Illinois Police lineup 1927 (Photo: Gift of Mr. Jack Manzella)

Al Capone survived many assassination attempts and usually knew when killers were brought into town to try and kill him. These men in the papers were listed as members of Bugs Moran’s North side Gang. During the war that broke out between Dion O’Banions North Side Gang and Capone’s South side Gang.  Capone’s people would often alert  police to suspected people who might try to do him harm. There is no evidence that any of the above men were intending to kill Capone and we cannot unequivocally say at this time that they were members of Moran’s gang. This lineup was a round up of people brought in, after Capone’s people had phoned police with information that someone might try to kill Capone. Capone survived numerous attempts on his life due to his heavy security and the many spies and informants his millions could buy.  He often traveled with up to 15 bodyguards and had two bullet proof cars specially made for him by Cadillac. Everyone at the Museum of the American Gangster would like to thank Jack Manzella for this great photo of his Grandfather. The Line up is as follows: From Left to Right:  Michael Bizarro, Joe Aiello, Joseph Rubinello, Jack Manzella and Joseph Russo, 1927, Illinois.

(This photo is the exclusive property of Mr. Manzella and on loan to the Museum of the American Gangster.)

Homer Van Meter (Bank Robber and John Dillinger Associate)By Asher Sarnoff Assistant Curator

 

Homer Van Meter was born in Fort Wayne Indiana, on December 3rd 1906. His father was an alcoholic and when Homer was in the sixth grade he ran away from home. He finally ended up in Chicago where he worked as a bellhop and also a waiter.  His first arrest came at the age of 17 for drunk and disorderly conduct in Aurora Illinois, on June 23, 1923.  He also served 41 days in jail for a larceny charge. On January 11th 1924, Van Meter was charged with auto theft and sent to the Menard Correctional Center.  Upon his release, in December of that same year, he robbed passengers on a train in Crown Point Indiana, was caught and sentenced to 10 to 21 years in prison. He was sent to the Pendleton Reformatory. Ever the prankster, he soon met John Dillinger and Harry Pierpont in Pendleton. Dillinger and Van Meter were fast friends while Pierpont  didn’t get along with Van Meter, do to his clowning nature and pension for playing pranks on people. On July 28th 1925, Van Meters behavior got him transferred to the State Prison in Michigan City.

In January of 1926, Van Meter was being taken to Chicago to testify in the trial of the man thought to be his accomplice in the Crown Point train robbery. He escaped from the transport vehicle but was apprehended shortly after begging for change on the sidewalk. One week later, Van Meter and his cellmate Charles Stewart sawed through the bars of their cell and beat a guard unconscious, but were caught leaving the jail. For this infraction Van Meter spent the following two months in solitary confinement where it is alleged he was beaten by guards.

Van Meter won parole on May 19th of 1933, shortly after, he teamed up with “Baby Face” Nelson and Tommy Carroll to rob a bank in Grand Haven Michigan. They escaped with $30,000.  On October 23rd, 1933, the same trio along with John Paul Chase robbed another bank in Brainerd Minnesota, escaping with 32,000 dollars. When Dillinger made his famous escape from the Crown Point Jail on March 3rd, 1934, he joined Van Meters group along with John “Red” Hamilton another career criminal and bank robber. The group so strengthened, began to rob more banks. Their next robbery would take place in Sioux Falls Idaho where a police officer named Keith Hale was severely wounded by “Baby Face” Nelson. The group escaped with $39,500 and went back to St. Paul Minnesota where there hideout was. Van Meter was familiar with the city.

The gang’s continued bank robberies soon brought them to the attention of the newly formed F.B.I. and J. Edgar Hoover. In March of 1934, Dillinger and Van Meter escaped a shootout with police as well as on April 23rd they shot it out with police pursuers and escaped yet again.  Several of the gang’s associates had been killed earlier that year. It is alleged that soon after this, both Dillinger and Van Meter had plastic surgery at the hands of one Wilhelm Loeser In the apartment of Chicago“Outfit” gangster, Jimmy Probasco. Van Meter was not happy with the results of his surgery and wanted to kill Loeser on the spot.  On June 30th 1934, Van Meter, Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and an unidentified fourth man robbed a bank in South Bend Indiana, 4 bystanders were killed in the robbery and Van Meter killed police officer Howard Wagner during the gang’s escape. It would be the gang’s last raid. On August 23rd, 1934, Van Meter was accosted on the street in St. Paul Minnesota where he had been hiding out by 4 police officers, including chief of police Frank Cullen and former chief, Thomas Brown along with two other detectives. Ignoring their command to stop, Van Meter opened fire on them and ran into a nearby alley, he was cornered and shot and killed.

