Sunday, October 1, 2023

October 2023 issue of Informer

 October 2023 issue contents - Introduction


The gangster breeding ground

Journalists Craig Thompson and Allen Raymond in 1940 wrote that “...the lower East Side of Manhattan in the first twenty years of the twentieth century was the greatest breeding ground for gunmen and racketeers, since risen to eminence, that this country has ever seen...” (Gang Rule in New York)

Conditions in the pre-Prohibition twentieth century Lower East Side certainly fueled an explosion in gangs and racketeering. Such underworld giants as Meyer Lansky, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Salvatore “Charlie Luciano” Lucania were products of that overcrowded and hard environment. But that was just a small part of the area’s exciting and often bloody underworld history...


In this issue, Informer presents a collection of articles representing the seedy and bloody gangland history of the Lower East Side. Material spans many decades of Manhattan’s history. Here's what we have inside:

    • Not long after the end of the Civil War, the area became home to a network of professional thieves and thugs, known as the Whyos. Probably more of a loose association than a gang, the Irish-American outlaws picked pockets, rolled drunks and attacked police officers. See "End of the Whyos."

    • A single historic photograph has preserved the squalor and peril of Lower East Side tenement neighborhoods. Take a closer look at "Bandits' Roost."

    • Few in New York's history acquired worse reputations than John McGurk, proprietor of a dance-hall/saloon that became known as Suicide Hall. See "John H. McGurk and Bowery's 'Suicide Hall.'

    • Towering over the pre-Prohibition Manhattan underworld was Edward “Monk” Eastman. The gangland legend managed to win the esteem of his home city through wartime heroism, only to be murdered outside a speakeasy. See "The death and life of hoodlum/hero Eastman."

    • An 1890s Italian-American racketeer residing on the Lower East Side may have been the first boss of the Mafia in New York, possibly the leader of the Mafia in the entire U.S. See "NYC's first Mafia boss?"

    • When an Italian-American gang leader adopts an Irish name, confusion is a likely result. We try to set the record straight on "Paul Kelly" Vaccarelli. See "Italian gang chief with an Irish name."

    • Sai Wing Mock, faction leader during bloody “Tong Wars” in Manhattan's Chinatown, was thought dead at least a couple of times before he actually passed away. See "Sai Wing Mock and the New York 'Tong Wars.'"

    • Before becoming a California Mafia boss, Frank Lanza got wealthy in Manhattan businesses. See "Perspective: Lanza's NY firms may have been Mafia fronts."

    • Gang leader “Johnny Spanish” Mistretta and his family appear to have embraced a false backstory, causing problems for historians. See "Mafia genealogy: In search of 'Johnny Spanish.'

    • A rich future in racketeering was molded in Meyer Lansky's childhood on the Lower East Side. See "Racketeering future was molded in young Lansky's neighborhood."

    • Enough blood was spilled on Second Avenue during a fourteen-year period to warrant renaming the road, “Death Avenue.” See "'Death Avenue,' 1910-1924."

    • A 1960s government report on narcotics law violators provided biographical and criminal information of just over two dozen racketeers from the Lower East Side. See "1964 narcotics report included mobster bios."

Eleven sidebar articles deal with these subjects: Gambling; Eastman's killer Jeremiah W. Bohan; Mafia HQ on Mott Street; The Pelham and Irving Berlin; Sirocco and Tricker; Torrio and Vanella; Bellantonis of Broome Street; "Mutty," "Lucy" and "Kitty"; "Dutch" Goldberg; "Gurrah," "Lepke," "Curly" and "Bugsy"; "Red" Levine.

A few other items in this issue do not directly relate to the underworld history of the Lower East Side: 

    • Interesting background information has come to light on two attendees of the 1928 Mafia convention in Cleveland. See "Mob history: New facts about two 1928 conventioneers."

    • Eight recently released and soon-to-be-released books are announced. See "Books."

    • Perhaps the most famous of Lower East Side gang bosses (made famous by Hollywood) wasn't really one at all. See "Just one more thing: 'Butcher' wasn't from the Five Points."


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Historic photograph

October 2023 issue contents - Photograph

Bandits' Roost

By Thomas Hunt

The alley known as “Bandits’ Roost” once snaked between tenements on Mulberry Street and Baxter Street. The address of 59½ Mulberry Street was associated with the alley after 1888 – this was the address of a “landlocked” building occupying the center of the alley. The alley sat a short distance north of the “Five Points” intersection within a block known as Mulberry Bend...


Book page count: five.
Magazine page count: three.
Images: three.
Source list.


