American Mobster – Owney Maddon – Head of the Gophers Street Gang

Owney “The Killer” Madden was an anomaly in the world of New York City gangsters, mainly because he was not Italian, or even Jewish. Madden was British, the son of an relocated Irish dockworker; born and bred, and dedicated for life to his homeland — merry old England. In fact, even though Madden was an American criminal for six decades, he didn’t give up his English passport until 1950, after he was threatened with deportation.

Owen “Owney” Madden was born at 25 Somerset Street, in Leeds, England, on December 18, 1891. In need of work, his father moved the Madden family to Liverpool. In 1903, when young Madden was only 12, his father died and his mother re-located the family to America, settling on the west side of Manhattan, in a treacherous neighborhood called “Hells Kitchen.” Madden fell in with a rough-and-tumble gang known as the Gophers and he became proficient in the favored crimes of the era; robberies, muggings and labor racket beatings. Madden was adept at using a myriad of weapons, including a slingshot and brass knuckles, but his favorite weapon was a lead pipe wrapped in newspaper. His main source of income was the “insurance business,” where Madden sold “bomb insurance” to scores of local merchants, who were worried about having their businesses bombed, from none other than Madden himself. As a member of the Gophers, Madden was arrested forty-four times, but managed to stay out of prison every time.

When he was seventeen, Madden earned his nickname “The Killer,” because he shot to death an unarmed Italian in the street, for no reason, other than he could do it. After the killing, Madden stood over the dead body and announced to the assembled crowd, “I’m Owney Madden!” By the time he was twenty-three, Madden had at least five other murders to his credit.

One time, Madden’s braggadocio almost cost him his life. On November, 6, 1912, at the Arbor Dance Hall, which was in the heart of the territory controlled by the Gopher’s rivals – the Hudson Dusters, Madden strolled into the hall by himself during a dance given by the Dave Hyson Association. He was watching the proceedings from the balcony, when eleven Hudson Dusters surrounded him and filled his body with six pieces of lead. He was rushed to the hospital, where a detective asked Madden who shot him.

“Nothin’ doin,'” Madden said. “It’s no business but mine who put these slugs into me. My boys will get them.” By the time Madden was released from the hospital, six of his eleven assailants had already been shot dead.

While Madden was recuperating, one of his fellow Gophers, Little Patsy Doyle, thought he could use Madden’s weakened condition as a reason to take control of the gang. Yet the main cause of Doyle’s ire was that Madden had stolen Doyle’s girlfriend Freda Horner away from him. When word got back to Madden about Doyle’s intentions, he used Miss Horner to lure Doyle to a saloon on Eight Avenue and Forty-First Street, where Madden and two of his gunmen shot Doyle dead. Madden was arrested three days later, and at his trial, Miss Horner turned the tables and testified against Madden. He was sentenced to Sing Sing Prison for 10-20 years, but did only eight, being released in 1923.

When he hit the streets again, Madden found his Gophers gang had dissipated, so he threw himself head-first into the bootlegging business. There Madden moved up in class and was considered the equal of such mobsters as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Louis Lepke, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Madden also dabbled in the night club business, opening the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, which he bought from former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.

His relationship with Johnson, segued Madden into the boxing business, where he nurtured the career of Italian carnival freak, the six-foot-six-inch, 285-pound, Primo Canera. Madden fed Canera so many stiffs and set-ups, the no-talent Canera was able to win the heavyweight championship of the world. He did so by landing an invisible punch against champion Jack Sharkey in the 6th round at the Madison Square Garden Bowl, in Long Island City. Sharkey obviously took a dive and was reportedly paid handsomely to do so. The first time Madden put Canera in tough, against Jewish heavyweight sensation Max Baer, he was knocked down ten times, before the referee mercifully stopped the fight in the 11th round. Of course, Madden made big money betting on Baer, who, because of Canera’s feared reputation, went into the fight as a slight underdog.

In 1932, Madden was arrested on a parole violation, and when he was released a few months later, he decided he had accumulated enough cash in a lifetime of crime to relocate to Hot Springs, Arkansas. There Madden opened several casino/hotels, which were used as hideouts for New York City mobsters on the lam, and he even married the Postmaster’s daughter. Madden was granted United States citizenship in 1943, and after being stricken with emphysema, Madden died in his bed in 1965, at the ripe old age of 74. He was said to have amassed a fortune of $3 million, but not surprisingly, none of that money was ever found after his death.

How to Keep Your Teenager Away From Gangs

The current times demand that both parents work in order to raise a family. Most often, parents can get too busy with their jobs that the kids back home feel neglected or inadvertently lost in the daily shuffle of life. Parents may not realize it, but research shows that the primary reason why children join gangs is for a sense of belonging or to become part of a “family”.

