While in Cleveland the other week for yearly protest at the Rock 'n' Roll hall of fame. (I won't rest until the Wayouts get inducted!) whom should I run into but organized crime historian Allan May. Needing a break from my picketing I ran up to Mr. May and asked him a few questions. Fortunately I had my pocket reel to reel tape recorder on me and am able to transcribe our conversation.
DGIS: Funny running into you here as I was reading your new book Gangland Gotham: New York's Notorious Mob Bosses on the bus ride down. Can you describe the book for those who have yet to pick up a copy.
Allan May: At $95 a pop, it's not an easy thing to pick up. Basically the book consist of ten biographies of New York City's most well known mob bosses.
DGIS: How did you come to write the book?
AM: I was approached by Greenwood Press to write the book back in 2005.
DGIS: How difficult was it writing about guys like Adonis, Anastasia etc. who don't have bios already written about them? Was info harder to come by?
AM: I started out by reviewing all the books in which they appeared, built a time line and then used the New York Times and other New York newspapers to create the story.
DGIS: What were some of the biggest surprises you found during your research?
AM: I guess coming across mistakes that some writers have made that get picked up and repeated over and over again. The most blatant ones being, perhaps, the murder of Joe Masseria and Dutch Schultz.
DGIS: You don't seem to feel that mob turn coat Joe Valachi is the big reservoir of mafia history that the rest of the gangster community seems to think.
AM: I've always had trouble with his memories. Take the "Joe the Baker" shooting for instance, his story just doesn't jive with most of the newspaper reportst of the time. I understand he was looking back at over 30 years, and if that is the source of his discrepancies why didn't Peter Maas check it. That would have been easy enough to do.
DGIS: Who would you rather ow money to Vito Genovese or Albert Anastasia?
AM: It doesn't matter because they're both dead. Thank God.
DGIS: What was the most uttered phrase in gangdom:
A) Who's your tailor?
B)Where's my money?
C) What's an infinitive and why does the Dutchman want his split?
D) I decline to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me.
AM: Mayby those were the catch phrases during the first half of the 20th Century, but I think for the last 60 years it's more like, "is that the damn Feds at the door...again?"
DGIS: Seeing that you know most everything about Cleveland's crime history, I have a theory that Eliot Ness was the torso killer, thoughts?
AM: Eliot Ness was my hero from childhood days. He was the reason I began reading and researching organized crime. In 1997 I was able to get his cremated ashes, which had been sitting in his daughter-in-law's garage for some 40 years and turn them over to Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. the Cleveland Police Historic Society then held a memorial service for him, his third wife and adopted son, which included the spreading of their ashes in Wade Lagoon in September of that year.
DGIS: I'll take that as a no.