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

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this day in crime history: february 2, 1922

On this date in 1922, film director William Desmond Taylor was found dead in his bungalow in Los Angeles. He was originally thought to have died of natural causes, but when the body was rolled over, a single bullet wound was found in his back.

Cash and valuables were found on Taylor’s person, ruling out robbery as a motive. More than a dozen suspects emerged, including Taylor’s valet, his former valet, a studio executive, and several actresses. Police were never able to make a case against any of the suspects. Poor case management led to the loss of much of the physical evidence.

Newspapers of the day featured sensationalized stories and rampant speculation about the identity of the killer and the motive for Taylor’s murder. The murder occurred less than six months after the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and helped shape the public’s view of Hollywood as a hotbed of decadence.

In 1999, it was revealed that Margaret Gibson, an actress who had worked with Taylor, had confessed on her deathbed in 1964 to having killed Taylor. The confession has never been confirmed.

Further reading:

William Desmond Taylor: The Unsolved Murder

Wikipedia – William Desmond Taylor

this day in crime history: january 15, 1947

On this date in 1947, the mutilated remains of a young woman were found in Los Angeles. The woman would soon be identified as Elizabeth Short, an unemployed 22 year old, originally from Massachusetts. The news media would soon dub her the Black Dahlia. The LAPD conducted an exhaustive investigation, but the case remains unsolved.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Black Dahlia

Wikipedia – Black Dahlia

this day in crime history: january 14, 1979

On this date in 1979, Lucchese crime family associate Thomas “Two-Gun Tommy” DeSimone was reported missing by his wife. Turns out he was whacked, reportedly by members of the Gambino family. DeSimone, who was believed to have killed at least ten people, apparently killed someone he shouldn’t have. I guess if you kill enough people, that’s bound to happen eventually. Anyway, DeSimone’s victims included William “Billy Batts” Devino, a made man with the Gambino family, and Ronald “Foxy” Jerothe, a protege of future Gambino family boss John Gotti. Killing made men without permission is a big no-no in the mob, which Tommy found out the hard way.

He was lured to his death by Lucchese family members who told him he was being “made,” and that they were taking him to the ceremony. But instead of getting made, he got dead. DeSimone’s body was never found. His remains were thought to be buried in a “mob graveyard” on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Tommy DeVito, the character played by Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas, was based in large part on Thomas DeSimone.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Thomas DeSimone

The Free Information Society – DeSimone, Thomas

American Mafia History – Goodfella, Thomas DeSimone

New York PostJohn Gotti killed mobster played by Joe Pesci in ‘Goodfellas’

this day in crime history: december 29, 1975

TWA

On this date in 1975, a bomb was detonated in the TWA baggage claim area at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Eleven people were killed and seventy-five were injured. A Croatian nationalist emerged as a suspect, but there was never sufficient evidence linking him to the crime. The case remains officially unsolved.

Further reading:

New York TimesTerrorist’s Release Reopens Wound of Unsolved Bombing

Wikipedia – 1975 LaGuardia Airport bombing

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

this day in crime history: november 29, 1933


On this date in 1933, the bound and mutilated body of outlaw Verne Miller was found just outside Detroit, MI. Miller, the chief suspect in the Kansas City Massacre, was a decorated World War I veteran and former lawman. After a short stint as sheriff of Beadle County, SD, Miller turned to a life of crime. He started out in bootlegging, then moved on to robbery. Eventually he wound up as a trigger man for organized crime. The list of people with motives to kill him was long, but Miller’s murder was never solved.

Further reading:

Wikipedia: Vernon C. Miller

FBI Famous Cases – Kansas City Massacre /”Pretty Boy” Floyd

Vern Miller—Sheriff, Moonshiner, Hit-man

Lawman to Outlaw: Verne Miller and the Kansas City Massacre, by Brad Smith

Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, by Bryan Burrough