 

Appalachia Organized Crime Meeting November 14th,1957

The Appalachia meeting was a major meeting of top organized crime figures that took place in Appalachia New York on November 14th, 1957 at Joe “Joe The Barber” Barbara’s home, boss of the Buffalo organized crime family. An officer stationed nearby to monitor the comings and goings at this house, noticed many cars arriving and began to take down the license plates. When he felt that it was becoming suspicious, the amount of cars that were pulling up to this particular house, he called in reinforcements and set up a road block. The ensuing melee that this set off is long remembered. Some organized crime figures were sent running into the woods, in fancy shoes and suits, to avoid being captured. This brought to light again the idea that there was an organized crime element alive and well in the country. Something that most citizens knew and understood, but one that the F.B.I. and some others would not admit existed. See the below article for more information.

http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/kettle-fish-apalachin-october-december-1957-chapter-280-article-1.893087 

The Appalachian meeting was set up to discuss how drugs and other rackets would be divided up and how drugs would be sold country wide as well as on the East Coast. This meeting was also called  to try and calm people down after the execution of Albert Anastasia. This killing was probably by order of Vito “Don Vito” Genovese. Who, at this meeting, was expected to be made boss of the Genovese Crime family the family that would later bear his name. He had gone to great lengths to secure his power, also trying to have Frank Costello killed by using a young Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, who missed by a fraction of an inch when he shot Costello. Costello would recover with a minor head wound. But the message was clear, Don Vito wanted to take over. After railroading Genovese in a drug deal, Frank soon after did get out of the lifestyle and lived out his days in peace at the Waldorf Astoria for a time. Costello was put in jail more than once, authorities sought to deport him as well at one time.

Vito “Don Vito” Genovese

 

Albert “Lord High Executioner” Anastasia

The Appalachian meeting was a mistake for organized crime, exposing themselves in such a public fashion is not what they had wanted. Don Vito would be set up later in a drug deal gone bad, allegedly by Costello and others and would end up dying in Jail in 1969. Costello would retire in style doing minimal jail time during his long career, probably because of the many friends he had in high places.  The Genovese crime family is the most powerful and lucrative of the five families having many rackets set up. Although their power is diminished due to the use of RICO statutes and the witness protection program making it easier for associates to inform. They are still a powerful force that is trying to adjust to a modern world.

Monk Eastman, Paul Kelly, Tammany Hall and the Lower East Side By Asher Sarnoff Assitant Curator

Monk Eastman  by Asher Sarnoff  Assitant Curator (Exclusively for the Museum of the American Gangster.)

 

 

 

       EdwardMonk” Eastman rose from the tough streets of the Lower East Side to become one of the biggest and most powerful Gangsters in New York City in the late 1800’s. Born Edward Osterman in Williamsburg Brooklyn in 1875, he was known for his love of animals, at one time being established in a pet store by his parents. He never sold many birds there however, which were one of his favorite pets to own, especially pigeons.  He instead was rumored to use the store for other less legal pursuits.  He got his start in his criminal career by learning to be a pick pocket and thief and figured out a way to use his pigeons to lure more to his coop and became very adept at it. He was known to sometimes walk around with a kitten or with a pigeon on his shoulder. Eastman gradually worked his way up to bigger and bigger crimes.  When Brooklyn got too hot for him he crossed the river and came to Manhattan. He quickly became known as someone that liked to fight and his aptitude at it led to work in dance halls as security and crowd control. Some dance halls could hold as many as 700 people and there were often fights.  Eastman and his gang controlled the people, sometimes with harsh consequences.  He was always considered to be tough and someone you didn’t want to mess with if you didn’t have to. He was known to wear a pair of brass knuckles on both hands and wasn’t afraid to use a black jack or club on patrons who got out of line. He always maintained, if he had to hit a woman he would always “Take me knuck knucks off”.

