History of the National Crime Syndicate
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The Noble Experiment
The United States government had the 18th Amendment to the Constitution ratified on January 16, 1919 and passed the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919 thus making America a "dry nation". Prohibition, or the "Noble Experiment", as it came to be called, began on January 16, 1920.
With the advent of Prohibition in 1920, ethnic gangs, businessmen and everyday citizens from the big cities such as New York and Chicago to the small rural communities across the United States became involved in rumrunning to obtain quick wealth and power. Prohibition was also the beginning of great wealth, power and political influence for the crime groups and made it possible to begin planning an eventual move to organize crime on a national level.
United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933, repealing Prohibition. The manufacture, sale and possession of alcoholic beverages was no longer illegal and the underworld continued to reorganize their illegal and legal operations to make up for the loss of profits experienced when Prohibition was repealed. For years prior to the end of Prohibition, some of the most influential crime leaders from across the United States looked to organization among the gangs as the future of crime in America, leading some crime historians to believe that organized crime truly began to establish itself at a boardwalk meeting in Atlantic City, 1929.
Crime begins to organize
The same large and politically connected gangs from New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans that controlled gambling, prostitution, extortion, thefts and narcotics since the early to mid-19th century, now controlled bootlegging operations across America in the 1920s. These recently organized and powerful criminal organizations began from the ethnic street gangs who committed violent crimes, provided illegal goods and services to the community and acted as enforcers for the political machines of the big cities and towns. The mainly Irish, Jewish, Italian and Polish immigrants that had begun to organize themselves at after World War I, continued their criminal activities with the start of Prohibition and began to meet the great demand for beer and liquor that came from citizens, speakeasies and blind pigs that sprang up across America overnight.
The big city gangs of the United States had always maintained a degree of dominance in the underworld and when Prohibition came along the Irish, Jewish and Italian gangs began to cooperate amongst themselves to a degree and became the most powerful criminal organizations in 1920s America. They dominated the Prohibition era rackets all along the east coast, midwest and southern United States. When Prohibition began, the Irish racketeers in New York City, Massachusetts and Chicago were still a dominant force in the underworld, especially in New York being that Tammany Hall and the city's political wards were controlled by a predominantly Irish group of politicians. The Jewish gangs had always been a powerful force in the nation's underworld and were a very close second to the Irish in power, due to their numbers and business sense. The Italian gangs were starting to assert their authority and influence in the underworld through their strong numbers and willingness to use violence. During Prohibition there were two types of bootleggers: beer and alcohol manufacturers who operated breweries and distilleries and the importers who smuggled brand name liquor into the United States from Canada, Europe and the Caribbean by boat and plane. At the start of Prohibition there were two big bosses who controlled beer breweries and all brand name liquor imports while the ethnic gangs controlled most of the home alcohol distilleries, some beer brewing and the distribution of most beer and liquor in the cities and towns. Jewish crime boss Arnold Rothstein, along with Irish boss William "Big Bill" Dwyer, controlled the majority of high quality, brand name liquor smuggled in from Canada and Europe, all along the East coast from the areas of New York and New Jersey. The liquor distribution was handled by their lieutenants and sold to the ethnic gangs that they did business with, who in turn supplied readily available customers such as speakeasies and blind pigs.
The Brain and the King of Rumrunners
Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein was a Jewish crime leader and professional gambler who came from a well to do family in New York. His father, Abraham "Abe the Just" Rothstein, was well known in the Jewish community and successful garment center businessman, who made sure his son Arnold was well educated in school and in the Jewish faith. Arnold Rothstein had very important connections to high level law enforcement officials, judges and politicians in New York City's Tammany Hall. Rothstein was the middleman between the political world of Tammany Hall and the underworld. He corrupted judges and obtained police protection for his various criminal operations including, gambling, bookmaking, loansharking, narcotics and garment center rackets. With the beginning of Prohibition, Rothstein seized the opportunity to use his wealth and connections. He financed large-scale liquor importation operations from Europe and Canada, making the most of his prominent associations such as the Bronfman family of Canada. He employed and mentored underworld members and future bosses such as Meyer Lansky, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, Dutch Schultz, Irving "Waxey Gordon" Wexler and Jack "Legs" Diamond, having them oversee all of his rackets and liquor smuggling operations. During Prohibition, Rothstein stayed in the shadows while his lieutenants oversaw distribution of the smuggled liquor to customers, bordellos, speakeasies and blind pigs all across the East Coast. Arnold Rothstein along with his business partner John "The Fox" Torrio was one of the first underworld bosses to see the potential of organizing crime on a national level and may have been the most important criminal of his era. He was shot on November 4, 1928 at the Park Central Hotel and later died. Underworld folklore states that he was shot for welshing on a gambling debt, but most crime historians believe that his garment center rackets, along with his lucrative heroin smuggling operations were desired by the newest underworld powers, Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter.
