this day in crime history: december 18, 1931

On this date in 1931, gangster Dutch Schultz finally got his wish. “Ain’t there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don’t bounce back?” Dutch once asked about his rival, Jack “Legs” Diamond. Old Legs, whose other nickname was “Clay Pigeon,” had this annoying habit of surviving assassination attempts.

By 1931, Legs had moved upstate to start bootlegging and narcotics operations. He spent the night of December 17th partying in Albany, after having just beaten the rap in a kidnapping trial. He left his girlfriend, showgirl Marion “Kiki” Roberts, around 11 PM, and went back to the boarding house on Dove Street, where he had been staying. Around 5:30 AM, two men entered the boarding house, went to the second floor room where Diamond was sleeping it off, shot him in the head multiple times and fled the house.

The murder of Legs Diamond remains unsolved, but there were multiple theories about who was responsible. Dutch Schulz was an obvious choice. Lucky Luciano was another likely candidate. Some think it was local Albany thugs, or that the hit on Legs was ordered by Dan O’Connell, the head of the notorious Albany Democratic Machine. The Machine not only controlled politics in Albany, they also ran the local rackets. And they weren’t open to the idea of competition. This being the case, the hit may have been carried out by members of the Albany Police Department. Double-crossed ex-partners are always a good bet too, and Legs had some of those out there gunning for him. The best theory I’ve seen so far can be found in Pat Downey’s book, Legs Diamond: Gangster, available from Amazon in paperback and ebook editions.

The picture above, which I took eight years ago today, is of the house at 67 Dove Street in Albany, where Legs Diamond was killed. It now belongs to author William Kennedy.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Jack Diamond (gangster)

Gangster City – Jack “Legs” Diamond

Brooklyn Daily EagleDIAMOND IS SLAIN AFTER ACQUITTAL

My 2012 interview with author Pat Downey

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this day in crime history: december 16, 1985

BigPaulC

On this date in 1985, Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano and his underboss/bodyguard Thomas Bilotti, were shot dead outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. The hit was reportedly carried out at the order of John Gotti, a captain in the Gambino family. Following Castellano’s death, Gotti would take over as the family’s teflon-covered boss. The teflon wore off in 1992, when Gotti was convicted of thirteen counts of murder, including those of Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Paul Castellano

Gangsters, Inc. – John Gotti

Sparks Steak House

this day in crime history: december 16, 1962


On this date in 1962 – the 25th anniversary of the Cole/Roe escape attempt – Alcatraz inmates John Paul Scott and Darl Lee Parker took a shot at busting out of The Rock. After bending the bars on the kitchen window, they made it to the shore and swam for it using inflated rubber gloves as makeshift water wings. Parker made it about 100 yards and stopped on a rock formation near the island. He was found there half an hour after the escape was discovered by prison officials. Scott was found an hour and a half after Parker, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He had made it to Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. After a stint in a nearby hospital, Scott was returned to Alcatraz. John Paul Scott is the only Alcatraz escapee who ever successfully swam to the mainland… that we know of.

Further reading:

Utica Observer“2 Escape from Alcatraz; Freedom Short Lived”

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 16, 1937

On this day in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe decided they needed a change of scenery. The two Oklahomans were inmates at the infamous federal prison on Alcatraz Island. Over a long period of time, they had filed through the bars on one of the windows in the prison mat shop, where they worked. They waited for a stormy day, when the guards in the towers would be less likely to see them leave the prison. When the time was right, they crawled through the window and disappeared. When prison officials discovered that the men were missing, they conducted an exhaustive search of the island, but there was no sign of the two men. It’s believed that the men tried to swim to shore using empty five gallon oil cans as floatation devices, and that the current – stronger than usual due to the storm – carried them out to sea, where they drowned.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 13, 2000

Texas7

On this date in 2000, seven inmates escaped from the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum security prison near Kenedy, TX. The inmates, who came to be known as the Texas Seven, overpowered corrections officers and civilian employees in the prison maintenance shop. They stole clothes, guns and a vehicle that they used to make their getaway.

After switching cars, the gang went to Pearland, TX, where they robbed a Radio Shack on December 14th. Five days later, they robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, TX. Their haul included cash, guns and ammunition. Before making their getaway, the gang was confronted by Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins. Hawkins was ambushed by the gang, who shot him eleven times, then ran him over as they fled the scene of the crime. Hawkins later died of his injuries.

The gang made their way to Colorado, where they purchased a motor home and set up house at a trailer park in Woodland, CO. On January 21, 2001, the owner of the trailer park, tipped off by a friend who saw the group profiled on America’s Most Wanted, called police and reported the whereabouts of the fugitives.

A police SWAT team was deployed to the park. Officers cornered five of the men. Four of them eventually surrendered after a brief standoff. The fifth committed suicide rather than going back to prison.

Two days later, police tracked the two remaining fugitives to a hotel in Colorado Springs. After a short standoff, during which the escaped convicts gave a telephone interview to the news media, the men surrendered.

All six of the surviving escapees were tried and convicted of capital murder. Three of them have been executed. The remaining three are currently on death row at the Polunsky Unit prison in West Livingston, TX.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Texas Seven

The Dallas Morning News‘Texas 7’ escapee executed for killing Irving police officer

Irving Police – Officer Aubrey Wright Hawkins #830

this day in crime history: december 11, 1985

On this date in 1985, Hugh Scrutton, a computer store owner in Sacramento, CA was killed when a bomb loaded with nails and splinters exploded in the parking lot of his store. Scrutton was the ninth victim, and first fatality, in the 17 year bombing spree of the man who turned out to be the nuttiest of nutty professors: Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. By the time he was arrested in 1994, Kaczynski had planted sixteen bombs. Two of the bombs were defused before they could explode. The other fourteen bombs killed three and injured eleven. He is currently serving a life sentence (without the possibility of parole) in federal prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Theodore Kaczynski

FBI – The Unabomber

The Unabomber’s Manifesto