During the last 30 years of the 19th century and well into the twentieth, Tammany Hall, that powerful political machine, was at the height of its power. To ensure their candidates got enough votes to win, especially positions in the various “Wards”, they used the gangs. They intimidated voters and sometimes beat them into voting their way. Tammany hall also used gangs like the “Five Points gang” run by Eastman’s nemesis, Paul Kelly.  Both were used by Tammany Hall to ensure that the voters voted their way. Many times they did and oftentimes Boss Tweed or later on, others were the leaders of the city and no one else.  Their political machine was so strong that if any gangsters were arrested they could often get them released with no charges filed. They got Monk Eastman off on an attempted Murder Charge in a famous case where several attempts were made to break Eastman out of jail by his loyal followers.

William “Boss” Tweed

 

William Boss Tweed was born April 3rd, 1823 and was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1853. He was later elected to the New York County Board of Supervisors in 1858. The same year, he became the “Grand Sachem” of Tammany Hall. He was later elected to the New York State Senate in 1868. He rose to the heights of political power in New York City and until his death in 1878 ruled over it with a vice like grip. Some estimates are as high as 80 million dollars that he and Tammany Hall skimmed from the New York City budget over time.

Monk Eastman came up with more and more ingenious ways of ensuring victory for the Tammany Hall Democratic candidates. He did everything from beating voters, bribing drunks with booze and using dead people’s names collected off gravestones to vote with. The art of stuffing ballot boxes was also used to pad the vote even more. His men especially liked using men with beards.  They could slowly take parts of the beard off at a local barber; leaving a moustache or “Mutton Chops”. Then again they would send the man to vote and after another trip to the barber they would return him to the voting booths once more, this time clean shaven to vote another time.

New York City was wide open to the gangsters during this period. With many police officers, including judges, lawyers and sometimes, even the Mayor himself, being under the direct control of the long reach of Tammany Hall.   Tammany Hall was willing to overlook most crimes that organized gangs committed back then, besides murder.  This was a reward for when they did a good job and to placate the gangs. This atmosphere made the Lower East Side and other areas like the ‘Tenderloin” or Midtown, ripe for the taking and organized gangs of all ethnicities quickly moved in. They quickly established territories and set up legal and illegal operations. Some of these included houses of prostitution, gambling dens, “stuss” games, opium dens, cocaine bars, legal and illegal saloons and burlesque shows. These shows often masked a prostitution ring in the back.  Some also opened dog and cock fighting rings while other criminals specialized in robberies, pick pocketing, mugging drunks and more. There was any number of legal and illegal businesses that gangs became involved in as well as charging protection money to businesses both legal and illegal.  More and more, Eastman’s gang came in conflict with Paul Kelly’s “Five Pointers” as this article shows.  This running battle with revolvers and over 100 men was one of the largest shootouts of the time.

This Newspaper article is typical of the time:

There were forces within the police department and higher up politically that tried to effect change, but they were mostly in the minority and had no power to do anything. During the late 1800’s most police tended to be Irish and many were on the take from Tammany Hall. There were not many jobs for the new immigrants who came to America and many were horribly persecuted including Jews, Irish, Asians and Italians and others. Many drifted towards a life of crime simply because there was no other way to make a living.  Some may have felt angry at a society that spurned them and gave them no opportunity.

Monk Eastman first came afoul of the law in 1898 when he was arrested for larceny and sentenced to 3 months on Blackwell Island further cementing his pedigree. Other records have him possibly being arrested as early as 1892 under an alias. He rarely if ever used his real name.  Upon his release he was known to hang out with a group of pimps, they called themselves the “Allen Street Cadets”. He was known for dressing oddly at times, wearing a derby hat several sizes too small and two gold capped teeth in the front of his mouth. He sometimes sported a wild head of hair, and he was known to sometimes walk around with no shirt on in “tatters”. He quickly realized that the poor Jews who were moving into the Lower East Side were a perfect pool from which to recruit young impressionable youth who he could use for his own purposes. He taught them to be pickpockets, thieves, pimps, lock picks and other nefarious occupations. After their training, he sent them out into the city to do their work making him rich and powerful. They even had a price list for different crimes, from just beating someone up straight to the top of the list, murder, for as little as fifty to one hundred dollars.  At the height of his power, Eastman could raise 1500 soldiers and maybe as many as 2000; with other smaller gangs who pledged allegiance to him in times of trouble such as the “Gophers”. He was reported to also dress fancily at times and had many scars on his face and body from his many fights.