Some children are not just as headstrong as others. Those who are not usually find themselves with no friends and are often bullied at school. They get frustrated, lonely and discouraged so easily that the lure of gang promises makes them an easy target.

Young people need to have their backs secure, and the weaker ones have the illusion that they are going to get this by being part of a gang. What they don’t know is that they don’t get much protection there; rather they are more susceptible to danger because when rivalries break loose, even their own families can become targets for retaliation. Most young people never really intended for siblings or members of their families to get into harm’s way. They simply were not aware that gang involvement gets to this extent.

Statistics show that gang involvement makes one 60 percent more liable to become a victim of homicide. The sad thing is that teens who get involved in gangs never really intended to mess up their lives. They simply were looking to belong somewhere and get some security – unfortunately, they get the exact opposite. They get into danger.

As a parent, you need not give up your career just to make sure your children don’t end up in gangs. You can get them involved in sports, art or music lessons, or anything creative and productive that is in line with their individual interests and inclinations. Our children simply need to be involved in self-fulfilling activities. When they discover their potentials and capabilities, they become secure about themselves and will not seek the need of getting involved in a gang just to know their self-worth.

Newton Gang Robs Two Banks in One Night

On January 9, 1921, the Newton Gang drove into Hondo, Texas, a small town 30 miles west of San Antonio, to rob one of the two banks in town. It was just past midnight and the temperature was near freezing.

The Newtons knew the night watchman in Hondo, and as was his habit, they found him huddled around a pot-bellied stove in the depot. They cut all of the telephone wires and then went back to check on the night watchman. He had not budged from his spot by the stove so Joe was placed across the street as a lookout while the rest went to the bank.

In his 1979 interview, Willis proudly told his version of the story:

“Sometime you just get lucky ’cause they had left the vault door open. They had left it unlocked so we didn’t need no nitro or nothing. We jimmied the window, walked over to the vault, tried the handle and she opened! You would be surprised how many times them banks would just close the door so it looked locked during the night.

“We had the vault cleaned out in no time and went to see if the night watchman was still in the depot. Sure enough, he was reading a magazine and drinking coffee by the stove. Well hell, we figured we had plenty of time so we’d go over to the other bank and give it a try. I kept Joe and Doc watching the night marshal while Jess and I went down to the other bank.

“We got inside that bank and cleaned it out. Damn, two banks in one night and the night marshal, he never come out of the depot!”

The local newspaper, the Hondo Anvil Herald, carried the story with a splash headline:

Yeggs Rob Hondo Banks

One of the Most Daring Robberies Ever Staged in Texas Occurred Here Sunday Morning

The people of Hondo were amazed and angered Sunday morning when it became known that both banks had been entered by yeggs, between midnight and daylight, and robbed of both money and valuables. Entrance to the First National Bank was effected by forcing the front doors; while the entrance to the State Bank was effected by prizing down the bars over the last window in the alley between Parker’s and the bank.

The newspaper went on to give an elaborate description of the robbery:

Owing to most of the money in both banks being in the money safes, with time locks set, the loss in cash was not serious, the First National losing a total of $2,814 while in the matter of actual cash loss the State Bank was a little more fortunate, its loss being $1,879; both banks losing a total of $4,694 nearly all of which was silver coin.

The funds of both banks were covered by burglary insurance, consequently neither will suffer loss. [Just like Willis had assured his brothers.]

Owners of private boxes, who had put their valuables in the vaults of the banks, are the heaviest losers, and their actual loss will not be definitely known for some time-probably a month-as the owners of the boxes are the only ones who can clear up the loss, the officials of the banks not being advised of the contents of the boxes.

The safety deposit box owners had cash, government bonds, War Savings Stamps, jewelry, and other valuables in their boxes so it was impossible to determine the exact amount taken in the robbery. Estimates of as high as $30,000 were never confirmed.

The article continued to describe the “safe experts:’

… That the robbers were experts is borne out by the fact that they were able to work the combination on the vault of the First National Bank. [Willis said it was left unlocked.] They were also experts in the use of explosive, the vault doors of the State Bank being blown open by one of the most powerful explosives known-TNT [ Willis swore in his interview that he never used dynamite-only nitroglycerine.]

The vaults were thoroughly ransacked and the floors were strewn with papers about two feet thick.

From the thoroughness with which the robbers made their search for securities it is evident that they spent two hours or more in the vaults of the banks and the private boxes of the customers are in a sad plight, most of them showing that they were beat open by some heavy instrument, probably with a sledgehammer that had been stolen from the blacksmith shop of Mask & Co.