William "Big Bill" Dwyer was an Irish crime boss, born and raised in New York's Hell's Kitchen, who became a stevedore and union thug on Manhattan's docks. When Prohibition came into effect he was in a position to use his connections to boat captains to import liquor from Europe, while using his dock connections to garages and trucks to store and transport the liquor. By the end of his first year in the bootlegging business he had enough wealth to buy his own boats and political protection.
Bill Dwyer bought protection for his operations from 11th Assembly District leader James "Jimmy" Hines, who became a powerful middleman between Tammany Hall and the underworld, protecting Dwyer's and many other illegal operations in New York. In 1923, Dwyer went into partnership with several other Irish bosses, bootleggers and rumrunners of the Prohibition era, including feared Hell's Kitchen boss Owney "The Killer" Madden, Long Island boss Larry Fay, and Providence, Rhode Island boss Daniel "Danny" Walsh to form one of the underworld's biggest liquor smuggling and distribution operations, the Combine. In 1924, Bill Dwyer and Owney Madden purchased the Phoenix Cereal Beverage Company to begin brewing beer, while Larry Fay purchased a number of popular nightclubs and speakeasies that would become their primary outlets for the beer they manufactured and the bootlegged rum, scotch, vodka and champagne they smuggled into the country. Partner Danny Walsh controlled the Combine's liquor smuggling and distribution operations along the Rhode Island coast. Soon the Irish-led Combine was running smoothly, money was flowing, allowing Dwyer and Madden to expand and diversify their business contacts to include Jewish gangsters like Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Waxey Gordon, along with Italians Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis and Joseph Bonanno. The old guard or "Mustache Petes" allowed chosen underlings to oversee joint business ventures with other ethnic gangs and groups such as the Combine only when it was too lucrative to pass up. Traditionally the old Italian bosses had forbidden their groups and their members to do business outside the Italian underworld, but the next generation of gangsters led by Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis and Joe Bonanno were open to the possibilities. The Combine even did business with leading black racketeers and numbers bosses in Harlem, such as Madame Stephanie "The Queen" St. Clair and her lieutenant Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson.
In 1926, William "Big Bill" Dwyer was convicted of trying to bribe a coast guard official and sentenced to two years in prison. Italian boss and Dwyer ally, Francesco Castiglia, who changed his name to Frank Costello a decade before he stepped up to take control of Bill Dwyer's operations, Costello was helped by Dwyer associate, the Irish boss of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Charles "Vannie" Higgins, who was said to be second only to Bill Dwyer in the rumrunning business. Vannie Higgins was called "Brooklyn's last Irish boss" and controlled the Brooklyn waterfront and its Irish stevedores during Prohibition. He had a small fleet of speedboats and airplanes he used to control the rumrunning and liquor smuggling on the Long Island coast. Bill Dwyer was let out for good behavior in 1927 after serving 13 months and slowly withdrew from the bootlegging business and underworld, seeing the writing on the wall and realizing that the next generation of Italian and Jewish gangsters were starting to assert their authority on the streets through sheer violence. Dwyer knew the Italian and Jewish crime leaders would eventually take control of all underworld rackets and operations. He quietly retired and put his money into legitimate gambling such as casinos and racetracks, by 1930 he was fully retired from underworld activity and lived with his wife and five children in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York. Eventually Dwyer owned professional sports franchises in Hockey and Football.
War or peace
Since the first American and Irish gangs were formed in the early 1820s with the pick-up of immigration, New York City and other big cities on the East Coast had witnessed ever rising numbers of gangs, corruption, and graft with the increasing numbers of immigration and the wealth accrued by the Robber Barons. The old republican forms of civil government resting as it did on community trust and elite or middle class voluntary involvement proved unable to deal with the changed society. At first, the gangs served the purpose of continuing the fiction of this little republican civil government by providing little more than protection and/or election rackets to the various office holders and voluntary associations such as the local Fire Company which provided safety or infrastructure to the community.
