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Hell’s Kitchen is a working class neighborhood on the west side of Midtown, Manhattan. At the turn of the century the area was largely an Irish and Germen enclave. Throughout the early years of the twentieth century, the most common activity for a young male was to be in some sort of gang. The most powerful of the early Hell’s Kitchen gangs was the Gophers, named so because they usually met in tenement basements. It was mostly made up of Irish toughs from the West Side. At their peak in 1907, there was believed to be around some 500 members. Their main specialties were burglarizing shops and pool halls, and raiding the docks and the Hudson River Rail Road. Occasionally they would rent themselves out as enforcers for various political candidates, but most of their time was spent fighting among themselves and other gangs in the area. There was no real boss of the Gophers, because they were so turbulent very few of their leaders held the distinction for more then a few months. By prohibition the Gophers gang was depleted, and what was left of the Gophers was resurrected by the infamous Owney “the killer” Madden. Owney “the killer” Madden was born in Liverpool, England, of Irish Parentage, and moved to Hell’s Kitchen at a young age. Owney “the killer” Madden was the first his kind in Hell’s Kitchen, he dressed in expensive suits and was well known in New York’s high society. He controlled bootleg liquor, breweries, nightclubs, taxicabs, laundries, cloak and cigarette concessions. He also had a controlling interest in the very popular Cotton Club in Harlem and a piece of heavyweight boxing champion, Primo Carnera. Owney was force to share his bootlegging business with Dutch Schultz. In 1931 Madden was mad a representative of the Irish Mob in New York by Lucky Luciano. With such a lucrative base of income, it was only a matter of time before someone from Hell’s Kitchen would challenge his reign. Vincent “mad dog” Coll was the greatest threat to Madden. Born in County Kildare, Ireland, Coll was brought to New York at an early age and raised by his sister. After bouncing from one Catholic reform school to another, he went to work for Dutch Schultz. It wasn’t long before Coll started getting on Schultz ‘s bad side. Coll even demanded that Schultz cut him in as an equal partner. When Schultz refused, he start up his own gang, and started raiding Schultz’s bootlegging empire and did the same to Owney Madden. His downfall started on July 28, 1931, when Joey Rao, one of Schultz’s top men in Harlem, was standing outside the Helmar Social Club along with two bodyguards and a crowd of kids. A speeding car came by firing shots everywhere, and when it was over a five-year-old boy lay dead and four more wounded. Rao and his bodyguards escaped with out scratch. Everyone knew Coll was behind the shooting, and people on both sides of the law were calling for retribution. On February 8, 1932, Coll was talking on the phone with Owney Madden when a man walked in with a Machine gun and pumped Coll full of lead. Coll died in a pool of his own blood, Madden had set him up. A few months later Madden was imprisoned on a parole violation for 12 months. After his release he retired to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and run what amounted to be a resort town for mobsters on the lam. After Madden retired Eddie McGrath took over the Hell’s Kitchen rackets. Eddie McGrath went up the ranks of the Irish Mob as a bootlegger under Madden. McGrath had ties to some very influential Politians and was involved in the unions. He had been appointed an ILA “organizer at large” by the union’s president, Joseph P. Ryan. His right hand men were his brother-in-law, John “Cockeye” Dunn and Andrew “Squint” Sheridan. He controlled the lucrative numbers game throughout the port of New York and he was on good terms with Meyer Lansky and Moe Dalitz. In 1956 McGrath started losing much of the profit on the docks, because of New York’s Crime commission hearings, and by 1959 airplanes carried two-thirds of all transatlantic passengers. The effect on Hell’s Kitchen was immediate, the most reliable source of employment in the area was dying. With that the gangsters went there separate ways. Squint Sheridan was given a life sentence for murder. Cockeye Dunn was given the electric chair. And in 1959 Eddie McGrath bought a one-way ticket to Florida. As king of the West Side waterfront rackets, he had presided over the most prosperous period for organized crime in New York since Prohibition. With Eddie McGrath retired, Mickey Spillane inherited the rackets that were left. By this time, what remained of the West Side rackets were now evenly divided between the Irish and the Italians Spillane didn’t like the Italians muscling in on his territory. He would often Kidnap La Cosa Nostra figures and hold them for ransom. The Italians knew it was Spillane who had done it, but were willing to tolerate it as long as nobody got hurt, and the ransom never exceeded $15,000. Spillane controlled the very lucrative numbers game and also owned most of the gambling dens and half-dozen nightclubs. In 1966 a tough young punk challenged Mickey Spillane for control of Hell’s Kitchen. This mans name was Jimmy Coonan. Killings and Kidnappings were what followed, until Coonan was convicted of murder and sent to prison until 1970. When Coonan got out of prison Spillane was still boss of Hell’s Kitchen. War between the two did not break