Owney Madden

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Owney Madden
Owney Madden in 1931 New York City Police Department mugshot
Owen Vincent Madden

(1891-12-18)December 18, 1891
Leeds, England
DiedApril 24, 1965(1965-04-24) (aged 73)
Hot Springs, Arkansas, US
Other namesThe Killer

Owen Vincent "Owney" Madden (December 18, 1891 – April 24, 1965) was a British-born gangster of Irish ancestry who became a leading underworld figure in New York during Prohibition. Nicknamed "The Killer", he garnered a brutal reputation within street gangs and organized crime. He ran the Cotton Club in Manhattan and was a leading boxing promoter. After increased attention from law enforcement in New York, Madden moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1935, where he remained until his death from natural causes in 1965.

Early life[edit]

Owen Vincent Madden was born into a working-class family at 25 Somerset Road in Leeds, England, on December 18, 1891, the son of Irish immigrants Francis Madden and Mary Madden (née O'Neil.)[1] After his mother became a widow she emigrated to New York to become a maid, leaving Owen and his sister Mary and brother Martin in a British orphanage. In 1896, Owen's mother saved up enough money to take them out of the orphanage and get them tickets to join her in New York City.[1] [2]

The young Madden grew up on the streets of New York where he learned how to use blackjacks, knuckledusters, bats, pipes, knives, and stilettoes. By the age of 21 years old, Madden had become the leader of a feared New York street gang known as the Gopher Gang. He earned the nickname, "The Killer" for getting away with two brazen murders. On September 6, 1911, he shot dead a gang member of the rival Hudson Dusters in the heart of Dusters' territory around 30th Street. In February 1912, Madden was on a crowded street trolley, arguing with a store clerk named William Henshaw about a woman, and Madden shot Henshaw in the face. Henshaw was not a gang member, and as he was dying, he named Owney Madden as his killer. Despite the police having his name, and there being eyewitnesses to the crime, Madden never went to trial—witnesses in both killings were intimidated, and disappeared.[2]

In 1915, he eventually went to prison for ordering the killing of William “Little Patsy Doyle” Moore, who had been waging a three-year vendetta campaign against Madden and the Gopher Gang.[2]


NYPD mug shot of Madden (first published in 1926)

After serving seven years of a 10-to-20-year sentence for Moore's manslaughter,[3] Madden was released on parole in 1923. The Gopher Gang had broken up, and many members of his own faction were either in Sing Sing or working for bootlegging gangs.[4]

During this time, Madden employed a young friend as a personal driver. The driver, George Raft, later became a film star noted for his authentic portrayals of gangland figures.[5][6]

The Cotton Club[edit]

Madden purchased the Club Deluxe from former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and reopened it a year later. Nightclub patrons flooded into Harlem from downtown Manhattan to catch performers such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the Nicholas Brothers. Madden and his partners, Big Bill and George Jean "Big Frenchy" DeMange, also muscled their way into a piece of the exclusive Stork Club, where the influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell held court and everyone who was anyone wanted to see and be seen. As a celebrity with ownership in more than twenty night clubs, Madden became well-known and glamorized for his Prohibition-era activities.[7] He also gained recognition for his revenge tactics and payoffs of City Hall.[7]

Exile in Hot Springs[edit]

In 1932, Madden was involved in the murder of Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, who had been extorting money from several mobsters, including DeMange and Madden.[7] After being arrested for a parole violation that same year, Madden began facing greater harassment from police and encroachment on his territory by Italian-American Mafia families, until he finally left New York in 1935.[7]

Leaving behind racketeering, Madden settled in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which had become known as a haven for various criminals, with a corrupt city government and police force.[7] He also became involved in local criminal activities, especially illegal gambling.[7] The Southern Club became a popular nightspot for mobsters; Charles "Lucky" Luciano was apprehended there in 1936. Madden became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1943 and eventually married the daughter of the city postmaster. He lived in Hot Springs until his death in 1965.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Owney Madden, 73, Ex-Gangster, Dead; Owney Madden, Ex-Racketeer, Dead in Hot Springs at 73". Associated Press in the New York Times. April 24, 1965. p. 1. Retrieved November 12, 2010. Owen Vincent (Owney) Madden, whose blazing underworld career terrorized two states in the Prohibition era, died in a hospital here early today. He was 73 years old. ...
  2. ^ a b c "The Duke of the West Side: Owney "The Killer" Madden". hannibalboxing.com. August 8, 2019. Retrieved May 9, 2022.
  3. ^ Anne Funderburg, J. (April 4, 2014). Bootleggers and Beer Barons of the Prohibition Era. ISBN 9781476616193.
  4. ^ Anne Funderburg, J. (April 4, 2014). Bootleggers and Beer Barons of the Prohibition Era. ISBN 9781476616193.
  5. ^ Beaver, Jim "George Raft", Films in Review, April 1978.
  6. ^ Yablonsky, Lewis George Raft, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1974. ISBN 0-07-072235-8.
  7. ^ a b c d e f The Five Families. MacMillan. May 13, 2014. ISBN 9781429907989. Retrieved June 22, 2008.


Further reading[edit]

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs Of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld. United Kingdom: Arrow Books 2002. ISBN 978-0-09-943674-4
  • Clark, Neil G. Dock Boss: Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront. New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2017. ISBN 1569808139
  • English, T.J. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 978-0-06-059002-4
  • Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-313-30653-2
  • Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 978-0-7091-3966-9
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8160-5694-1
  • Downey, Patrick. "Gangster City: History of the New York Underworld 1900–1935". New Jersey: Barricade Books, 2004. ISBN 978-1-56980-267-0

External links[edit]