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Profiting from despair

October 2023 issue contents - Features

John H. McGurk and Bowery's ‘Suicide Hall’

By Thomas Hunt

An early Paul Kelly hangout and the place where bouncer Thomas McManus earned his “Eat­-’Em-­Up-Jack” nickname, “Suicide Hall” was an infamous Bowery dive operated between 1895 and 1902 by John H. McGurk...


Book page count: fourteen.
Magazine page count: seven.
Images: three.
Sidebar articles: one.
Endnotes.


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Early gang

October 2023 issue contents - Features

End of the Whyos

Irish-American gang terrorized the Lower East Side

By Thomas Hunt

Soon after Captain John McCullagh took command of police in the busy Manhattan ward historically known as “the Bloody Sixth,” he supposedly stated, “Either the Whyos or I must go from this precinct.”

Dan Driscoll

The remark reportedly occurred early in 1884, but McCullagh probably said no such thing

then or ever. The words were first noted in print some years after they were allegedly spoken. A syndicated article included them late in 1891, and the New York Daily Tribune revived the statement in 1896. By then, the Whyos gang already had gone, and McCullagh still was leading the police of the precinct.

Whether McCullagh made the statement or not, he certainly made the breakup of the Whyos a priority...

Book page count: twenty five.
Magazine page count: fourteen.
Images: twelve.
Timeline.
Endnotes.


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Monk Eastman

October 2023 issue contents - Features

The death and life of hoodlum/hero Eastman

By Thomas Hunt

Once infamous as a titan of lower Manhattan gangland, Edward “Monk” Eastman was transformed into a uniquely American military hero through his valiant overseas performance during the Great War. Not long after Monk’s victorious return to his old stamping grounds, as he attempted to find a suitable role for himself in early Prohibition Era New York, he was murdered. The end of his life, like so many of the noteworthy incidents in his underworld career, occurred within the confines of the Lower East Side and following a drunken argument in a bar...


Book page count: forty nine.
Magazine page count: twenty six.
Images: fifteen.
Sidebar articles: one.
Endnotes.


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Nicola Taranto

October 2023 issue contents - Features

NYC's first Mafia boss?

Sicilian underworld chief lived on Roosevelt Street

By Thomas Hunt

The United States Secret Service in January 1896 raided several locations to gather up the suspected members of a Sicilian­-American counterfeiting ring. Among the suspects were Nicola Taranto and his wife Teresa, residents of 11 Roosevelt Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Law enforcement officials and the press had reason to believe that Taranto was the leader of mafiosi in New York, perhaps the leader of all mafiosi in the United States...


Book page count: seventeen.
Magazine page count: eight.
Images: four.
Sidebar articles: one.
Endnotes.


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Kelly confuses

October 2023 issue contents - Features

Italian gang chief with an Irish name

Vaccarelli graduated from street fighter to labor leader and businessman

By Thomas Hunt

Mistakes are frequently made about the Lower East Side underworld chief known as “Paul Kelly.” He has often been referred to as the Irish leader of an early twentieth­-century street gang at New York’s Five Points, as the non­-Irish founder of a predominantly Irish gang, as the first Mafia boss in New York City or as the one­-time Mafia boss of both Salvatore “Charlie Luciano” Lucania and Al Capone. None of these things are true.


“Kelly” was originally Vaccarelli, a U.S. immigrant from southern mainland Italy. He was chief of a mostly Italian gang. While headquartered within the Lower East Side, that gang always remained a considerable distance from the Five Points neighborhood and distinct from the various organizations that bore the label “Five Points Gang.” Kelly was never part of the Mafia. Though he probably had contact with some existing and future Mafia leaders, he could not have commanded Lucania or Capone, as they were young children at the time Kelly stepped away from his underworld organization...

Book page count: fifty.
Magazine page count: twenty five.
Images: fourteen.
Sidebar articles: four.
Endnotes.


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Conflict in Chinatown

October 2023 issue contents - Features

Sai Wing Mock and the New York 'Tong Wars'

By Thomas Hunt

Sai Wing Mock, a sixty-­two­-year-­old resident of Brooklyn’s Flatbush section, died at Kings County Hospital in the early afternoon of July 23, 1941. An autopsy revealed that he had suffered with tuberculosis of the larynx, acute miliary tuberculosis and tuberculous pneumonia.


According to his death certificate, Mock was born in the U.S. to Chinese parents and had worked as a food merchant. He was buried July 27 at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

His death went virtually unnoticed. Sai Wing Mock, better known by his alias of “Mock Duck,” was widely believed to have died about a decade earlier in 1932. And, even at that time, many on New York’s Lower East Side may have been surprised he managed to live so long...