out, but by 1977 Spillane was a shadow of his former self. With the deaths of his top enforcers Tom Devaney, Eddie Cummiskey, and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos all within 6 months, Spillane had lost all the power he had. Fat Tony Salerno had order the hits, because he wanted the soon to be built Jacob Javits Convention Center, which was in Spillane’s territory. Spillane’s rackets were also being eaten up by Jimmy Coonan’s new breed of Irish mobsters. Mickey Spillane was killed May 13, 1977 by Roy Demeo’s crew, who Coonan was on good terms with. Jimmy Coonan would be the next ruler of Hell’s Kitchen. Jimmy Coonan led the most violent Irish gang Hell’s Kitchen and New York has ever seen. After being released from jail in 1970 he started building up his own Irish gang so he could take over the rackets from Spillane. His gang soon outgrew the old Irish mob led by Spillane. Coonan’s gang consisted of such crazy killers like Mickey Featherstone, who was Coonan’s right hand man, Richie Ryan, Jimmy McElroy, Billy Beattie, Jackie Coonan, Kevin Kelly, Kenny Shannon, Paddy Dugan, Billy Bokun, Tommy Hess, and Denis Curley. Unlike the Spillane gang, which had a no drug law, the Westies (what they were know as in the media) under Coonan were mostly cocaine addicts and alcoholics. Jimmy may have sold drugs, but he never used them. Mickey Featherstone, Coonan’s right hand man was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, when he was 17 he joined the army and was sent off to Vietnam. When he got of the army during the 1970’s he was involved in a few murders, but out because he was found insane and not fit for trail. He was only 5’8 and 160 lbs but he was fearless, and never backing down from a fight. In 1977 Coonan ordered the killing of mob associate and one of the most successful loansharkers in New York, Ruby Stein. The reason Coonan wanted him dead was because was in debt to Stein to the tune of $70,000, and supposedly a few other West Siders owed similar amounts. It was this murder were Coonan used the method of chopping up his victims body and keeping the hands for fingerprints. In1978, Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino Crime family, wanted a sit down with Coonan. They made an alliance with each other; Coonan was allowed to use the Gambino name in his business dealings in exchange for 10 percent of every thing. Coonan also tried many unsuccessful times to kill Fat Tony Salerno. The reason was because, he heard that Salerno was going to try and take over the Convention Center. Several times Coonan, Featherstone, Ryan, and McElroy went out trying to find Salerno, but never spotted him. Coonan also tried to link up with an Irish gang up in Boston, led by his friend from Sing Sing, Pete Wilson. They met numerous times in New York and then flew to Boston to carry out a heist with Wilson and his boys. But after that they never got back together, because of all the events going on in Hell’s Kitchen. From 1970- 1986 there was some 30 unsolved homicides. In 1979 Featherstone and Coonan were indicted for the murder of Whitey Whitehead, but were found not guilty, but Coonan got four years for gun possession, and Featherstone got six years for gun possession. During the 1980’s the Westies fortune grew, narcotics and sports betting became the most profitable rackets while Coonan and Featherstone were away. When Featherstone got out of prison, he was angered at Coonan, because he had not taken care of his family like he had promised. He also began Coonan ties with the Italians. Featherstone decided it was time to go strait; he turned down an offer from Coonan to murder some guys, which angered Coonan. The breaking point came when Coonan refused to Loan $40,000 to Featherstone. Featherstone soon put together his own gang of Hell’s Kitchen thugs to take out Coonan and crew. His two top men for the conspiracy were Billy Beattie, who Coonan had a contract out on him, and Jimmy McElroy. They went out a couple of times trying to find him, but were unsuccessful. Then in 1985 Mickey was arrested for the murder of Michael Holly, who was actually killed by Billy Bokun. Billy Bokun had worn a disguise that made him look like Featherstone. Featherstone felt he was being framed, and in 1986 the F.B.I got Mickey to flip. He testified against Coonan and nine codefendants and helped convict them. With his conviction Coonan reign as boss of Hell’s Kitchen was over. Coonan was convicted of R.I.C.O and received 75 years. In Coonans absence Kevin Kelly took over the ground level rackets left in Hell’s Kitchen. Kelly along with his right hand man Kenny Shannon, also started apporating outside the west side. They started pushing cocaine in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But with evidence building up against them they went on the run. In August of 1988, after Coonan and the other gangsters were sentenced, Kelly and Shannon turned themselves in. The U.S Attorney’s office identified the two men as the last of the ruling structure of the “Westies”. U.S Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, added that his office had, once and for all crushed this “violent organized crime group that terrorized and exploited the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan for the last twenty years”. Giuliani also went on to call the “Westies”, “ the most savage organization in the long history of New York City gangs”. Word Count: 1873
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