… That the robbers were no tyros (archaic word meaning beginners) in the business of robbing is again borne out by the fact that they took every precaution against being apprehended by the possession of jewelry, gold coins, and so forth, which might lead to their identity. The floors of the vaults were literally strewn with such articles as might lead to their detection. Notes and other articles of value that could not be turned into money were cast aside and left behind.

It is generally believed that the band was composed of from six to eight men, and that both banks were robbed simultaneously, a gang being assigned to each bank.

Another circumstance that indicates that the robbers were not new to the game of bank robbing is borne out by the fact that every telephone line in town was cut, apparently, before the banks were robbed. And this part of their plans was carried out most effectively and by an expert telephone man.

… Cables were severed, apparently with saws, and single wires were cut with wire clippers. Only three telephones connected with the local exchange were working Sunday morning.

The robbery was discovered by the night watchman about five o’clock Sunday morning and immediately reported to Deputy Sheriff C.J. Bless.

… Harry Crouch, our local telegraph operator, was summonsed and messages were sent east and west in an effort to intercept the robbers, but as far as the general public is advised, nothing was learned as to the direction in which the robbers went.

Detectives from San Antonio and the surrounding area converged on the Hondo banks searching for clues to the duel-heist robbery.

… One of the most remarkable coincidences of this whole business is that these robberies could have occurred right in the heart of the town and not more than 200 feet apart, and not one among our people being any the wiser until daylight it was revealed what had transpired, and that too, it was since developed that the night watchman and the two other men were in the waiting room of the depot, not more than sixty yards from the front doors of the First National Bank, while the robbery was being accomplished. The robbers must have done their work very silently to avoid detection. [It is hard to image a “silent” explosion of nitroglycerine.]

The word the newspaper used for the night burglars was “yeggs,” a popular vernacular expression of the era. It is interesting to compare the newspaper reporting to Willis’ account in which the vault of the First National Bank had been left unlocked and they used nitroglycerine (rather than TNT) to blow the vault door on the State Bank. Even more interesting was the fact that there were no follow up articles on the robbery. There was not a single mention of the multi-bank burglary over the ensuing months-although it contained large advertisements from both banks. It was as if both banks had never been robbed.

The Galveston Daily News on January 10 reported the robbery describing a “clew” that proved to be a red herring:

Robber Heel May Lead to Arrest

Telephone Connections Cut When Banks at Hondo Are Looted

San Antonio, Texas-January 10-A rubber heel, lost from a shoe, may lead to the identification of the bank robbers who made a successful haul of $20,000 from the First National Bank of Hondo and the Hondo State Bank early Sunday morning.

The bank robbers gained entrance to the two banks by prying the iron bars loose from rear windows of the buildings and manipulating the combinations of the vault in the First National Bank, but blew off the door of the vault in the state bank.

The haul was made from the safety deposit boxes in both banks, the robbers obtaining only $1,500 in cash from the First National and $29,350 of the state bank’s money. The smaller vault safes in both institutions were untouched.

The balance of the loot, it is estimated by officers at the two banks, was secured from owners of safety deposit boxes in the banks. Hondo was not aware of the visit of the bank robbers until almost noon Sunday, when the open windows at the rear of the two bank buildings were discovered.

Heel lost in bank.

Sheriff J.S. Baden, during his investigation was given the lost rubber heel, which had been found in front of the vault of the First National Bank. Further investigation disclosed a set of burglar tools consisting of a pipe wrench, saw, and chisel, which had been left by the robbers. These however are not considered as important for they are of a standard make, easily purchased at any hardware store.

Just outside of the window through which the robbers entered the state bank, Sheriff Baden found the numerals 13,555 scratched on the brick work. This, bank officials believe, indicates the amount the robbers secured from the deposit boxes in the bank. [This curious piece of information appears to have been just another “red herring.”]

Sheriff Baden believes the robberies were committed by a band of six men, who sent an advance guard of two into Hondo last week.

… Hondo citizens, who were up at an early hour Sunday morning, reported to the Sheriff that they saw a high-powered automobile leaving the outskirts of town occupied by six men. These, the Sheriff believes, were the Hondo robbers.

[Ironically] Sheriff Baden suffered a loss by the early morning visit of the robbers, as his safety deposit box in the First National Bank was broken open and $300 in stamps and $150 in bonds were taken. A $100 Liberty bond, the property of his son O.J. Baden, of Donna, was left in the box.

In light of the erroneous “clews’, the Newtons were never tried for the Hondo bank robberies.

Willis Newton was born in 1889 and died in 1979, making him the longest living Texas outlaw. He and the Newton Gang hit trains and banks in the early 1920s but their biggest haul occurred in 1924 when they robbed a train outside of Rondout, Illinois-getting away with $3,000,000. They still hold the record for the biggest train robbery in U.S. history.