Mad Dog Coll
Vincent Coll Curran
Mugshot of Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.
Uinseann Ó Colla
July 20, 1908
|Died||February 8, 1932 (aged 23)|
|Resting place||Saint Raymond's Cemetery, The Bronx|
|Other names||"Mad Dog"|
|Occupation||Mobster, hitman, kidnapper, bootlegger|
|Known for||Hitman for Dutch Schultz and Prohibition-era gang leader|
Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll (born Uinseann Ó Colla, July 20, 1908 – February 8, 1932) was an Irish-American mob hitman in the 1920s and early 1930s in New York City. Coll gained notoriety for the alleged accidental killing of a young child during a mob kidnap attempt.
Coll was born in Gweedore, an Irish-speaking region of County Donegal, Ireland; related to the notorious Curran family, his family emigrated to the U.S. a year later. Coll was a distant relative of the former Northern Ireland Assemblywoman Bríd Rodgers.
When Vincent was not quite one year old his father, Toaly, decided to move the family, his wife, and seven children to New York in search of a better life. After settling in the Bronx in 1909, they remained trapped in poverty. Five of Vincent’s six siblings died before he was twelve. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1916, worn out after years of trying to provide for her children. Vincent’s father Toaly had simply run off years before and was never heard from again. After his mother’s death, Vincent's surviving sister tried to raise him in a cold-water flat when Vincent was eleven.
Coll was raised in the Bronx by an elderly woman who took him in as her own. At age 12, Coll was first sent to a reform school. After being expelled from multiple Catholic reform schools, he joined The Gophers street gang. Run-ins with the law were almost inevitable. Vincent soon developed a reputation for being a wild child of the streets and began the first of several stints in Catholic reform school before he reached his teens. For example, at age 12 he was arrested for unlawful entry and sent to a Catholic reform school. Four years later he was arrested for carrying a gun, and by the age of 23 he had been arrested a dozen times. In the late 1920s he started working as an armed guard for the illegal beer delivery trucks of Dutch Schultz's mob.
Mob assassin and kidnapper
Before prohibition, Irish gangs dominated the Bronx and Manhattan, but during the prohibition era, Jewish and Italian gangs headed by Dutch Schultz, Charles Luciano, Bugsy Siegel and Louis Lepke gained prominence. Schultz, the son of a barkeeper, built up an empire of speakeasies, clandestine alcohol stills and breweries during the early years of prohibition. In a tough business, with rival gangs constantly trying to carve out their own territory, Schultz needed ruthless, violent young men with a talent for intimidation and killing. Vincent Coll had all of that in spades and started out as an enforcer for Schultz, when he was still in his mid-teens.
By now Vincent and his older brother Peter were beginning to make names for themselves in the Bronx. Vincent was the good-looking one, fresh-faced (some newspaper reports later called him "baby-faced" or endow him with "matinee-idol" looks), with blond, curly hair, a fondness for sharp suits and an enigmatic, menacing air. He spent small fortunes on his clothes, which were stashed with various girlfriends across Manhattan and the Bronx. He favored tailored suits, silk shirts, double-breasted Chesterfield overcoats and his signature hat, a pearl-grey fedora, always worn at a rakish angle.
Coll's ruthlessness made him a valued enforcer to Schultz at first. As Schultz's criminal empire grew in power during the 1920s, he employed Coll as an assassin. At age 19 Coll was charged with the murder of Anthony Borello, the owner of a speakeasy, and Mary Smith, a dance hall hostess. Coll allegedly murdered Borello because he refused to sell Schultz's bootleg alcohol. The charges were eventually dismissed, and many suspect this to have been from Schultz's influence. Schultz was not happy about Coll's actions. In 1929, without Schultz's permission, Coll robbed a dairy in the Bronx of $17,000. He and his gang posed as armed guards to gain access to the cashier's room. Schultz later confronted Coll about the robbery, but rather than being apologetic, Coll demanded to be an equal partner; Schultz declined.
By January 1930, Coll had formed his own gang and was engaged in a shooting war with Schultz. One of the earliest victims was Peter Coll, shot dead on May 30, 1931, while driving down a Harlem street. Vincent Coll, the Mad Mick, went into a rage of grief and vengeance. Over the next three weeks he gunned down four of Schultz’s men. In all, around 20 men were killed in the bloodletting; the exact figure is hard to pin down as New York was also in the midst of the vicious Castellammarese War at the same time. It was mayhem on the streets of Manhattan and the police often had difficulty in deciding which corpse belonged to which war.