 

 

(Paul Kelly, Leader,The Five Points Gang)

Eastman’s gang’s main competition was the “Five Points Gang”, an all Italian gang, run by Paul Kelly. He was born Antonio Paolo Vaccarelli in Sicily in 1876. After a short stint as a boxer, Kelly used his prize money to open several brothels. He quickly became powerful too and started his own gang. He changed his name to Kelly for his fighting career, thinking it would help him get better quality fights.   Kelly controlled eastern parts of the Sixth Ward on the Lower East Side as well as Chatham Square and the five points area near Worth and Centre Streets. The “Five Points Gang” were one of the earliest large Italian gangs in New York City and were of equal size and success as Eastman’s Gang. Paul Kelly would go on to lead an empire that would last over 20 years.  He was responsible for recruiting such notable gangsters as Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Johnny Torrio. A brief aside, there were other Italian gangs operating in New York City during the turn of the century. The “Morello Gang was active during this time too and were eventually caught by the secret service and charged with counterfeiting. They were actively counterfeiting five dollar bills as well as coins. Other gangs existed after the turn of the century too such as the 40 Thieves, 18th street gang out in Brooklyn as well as the Navy Street Gang from Brooklyn as well. Later these two gangs along with the Morello’s would form a “Camorra” and combine their families, forming a very powerful family. This “Camorra” would soon break up and some of the Morello’s would be killed in the coming fight for power. In the run up to Prohibition, many small factions began to combine under the power of big powerful “moustachio petes” or old school sicilian Mafia bosses, like Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano.

(Giuseppe Morello)                                

(Ciro Terranova)

 

The Navy St. Gang Brooklyn NY)

 

The “Eastman” and “Five Points” gangs would fight for years for control of the entire Lower East Side. Their fighting threatened to derail Tammany Halls plans as public outrage grew. This association with gangs, along with evidence of the massive corruptions going on under their control; would eventually lead to the end of Tammany Hall’s iron grip over New York Politics in the 1930’s, they would rule for close to 50 years most of it unopposed.

The Lower East Side in the late 1800’s; was a mass of tenements, businesses and a lot of people living very closely packed together. In some areas people lived stacked atop one another in numbers that would make most people cringe today.  Sometimes as many as three or four families would share a small apartment together and rotate sleeping in beds. People would pay a nickel to sleep on the floor in flophouses among the urine, filth and roaches and rats. Conditions were horrible and many people died of disease, dysentery, and other diseases associated with unclean living conditions. The rich New York real estate barons would be born from these tenements that were shoddily constructed and thrown together. They reaped the bounty as they saw the masses of immigrants pouring into the Lower East Side.   They made fortunes renting these dilapidated buildings out. For over 30 years the Lower East Side festered and was considered by the well to do to be a place to avoid.  Although there were some who liked to occasionally slum it with the poorer folk and hope they would see a fist fight or a famous gang member. Families froze in the tenements in winter and boiled in the summer. Often many apartments got little if any light and many lived in almost permanent gloom. With little fresh air being able to circulate due to the buildings close proximity to each other. This also created dim alleys where pickpockets, cut throats, and men specializing in robbing drunks and others called home waiting for victims to stumble across their paths.

Prostitutes walked freely in the streets of the Lower East Side, opium dens, cocaine bars, saloons, burlesque houses that doubled as bordellos, all could be found there.  These businesses both legal and illegal were very profitable for the gangs.  There were also underground gambling dens and “Stuss” games. If a gambler didn’t bet enough he might be plied with drink to loosen him up. If that didn’t work, sometimes gamblers were drugged and robbed and left outside in the street to wake up wondering what happened to them. While other times, they might be found floating in the East River the next day.

This was a time of no fingerprints, or driver’s licenses to identify you. Gang members rarely used their real names and addresses if they were arrested. Many times all the police had to identify them was their picture that was then placed in the “Rogues Gallery”. With Tammany hall lawyers on call, many gang members got away with horrible crimes that would be unimaginable today. Rape, robberies, shootings and gunfights in the streets were common and fights happened all the time. All of these and more crimes were done routinely and rarely were any arrests made that weren’t overturned later by a friendly judge to Tammany Hall. Witnesses could be easily bought for cash who would say whatever you wanted and many politicians and cops were on the take as well. The City staggered under tyranny and graft never before seen in modern times.

