Westies Part 1 from Owney Madden to Mickey Spillane

August 28, 2017

The Irish Mob, thanks to Dean from Ireland in the next two episodes we will examine the Irish Mob or the Westies.

The Hell’s Kitchen area of NYC is from about Central Park on the west side of Midtown Manhattan west of Broadway to the Hudson River from Battery Park street to 59th street. This is sometimes referred to as the 5 Points area of NYC. Many Irish immigrants settled in this area find work on the Hudson River docks. Martin Scorsese produced the film The Gangs of New York and it tells the story of the early Irish gangs fighting the Protestant gangs. Since it is on the west side of Manhattan, it was natural to call the Irish gang The Westies.

The name Hells Kitchen purportedly came from 2 cops watching a small riot between rival Irish gangs and one sad this place is like Hell and the older cop said no this place is so hot it is more like Hell’s Kitchen.

As the new century arrived, in 1901 an Irish woman named Mary Madden left a drunken petty criminal husband, Francis and her 2 sons in England and came to new York looking for work. By 1902 she was able to bring her sons, Owney and Martin Madden over.  The father never made it to the US. The family found a new home in New York’s Irish community in Hells Kitchen and this will shape Madden’s life permanently. The thousands of other Irish emigrant families will become Madden’s loyal.

Gopher Gang

Settling in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, little Owney Madden joined the Gopher Gang. He was known as “The Killer” after gunning down an Italian gang member in the streets, after which he shouted, “I’m Owney Madden, 10th Avenue!” No witnesses came forward linking Madden to the crime. By age 18, Madden had become a prominent member of the Gophers and was suspected in the deaths of five rival gang members. He was earning as much as $200 (like $2000.00 today) a day from the Gophers’ criminal activities, such as the gang’s protection racket which forced local businessmen to pay in the face of firebomb threats.

Madden’s movie star looks and his wealth from his rackets made him a prince of Hells Kitchen. He was violently jealous and he once shot and killed a store clerk named William Henshaw, who had asked out one of Madden’s girl. Henshaw died of his wounds and Madden police was arrested. The case had to be dismissed after no corroborating witnesses came forward. Over the next three years, the Gophers reached the height of their power. The Hudson Dusters were threatened by Madden’s power and they ambushed him outside a 52nd Street dance hall on November 6, 1912. Madden refused to identify his attackers to police, stating “My boys will get ’em. It’s nobody’s business but mine who put these slugs in me!” Shortly after several members of the Dusters were  killed.

In 1914, Madden became involved in a dispute with Little Patsy Doyle, a prominent member of the Dusters, over a woman named Freda Horner. Doyle informed police of Madden’s operations. Madden sent a message to Doyle through one of his girl friends, a  Margaret Everdeane, to ask Doyle to meet Madden and hash out a peace agreement. As Doyle arrived at this meeting on November 28, 1914, Madden ambushed Doyle and killed him. The police questioned the woman and she confessed to her role in the killing and named Madden. Madden was eventually sentenced to 20 years at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

After serving nine years of his sentence, Madden was released on parole in 1923, 3 years after the start of prohibition.  The Gopher gang had broken up, and many members of his own faction were either in Sing Sing or working for other bootlegging gangs.

Upon his release, he was given a job by a former member of Madden’s street gang, Larry Fay who had a taxi cab company as a cover for his bootlegging activities. He needed Madden’s killer reputation to maintain control of his territory. Fay employed Madden to boss a gang of strong-arm men to help him gain control of the most profitable cab-stands along Broadway. Owney Madden learned quickly about this new business and soon moved on to form his own organization. During this time, Madden employed a young friend as a personal driver. The driver, George Raft, later became a film star noted for his authentic portrayals of gangland figures.

Madden soon became heavily involved in bootlegging, establishing a territory in the Hells Kitchen area. In 1924 the Madden gang began highjacking liquor shipments belonging to Big Bill Dwyer (another established bootlegger) but rather than go to war, Dwyer took Madden on as a partner when Dwyer decided he needed to beef up the enforcement side of his own operations.

Madden and a former gang rival turned partner, George “Big Frenchy” De Mange began to open or acquire some of the flashiest speakeasies and nightclubs of the era, most notably the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem.

Owney Madden

Nightclub patrons flooded into Harlem from downtown Manhattan to catch performers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. Madden and his partner, Big Frenchy, also muscled their way into a piece of the exclusive Stork Club, where the influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell held court and everyone who was anyone wanted to see and be seen. As a celebrity nightclub owner with ownership in more than twenty clubs, Madden became well-known and glamorized for his Prohibition-era activities. He also gained recognition for his revenge tactics and payoffs of City Hall.

 

In 1931, shortly before the end of Prohibition, Madden got out of bootlegging and entered into the professional boxing business with his club partners “Broadway” Bill Duffy and “Big Frenchie” DeMange. Between them, they controlled the careers of several boxing champions including Max Baer and Primo Carnera. As Carnera’s manager, Madden arranged fixed fights which led eventually to Carnera’s winning the World Heavyweight Championship, in 1933. Carnera held onto the title for nearly a year, until reporters’ suspicions about fixed fights led Madden to desert the Italian strongman, setting up Carnera’s famous defeat at the hands of Baer on June 14, 1934.