At first, the nativist gangs such as the Bowery Boys and others of the Native American Confederacy which served the Know Nothing Party held the Irish gangs at bay from the 1820s until after the Civil War. However, when immigration again increased, and the local economies of small business, cottage industry, and Artisans and Craftsman collapse under Corporate Capitalism, the Irish and Irish-American street gangs increased in number and influence by spreading into labor rackets and expanding their traditional Vice interests. Furthermore, the Irish-American gangs proved increasingly willing to work with the highest bidder regardless of ethnic origin thereby earning the trust of the Gilded Age elite. Irish dominated Tammany Hall, a predominant power since the 1830s, exploited this situation and soon became the primary middle men between the New York City's Robber Baron elite and the underworld, thereby gaining dominant power in the city.
Consequently, the Irish had held a level of power and leadership in both the underworld and political world by controlling the two most powerful worlds the big cities had to offer, the criminal and political worlds. Thus, the multitudes of Irish immigrants that flocked to America were the first to control underworld activities in the big cities across the United States after they overran the nativist gangs. In turn, the remnants of the Natives and Irish-Americans reorganized and began battling with other Irish-American and Irish gangs. The most violent and ruthless street gangs had battled and killed each other for years, the most famous of these gangs being those who fought battles to lay claim over a certain area of New York. This area of Manahattan, once comprising Mulberry, Anthony, Cross, Orange and Little Water Streets, made up the famous Five Points, between Broadway and the Bowery. Gangs such as the Forty Thieves, Plug Uglies, Patsy Conroys, Dead Rabbits and Bowery Boys, fought and killed each other over the criminal spoils and territory of the Five Points.
However, just as the Irish and Irish-Americans had gotten dominance, starting in the 1870s, New York and the Five Points experienced a wave of Italian and Jewish immigrants, whose criminals quickly organized themselves into two of New York's most powerful ethnic gangs, each with a membership topping 1500 soldiers. These two gangs battled each other for underworld dominance, the Jewish Eastman Gang led by Edward "Monk Eastman" Osterman and the Italian Five Points Gang led by Paolo "Paul Kelly" Vaccarelli. These two predominantly Italian and Jewish gangs had some ethnic diversity to them and their leaders and members over the years would wage historic battles until the early 1910s. By then the Irish, Italian and Jewish and few remaining American criminals had organized themselves into some semblance of the Gangs and Families that would come to reign in the underworld for the next 100 years. Italian Gangs or Families such as the Sicilian Morello Family of Manhattan's East Harlem and Little Italy, the Neapolitan Camorra Family of Coney Island, Brooklyn and the Jewish Gangs of the Lower Eastside, Manhattan and Brownsville, Brooklyn, all dominated crime in their areas. Two other well-known gangs of this era were the mixed American and Irish-American White Hand Gang led by William "Wild Bill" Lovett and Richard "Pegleg" Lonergan, who warred over control of the Red Hook, Brooklyn waterfront with the Italian Black Hand Gang led by John "The Fox" Torrio and his partner Francesco "Frankie Yale" Uale. Lovett was killed on November 1, 1923 and his associate Lonergan was killed on December 26, 1925 which gave the Italians control of the waterfront.
Thus, in the 20th century, the Italian and Jewish gangs maintained a level of influence and power in the underworld at this time, but the Irish had always maintained their dominance in criminal activities by entering the political world and becoming the dominant leaders in big city politics around the United States from the early 19th century to the 1930s. Meanwhile, networks of small independent All-American gangs, especially involved in safe-busting, robbery, or gun-fighting remained and were often picked by the bigger foreign gangs to wage hardened crimes. These included men and gangs such as Claude Maddox, Robert Carey (gangster), Fred Burke, Raymond "Crane Neck" Nugent, Gus Winkler, Charlie Fitzgerald, the Ma Barker gang, the John Dillinger gang, and the Bonnie and Clyde gang.
Meanwhile, with the change of America's political and social climate in the late 1920s, the politicians and criminals involved in the rackets such as James J. Hines, Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, John Torrio, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello could see that the "Noble Experiment" would soon be over and Prohibition would come to an end. The next generation of underworld leaders were contemplating the future of crime and preparing themselves for the change and the Italians planned on being the new and dominant underworld power which meant destroying or subordinating most of the Irish, Irish-American, and remaining American gangs, with the Irish groups being the prime target.
The Irish gangs had dominated underworld activities in America's big cities of New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, but by the mid-1920s the Irish reign was being challenged by powerful Italian and Jewish gangs, especially in Chicago, St. Louis, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence and of course New York.
