Jimmy Coonan brought the Westies into the 20th Century and presided over the most bloody and violent gang in New York City history
James Coonan was a baby boomer born December 21, 1946. He became known as “Jimmy C.” As we said last week, Jimmy C. took over the Hell’s Kitchen Irish mob after he made a deal with Gambino member Roy Demeo to kill the previous boss, Mickey Spillane, in 1977. During his time as boss of the Westies, they gained a reputation as a vicious crew of murderers. He opened up the gang to the lucrative drug dealing rackets as well as continuing extortion, numbers, loansharking and counterfeiting rackets in the area. Coonan forged a strong alliance with the Gambino crime family in the late 70s, and became their hit-squad and enforcement arm for the next 10 years.
Jimmy Coonan’s criminal career started in his teens. His father was an accountant and not involved in criminal activity. Mickey Spillane or someone in his gang kidnapped Mr. Coonan for ransom and someone pistol whipped Coonan’s father. Jimmy was ashamed that his father was treated like this and he swore revenge against Mickey Spillane. Jimmy C. purchased a machine gun and got on top of a Hells Kitchen tenement building waited for Micky Spillane. He took aim and fired a whole 30 round magazine in one long burst at Spillane and some men with him. Coonan failed to murder Spillane and his followers, not even wounding one man, but Spillane got the message.
In 1969, Police arrested Coonan on kidnapping and murder beefs. He got a sweet deal in a pea bargain and was released in late 1971 and continued his war on Mickey Spillane. Coonan joined with the Italians because Spillane had refused the Mafia’s efforts to control criminal activities in and around the Jacob Javit’s convention center. The Genovese crime family wanted to run all mob activity associated with the convention center. The story is that the Genovese crime family sent a team of heavily-armed hitmen to kill off Spillane’s gang. The hit-squad killed 68 members of Spillane’s gang with most of them killed by being gunned down. At least 30 of Spillane’s gang were killed by bombings. The Genovese crime family took over Spillane’s construction business, and all of his organized crime businesses, and from that point on the Genovese crime family also ruled all of Hell’s Kitchen with an iron fist.
During the early 1970s, Coonan recruited a gang of young Irish hoods and they began kidnapping, beating, and murdering any Spillane loyalists. One of these new recruits was 24-year-old Vietnam Vet by the name of Mickey Featherstone. Any resident of Hell’s Kitchen who who took Spillane’s side were subject to beatings, kidnappings, store vandalism, and robberies. Those who chose Coonan were immune from these harsh activities because Spillane’s gang was on the run and unable to retaliate.
Mickey Featherstone was a complete nut case. He was born on the upper West Side and his mother worked with the VFW and his father was a U. S. Customs officer. He was blond haired and baby-faced. He volunteered for combat in Vietnam and would claim he spent time killing with the Special Forces. There is a story that he was uncircumcised and he got drunk with a bunch of medics. He passed out and when he awoke, he found they had given him a circumcision. He received a medical discharge in 1967 after just a year, claiming to have hallucinations.
Featherstone achieved neighborhood fame for single-handedly running a group of toughs from New Jersey out of a Hell’s Kitchen bar with a rifle. In another bar room fight in 1971, he shot and killed a guy named Linwood Willi. In this case, he was found not guilty due to insanity. He was released from the mental hospital 4 years later. During this incarceration Featherstone was injected with Thorazine.
Featherstone’s violence caught the eye of Coonan. In 1977 when Mickey Spillane was killed outside his apartment, Featherstone was arrested but acquitted for his killing. The police and FBI suspected him of a series of mob contract killings. He went on trial with Coonan for the killing of Harold Whitehead, and they were acquitted in December 1979 after one witness killed himself and another refused to testify.
In the 1970’s Coonan worked as an enforcer and bodyguard for loanshark named Ruby Stein. After Coonan took over as boss of the Westies, he had Stein murdered to gain control of his gambling and loansharking customers. Several Westies owed money to Stein and were looking to escape these debts. Coonan used these gang members to lure Stein to the 596 Club bar where he was shot to death. He and the others dismember Stein’s corpse and dumped it in the Hudson River. Coonan and his men forgot to puncture the lungs and Stein’s torso washed ashore. This dismembering method of disposing of his victims was used by Coonan many times. Coonan reportedly killed a loan shark victim who could not pay his debt, dismembered him and cut off his hands. He put the hands in bags in a freezer with the intention of using them to put those fingerprints on a gun he would use later. Coonan learned how to dismember murder victims from Edward Cummiskey, a fellow Westies member, prison-trained as a butcher..
During the late 1970s, Coonan and his Westies allied themselves with the Gambino family and his main contact was Roy DeMeo.
In 1980, the Secret Service put Featherstone in jail for using fake currency at a massage parlor. He passed the money to a girl who remembered seeing his name tattooed on his forearm. The judge sentenced Featherstone to 6 years and he did time in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield Missouri in the psychiatric ward.
Duing this time, Jimmy Coonan was in jail on gun possession charges. Roy DeMeo, his Gambino contact, was murdered and Coonan’s Gambino family connection became Daniel Marino, a capo from Brooklyn. Coonan eventually interacted directly with John Gotti, who took over the Gambino crime family after the murder of Castellano in December 1985. From time to time, the Westies worked for the Gambino crime family as a contract killer squad.
Bad blood between Coonan and Featherstone, in part due to Featherstone’s distaste for Coonan’s Italian Mafia connections, eventually led to Featherstone being framed for the murder of Michael Holly, a construction worker and neighborhood bar owner who refused to give the Westies protection money. A Westie named John Bokun went to Holly’s bar and shot him. An off-duty policeman in the bar saw John Bokun shoot Michael Holly, then he shot and killed John Bokun. In retaliation and to set Mickey Featherstone up to take the fall, Billy Bokun, John’s brother got a car identical to Mickey Featherstones and put on a long haired wig and fake mustache to look like Featherstone. He drove up and shot and killed Michel Holly on the street in front of witnesses. The gang then tipped the cops that Featherstone killed Holly.
The end of Jimmy Coonan
In 1986, the police arrested Mickey Featherstone for the murder of Michael Holly. Despite being innocent of this particular murder, he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. he learned that he had been set up and framed by his own gang. He instead told prosecutors that Bokun had committed the murder, and he became an informant. Featherstone’s wife, Sissy, wore a wire and engaged other Westies in incriminating conversations to help her husband get out of jail. In September 1986, Judge Alvin Schlesinger overturned Featherstone’s conviction in the murder of Michael Holly. He testified against Jimmy Coonan and other gang members. Featherstone plead guilty to one racketeering charge and was soon released for his cooperation. In 1988, he and his wife went into a witness protection program.
Coonan is serving his time at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Featherstone, if still alive is in the Wit Sec.
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