Book page count: twenty six
Magazine page count: thirteen.
Images: eleven.
Endnotes.


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Perspective

October 2023 issue contents - Columns

Lanza's NY firms may have been Mafia fronts

By Michael O'Haire and Matt Ghiglieri 

Before founding the San Francisco Mafia, Frank Lanza spent over a decade in Manhattan, engaging in very profitable business ventures that may have been Mafia fronts.

Lanza was accused of no crimes during his years in New York. However, his close personal relationships with Nicolo Schiro, a Mafia boss in Brooklyn in 1912, and a lesser known Mafia member Carmelo Naso, are reasonably well documented.


Once he headed west in 1919, law enforcement authorities understood him to be an underworld boss. One report by the pre­-FBI “Bureau of Investigation” even charged that Lanza organized a Black Hand presence in Colorado. His New York relationships, the dramatic financial success of his endeavors and his quick climb to the level of boss suggest that Lanza was a well connected and active mafioso while in New York.

Book page count: fifteen.
Magazine page count: eight.
Images: four.


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Mafia genealogy

October 2023 issue contents - Columns

In search of 'Johnny Spanish'

It appears the gangster and his family invented their false backstory

By Justin Cascio

Those who have attempted to write his biography agree that very little is known about the life and origins of the Lower East Side gangster known as “Johnny Spanish.”


In fact, less is true about Spanish than has been claimed. We don’t even know for certain what helooked like: a photo alleged to be of Spanish, published in a 1911 issue of the New York Evening World, may be of another gang leader, Paul Kelly.

Johnny Spanish’s birthplace in New York City or Italy or Spain, and his half­-Spanish or Jewish heritage, have been declared many times, always without evidence...

Book page count: seventeen.
Magazine page count: eight.
Images: nine.
Source list.


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Budding racketeer

October 2023 issue contents - Features

Racketeering future was molded in young Lansky's neighborhood

By Thomas Hunt

Meyer Lansky wasn’t originally from Manhattan and didn’t spend many years of his life there. But the borough’s Lower East Side was primarily where he became schooled in crime. It was also where he made many lasting connections that would help him along the way to becoming a notorious developer and financier of underworld rackets and a key figure in an international crime syndicate. This article examines available details from the little­ known formative years of Lansky’s life...


Book page count: forty eight pages.
Magazine page count: twenty three pages.
Images: twelve.
Sidebar articles: four.
Endnotes.


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East Village bloodshed

October 2023 issue contents - Features

'Death Avenue,' 1910-1924

By Patrick Downey

Occupying the northern edge of New York’s traditional Lower East Side is the area known as the East Village. The main artery cutting through this section is Second Avenue. From the East Village’s southern boundary of Houston Street up to the northern border at Fourteenth Street, Second Avenue includes a total of fourteen blocks, which over the years have seen a vast number of murders.


The deadliest era on those fourteen blocks spanned almost exactly fourteen years, from 1910 to 1924. With all the gangland executions that took place on the thoroughfare, it just as well could have been called “Death Avenue”...

Book page count: thirteen pages.
Magazine page count: six pages.
Images: nine. 
Source list.

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Government report

 October 2023 issue contents - Features

1964 narcotics report included mobster bios

A 1964 U.S. Senate report, “Organized Crime and Illicit Traffic in Narcotics,” included biographies of “high echelon narcotic traffickers who have been apprehended since 1951 as a direct result of investigations conducted by agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.” Just over two dozen of the mobsters discussed were connected with Manhattan’s Lower East Side.


Book page count: twelve pages.
Images: nine. 
Endnotes.
Magazine page count: five pages.

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Mob history

October 2023 issue contents - Columns

New facts about two 1928 conventioneers

By Steve Turner

An interstate network of Sicilian­-American mafiosi was revealed with the arrests of twenty ­three men at Cleveland’s Hotel Statler on December 5, 1928. The arrested attendees of this Mafia convention had traveled to Cleveland from Chicago, New York, Tampa, Buffalo and St. Louis.

Frank Abbate

The men were processed on “suspicion,” photographed and questioned. Investigators were certain that the gathering was for a sinister purpose and that the hasty Hotel Statler arrests frightened away other visiting mafiosi who were staying at other locations in the city. But they learned very little during interrogations of the prisoners – each had some sort of cover story for his visit to Cleveland – and eventually almost all were bailed out or released...

Book page count: nine pages. 
Magazine page count: four pages.
Images: nine. 
Source list.

Learn more about Informer's October 2023 issue. 

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