Even at the height of his power, Monk Eastman still committed some crimes that he didn’t have to commit. He was known to have a bad temper and survived many fights. He was shot twice in the stomach in 1902, in Chatham Square. He calmly got up and plugged the holes with his fingers and calmly walked to the hospital.  He lived after having an operation.

Because of the massive influx of different ethnic groups throughout the last half of the 1800’s New York City’s population had quintupled in ten years at one point. Jews fleeing the pogroms all over Europe and Russia arrived in New York along with Italians and before them the Irish, who were fleeing horrible famine and poverty as well. Many of them quickly began to settle in the Lower East Side one of the city’s poorest areas. Their dreams of an America with streets paved of gold were quickly shattered when they realized they faced nothing but more persecution and suffering in a new land.

Many Jews, Irish, Italians, Asians and others were persecuted and kept out of mainstream society, a pattern that would last decades longer. Much of the time, jobs were few and far between and barely paid enough to sustain one person let alone a family. Children as young as 6 or 7 worked in factories. The 1890 Census showed that 1 million children aged 10-14 worked in America and by 1910 that number had doubled to 2 million.  Many families depended on these multiple incomes to survive. Children were also preferred by businesses because they were faster moving, easier to train and could be hired for lower wages than adults.  Many families in the Lower East Side lived in horrible conditions and didn’t have enough to eat. Some women turned to prostitution to make ends meet, while some became drug addicts or alcoholics. There were many houses of ill repute where for a price almost any sexual indulgence could be fulfilled. It was a time of decadence without much rule of law where the gangs enjoyed unrivaled power and success. Eastman and his gang prospered during the late 1890’s as his gang grew in size they were more brought under the wing of Tammany Hall. Due to persistent fighting with Kelly and the five point’s gang, Tammany Hall tried to intervene many times, throwing big parties for the gangs. Finally Kelly and Eastman decided to have a fight just between them in 1903 using Queensland rules for boxing. The men, along with a crowd, made their way by train up to the Bronx where they arrived after much cloak and dagger type movement at a farm house. The ring was drawn out and many had come up for the fight to wager on the duel. Kelly was a former boxer, but Monk the much bigger man was favored by many, he was a veteran of many street fights and bar brawls and outweighed Kelly. Both men knocked the other down and fought for four rounds. After the fourth round, both almost collapsed and couldn’t continue and the fight was declared a draw.

Towards the end of the century, gangs and Tammany Hall came under increasing pressure to reform. Monk Eastman was finally convicted and sent to jail for Larceny.  He unfortunately had tried to rob an influential man’s son on a whim on February 3rd 1903, on 42nd street and Broadway.  As the 0man stumbled out of a saloon and began to count his money, Monk and another gang member set upon him to rob him thinking him an easy mark. What they didn’t know was that the Pinkerton agency had been hired by the man’s father to watch over him during his drunken debauch through New York City. A gunfight ensued down 42nd street, where Monk and his cohort emptied their weapons at the Pinkertons and Eastman ended up throwing his empty gun at one of them breaking a store window. As Monk fled down the street a patrolman who had heard the shots and was headed to investigate, knocked him cold with his nightstick as he rounded the corner. Eastman awoke on the floor of a jail cell. He was finally convicted later and was sentenced to ten years in Sing Sing prison.

Eastman benefited from a new law that would give convicts good behavior and take time off their sentences if they didn’t start trouble. Eastman was a model prisoner in Sing Sing and was released after serving more than half his sentence. Conditions at Sing Sing were deplorable. As evidenced by this New York Times Article which quotes Arthur Conan Doyle as saying after a visit to the prison, “It is a disgrace to the state and is 100 years behind the times, it should be burned down.”

