this day in crime history: july 12, 1979

On this date in 1979, acting Bonanno crime family boss Carmine “The Cigar” Galante was murdered at a restaurant in Brooklyn. Galante, whose tenure as boss caused friction with the other New York crime families, had engineered the assassination of several Gambino family members in order to take over their narcotics trafficking business.

By the middle of 1979, the bosses of the other families agreed to have Galante killed. On July 12th, he was having lunch at a restaurant with Bonanno family members Leonard Coppola and Giuseppe Turano. Two Sicilian bodyguards stood watch as the men dined. As they finished lunch, three masked men walked up and opened fire with pistols and shotguns. Galante and his two companions were killed. The bodyguards, who took no action to protect Galante, were unharmed.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Carmine Galante

FBI Records – Carmine Galante

this day in crime history: june 25, 1906

murderatthegarden

On this date in 1906, prominent architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden. The shooter was Harry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh. Thaw, the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune, held a grudge against White, whom he blamed for thwarting his efforts to achieve the respect of high society. White was also the former lover of Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been a popular model and chorus girl and was the inspiration for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.

At trial, Thaw went with a temporary insanity defense (“temporary” probably being the only part that was exaggerated). The jury wound up deadlocked. At the second trial, Evelyn Nesbit took the stand and testified that Stanford White had abused her and that Thaw was just acting in her defense. She performed this task in exchange for the promise of a divorce and a million dollars from Thaw.  The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw received a sentence to the state mental hospital at Matteawan. Nesbit received her divorce, but not the money.

Thaw escaped from Matteawan in 1913 and fled to Canada. He was eventually apprehended and extradited to New York. After receiving a new trial, he was found sane and not guilty of murder. He was released from state custody in 1915.

Thaw was arrested again in 1916, this time for the abduction and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump (no relation to Forrest). He was found not guilty by reason of insanity (it’s like déjà vu all over again). In 1924, Thaw was judged sane and released from the asylum where he had been incarcerated.

Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Florida in 1947. In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit ten thousand dollars, about one percent of his estimated net worth.

Further reading:

Murderpedia – Harry Thaw

Wikipedia – Harry Kendall Thaw

IMDb – The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

this day in crime history: june 3, 1968

thisiswhatcrazylookslike

On this date in 1968, writer Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto, began her 15 minutes of fame by shooting artist Andy Warhol in his New York City studio. Solanas also shot art critic Mario Amaya, and tried to shoot Warhol’s manager Fred Hughes, but was unable to do so due to a gun malfunction.

After the shooting, Solanas turned herself in to police and confessed to the shooting. Warhol and Amaya survived the shooting, and Solanas was charged with felony assault. After extensive evaluation in a psychiatric ward, Solanas was found fit to stand trial. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison, with credit for time served. She was released from prison in 1971.

After her release, Solanas periodically harassed Warhol by telephone. She was institutionalized several more times and died of pneumonia in 1988.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Valerie Solanas

Chron – Andy Warhol’s near-fatal encounter with S.C.U.M.

this day in crime history: may 26, 1977

On this date in 1977, police in New York City arrested George “The Human Fly” Willig on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. His crime? He climbed the South Tower from the outside. He accomplished this feat, which took him 3 1/2 hours, using clamps he had fashioned to fit into the channel that ran the entire height of the tower for window-washing equipment.

The City, sensing they had a new folk hero on their hands, decided against a hefty fine for Willig. Instead, he was fined $1.10 — one cent for every floor floor of the tower.

Further reading:

New York Press“WTC Climber George Willig Would Do It All Again”

GothamistGeorge Willig’s 1977 WTC Climb

Wikipedia – George Willig

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: march 25, 1990

happylandfireOn this day in 1990, an argument turned into a mass murder at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx, NY.

Earlier in the evening, Cuban immigrant Julio Gonzalez was ejected from the club after arguing with his ex-girlfriend, who worked there as a coat check girl. Gonzalez, who had recently lost his job, was enraged. He screamed threats at the bouncers as they ejected him from the club.

Gonzalez returned to the club armed with a container of gasoline and some matches. He poured the gas on the stairs to the club and ignited it. The fire spread quickly. Due to a lack of working fire exits (they were blocked to prevent people from entering the club without paying), the people inside were trapped. Several managed to escape by breaking through a barrier that blocked one of the fire doors. Eighty-seven people died in the fire.

Among those who survived was Gonzalez’s ex-girlfriend. She told police about the argument and Gonzalez’s threats. They tracked him down and arrested him the following afternoon. Shortly after being arrested, Gonzalez confessed to the crime. He was tried and convicted on 87 counts of arson and 87 counts of murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life on each count. Since the crimes occurred in a single incident, New York State law required that the sentences be served concurrently, rather than consecutively. Gonzalez is currently incarcerated at Clinton Correction Facility. He is scheduled for a parole hearing in November 2016.

The owners of the building were sued by the victims and the families of the deceased. The case was settled for $15.8 million, divided between the plaintiffs.

Further reading:

New York TimesRefugee Found Guilty of Killing 87 in Bronx Happy Land Fire

Murderpedia – Julio Gonzalez

Wikipedia – Happy Land Fire

this day in crime history: march 13, 1964

KG

On this date in 1964, 28 year old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was murdered outside her apartment building in Queens, NY. Her killer, 29 year old Winston Moseley, stabbed her twice, but fled the scene when he thought he had been seen by one of Genovese’s neighbors. He returned a short while later to find Genovese on the ground at the back of her building. He then raped her, stabbed her several more times, and robbed her of $49.

Two weeks later, an article in the New York Times told the story of how as many as thirty-eight of Genovese’s neighbors had heard her scream, but had made no effort to assist her or call the police. The story ignited a national controversy about the apparent callousness of people living in large cities. The details of the Times report are still disputed to this day. Many of the people living in the neighborhood at the time stated that they could not hear the attack, and those that did hear something weren’t certain what was actually happening.

Winston Moseley was arrested six days after the murder. He was tried and convicted of the crime. He was originally sentenced to death, but the NY Court of Appeals overturned the sentence and reduced it to 20 years to life. Moseley died while incarcerated at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. He was 81 years old.

Further reading:

“Thirty-Eight Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police” (Original New York Times Article)

Wikipedia – Murder of Kitty Genovese

New York Times – “Reviving Kitty Genovese Case, and Its Passions”