On June 2, Coll and his gang broke into a garage owned by Schultz and destroyed 120 vending machines and 10 trucks. As the war continued, Vincent Coll and his gang killed approximately 20 of Schultz's men. To finance his new gang, Coll kidnapped rival gangsters and held them for ransom. He knew that the victims would not report the kidnappings to police; they would have a hard time explaining to the Bureau of Internal Revenue why the ransom cash had not been reported as income. One of Coll's best-known victims was gambler George "Big Frenchy" DeMange, a close associate of Owney Madden, boss of the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob. According to one account, Coll telephoned DeMange and asked to meet with him. When DeMange arrived at the meeting place, Coll kidnapped him at gunpoint. He released DeMange 18 hours later after receiving a ransom payment.
Alleged child killer
On July 28, 1931, Coll allegedly participated in a kidnapping attempt that resulted in the shooting death of a child. Coll's target was bootlegger Joseph Rao, a Schultz underling who was lounging in front of a social club. Several children were playing outside an apartment house. A large touring car pulled up to the curb, and several men pointed shotguns and submachine guns towards Rao and started shooting. Rao threw himself to the sidewalk, however, and four young children were wounded in the attack. One of them, five-year-old Michael Vengalli, later died at Beth David Hospital. After the Vengalli killing, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker dubbed Coll a "Mad Dog".
On October 4, 1931, after an extensive manhunt, New York police arrested Coll at a hotel in the Bronx. He had dyed his hair black and grown a mustache and was wearing horn-rimmed glasses. He surrendered peacefully. During a police lineup, a defiant Coll said that he had been in Albany, New York, for the past several months and refused to answer any other questions without an attorney present. On October 5, a grand jury in New York city indicted Coll in the Vengalli murder.
The Coll trial began in December 1931. He retained famed defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Coll claimed that he was miles away from the shooting scene and was being framed by his enemies. He added that he would love to tear the throat out of the person who killed Vengalli. The prosecution case soon fell apart. Their sole witness to the shooting, George Brecht, admitted on the witness stand to having a criminal and mental health record, and to making similar testimony in a previous murder case in St Louis, Missouri. At the end of December, the judge issued a directed verdict of not guilty for Coll.
Immediately after the Vengalli verdict, a New York City police inspector told Coll that the police would arrest him whenever he was spotted in New York City. He was soon rejailed for carrying a gun. When the inspector referred to Coll as a baby killer, Coll hotly replied, "I'm no baby killer". Soon after his acquittal, Coll married Lottie Kreisberger, a fashion designer in New York.
In September 1931, between the killing of young Vengalli and his acquittal for that death, Coll was hired by Salvatore Maranzano, who had recently crowned himself the Mafia boss of all bosses in New York City, to murder his right-hand man, Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano had previously helped Maranzano win the infamous Castellammarese War in New York and gain control of the New York Mafia. However, Maranzano suspected Luciano of wanting to kill him and seize power for himself.
Coll agreed to murder Luciano for a $25,000 payment in advance and a $25,000 payment on completion of the job. On September 10, 1931, Maranzano invited Luciano to visit his office. The plan was that Coll would turn up and kill Luciano. However, Luciano had received a tip-off about this plan (although probably not the identity of the hitman), so he instead sent over a squad of his own hitmen who stabbed and shot Maranzano to death. According to the 1963 testimony of government witness Joseph Valachi, Coll arrived at the office to kill Luciano, only to meet Luciano's hitmen fleeing the scene. After learning from them that Maranzano was dead, Coll immediately left the building, $25,000 richer.
It was said that both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden had put a $50,000 bounty on Vincent Coll's head. At one point, Schultz had actually walked into a Bronx police station and offered "a house in Westchester" to whoever killed Coll.
On February 1, 1932, four or five gunmen invaded a Bronx apartment which Coll was rumored to frequent and opened fire with pistols and submachine guns. Three people (Coll gangsters Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile and bystander Emily Tanzillo) were killed. Three others were wounded. Coll himself did not show up until 30 minutes after the shooting.
A week after the Bronx shootings, at 12:30 A.M. on February 8, Coll was using a phone booth at a drug store at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. He was reportedly talking to Madden, demanding $50,000 from the gangster under the threat of kidnapping his brother-in-law. Madden kept Coll on the line while it was traced. Three men in a dark limousine soon arrived at the drug store. While one waited in the car, two others stepped out. One man waited outside while the other walked inside the store. The gunman told the cashier, "Keep cool, now", drew a Thompson submachine gun from under his overcoat and opened fire on Coll in the glass phone booth. Coll died instantly. The killers took off in their car. They were chased unsuccessfully up Eighth Avenue by a foot patrolman who had heard the gunshots and commandeered a passing taxi; however, the car got away.