In Chicago the gang war between the Italian, South Side Gang of Johnny Torrio and Al Capone and the Irish, North Side Gang of Dean O'Banion and George "Bugs" Moran had become legendary by the mid-1920s. These two powerful gangs fought for control of the criminal rackets and Prohibition era operations in Chicago and its surrounding areas, in what the media called "The Beer Wars". These two dominant gangs influenced other, smaller criminal groups in the Chicago underworld who lined up behind one of the two gangs in the war. The two gangs and their allies had been taking shots at each other since 1920, but the war officially started with the November 10, 1924 assassination of Irish, Northside boss Dean O'Banion in his Northside flower shop. The war brought added law enforcement and media attention, but public outrage came to a head when Italian, Southside boss Alphonse "Al Scarface" Capone finally wiped out part of the North Side Gang with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre on February 14, 1929.
In the St. Louis underworld, the Irish-American Egan's Rats Gang battled over the Prohibition spoils with a number of different gangs. The Italian underworld was run by two Black Hand Gangs, The Green Ones and The Pillow Gang. The Italian gangs also warred amongst each other and after years of bitter rivalry they merged themselves into one powerful gang looking to dominate the underworld. By the late 1920s, the Italian gang made up of Green One's and Pillow Gang members who survived the earlier wars and would go on to dominate the St. Louis underworld for decades under La Cosa Nostra's flag started to move in on the Irish Egan's Rats Gang and by 1932 the Rats were no more.
In Atlantic City, South New Jersey, a young Polish immigrant by the name of Michael Cusick decided to change his name to Mickey Duffy to sound more Irish and earn the good graces of American gangster Enoch "Nucky" Johnson. In 1922 "Duffy" opened an illegal beer brewery in Camden, New Jersey and was soon importing large amounts into Johnson's network, thereby making his way onto becoming the beer baron of South New Jersey. The Duffy Gang controlled all beer distribution in South New Jersey and by the mid-1920s was making a move into Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia underworld and the battle for its Prohibition-era rackets included several top criminal groups based in "The City of Brotherly Love." The Irish O'Leary Gang was led by Daniel "Danny" O'Leary and his three brothers, the Jewish Hoff Gang was led by well known boxing promoter and crime boss Max "Boo Boo" Hoff, who along with his associates Charles Schwartz and Samuel Lazar domonated much of the areas bootlegging activities. Two rival Italian gangs, the Sabella or Castellammarese crime family led by Salvatore Sabella and his lieutenant Joseph Bruno (born LoCascio) were leading the top mafia group which had strong ties to the New York mafia and its Castellammarese crime family of Brooklyn. Along with the Lanzetti Gang, led by Leo Lanzetti and his 5 brothers, known killers and extortionists the Philadelphia underworld was full of crime groups looking to prosper, but finding themselves battling over the same stakes, the wealth brought by Prohibition. As the Prohibition era wars in Philadelphia raged on from 1924 to 1931, many casualties and losses were felt within the various crime groups. Italian crime bosses, rivals Joseph Bruno and Lanzetti, were both killed in 1925 just days apart by each other's respective groups. In 1928 Irish crime boss Danny O'Leary was murdered by rivals, while Jewish crime boss Max Hoff was having legal troubles. These allowed Atlantic City and South New Jersey "Irish" crime boss Mickey Duffy to take over the majority of the Philadelphia area bootlegging and beer distribution operations, making him the dominant crime boss at the time, within the South New Jersey and Philadelphia area bootlegging and beer rackets. This caused the Italian crime groups to unite and merge themselves successfully into one gang or crime family and with the assistance of the remaining Jewish crime bosses, they challenged Duffy's reign. Irish boss Micky Duffy was killed on August 31, 1931, leaving the Italian and Jewish crime bosses in complete control of the Philadelphia underworld, something that seemed to have been planned.