Arthur Conan Doyle on Sing Sing N.Y. Times Article

Inmates were put in a cell that measured 7’x4’ with little air or ventilation. Their toilet was a bucket which would begin to smell especially during the sweltering summer heat. Rats and roaches were commonplace and inmates froze in the winter and baked in the summer. During the day, many worked at hard labor breaking stones with sledge hammers.  Sometimes two men were thrown together in these small cells and it wasn’t uncommon for men to be put in a cell together that were known to not get along. Eastman, after his release was a changed man and the New York he remembered was beginning to change. He had little of the money and power he had five or six years before and his gang had been taken over briefly by Max “Kid Twist” Zwiefach.  Kid Twist, briefly held control but after rival factions began to fight and break away his gang finally broke apart, leaving Kelly as one of the most powerful gangsters of the city.  He would dominate gang life for many years to come.  Eastman would dabble with crime after his release being arrested in Buffalo for an attempted robbery, he was soon released, he made attempts to come back to New York City, and he purportedly opened an opium den but was hounded by police more and more.

(Max “Kid Twist”Zweifach)    

As the buildup to World War 1 started to dominate the public conscience and we finally got involved, Eastman decided to give up a life of crime and join the Army. He lied about his age and was accepted into the Army in 1917. Some say at the age of 42 but he listed his age as 39.  Upon his physical the doctor, noticing the many scars and bullet holes on his body asked what wars he had been in.  To which Monk replied “Oh a lot of little wars around New York”. The army at this time was not checking people’s criminal histories and he was accepted into the 106th infantry regiment of the 27th Infantry Division which came to be known as “Ryan’s Roughnecks”. After distinguishing himself at boot camp he was promoted quickly to Private First Class Doughboy and sent off to France to fight the Germans. After his discharge in 1919 and having distinguished himself in several battles, including the Hindenburg Line, New York Governor Al Smith restored his U.S. Citizenship.  He was never awarded any medals, some say due to so many of his superior officers being killed. The 106th took massive casualties of up to 80% killed, in the numerous battles it fought in France.  Many of his fellow soldiers and some superior officers who lived through this, told stories of some heroic things he did in battle. He saved one man’s life that was shot in the shoulder and he pulled him to safety. Years later, when Monk was murdered, he offered to pay for his funeral in full.

 

   Monk’s Final Years

 

Monk returned to a life of petty crime with a former associate named Jerry Bohan, a less than scrupulous prohibition agent who Monk had worked with in the past. He was also rumored by some to be back in the opium business again. Monk and Bohan had also had disagreements as well in the past. On December 26th, 1920 a group of men, including Eastman and Bohan met at the Bluebird café in lower Manhattan. Around 4am a disagreement arose between the group, especially between Bohan and Eastman over money.  When Bohan left, Eastman followed him and accused him of being a rat. It is possible he was threatened by Eastman due to their earlier conflicts and he quickly drew his pistol and killed Eastman on the spot with several shots. He was buried with full military honors in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York City.  Bohan was later convicted of the murder and sentenced to three years in jail.  Monk Eastman remains mostly a mystery in the police department records; he almost never used his real and had several aliases. He enlisted under his real name but the police didn’t have any record of him as Edward Eastman.  There are other accounts of his death where the assailant was not seen and some say he wasn’t killed by Bohan at all. Most people at the time didn’t want to get involved in something related to gangsters and there were no official witnesses who came forward that saw anything. Much of the death of Monk Eastman is shrouded in mystery; however he will be remembered as one of the earliest millionaires and most influential gang leaders of his day. Very few families or gangs ever reached the height of power or size that his gang reached.

Handsome Harry Pierpont (Bank Robber and John Dillinger Associate)

Harry Pierpont was born in Muncie Indiana on October 13th, 1902. Known as a fiercely loyal person, he was someone who John Dillinger looked up to and worked with.  Pierpont was described as very intelligent by his school teachers. In 1921 after a car accident in which he sustained a head wound, Pierpont’s demeanor and attitude drastically changed.  He began to suffer from headaches, eye pain and insomnia. In 1921 Pierpont was also arrested for gun possession and held in jail for ten days.  He was sent to the state hospital in Indiana shortly after this where he was diagnosed as having Dementia Praecox.

On January 2nd, 1922 he stole a car and drove to Greencastle Indiana where he robbed a hardware store of 9 handguns. 5 days later Pierpont was arrested for auto theft and battery with the intent to kill. He was caught in the act of robbing a car by the owners, after a struggle in which Pierpont shot and wounded the man, he was caught by police. While being held in Terre Haute Indiana, Pierpont attempted to escape the prison by sawing through the bars of his cell, this attempt failed.

