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Did Capone Murder the Leader of the White Hand Gang?

Join us for this captivating bonus episode where we delve into a lesser-known tale surrounding the infamous Al Capone, brought to us by Paul Moses. In 1925, Capone found himself back in Brooklyn seeking medical attention for his son’s hearing issues amidst a backdrop of gang rivalry and violence. At this time, the Brooklyn waterfront was a hotbed of conflict between Irish and Italian gangs, with Anna Lonergan, a key figure adept at navigating the underworld’s secrets. ¬† The narrative unfolds with the tragic demise of Lonergan’s brother, Ritchie, triggering a chain of events leading to a fateful night at the Adonis Social Club. It was there that a confrontation erupted, culminating in a deadly shootout involving Capone, Frankie Yale, and other gunmen, leaving a scene of chaos and carnage. As details of the incident surfaced, Capone’s involvement drew police attention, yet he managed to evade severe repercussions due to lack of evidence.

Through Paul Moses’ vivid storytelling, we are transported back to a volatile era where alliances shifted and power struggles played out on the gritty streets of Brooklyn. The interactions between notable gangsters like Capone, Johnnie Torrio, Frankie Yale, and Ritchie Lonergan paint a picture of a ruthless yet intriguing underworld landscape. The account of how the Brooklyn waterfront eventually transitioned from Irish to Italian dominance adds another layer of complexity to this enthralling narrative. ¬† As the episode concludes, we reflect on the legacy of figures like Paul Kelly, who straddled the line between criminality and legitimacy, leaving behind a complex and multifaceted legacy. Paul Moses’ expertise in unraveling these historical threads offers a glimpse into a bygone era of crime, passion, and intrigue, shedding light on the intricate dynamics that shaped the underworld of early 20th-century New York.
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Transcript
[0:00]
Bonus Episode Introduction
[0:00]Hey, guys, a little bonus episode here. Paul Moses is back with us, and he’s going to tell us a really interesting, hitherto unknown story about Al Capone. At least I didn’t know it, and I bet a lot of you guys in Chicago didn’t know it. So, Paul, start out telling us, read something out of your book and lead us into that story and then expand on it a little bit, if you will. Well, first of all, people in Chicago surely know that Al Capone came from Brooklyn. On this particular case in 1925, he went back to Brooklyn. It was at a point in his life where his son was dealing with hearing problems, and it was a doctor in New York who Capone felt could take care of it. He was not well-known in New York at all. The newspapers didn’t really catch on to who he was.
[0:45]So we begin with a woman named Anna Lonergan. Her brother is head of a gang called the White Hand, which terrorizes the Brooklyn waterfront. At that point, the Irish gangs had that control and the Italian gangs were moving in. Anna Lonergan knew plenty well what she was supposed to say to reporters or cops, and more importantly, what not to say. She was the newspaper’s queen of the mob, after all, having briefly been married to the leader of Brooklyn’s Irish white-hand gang before his untimely death. She was also sister of his successor, whose own premature death had drawn her and a newspaper reporter to the family’s apartment in a brick walk-up at 738 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn on the night of December 26, 1925. It was bitterly cold when Ritchie Lonergan’s corpse was brought home from the city morgue at about 6 p.m., a bullet wound over one eye. Wind howled at up to 40 miles an hour, and the temperature was plunging toward 11 degrees after a relatively warm Christmas day.
[2:00]Anna, a 29-year-old former Broadway showgirl with blonde hair and big blue eyes, had wept earlier that day when she and her sister Mary identified Ritchie’s corpse at the Kings County morgue. Like Anna, Mary Lonergan was not unfamiliar with the sight of blood she had fatally shot her 6-foot-2-inch red-haired Irish immigrant husband John, a one-time bare-knuckle boxer who had sparred with John L. Sullivan, in what a jury accepted to be an act of self-defense. For Anna, this blustery day after Christmas marked the third time she had identified a shooting victim in the morgue. Her father and first husband had preceded her brother.
[2:38]
Anna Lonergan’s Anger
[2:38]Now, Anna was just angry, burling mad, as she would have put it, so much so that she came to the dangerous brink of violating the underworld code she knew so well by nearly identifying the culprits who had killed her brother. They were foreign gangsters, she declared, boldly vowing to use the ample proceeds from Richard Lonergan’s life insurance to trace and identify them. I think they were foreigners, she told a Brooklyn Eagle reporter. No, I don’t know who, but you can bet it was no Irish-American like ourselves that would steal a mean murder like this on Christmas Day. What happened was that the Italian gangsters had been tracking these Irish gangsters. And they did drink a lot. And they found out that Denny Meehan was ‚Äď I mean, Richard Wannigan, rather, was hanging out in this bar down the waterfront area.