In the Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island underworlds, the Italians and Irish first fought for control of gambling operations and then continued their battles over the Prohibition era rackets. Boston's North End Gang was led by Filippo "Phil" Buccola, Joseph "J.L." Lombardo and Frank "The Cheeseman" Cucchiara, who aligned themselves with the Providence Morelli Gang led by Frank "Bootsy" Morelli and Ray Patriarca. They were at war with Boston's Gustin Gang led by Frank Wallace and his ally, Daniel "Danny" Walsh of Providence. Wallace was a powerful and influential gangster with ties to police and politicians in the Irish wards, allowing him to become Boston's leading bootlegger, supplying speakeasies and blind pigs all across New England. Walsh was a rich and powerful bootlegger in Providence, Rhode Island, who ran a regional offshoot of Bill Dwyer and Owney Madden's Combine in New York. He owned a fleet of rum-running boats, controlled the Rhode Island coast line and was a member of the Prohibition era organization known as the "Big Seven Group". The Italians were determined to wipe out the Irish and take complete control of the Boston and Providence underworlds, merging them into the New England underworld. This was accomplished when Frank Wallace was killed on December 22, 1931, attending a meeting in Boston's North End and Danny Walsh disappeared on February 2, 1933 in Providence. To this day the Irish Winter Hill Gang and the Italian Patriarca crime family still fight for control over Boston. The Italians of Boston and Providence merged in 1932 to form the New England crime family.
In New York, wars or conflicts had been going on for the control of the rackets between the Americans, Irish-Americans, Irish, and other ethnic gangs since the 1880s, but with the advent of Prohibition and the amount of wealth that had been obtained by it, not only wealth, but great power and influence was now at stake with the end of Prohibition near. There were many Prohibition era wars in New York's underworld, the most famous being the "Castellammarese War", but before that came the "Manhattan Beer Wars" between two rival bootlegging organizations that had once been part of the Irish Combine. The most powerful underworld leaders from all the ethnic gangs would either have to war for dominance in the Prohibition era rackets or meet with each other and create a peaceful solution, dividing up territories and rackets among the most powerful and influential underworld leaders. By the late 1920s the Italians and Jewish crime leaders were on their way to total domination of America's underworld and the leaders in the big cities took the first steps in reorganization of the underworld.
Leaders begin to re-organize
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Since the earliest days of gang activity, New York and Chicago have always been the east coast and Midwest centers of underworld activity, and with the wealth and power obtained from Prohibition, the crime bosses bought political influence and started to gain more power. The New York and Chicago bosses began establishing their influence over underworld rules and policies across the United States, giving them control over the smaller gangs in other cities and territories, always moving forward towards organization and control on a national level. The idea for a nationally organized crime syndicate was started by bosses Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein and John "The Fox" Torrio of New York. By the mid-1920s, a new generation of underworld leaders had seen the potential of organizing crime on a national level and began to move in that direction. Younger, intelligent and highly motivated gangsters such as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer "The Brain" Lansky began to exert their power and influence in the underworld and Americanize its traditions and business practices. These new like-minded leaders began to strengthen their underworld ties by aligning themselves in joint business ventures, without including the older and more established leaders. A common ideology of business, crime and politics, usually referred to as the Big 3, fast became the "Holy Trinity" among these new leaders and while cooperating with each other they used it as one of their basic operating principles.
One of the first steps taken towards reorganization in the underworld and the formation of the National Crime Syndicate came with the idea of forming a cooperative group of the biggest bootleggers on the East coast, allowing its members to minimize overhead costs and maximize potential profits during Prohibition. By 1925 Arnold Rothstein, Johnny Torrio, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky had discussed the idea with each other, but did not begin to move towards the groups formation. The younger and more liberal underworld leaders such as Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Joe Bonanno, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Benny Siegel, Lepke Buchalter, Abner "Longy" Zwillman, Willie Moretti, Enoch Johnson, Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden were in favor of the re-organization, but knew that the old guard or "Mustache Petes" were against the move. The old bosses such as Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore "Little Caeser" Maranzano had long been against cooperation with other ethnic gangs outside the Italian underworld and allowed it only when it was very lucrative and too good to pass up. Finally, the "Big Seven Group" was formed in the spring of 1928 at a meeting held at boss Abner "Longy" Zwillman's headquarters in New Jersey and Johnny Torrio was made its executive director.
