Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vincent Coll

Brendan Delap's Mad Dog Coll: an Irish Gangster begins with an examination of Coll's Irish roots and asks the question of what would have happened to Coll had they never left Ireland. Hmmm...well probably Coll would have been an unknown Irish thug with a shorter career and a longer stretch in the pen if he didn't make it too the gallows sooner. Really.

Delap reveals that Coll had been diagnosed with schizophrenia which goes a long way in explaining his explosive temper and his odd habit of laughing during his mug shots. It also explains how he could have no remorse for the life he led. Most of the criminals I read about don't have such a great excuse or maybe they do (who knows). Anyway, the book is a little long probably because it does spend so much time on Coll's early life. Coll really doesn't become interesting until later in his life when he breaks from Schultz and takes on Schultz, Madden, and the other big sharks. Coll's early life is incredibly similar to Legs Diamond's which may explain why their abbreviated partnership came about. The book picks up momentum when it begins discussing Coll's flirtation with death in the form of taking on Owney Madden while carrying on a war with Dutch Schultz. Coll had more guts than brains which is the primary reason his candle was snuffed in a hotel phone booth at 24.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dutch Schultz

I found a great site that will allow you to read Paul Sann's Kill the Dutchman.

The book is out of print so unless you want to shell out for a used book ( a decent copy is running around $20) then this is a great deal. I'd been looking for the book forever and here it is!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vivian Grace Davis

LDS family search shows that Vivian Grace Davis died in 1920. I wonder where they got this information because there is no death certificate in Missouri vital records to support the claim. MO required death certificates for all deaths after 1910 so a 16 year old girl could not just die without some formal record. So where does this information originate? I wonder if I write the LDS if they keep records of who tells them what. I can try. Vivian married George M. Chase April 1, 1921. Maybe she left home, under less than favorable circumstances, in 1920. Maybe someone knows the story and after 87 years I can find out what it is.

As Brian Beerman (thanks Brian!) suggested I am trying to find obituaries for Vivian's parents Alfred and Sarah Davis. Unfortunately LOC doesn't have any holdings for Springfield, MO during the time of their deaths. So I'm contacting various MO organizations and MOGENWEB. It would be interesting to get an idea of where Vivian came from....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Egan's Rats

Egan's Rats, Daniel Waugh

St. Louis, Missouri. Somehow when I hear those words I see Judy Garland sing "meet me in St. Louie" and I imagine that St. Louis must be a place of clean cut, Hollywood sanitized, decency. After reading Daniel Waugh's book I think "SO NOT"!

Waugh does a great job detailing The Egan's Rats origins. Showing the relationship between Tom Egan and Snake Kinney; two Progressive Era fixers who were unapologetically part thug and part politician. Waugh gives the reader both atmosphere and details in his compelling description of a bourgeoning St. Louis and the various characters in the gang during that era. Before his death, Tom Egan set up what could have proved to be incredibly lucrative booze routes and affiliates in other cities; after he died the Rat's increasingly moved from being a confederation of illegal businessmen to being a gang of thieving trigger-happy goons. While they did make money from bootlegging their preferred occupation was robbing banks and company payrolls. Murder could be described as a past-time for the Egan's under Dint Colbeck. There were so many intra-gang executions that it’s amazing that the gang avoided self destructing. The body count in this book is staggering showing that St. Louis in the 1920's was as dangerous as anyplace in the country including Chicago.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Newton Brothers

Alright! First person accounts without (seemingly) much editing. It's hard for an author to convey second (often third) hand the urgency and stealth necessary to pull off a successful robbery. Willis & Joe Newton describe the life first hand.

It's a good thing that technology has changed so much since these guys were operating because Willis Newton's descriptions could be a primer for the novice yegg. How much nitroglycerin do you need to blow a steel pete? Keep reading and you'll find out. Some time's it's a little amazing how little security there was back then. Basically, I think people believed that their money was safe until someone tried to steal it. Never mind what happened in other places. So in a warped way the robbers of yesterday have done us a favor. If it wasn't for them our money would be a lot more vulnerable.

It's amazing that the Newton Brothers were as successful for such an extended period of time, but I think they would say it was easier then. The gangs best years were the early 1920's and they concentrated on safe blowing (true Yeggs), Canadian couriers, and trains. They were sent to Leavenworth for a mail train heist in 1924. This was before the FBI, concrete vaults, and trained professional local police departments. It was also during the time when most householders in small towns and cities had guns so it many a robbery had the Newtons being shot at by irate citizens. It's actually amazing that more people don't die in this tale. I believe the count was 2 gang members, no police, and a civilian grazed.

I wish Doc Newton had been able to be interviewed for the book. Evidently he was the true original among the brothers. I would have loved to have read a first hand account of his escape from a Texas prison farm. He stole a guards horse and gun and let hundreds of men out while he rode to safety. Some one should do a book on original escapes.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Harry Tracy

The details behind the story

Dave Merrill

I got this Dave Merrill mug shot from the LOC a while ago. I had no idea who he was. But one look at that kisser and I knew he was not a good guy. I finally found out who he was (never felt like just Googling his name) by reading a book on the Newton Boys. A little over a hundred years ago Merrill was a fairly well known outlaw and he escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary with Harry Tracy. After the two escaped to Washington state Tracy shot Merrill in the back. Mmmm...maybe I will Google this tale.