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

this day in crime history: may 9, 1980


On this date in 1980, the Security Pacific Bank branch in Norco, CA was robbed by five heavily armed men. The robbers were confronted outside the bank by Riverside County Sheriff Deputies. In the ensuing shootout, one of the robbers was killed. The remaining four stole a car from the bank’s parking lot and fled the scene.

The pursuit went on for 25 miles and extended into neighboring San Bernadino County. Units from the CHP and San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department, including a helicopter, joined in the pursuit. The robbers fired at officers and civilian vehicles during the pursuit. At one point, they stopped and set up an ambush for police. RCSD Deputy Jim Evans was killed. Officers in the helicopter had tried to warn him of the ambush, but an incompatibility between the RCSD and SBCSD radios prevented him from receiving the warning.

The robbers fled into a wooded area near Lytle Creek, CA with police in pursuit. One of the robbers was killed in a shootout with police. The remaining three surrendered.

The three survivors were tried and convicted of multiple felonies. They’re all serving life sentences without possibility of parole.

Further reading:

RCDSA – Norco Bank Robbery (This site includes a link to a video documentary about the robbery)

RCDSA – A list of the suspects and their weapons

Wikipedia – Norco shootout

this day in crime history: may 7, 1827


On this date in 1827, farmhand Jesse Strang murdered John Whipple at the Cherry Hill estate in Albany, NY. He was put up to the crime by Whipple’s wife Elsie, with whom Strang was having an affair. Elsie even provided Strang with the gun he used, which she stole from her soon-to-be-late husband.

To add insult to (fatal) injury, John Whipple — wise to his wife’s affair and fearing an attempt on his life — actually loaded the murder weapon with the bullet that would kill him.

After the shooting, Strang ran to a local store in an attempt to establish an alibi. The police saw through his alibi and arrested him for the murder. He promptly ratted out Elsie, who was then arrested as well. Strang was eventually convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was executed in the last public hanging in Albany’s history. Elsie Whipple was found not guilty and released.

Wikipedia: Murder at Cherry Hill

Historic Cherry Hill

this day in crime history: may 4, 1932

On this date in 1932, “Scarface” Al Capone boarded a train for Atlanta to start serving his prison sentence for tax evasion. Big Al learned the hard way that there are some lines you shouldn’t cross. Lie, cheat, steal, bribe, bootleg, murder–knock yourself out, dude. But you’d damn well better PAY YOUR TAXES!

Capone was released from prison in November 1939 after 7 1/2 years behind bars. The repeal of Prohibition put a hurting on his business. Syphilis put a hurting on his brain. He died of cardiac arrest in 1947.

Lessons learned from Big Al:

1. Pay your taxes
2. Diversify your business
3. Wear a Jimmy hat

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Al Capone’s tax trial and downfall

Al Capone on Wikipedia

this day in crime history: may 2, 1946

On this day in 1946, an aborted escape attempt led to what became known as the Battle of Alcatraz. The incident began when convicted bank robber Bernard Coy attacked guard William Miller as he frisked inmate Marvin Hubbard in the prison’s C Block. Coy and Hubbard were able to overpower Miller. They then released inmates Joseph Cretzer and Clarence Carnes from their cells.

Coy climbed up to the block’s elevated gun gallery, which was unattended at the moment. He had previously noted a flaw in the bars protecting the gallery which allowed him to use a makeshift tool to widen the bars. Once he had done that, he managed to squeeze through the bars and into the gun gallery. When guard Bert Bunch returned to the gun gallery, Coy overpowered him and relieved him of his keys, rifle and pistol. He also availed himself of other items in the gun gallery, including clubs and gas grenades.

Coy lowered the keys and weapons to his accomplices, keeping the rifle for himself. He then moved to D Block where he forced a guard, at gunpoint, to open the door to the cell block. About a dozen inmates left D Block, which was used as a disciplinary block. Most returned to their cells. Two of the inmates, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson, joined the would-be escapees.

The inmates’ plan was to get out of the prison, make their way to the dock using hostages as human shields, then use the prison launch to get to the mainland. The next hurdle they faced in their plan was unlocking the door to the outside. After multiple unsuccessful attempts with the wrong keys, they finally found the right one. Unfortunately for them, the lock was damaged from having the wrong keys shoved in it. They were unable to open the door.

While the inmates were fighting their losing battle with the lock, several other guards wandered onto C Block, unaware that inmates had seized control of that part of the prison. They were taken hostage and put in cells. The number of hostages eventually reached nine guards, who occupied two cells.

Frustrated by the uncooperative lock, Cretzer opened fire on the hostage guards, wounding five. One, William Miller, later died from his wounds. Coy used the rifle to fire on guards in the prison towers. Thompson, Shockley, and Carnes elected to return to their cells. Coy, Hubbard, and Cretzer decided to stay and fight.

An assault by guards was met with gunfire. Officer Harold Stites was killed and four guards were wounded. Warden James Johnston called for help from the military. Two platoons of Marines were sent to help with the assault on C Block and to assist in guarding the other inmates.

That evening, a contingent of guards engaged in a rescue operation to free the hostages while armed guards exchanged gunfire with the three inmates. Once the hostages had been rescued, guards and Marines subjected C Block to a barrage of fire using, machine guns, grenades, and mortars.

Early the next afternoon, the inmates telephoned the warden in an attempt to negotiate a deal. There was no deal to be had, short of unconditional surrender, which was unacceptable to Coy and his accomplices.

The barrages continued through into night. The next morning, armed guards entered the cell house to find Coy, Hubbard, and Cretzer dead.

Inmates Thompson, Shockley, and Carnes were all convicted for their roles in the escape attempt and the death of two guards.  Thompson and Shockley were sentenced to death. Carnes received a life sentence, but was released in 1973.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Battle of Alcatraz

Alcatraz History – Battle of Alcatraz