this day in crime history: february 22, 1974

samuel-byck

On this date in 1974, unemployed salesman Samuel Byck attempted to hijack a DC-9 at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. His intended destination: Washington DC. His plan: Crash the plane into the White House in order to kill President Richard Nixon. Byck shot and killed an airport security guard before he boarded the plane. Once he was on the plane, he shot the pilot and copilot when they told him they couldn’t take off until the wheel blocks were removed. The pilot survived, but the copilot later died from his wounds. Byck was shot and wounded by police. He committed suicide before he could be taken into custody.

Further reading:

IMDB page for the movie The Assassination of Richard Nixon

IMDB page for the movie The Plot to Kill Nixon

Wikipedia article on Samuel Byck

this day in crime history: february 21, 1965

On this date in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. The three assassins were all members of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X had previously been a member of the NoI, but had left the organization a year earlier after a falling out with the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.

All three of the killers were arrested, tried, and convicted. Two of them were paroled in the 1980s. The third was paroled in 2010.

Further reading:

MalcolmX.com

Wikipedia-Malcolm X

this day in crime history: february 20, 1892

On this date in 1892, upstate NY outlaw Oliver Curtis Perry robbed a train single-handedly. A daunting task to be sure, but Perry had reason to believe he could pull it off, he had robbed the same train once before in the summer of 1891.

By February 1892, the $5,000 that Perry had made from his heist of a train while it traveled between Albany and Utica, NY had just about run out. Being a practical man, he decided to go with what worked before and rob the same train he had robbed five months earlier.

On the evening of February 20th, Perry stood on the platform at the Syracuse, NY train station as the American Express Special arrived. Conductor Emil Laas noticed Perry standing on the platform and found it odd that someone would be there, considering that the Express carried no passengers. As the train left the station, Perry jumped onto one of the cars and climbed up to the roof. Once Perry had positioned himself accordingly on top of the express car, he donned a mask and affixed a makeshift rope ladder to the roof rail.

Shortly after the train left Syracuse, messenger Daniel McInerney heard glass break in the messenger car. He looked up to see a masked man holding a large revolver crashing through the window. The man ordered him to put up his hands. McInerney drew his own pistol, and both men exchanged shots. McInerney’s missed, while the robber’s shot hit McInerney in the gun hand. McInerney reached up and pulled the emergency stop cord, but the robber shot him in the thigh, then shot him again, grazing McInerney’s head.

As Perry rummaged through the car looking for valuables, the train came to a halt and crew members descended on the messenger car. Perry pointed his pistol at them and ordered them to get the train moving again. The crew complied, and the train continued on to Port Byron, NY. When the train stopped at the Port Byron station, the crew members, who had armed themselves, returned to the messenger car only to find that the robber was gone. Assuming he had jumped off the train, they continued on to Lyons, NY.

Unbeknownst to the train’s crew, Perry had not jumped from the train, but had retreated to the roof. When the train arrived in Lyons, it was met by the local constable and a doctor to treat Daniel McInerney. As they took the wounded messenger from the train, Perry jumped down and made his way to another platform. Conductor Laas saw the bespectacled man in a derby hat, and recognized him as the man who was standing on the platform in Syracuse.

When Perry realized he had been spotted, he jumped onto a locomotive, fired it up, and took off. Two rail employees and a local deputy uncoupled another locomotive and gave chase on a parallel track. Now, unlike a car chase, a train chase doesn’t leave you with too many options. You can go forward, you can go in reverse, and you can stop. There are no alleyways or side streets to duck into, and there’s no room for Steve McQueen-style driving. Soon after Perry had exhausted all of his options for evading capture (including exchanging gunfire with his pursuers), his train exhausted its steam outside the village of Newark, NY, leaving the robber to flee on foot.

Perry stopped at a local farm, where he stole a horse. When the horse was exhausted, he went to another farm where he stole another horse. Soon that horse too was unable to go on. Perry continued on foot with a posse hot on his trail. He then made his way into a swamp. Exhausted from hours of running, Perry holed up at an old stone wall where he prepared to make his last stand.

