Chicago gangster Ted Newberry says: "He must have done something. They don't kill you for nothing." Ted was rubbed out on January 7, 1933

Arrest of Francis 'Two Gun' Crowley

Meet Kiki

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

G-Men in New York Part III

After the run in with the law in Philly Mais, Legenza and two gang members fled to New York City. On December 17, Legenza was checked into the Presbyterian hospital and Mais took an apartment at 8 Manhattan Avenue. Their two cohorts Edwin Gale and Martin Farrell took rooms at a midtown hotel.
Back in Philadelphia G-Men were trailing one of the gang’s molls named Marie McKeever. They followed her to New York City and over the course of a few days they established the whereabouts of each of the remaining gang members. On January 18, 1935 the law made their move. The first two captured were Gale and Farrell, who were picked up at their hotel. Next they swung by the Presbyterian hospital where they took Legenza without any trouble. McKeever was also there so they arrested her to since they didn’t need her anymore. Finally it was time for Mais, he had proved in the past that he wouldn’t think twice about killing or shooting his way out of trouble. Together G-Men and detectives from both the NYPD and Philadelphia police department gathered at no. 8 Manhattan Avenue. All exits to the building were covered and a raiding party smashed there way into the room. Fortunately for the authorities Mais was a sleep and they were able to pounce on him before he had a chance to grab the loaded pistol or knife, that were resting near his pillow. Realizing that resistance was futile the killer meekly gave in.
Both Mais and Legenza were returned to Richmond where they kept their date with the electric chair three weeks later on February 3. Hoping to by his way out of the electric with good grace gang member Farrell led police to the body of kidnap victim William Weiss.
Though the Tri-State gang is little remembered today, no doubt in part to the efficiency of the G-Men and detectives who brought them in without any fanfare, they like Dillinger and his cohorts did get the Hollywood treatment. In 1950 a movie was made about their exploits called Highway 301. Robert Stack’s Elliot Ness also went up against them when they got their own episode on the Untouchables TV show titled of course “The Tri-State gang”.

Monday, June 29, 2009

G-Men in New York part II

Like so many of the Public Enemies Mais and Legenza had people on the outside who were willing to help them. Guns were smuggled into the prison and on September 29, 1934 both were able to shoot their way out. One guard was killed and two others wounded in the process.
Back on the outside the first order of business was to re-arm themselves. Like the Dillinger gang and others of that ilk, this was accomplished by raiding an armory. In the case of Mais and Legenza it was the government arsenal at Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Well armed they returned to Philadelphia to commence with their crime wave. They started with a $4,000 robbery of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company that October and that same month moved into kidnapping by snatching a Philadelphia big shot by the name of William Weiss. The Victim was a former bootlegger, who after Repeal became a “Nightlife character.” On the twenty-sixth Weiss returned home from his nightly rounds and after he parked his car in the garage the Tri-State gang snatched him before he could get inside his house.
The gang demanded a hundred thousand dollar payoff. After a little while they received $8000 from some of Weiss’s friends. Letters were continually sent to his family and then they abruptly stopped. For some reason Mais and Legenza had a change of heart, perhaps the case drew to much heat, anyways Weiss was shot to death and his body weighted down in a creek beneath a bridge.
The gang was planning another kidnapping. This time the victim was going to be a Pensylvania distiller named Simon Neuman. The Distiller learned of the plan however and surrounded himself with bodyguards. Next Mais was planning on snatching another underworld sort named Sam Lazar but before they had a chance to put the plan into effect things got to hot for them.
On December 13, the local Feds and the Philadelphia police located the gangs hideout and went in. Once again Mais tried to fight but was wounded. He did manage to escape along with Legenza, who subsequently broke both his legs jumping down an embankment. Seven members of the gang however, and the weapons were captured.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

