexow Committee in 1894 to detail the bribes she had paid to the police and city officials. The Maison Tortoni had closed its doors several years earlier. During its heyday in the 1880s, newspapers often called Mrs. Chaude “the French Madame.”

It seems that wherever you turned in the Tenderloin–Satan’s Circus–there was a different French Madame waiting to entertain you.

The Green Dragon, Attacked and Unstuck in Time

The Green Dragon was the name of an iconic tavern in Boston, Massachusetts, said to have been the location where the Boston Tea Party was planned. In New York City, the name has a different heritage. The Green Dragon Hotel was opened in December 1834, at 162 Bowery by a young Englishman, A. Unsworth. He manufactured ginger beer on location, and advertised his tavern as being run on the “English system,” offering a variety of English ales and the house specialty, welsh rarebit. Unsworth wanted to maintain a cozy Old World atmosphere, but after being open just a few months, he made a miscalculation. When some members of a local volunteer fire company barged into his establishment one evening, already drunk and rowdy, he refused to serve them. This gang of firemen represented the “American” contingent, i.e. second or third generation native-born citizens, who resented the recent influx of Irish and “Dutch” (German) immigrants, to say nothing of freemen of color. Unsworth’s slight was not forgotten.

In late June of 1835, less than a year after anti-abolishionist rioters had wrecked residences and storefronts in hysteria over rumors that the city’s notable abolitionists were promoting miscegenation, a new riot broke out in lower Manhattan based on similar nativist fears. In this case, the leading cause appears to have been the announcement of the formation of an Irish-American local militia, the O’Connell Guards. Local militias had been one of the institutions that conveyed power to nativist fraternities, and the formation of an Irish (Catholic) unit was perceived as an intolerable threat. Two or three hundred young rowdies roamed the Five Points and Bowery districts, destroying properties known to be associated with the Irish.

As the mob reached the Bowery, the offense of Mr. Unsworth was recalled. The rioters broke his windows and entered the hotel, breaking all the furniture and fixtures of the saloon. It was a strange conflation of nationalist animism: Unsworth, an Englishman, was thought to be anti-American; Irish-Americans had little love for the English, and could hardly be thought of as the Green Dragon’s main clientele; Unsworth, for his part, had probably thought he was honoring his adopted country’s beginnings by naming his hotel after Boston’s revolutionary tavern. Shortly after this point, police were finally able to disperse the mob before further damage could be done.

A month later, Unsworth had repaired his establishment and renamed it the York Hotel. He took ads out in several newspapers, in which he explained that “it was my uniform earnest desire to give to my house a respectable reputation,” and that was his reason for denying service to drunkards. He also described several times when he had thrown his doors open to firemen exhausted from their efforts. Finally, he denied any anti-American feelings; on the contrary, he had “freely and openly acknowledged the many favors shown me as a ‘stranger in a strange land.'”

Writing in 1927, nearly ninety years after the Five Points Riot, Herbert Asbury magically transported the attack on the Green Dragon from 1835 to 1857, during the Dead Rabbits riot. Moreover, Asbury got the affiliations all wrong. Asbury wrote:

“Early the next morning the Five Points gangs, reinforced by the Roach Guards, marched out of Paradise Square and attacked a resort called the Green Dragon, in Broome street near the Bowery, a favorite loafing place of the [Bowery] Boys and other Bowery gangs.”

And so, according to Asbury, it was not the nativist American rowdies who destroyed the Green Dragon, but the Irish-American gangs. And–Asbury gratuitously added–they also drank all the liquor in the place. Asbury’s version of the wreck of the Green Dragon has made its way into countless New York City histories, immortalizing his sloppy approach to research (if not an intentional anti-Irish bias).

As for Mr. Unsworth, one can only hope this did not sour his desire to be a gracious host. Let us all raise a ginger beer in his memory.