this day in crime history: may 17, 1974


On this date in 1974, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army were cornered by police in a house in Los Angeles. The police announced their presence via bullhorn. An older man and a small child walked out of the house. The man told police that no one else was inside. After several attempts to communicate with the remaining occupants, police fired tear gas into the building. SLA members responded with automatic weapons fire. In the ensuing battle, the building caught fire. All six SLA members, the group’s leader, Donald “Cinque” Defreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, Willie Wolfe, Patricia Soltysik and Camilla Hall, were killed in the shootout.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Patty Hearst Kidnapping

CNN.com – Patty Hearst Profile

Wikipedia – Symbionese Liberation Army

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this day in crime history: may 15, 1981


On this date in 1981, Donna Payant became the first female corrections officer in New York State to be killed in the line of duty. Payant, 31, was assigned to the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, NY.

At the end of her scheduled shift, Payant had turned up missing. An exhaustive search was conducted of the prison and the surrounding grounds, but there was no sign of her. Officials expanded their search to a local landfill where trash from the prison had been dumped earlier in the day. They found her mutilated body buried in the trash.

Police and prison officials began an investigation into the murder of Officer Payant. Bite marks had been left, and the medical examiner thought that the pattern looked familiar. As it turns out, he had seen the same pattern on a previous case he had worked: one of the victims of rapist and serial killer Lemuel Smith. Smith was an inmate at Green Haven CF when Officer Payant was murdered.

Once the case was built, Smith was tried for murdering Officer Payant. He was represented by C. Vernon Mason (of Tawana Brawley fame/infamy) and William “Black Rage” Kuntsler. In spite of such big-name legal representation , Smith was convicted of 1st degree murder and given the mandatory death sentence. In 1984, his death sentence was overturned as unconstitutional.

Lemuel Smith is currently incarcerated at Five Points Correctional Facility in central New York. He is eligible for parole in 2029, when he is 87 years old.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Lemuel Smith

The Officer Down Memorial Page – Corrections Officer Donna A. Payant

Find-a-Grave – Donna Payant

this day in crime history: may 14, 1988

carrollton

On this day in 1988, an intoxicated driver named Larry Wayne Mahoney drove his pickup truck onto Interstate 71 in Kentucky. Mahoney was traveling north. In the southbound lane. Around 11:00 PM, he collided with a Church activity bus that was returning from a trip to the Kings Island amusement park. The crash caused a ruptured fuel tank, which resulted in the bus catching fire. Twenty-seven of the bus’s sixty-seven passengers were killed. Thirty-four more were injured. It was the deadliest drunk-driving accident in US history, and the second deadliest bus accident.

Mahoney was convicted of twenty-seven counts of manslaughter and sentenced to sixteen years in prison. He was released after serving just short of eleven years. A memorial next to Interstate 71 marks the site of the crash.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Carrollton, Kentucky bus collision

The Cincinnati Enquirer – Drunken Driver Lives in Obscurity

this day in crime history: may 13, 1977

On this date in 1977, mob boss Michael “Mickey” Spillane (not to be confused with the guy who created fictional P.I. Mike Hammer) had a run of very bad luck on Friday the 13th; he was shot and killed outside his apartment in Queens, NY. Spillane, who headed the Westies gang, had moved to Queens from Hell’s Kitchen out of fear for his safety. The previous year, his three top lieutenants had been taken out on orders from Genovese crime family boss Fat Tony Salerno. Salerno coveted control of construction contracts for the Jacob Javits Civic Center, which was being built in Spillane’s territory. Spillane’s killing was rumored to have been carried out by Gambino crime family associates Roy DeMeo and Danny Grillo. After Spillane’s demise, mobster Jimmy Coonan took over as head of the Westies. Coonan had previously challenged Spillane for control of the group. After he took control, Coonan formed an alliance with the Gambino family, in a deal brokered by the newly-“made” Roy DeMeo. Coincidence? Um… probably not.

Further reading:

The Westies, by T.J. English

The Serial Killer Calender – Roy DeMeo

Wikipedia – Mickey Spillane (gangster)

this day in crime history: may 11, 1920

BigJim

On this date in 1920, Chicago mobster Big Jim Colosimo was shot and killed in his restaurant while waiting for a delivery. Colosimo, who had built his south side gang into a criminal organization to be reckoned with, balked at getting into the bootlegging business. He was making enough money through more traditional criminal enterprises like gambling, prostitution and protection rackets. Besides, he was also making a pretty penny selling illegal hooch in his restaurant. He saw nothing but potential trouble in setting up a distribution network that might attract the attention of the feds.

Unfortunately for Big Jim, his underboss, Johnny Torrio disagreed. Torrio arranged for Big Jim to be at the restaurant to take delivery for a shipment of booze. But the only thing Big Jim took delivery of was hot lead from a hired gun. The shooter was never arrested and the murder remains technically unsolved. Likely candidates for the shooter include Torrio’s right-hand man, Al Capone, and New York wiseguy Frankie Yale. (Between you and me, my money’s on Yale.)

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Colosimo’s

American Mafia History – Giacomo “Big Jim” Colosimo

Wikipedia – James Colosimo