 

Exile in Hot Springs

In 1932, Madden was involved in the murder of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, who had been extorting money from several mobsters, including DeMange and Madden.  After being arrested for a parole violation that same year, Madden began facing greater harassment from police and encroachment on his territory by Italian Mafia families, until he finally left Manhattan, New York City in 1935.

Southern Club

He settled in Hot Springs Arkansas, a city known to be wide open to mobsters on the run. A city with a corrupt police force and city officials that overlooked illegal casino gambling and had a well known race track. He would open a nightclub, the Southern Club and it became a popular nightspot for vacationing mobsters. Charles Luciano was apprehended there in 1935. Madden became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1943, and eventually married the daughter of the city postmaster. He lived in Hot Springs until his death in 1965.

The Irish rackets did not resist the La Cosa nostra families and by the 1950s a man named Hugh Mulligan was seen a boss in Hells Kitchen. Tow of his most famous proteges were Jimmy Burke and Mickey Spillane. Burke would go on to lead a hijacking crew working for the Paul Vario of the Lucchese family. He would be made famous by Henry Hill in the Scorsese film, GoodFellas. He was played by Robert DeNiro.

 

The one I want to talk about is Michael J. Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane because he stayed true to his Irish roots and became the boss of the organization that became known as The Westies. He  was born on July 13, 1933. Mickey no connection to the fictional private eye Mickey Spillane, was an Irish-American mobster from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. He was often called the “last of the gentleman gangsters” because his style or doing criminal business was more businesslike than the violent Westies mob members who succeeded him in Hell’s Kitchen.

With movie star good looking, Spillane started as a numbers runner for various organized crime figures in Hell’s Kitchen. In 1960, Mickey took over the bookmaking and loansharking rackets left to him by his predecessor Hughie Mulligan. He married Maureen McManus, the daughter of the Democratic district leader Eugene McManus. Mickey was known to hand out turkeys to poor families on thanksgiving and visit elderly widows in the neighborhood.

 

Though Italian mobsters dominated organized crime in the city, the Italian mob stayed out of Hell’s Kitchen while Spillane was the Westies’ boss. Often, Spillane would kidnap members of the Italian Mafia and hold them for ransom to raise money for his operations. Although he ran the rackets such as gambling and loansharking, he never allowed the sale of drugs.

 

It was Spillane’s refusal to allow the Italian mobsters to participate in the Hell’s Kitchen rackets that led to his downfall. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was being built on Spillane’s westside. The amount of money the new convention center, Madison Square Garden, the waterfront and the unions were generating for Spillane was enormous, and the Italians were desperate for a piece of the action. Spillane refused to allow the Italian mob to participate, and the New York – Irish – Italian Mob War began.

During the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family sought control over any rackets associated with the soon to be built Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. From construction contracts, to union

Mickey Spillane

activity to kickbacks and other fees associated with the running of a large convention center. Harking back to the old days when certain gangs controlled a geographical territory in NYC and the convention center was located in Spillane’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Spillane refused to allow any involvement by the Italians. Although the Italian gangsters greatly outnumbered the members of the Irish mob, Spillane was successful in keeping control of the convention center construction. The Genovese family were frustrated and embarrassed by Spillane and his Irish gangsters. They responded by hiring a rogue Irish-American hitman named Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan to assassinate three of Spillane’s lieutenants, Tom Devaney, Eddie “the Butcher” Cummiskey, and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos, lieutenants. By the mid-1970s, Spillane had moved his family out of Hell’s Kitchen to Woodside, Queens, because of threats of violence against his children.

In 1966, a young upstart named Jimmy Coonan attempted to take the Westies from Spillane, muscling in on his territory and murdering a Spillane underling. Ultimately, Coonan was sent to prison in 1967. When he was released from prison, Coonan sought to align himself with the Gambino crime family through an up-and-coming mobster from Brooklyn, named Roy DeMeo, a prolific killer himself. This would mark the beginning of the end for the Irish mob, as Coonan would eventually work for the Gambinos.

On May 13, 1977, Spillane was watching Tv with his three sons when his phone rang. He answered and shortly after, the family heard A HONK OUTSIDE. Mickey told the boys he had to run out in front and talk to somebody. He left and never returned. As he approached a car idling in front of his apartment building, shots rang out and Mickey Spillane was killed outside his apartment in Queens. It has long been rumored that Roy DeMeo murdered Spillane as a favor to Coonan, who subsequently took over as the boss of the Hell’s Kitchen Irish Mob. Spillane is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.

 

The Spillane family still owns a bar in Hell’s Kitchen called “Mickey Spillane’s Hells Kitchen” on 49th Street and 9th Avenue

Next we go on to the Jimmy Coonan era during the 1980s. the violence and murder of the Coonan gang would be unparalleled in modern mob history. It was during this time that the Irish mob became known as “The Westies”

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