G-Men in New York - Part I

With Public Enemies opening next week I thought it would be fun to look at the FBI's New York office during the gangster era. While Melvin Purvis and the G-Men of the mid-west were chasing the likes of Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, the G-Men of the east coast were pursuing their own desperados. Though they didn’t get as much publicity as their Midwest counterparts the New York G went up against equally dangerous men. One of the reasons that their story hasn’t been told is because the New York City bureau was able to accomplish their missions without bloodshed.
On January 18, two days after Florida G-Men killed Fred and “Ma” Barker in a dramatic gunfight in Florida, the New York City office was going to get it’s chance to bring in a Public Enemy. His name was Robert Mais and he was called “Pennsylvania’s Public Enemy #1”. Twenty-nine year old Mais was co-leader of the Tri-State gang, so called because they committed their depredations through out eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Over the previous six months the FBI had been bringing down Public Enemies all across the Midwest. There was one constant in each FBI encounter, the Public Enemy was killed and in some cases, like that of Baby Face Nelson, so were G-Men. On July 22, 1934 Dillinger was killed in Chicago. In October it was Pretty Boy Floyd’s turn. He was shot down while running across an Ohio farm. The following month Baby Face Nelson got his but took two agents with him. On January 16, 1935 it was Freddie Barker who went down in a hail of lead. Now while Fred and Ma were still on a slab it was New York City’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Francis X. Fay’s turn.
There was every reason to assume that, like the previous run-ins with the Public Enemies, the capture of Mais and his gang would result in much shooting. The FBI had been on the Tri-State gangs trail since the previous winter when on March 8, 1934 Mais and his chief partner, forty-one year old Walter Legenza, robbed a postal truck in Richmond, Virginia that was carrying money from the Federal Reserve. Letting himself into the rear of the truck Legenza shot down one of the truck handlers in cold blood. The gang grabbed the mail bags and took off. Mais and Legenza’s information had been wrong however. All they stole was cancelled checks.
The following summer authorities were able to trace the Tri-State gang to a house in the Baltimore suburbs. Together with local police, G-Men raided the house and a gunfight unfolded. While shooting at the invaders Mais took a blast from a Tommy gun to the stomach. Seeing his partner drop with six bullets in the abdomen Legenza surrendered. The hoodlums were returned to Richmond where they were found guilty of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair that November.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Downey's Wild Review

When I was offered a chance to review the new book, Dillinger's Wild Ride by Elliot Gorn my first thought was that it was going to be a hastily thrown together book aimed at cashing in on the release of Public Enemies. I figured my initial thought was confirmed when I read the acknowledgements. In them Mr. Gorn states that he approached his friendly librarian and said, "I'm getting interested in crime in the '30's; what have you got?" So he made a pretty quick jump from interested party to author.

Flipping through the photo section this became apparent as he presents a fraudulent wanted poster. The picture is Dillinger's mug shot taken after his Tucson arrest and the poster states that he may be in the company of Harry Pierpont and Charles Markley[sic]. It also says that if you see Dillinger you should notify your local police or the FBI. As all Dillinger students know, Pierpont and Makley were arrested with him in Tucson and the FBI wasn't known as the FBI until 1935, the year following Dillinger’s death. A novice mistake, which again made me think, if you let that slip by should you really be writing a book on Dillinger?

So, not expecting much I started reading the book. Turns out I enjoyed it. It is a concise history of the Dillinger story and Mr. Gorn hits all important events and then describes the national reaction by quoting from newspapers from around the country. Some editorials pictured Dillinger as Huck Finn who fell in with a bad crowd while others thought him a cold hearted killer. This aspect was interesting for a while but by the end I didn't really care what the Zanesville Times or the Bismarck Tribune had to say. I did find the Hollywood, Will Hayes response to the subject interesting.

As an academic Gorn also offers some analysis of both the subject and the America of his time. Why he was loved/loathed. I found his analysis of John's letters and what it said about the bank robber the most interesting. The final chapter, Dillinger's ghost, follows the bandit in popular culture over the past 75 years, in my opinion a little to much time was spent on the ballads written about him in the 1930's but that’s a small criticism.

As for just trying to cash in on the summer of Dillinger; Mr. Gorn tells us that he wrote the book over the course of 2005-06, and his book is different from all the others because he, “…seek[s] to explain how the Dillinger story was created, interpreted, and reworked, how Americans felt about his exploits, and how we have come to remember him.” [Hence four pages about ballads as opposed to a paragraph] Other than the wanted poster snafu, which isn't a big deal, all authors make mistakes, it appears that the publishing gods smiled down on Mr. Gorn and his book was released a few months before the world gets to see Johnny Depp go gangbusters with a tommy gun. So no it isn't a hastily thrown together tome meant to cash in on Public Enemies. It is a well written account of Dillinger meant to cash in on Public Enemies. (note to self, consider Oxford University Press for next book, they are on the ball.)

So, if you are looking for a quick read with an academic bent to bone up on Dillinger before the movie opens, or if you want to know more about the story but don't want to invest the time in reading Public Enemies by Brian Burrough (which I strongly suggest you do) or a full blown Dillinger bio than by all means pick up Dillinger's Wild Ride -to repeat, it is well written and not a hack job. However if you are already a Dillingerphile this book won’t really tell you anything that you don’t already know about Johnnie. It will however shine a light on society's reaction to the bank robber.
(note to self: You ain't no academic, forget about Oxford University Press)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bad news for tradional publishers

Of those who responded to the "Would you buy a self published book" poll, . 63% have no problem with it and 36% said only if they were familiar with the author's work. However 100% would buy a self published book. Very interesting, thank you to all who took the time to answer.