Gangs and Gangsters

The Monk Eastman gang
Two patrolmen, walking their beat near Union Square at daybreak on 26 December 1920, discovered the lifeless body of a man lying in the snow by the subway entrance on Fourth Avenue. William Delaney, fifty years old, had been drinking earlier that night at the Blue Bird Café, a speakeasy on Fourteenth Street. Jeremiah Bohan, a former acquaintance, had shot and killed Delaney as he had walked to the subway, firing five bullets from a .32-calibre pistol. The death of Delaney, also known as Max Eastman, brought to an end the career of one of New York’s most notorious criminals, the leader of a Bowery gang that had terrorized the east side twenty years earlier.

Delaney’s men first attracted attention in October 1902 on the occasion of a gunfight with the Five Points Social Club in Suffolk Street in Chinatown. The Max Eastman gang quickly gained influence on the Lower East Side, assassinating labor union dissidents, fighting with rival gangs, and intimidating Republican supporters at election time. Police raids and arrests of gang members had little effect; powerful politicians used their influence to persuade the magistrates to drop charges.

But an attempt by Delaney in December 1903 to kill a Pinkerton detective signaled the end of the Max Eastman gang. The jury found him guilty of attempted murder and the Recorder, John Goff, sentenced Delaney to ten years in the penitentiary. Max Zweiback, also known as Kid Twist, seized control of the Max Eastman gang during Delaney’s imprisonment but his rule ended in May 1908 when a jealous husband gunned Zweiback down as he was walking on Coney Island.

Delaney was a model prisoner in Sing Sing and he obtained his full release in October 1910. His former associates had scattered and the Max Eastman gang had long since disappeared. Delaney moved to Albany and earned his living as a plumber. He enlisted in the army during the Great War, despite his age, and served in France in the 106th Infantry. He returned to New York; an old enemy caught up with him; and Delaney died from his bullet wounds at the Fourth Avenue subway entrance.


See: "An East Side Vendetta," New York Times, 17 September 1903.
" 'Monk' Eastman Will Go to Penitentiary," New York Times, 15 April 1904.
" 'Monk' Eastman, Gangster, Murdered," New York Times, 27 December 1920.

 

 

Tanner Smith Terrors
Tanner Smith, born in 1890, led a teenage gang in the Chelsea neighborhood on the West side. Smith frequently appeared before the Magistrate’s Court after his first arrest in April 1907 and scarcely a month passed that did not record his arrest for assault, robbery or intoxication. His reputation for violence and intimidation made it increasingly difficult for the police to persuade witnesses to testify against him: one victim, Charles Black, forebore in 1909 to press charges on a robbery indictment against Smith; a second victim, John Gerrity, refused in 1910 to identify Smith on an indictment for assault.


See: “Outbreak of the ‘Gang’ Terror in New York City,” New York Times, 7 August 1910.

 

 

Paul Kelly Social Club
Paolo Vaccarelli, born in 1877, had first come to public attention as a prizefighter, winning his most celebrated victory over the champion boxer, George Dixon. Vaccarelli, at the suggestion of his manager, had changed his name during his boxing career to Paul Kelly. He eventually retired from the ring, opening a dance-hall and saloon at 57 Great Jones Street that attracted a clientele of small-time crooks. A gang, known as the Paul Kelly Social Club, quickly coalesced around its eponymous leader, wreaking havoc and mayhem within the streets around Kelly’s saloon and in the Italian district in Harlem centered on 115th Street and Second Avenue. Felix Bigvino, the leader of the gang in its Harlem outpost, was a notorious criminal with more than one hundred followers. Bigvino’s career reached its zenith in July 1903 when he led his acolytes, armed with knives and guns, in an attack on the police station on East 104th Street.


See: “Rioters Mob a Car,” New-York Tribune, 9 July 1903
“Can’t Locate Paul Kelly,” The Sun (New York), 25 November 1905.