The seven original groups or gangs involved in the "Big Seven Group" were Johnny Torrio, Charlie Luciano, Joe Adonis and Frank Costello (and his partner Owney Madden) from New York, Meyer Lansky's and Benny "Bugsy" Siegel's Bugs & Meyer Mob from New York and New Jersey, Abner "Longy" Zwillman and Willie Moretti from New Jersey and Long Island, Enoch "Nucky" Johnson of Atlantic City and the South Jersey shore, Waxey Gordon, Harry "Nig Rosen" Stromberg and Irving "Bitzy" Bitz of Philadelphia and Charles "King" Solomon of Boston. Once the "Big Seven Group's" charter membership was established, Johnny Torrio and his top aides, Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky maintained a base of operations in Manhattan's Belvedere Hotel. John Torrio appointed his New York lieutenant Frank Zagarino as his field representative to deal directly with the group from an office in Newark, New Jersey while Torrio stay in the back ground and dealt with the Canadian and European suppliers. As a cover, Torrio obtained a license to operate as a bondsman from the New York State Insurance department and opened a bail bond office near the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building on Centre Street. His license was soon revoked due to his criminal record, leaving him to secure another license and engage in the real estate business. The rum-running cartel employed radios and receivers to monitor Coast Guard messages and keep ship captains informed of movements, while the ships moved their cargo along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Virginia. One of the men John Torrio used to direct the fleet of speedboats and yachts used in the group's smuggling operations was an Arnold Rothstein protégé and narcotics Lt., Jacob "Yasha" Katzenberg, who had delivered heroin and morphine from Europe and Asia for Rothstein and Lepke Buchalter and who now used his connections in Customs to assist Torrio and the "Big Seven Group". Eventually the group came to include 26 groups or gangs, including Dutch Schultz of New York, Al "Scarface" Capone of Chicago, Max "Boo Boo" Hoff, Sam Lazar and Charles Swartz of Philadelphia, Moe Dalitz, Louis Rothkopf, Morris Kleinman and Sam Tucker of Cleveland, brothers William Joseph "Bugs Bill" Bernstein and Abe Bernstein of Detroit, Charlie Wall of Tampa Bay, Florida, Daniel "Danny" Walsh of Providence, Rhode Island, Cy Nathanson of New England and many more like Joseph Kennedy of Boston, patriarch of the Kennedy Family and the father of former United States President, John F. Kennedy.
Even before the death of Arnold Rothstein in 1928 and the retirement of Bill Dwyer, the underworld was in the process of a leadership change in most of the major cities in the United States. Arnold Rothstein controlled gambling, bookmaking, loansharking, narcotics and garment center rackets, his death leaving a power vacuum and his large empire now up for grabs in New York. Bill Dwyer's retirement also caused a power vacuum and two underworld groups quickly moved in to take control of his operations in New York. The "Manhattan Beer Wars" occurred in 1928 between the Schultz-Madden-Gordon alliance and the Higgins-Diamond-Coll-Carfano alliance for dominance over Manhattan's beer distribution operations. Bill Dwyer's former lieutenant, the Irish boss of Brooklyn, Charles "Vannie" Higgins, felt that he was entitled to the operations, while Jewish crime boss, Bronx beer baron and Harlem numbers king Dutch Schultz wanted them just as bad. Jack "Legs" Diamond and Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll sided with Higgins since there was a history of bad blood between them, Owney "The Killer" Madden and Waxey Gordon, leaving Madden and Gordon to side with Schultz.
By the late 1920s, the Chicago underworld had reached a wave of violence that peaked with the February 14, 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre of seven Irish gangsters on the North side of Chicago. There seemed to be no end in sight for the war since violent shootings and murders over the Prohibition rackets were still occurring on a regular basis, the Chicago gangs involved in their own "Beer Wars". Even though New York's underworld was in the midst of its own "Manhattan Beer War", underworld folklore have a carload of Chicago killers being sent to the east coast to kill powerful Brooklyn boss and Unione Siciliane National President, Francesco "Frankie Yale" Uale on July 1, 1928. By 1928, Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano were the most powerful bosses in New York and competing with each other for total dominance over the New York City rackets. The possibility of war between the bosses needed to be addressed along with other important business affairs now taking center stage in New York's volcano. By April 1929 a proposed underworld conference of like minded mafiosi and gangsters from across the United States was called for by Johnny Torrio, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky to discuss the possible repeal of Prohibition, the future of crime in the United States and the present conflicts in New York and Chicago, along with the disposition of the last American and the remaining Irish-American gangs. The response from around the country to the proposal had been favorable, the only remaining question was a date and that was easily resolved.
Atlantic City Conference
- English, p. 128
- Wolf, p. 87
- McPhaul, p. 235-36
- McPhaul, Jack. Johnny Torrio: The First of the Gang Lords. Arlington House, 1970.
- Wolf, George. Frank Costello: The Prime Minister of the Underworld. William Morrow & Company, 1974.
- English, T. J. Paddy Wacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. Regan Books, 2005.