On March 12th, 1923, Pierpont entered the Indiana state Reformatory where he was to serve a 2-14 year prison term for auto theft and battery with the intent to kill.  In November of 1923, Pierpont was transferred to the newly built Indiana Reformatory at Pendleton, Indiana. His later request for clemency from the Governor of Indiana was denied on May 1st, of 1923.

Pierpont’s mother Lena often visited him in prison and campaigned for his release due to his mental condition. Pierpont was granted parole in March of 1924. He soon returned home and began to work in his father’s gravel business in Brazil, Indiana for several months. He still was mixing with known bank robbers and it is alleged during this time he may have robbed the Southwine Theater in Brazil.

It is alleged that during 1924-25 that Pierpont, living in Kokomo, Indiana was the ringleader of a gang called the “Piperpont- Bridgewater-Northern” Gang. He was accused of robbing the South Marion State Bank on November 26th, 1924 along with six or seven other men. The subsequent round up of the majority of this gang was characterized at the time as one of the largest gang round ups in the state’s history.  The majority of the gang was caught soon after and sentenced to 10 to 20 years and some lesser sentences of 2-14 years. The Gang before this however would go on a spree of bank robberies throughout December of 1924, robbing banks in small towns all over Indiana in Upland and Noblesville Indiana as well as a hardware store in Lebanon, Indiana on December 22nd, 1924. By Early 1925, after the arrest of several of his gang members, Pierpont was beginning to be pursued by authorities all over the state. Descriptions were wired to different sheriff’s stations all over the state to be on the lookout for a group of thieves. Many of the robberies Pierpont’s gang committed were without masks on so authorities had some good descriptions of the men. Pierpont standing at six feet tall with blonde hair and blue eyes wasn’t too hard to miss.

On April 2nd, 1925, Pierpont and an associate were arrested and found to be in possession of weapons and cash. The car they had used in a recent robbery was found with the plates on it from another car that was reported stolen earlier. Detectives had been pursuing Pierpont’s gang for most of 1925 and had been close on their trail for some time. While being held at the Howard County Jail in Kokomo, Indiana, Pierpont and an associate were found to be in possession of saw blades which they attempted to saw through the bars with.  A bar in Pierpont’s associate’s cell had been already severed and Pierpont’s cell was found to have a bar partly severed by Pinkerton detectives.

During his later incarceration for the earlier Bank Robberies, Pierpont met John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter during this time. He would later ask Dillinger’s help who was about to be released in 1932. He would break out of prison and go on to Rob more Bank’s with Dillinger and Homer Van Meter. Pierpont was someone Dillinger looked up to and was a well-respected person in the prison. He was known to fight with guards and was often beaten and sent to solitary confinement. A predecessor of Dillinger he was someone who was intelligent and looked up to by other Bank Robbers and associates. After a spectacular prison break from the Michigan City Jail, in 1933, in which seven men broke out of the jail after taking hostages and using guns smuggled into the prison from the outside. Dillinger himself had earlier thrown guns over the prison wall for Pierpont and associates to get but the guns were discovered by other prisoners instead. After this break and after robbing another bank they then broke John Dillinger out of jail in Lima on October 12, 1933 they shot the sheriff in the stomach and locked him and his wife up, taking Dillinger with them and leaving the sheriff for dead. They went on a rampage of bank robberies during this time, using some of the tactics of “The Baron” Herman Lamm, the father of modern bank robbers. An associate of Pierpont’s they met in prison who had worked with Lamm spoke about his tactics for robbing banks involving military precision and careful planning. The group soon after began to use similar tactics to Lamms to rob banks.

The group quickly became public enemy number one although Pierpont liked to keep a low profile, allowing Dillinger to receive all the credit for the many robberies they performed together.  This group was also known for their daring raids of local police stations, they would rob police stations of their complete armament, including guns and bulletproof vests.

With the death of John Dillinger after a string of bank robberies, Pierpont and Mackley an associate were arrested and put on death row finally. They made one last escape attempt, carving makeshift guns out of soap, they managed to almost escape after taking a guard hostage, they were opened fire upon by guards and Mackley was killed. Pierpont, gravely wounded, was allowed to heal up and then later carried to the electric chair and electrocuted on October 17th, 1934, Pierpont was 32 years old at the time of his execution. While not as well known of a name as John Dillinger, never seeking the spotlight, Pierpont will go down as one of the most infamous criminals in Indiana history.  He was someone that Dillinger not only looked up to, but sought to emulate.