A total of 15 bullets were removed from Coll's body at the morgue; more may have passed through him. Coll was buried next to his brother Peter at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. Dutch Schultz sent a floral wreath bearing a banner with the message, "From the boys".
Coll's killers were never identified. Dutch Schultz attorney Dixie Davis later claimed that gangster Bo Weinberg was the getaway driver of the limousine. Another suspect was one of Coll's own men, Edward Popke aka Fats McCarthy. The submachine gun that killed Coll was found a year later in the possession of a Hell's Kitchen gunman named "Tough" Tommy Protheroe, who used it during a 1933 saloon killing. On May 16, 1935, Protheroe and his girlfriend Elizabeth Connors were shot and killed by unknown triggermen in Queens.
Dutch Schultz continued to operate his rackets for only a few more years. On October 23, 1935, Schultz was killed at the Palace Chophouse in Newark, New Jersey. He was supposedly murdered on orders from Luciano and the new National Crime Syndicate.
Coll's widow, Lottie, was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to six months. She refused to leave prison following her parole, because she feared the people who had killed her husband would also murder her.
Vincent Coll has been portrayed in the following films:
- Richard Gardner in the 1960 film The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.
- Joseph Gallison in the 1961 film Portrait of a Mobster.
- John Davis Chandler in the 1961 film Mad Dog Coll.
- Nicolas Cage plays a fictionalized version of Coll in The Cotton Club.
- Nicholas Sadler in the 1991 film Mobsters.
- Christopher Bradley in the 1992 film Mad Dog Coll and reprised in the 1992 film Hit the Dutchman.
Vincent Coll has been portrayed in the following TV shows:
- Clu Gulager in a 1959 episode Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll of The Untouchables television series.
- Robert Brown in the 1961 two-part episode The Mad Dog Coll Story in the television series The Lawless Years.
- David Wilson in the 1981 TV series The Gangster Chronicles.
- "Books Relating to County Donegal, Ireland". Freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com. 2008-11-20. Archived from the original on 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- "Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll - MAFIA GANGSTER - Great Donegal People". Greatirishpeople.com. 1932-02-08. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- "Young thugs put on swagger in line-up" (PDF). New York Times. October 6, 1931. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "Schultz product of dry law era" (PDF). New York Times. January 22, 1933. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "Coll seized with his gang" (PDF). New York Times. October 5, 1931. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Dry era 'big shot' dies safely in bed" (PDF). New York Times. September 20, 1939. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "Child slain, 4 shot as gangsters fire on beer war rival" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "Michael Vengalli Find A Grave". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2014-03-11.
- "Coll and 4 indicted for baby's murder" (PDF). New York Times. October 6, 1931. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "Coll to offer alibi in killing of child" (PDF). New York Times. December 17, 1931. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "Sole Coll accuser admits lie on stand" (PDF). New York Times. December 25, 1931. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "Police aim to drive Coll from the city" (PDF). New York Times. January 13, 1932. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- "Coll Is Acquitted". The Daily Republican. Monongahela, Pennsylvania. 30 Dec 1931. p. 8 – via newspapers.com.
- "Mrs. Coll pleads guilty in killing" (PDF). New York Times. February 27, 1934. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- Perlmutter, Emanuel (October 3, 1963). "Informer tells more" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- Downey, pg. 219
- "Coll Is Shot Dead in a Phone Booth by Rival Gunmen. Gang Chief Riddled by Machine-Gun Fire in West 23d Street Drug Store. Killers Escape in Chase". New York Times. 8 February 1932. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
Vincent Coll, who in the brief space of a few months had attained nationwide notoriety as the most ruthless of New York's killers, was riddled with machine gun bullets and instantly killed early this morning when he was trapped by his enemies in a telephone booth in a drug store at 314 West Twenty-third Street, west of Eighth Avenue. ...
- Benson, Kit; Morgan Benson (January 1, 2001). "Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll". Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- Downey, pg. 290-91
- "Dutch Schultz dies of wounds without naming slayers" (PDF). New York Times. October 25, 1935. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- "Gangster's Widow Marked for Death". The Border Cities Star. 21 November 1932. p. 10. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
- "Owney Madden, 73, Ex-Gangster, Dead; Owney Madden, Ex-Racketeer, Dead in Hot Springs at 73" (PDF). New York Times. AP. 24 April 1965. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Lundberg, Ferdinand. The Rich and the Super-Rich. New York: Bantam Books, 1969.
- Downey, Patrick. Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935. New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2004. ISBN 1-56980-267-X
- English, T. J. Paddy whacked : the untold story of the Irish-American gangster. New York: Regan Books, 2005.
- Delap, Brendan. Mad Dog Coll: An Irish Gangster. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1999. ISBN 1-85635-291-9
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