The posse eventually located Perry and surrounded him. After a long standoff, Perry called out requesting to speak with one of the lawmen. Deputy Jerry Collins agreed to lay down his gun and speak with Perry. Collins attempted to convince Perry to surrender, but the outlaw was hesitant to give up and face life in prison. During the negotiations, Perry became momentarily distracted by a noise behind him. Collins saw his opportunity. He overpowered Perry, disarmed him, and wrestled him into a pair of handcuffs.

Messenger Daniel McInerney survived his wounds, so Perry was spared facing a murder charge. He was convicted and sentenced to 49 years in prison for the robbery. After multiple escape attempts, and several long stints in solitary confinement, Perry went mad and was transferred to the state hospital for the criminally insane in Matteawan, NY. He escaped from Matteawan in 1895, but was captured the next week in New Jersey. He was later transferred to the insane asylum in Dannemora, NY, where he gouged out both of his eyes with pieces of metal, permanently blinding himself. Oliver Curtis Perry died in the mental hospital in Dannemora in 1930. He was 64.

Further reading:

Wanted Man, by Tamsin Spargo

Wayne County, NY – Office of the County Historian: Jerry Collins

this day in crime history: february 18, 1878

On this date in 1878, 24 year old John Henry Tunstall, an English-born rancher, was shot and killed in Lincoln County, NM. Tunstall’s men, including a young upstart who came to be known as Billy the Kid, vowed revenge. And thus began New Mexico’s Lincoln County War.

Further reading:

Legends of America – New Mexico’s Lincoln County War

The Death of John Tunstall

Wikipedia – John Tunstall

this day in crime history: february 15, 1936

gutterball

On this date in 1936, former Chicago Outfit trigger man “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn was gunned down in a Chicago bowling alley.

McGurn was born Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi in 1902 in Sicily. He changed his name as a teenager while trying to make it as a boxer. McGurn would later go to work for Chicago mob boss Al Capone. He was believed to be the mastermind of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the cops were unable to pin it on him when Louise Rolfe – dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press – claimed that she and McGurn had spent the entire day together.

By 1936, McGurn had been cut loose by the Outfit. His notoriety had made him too hot for the low profile the Outfit was looking to maintain.

A day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, McGurn entered a bowling alley with two men. Another man later joined the trio. After his arrival, a commotion ensued that resulted in Jack being shot dead and the three men leaving the bowling alley together. A Valentine card was left behind bearing the following poem:

You’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your dough;
Your jewels and cars and handsome houses!
But things could still be worse you know…
At least you haven’t lost your trousers!

The murder was never solved. Was it payback from Bugs Moran, whose men were killed seven years earlier? Was it revenge by a relative of one of Jack’s victims? Or was it the Outfit, fearful that Jack’s increasingly loose lips might sink their ship?

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Machine Gun Jack McGurn

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

Wikipedia – Jack McGurn

Mafia Wiki – Jack McGurn

Find a Grave – Jack “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn

this day in crime history: february 14, 1929

On this day in 1929, five of gangster Bugs Moran’s men, along with two men unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were gunned down by men impersonating police officers. The probable sender of this grisly Valentine: Al Capone. I guess Big Al didn’t think flowers and chocolates would do the trick. The killings became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Check out author/crime historian Pat Downey’s interview with Mario Gomes, the man who knows more about Al Capone than anyone. Well, anyone alive, anyway.

Further reading:

Mario Gomes’s My Al Capone Museum: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Mysterynet: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre With Pictures

Ghosts of the Prairie – Blood, Roses & Valentines: The Haunted History of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Wikipedia – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre   

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

this day in crime history: february 12, 1976

Mineo

On this date in 1976, actor Sal Mineo was stabbed to death after parking his car in Los Angeles. Mineo, 37, had been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor. He had just returned home from rehearsing a play when he was attacked.

Police had little to go on, other than a vague description of the attacker given by witnesses who saw the man fleeing the seen. After two years of dead ends, detectives received a call from Michigan police about a man named Lionel Williams. Williams, who had been arrested on bad check charges, was heard bragging that he was the one who killed Mineo. An interview with Williams’s wife revealed that he came home covered in blood on the night of the murder. She also provided police with a description of a knife that belonged to Williams. Her description matched the cast of Mineo’s knife wound that was made by the coroner.

Lionel Williams was tried and convicted of murder in 1979. He received a prison sentence and was paroled in 1990.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Sal Mineo

History.com – Feb 12, 1976: Actor Sal Mineo is killed in Hollywood