 

 

Different ways to smuggle Alcohol during prohibition

 

There were many ways people began to smuggle alcohol, smugglers vests, people sailed in small ships down to the Bahamas and Caribbean to bring back alcohol, people used planes, trucks, cars, and even their own bodies to smuggle alcohol across borders and also all over the United States.

The Kefauver Commission Hearings 1950-51 By Asher Sarnoff Assistant Curator

The Kefauver hearings which took place in 1950-51, were undertaken to ascertain exactly how powerful organized crime was in the United States. Authorities didn’t know the extent of organized crimes power. Did one family rule the entire country? Was it a network? How deeply ingrained in American society were they and what industries did they have a foothold in? All these questions and more were asked and sometimes answered of the over 600 witnesses who testified before the commission. It ended up in New York City where organized crime figures of the day were asked to testify. Many organized crime figures hid behind the fifth amendment so as not to incriminate themselves. This hearing also forced the F.B.I. to admit that they had known about organized crime for years and hadn’t been able to do much to stop their rise to power. Even though the F.B.I. had been fighting organized crime since its federalization by  President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

Kefauver had his own political aspirations and that may have been behind him pushing for this committee to be formed. They traveled to 14 states and interviewed hundreds of witnesses. Many told them how organized crime was making inroads, they spoke about payoffs to organized crime figures, corruption and more. These hearings captivated the nation and were televised often. Over 30 million viewers tuned in and were riveted by the information they were listening to. When the commission arrived in Las Vegas, most of the people called to testify skipped town. Organized crime feared the commission might expose organized crimes ties to Las Vegas and other gambling concerns.  Since so many people didn’t show up to testify the Las Vegas hearings were shut down and barely lasted one day. This was the uniform result in many cities that the commission visited. Many people refusing to testify or pleading the fifth amendment and hiding behind the rites it gives people under American law.  The Las Vegas review ran an article speaking about the ineffectiveness of the commission, it was quoted as saying  ”The United States Senate’s crime investigating committee blew into town yesterday like a desert whirlwind, and after stirring up a lot of dust, it vanished, leaving only the rustling among prominent local citizens as evidence that it had paid its much publicized visit here.”

The final Kefauver Commission report was over 11,000 pages long, however only four pages of it were about Las Vegas. While it was known that organized crime was involved in illegal and legal gambling, there seemed at the time no way to dislodge them from it. Kefauver is known to have been someone that enjoyed gambling at times, yet his remarks during the hearings say different. He was quoted as saying of gambling “Gambling produces nothing and adds nothing to the economy or society of our nation.” To combat organized crimes leverage in the gambling world, Kefauver and others brought up the idea of a 10 % tax on all gaming but others voted this measure down claiming it would hurt Las Vegas too much and jeopardize the large tax revenues that casino’s generated for the state.

Due to political pressure, in 1955 the Nevada gaming commission instituted a law that any casino owner had to be licensed by the states gaming board. Later, the state would institute more strict laws to try and weed organized crime out of casino’s. In the sixties they would create the “Black Book”, a book of people who were banned from entering and owning casino’s. This book was mostly filled with organized crime figures who were no longer allowed into casinos. If you watched the film “Casino” it is this law that is the beginning of the end for organized crimes run on Casinos. It made it more difficult for organized crime to plant a fake boss that they could control as the head of a casino and to run it for them.

While the Kefauver hearings at their inception seemed a great idea, they did little to stop organized crime or even deter them. Organized crime saw the hearings as another instance of government doing little if anything to stop them. It was known that for decades, organized crime had not only bribed politicians, but had also contributed and raised large sums of cash to elect different candidates. Organized crime would continue to hold on to power in Las Vegas for the better part of two decades after the hearings had concluded. Kefauver died on September 10th, 1963, two days after having a heart attack on the floor of the senate.

 

 

Frank Costello at the Kefauver Hearings 1950-51, Frank became an unwanted star from his stint at the hearings, appearing nervous he asked to not have his face shown, instead his hands were and you could see from watching on television that he was nervous during his questioning.

Source Information http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lasvegas/peopleevents/p_kefauver.html