[3:35]
Capone’s Concern for His Son
[3:36]They went and they went in there and shot him, killed him. But as I said, Capone was in Brooklyn for this. He and his wife were worried about their son, their only child. He needed surgery to drain an infection from his inner ear. I guess, as they would know in Chicago, Capone’s son was kind of bullied in school. Capone had grown up first in a neighborhood right on the Brooklyn waterfront. And later along, I don’t know if this means anything, 4th Avenue, Garfield Place. The house is still there. He worked for Johnny Torrio as an up-and-coming young gangster. He married May Coughlin, who was Irish origins. So May stayed home that night when Al went out to a place called the Adonis Social Club. When Capone arrived at the Adonis around 2 a.m., the festivities were in full swing. Larnagin, that’s their target, had ordered up a weepy, sentimental song, even though Jack Stabile, he was the owner, had said he wanted to ditch the teary stuff. Then the piano player pulled out the music for one of the memorable hits of 1925, Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby. It counts very what happened next. According to Rose Adelius, she was one of the women in there, a guy named Needles Ferry said.
[5:00]
The Adonis Club Incident
[5:01]Uh who was one of the irish gangsters was the first to recognize capone and a trio of gunmen with frankie yale that was the name i forgot to say frankie yale was a big italian he walked in with a trio of gunmen including capone a stunning fusillade filled the room women screamed and dove to the floors chairs were hurled and broken in the mayhem that followed witnesses claimed that the lights were shut off but police wouldn’t believe that uh in other words they said they They didn’t see anything. I suppose Adelaus ran out. She was the coat check, leaving a gold cigarette case engraved with her name. Oh, here. Now, Alva Callahan, the coat checker, left her own coat behind in her rush to get to the door. May Wilson, that’s another woman in there, seated at a table on the edge of the room. We tell police she turned her face to the wall, covered her ears with her hands and screamed. And Alphonse Morelli, his wife and two children who live in the upstairs apartment, said they slept through it all. At least that’s what they told detectives. For police, it was always this way in gangland hits. No one saw or heard anything. When it was over, Lonergan and his buddy, Aaron Harms, lay dead on the dance floor. Needles Ferry lay out, ended up outside in the gutter. James Hart, a 24-year-old white hander, was shot in the right side and found crawling on a street at Flushing and Throop Avenues, about five miles away.
[6:24]And two others from Lonergan’s gang escaped unharmed. And afterward, Al Capone and Stabile were among nine people arrested and held in jail.
[6:38]Capone’s friends showed up loaded with cash to pay a high bail, but the magistrate refused to release him. Capone was still little known enough for some news accounts to describe him as a bouncer or a doorman at the Adonis Club. But the Brooklyn Standard Union reported that police said he had made a large fortune in bootlegging in Chicago. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Capone was released on New Year’s Day and celebrated the holiday at a party on 4th Avenue, at which he, Torrio, and Frankie Yale all gave speeches. So he was free to continue his wars in Chicago.
[7:17]
Appreciation for the Story
[7:18]Very interesting, Paul. Paul, I really appreciate you telling us that story. That’s a great story. The night that Frankie Yale and Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, Famous Chicago mobsters by the end take out the leader of the White Hand Gang or the leader of one of the Irish gangs. So that’s a heck of a story. And eventually the Brooklyn waterfront does become Italian dominated,
[7:50]
Changing Tides on Brooklyn Waterfront
[7:44]both in terms of the union and I think also in terms of the racketeering that went on. The Manhattan waterfront stayed Irish. Oh, really? That was kind of the resolution. Resolution, yeah. Fair resolution. We’ll take this and you guys will take that. The union leader for the dock workers in Brooklyn was Paul Kelly. Well, Paul Kelly. And Kelly, of course, is a very famous gangster from the late 19th century who kind of went sort of apparently straight as a labor leader.
[8:21]1919, President Wilson appoints him to a mediation board to resolve a huge dock worker strike. Infuriated his enemies in the Union, right? Because he was sort of legitimized at that point. But, you know, Paul Kelly, you know, goes on. His New York Times obit doesn’t even mention that he was a gangster. He was a gangster in the 1890s. Wow. He made that transition. All right. Well, thank you very much, Paul Moses, guys. And the book in that particular book in this bonus episode is The Unlikely Union, in the love-hate story of New York’s Irish and Italians. Thanks a lot, Paul. Thanks a lot, Gary. It’s a pleasure.

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