June 8th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1934, three members of a quartet that had — eventually, with Keystone Cops ineptitude — killed a vagrant in an insurance scam during the Great Depression were electrocuted at Sing Sing.
Mike Malloy, the victim of Daniel Kriesberg, Anthony Marino and Frank Pasqua (and Joseph Murphy, whose execution this day was stayed, but who followed his collaborators to the chair on July 5 of that same year), has chiseled out a weirdly Bunyanesque footnote of Americana as “the man who wouldn’t die.”*
The troubles the would-be murderers had getting rid of the 50-year-old drunk after they conned him into signing less than $2,000 worth of insurance papers are outright black comedy. The New York Daily News remembered this noteworthy homicide last year. Yes, it’s murder, but it happened 75 years ago. Go ahead and laugh.
After several weeks of feeding Malloy free liquor [in an attempt to have him drink to death], Marino noted that it was starting to cost him money. More distressing was Malloy’s health: His pallor had lifted and spirits soared courtesy of the free booze. More active measures would be required to hasten Malloy’s demise.
Murphy, a former chemist, told Malloy that some “new stuff” had come in. Malloy drank it, commented on how smooth it tasted and then collapsed to the floor. They dragged him to the back room and anticipated that they would need to pay off a physician for a “hush job” death certificate.
One hour later, a refreshed Malloy bounded back to the bar with a mighty thirst, unaffected by the alcohol Murphy had laced with car antifreeze.
Over the next few days the gang spiked Malloy’s drinks with stronger doses of antifreeze, then turpentine and, finally, horse liniment with rat poison. Malloy kept beaming and kept drinking, soaking up the good times spent with his new friends. The crew decided a switch to food would best hasten Malloy’s death.
Marino served him raw oysters – soaked in wood alcohol. After downing two dozen, Malloy was so enthused by the cuisine that he encouraged Marino to open up a restaurant. The next course included an entrée of rotten sardines mixed with tin shavings. Same result.
Next, the plotters got Malloy stupefied and escorted him to Claremont Park, stripped off his coat, and in the middle of winter opened his shirt and poured 5 gallons of water on him before dumping him into a snowbank. If poisoned liquor and food couldn’t kill Malloy, then the cold blasts of a New York winter would.
Or so they thought. The next evening, Malloy showed up at the speakeasy wearing a new suit. He had really tied one on the night before, he explained, and wound up nearly naked in the park. Fortunately, the police had found him and a welfare organization outfitted him with new clothes.
Exasperated, the gang hired a cab driver, Harry Green, and offered him $150 to run Malloy down with his vehicle. On Jan. 30, 1933, a nearly unconsciously drunk Malloy was driven from Marino’s to Pelham Parkway. Murphy stood him up in the middle of the roadway, and Green backed up his taxi two full blocks to build up enough speed to complete the job. Somehow, Malloy stumbled to safety. They then took Malloy to Gun Hill Road. This time, Green hit him.
The gang gleefully retreated to Marino’s and again waited for an announcement of Malloy’s demise. For days nothing appeared in the newspapers.
Where was he? Malloy was recovering in the hospital under a different name, having sustained a fractured skull, a concussion and a broken shoulder. The indestructible barfly returned several weeks later to the speakeasy and announced he had an awful thirst. The boys’ jaws dropped.
Now desperate, they contacted a professional hit man, but his $500 fee was too expensive. They then shanghaied another drunk, Joe Murray, stupefied him with liquor and stuffed his coat pocket with Malloy’s ID and ran him over with a cab. Murray, a substitute for Malloy in every way, recovered from his injuries after two months in Lincoln Hospital. The only way to knock off Malloy, the gang determined, was murder, clean and simple.
They finally had to stuff a rubber hose down his maw and gas him through it.
Astonishingly, this blockheaded crew came within a fingernail’s breadth of getting away with it, just as they’d gotten away with their innumerable attempted murders** — evidence, really, of just how overrated an achievement the “perfect crime” is. A little baksheesh for a death certificate with a fake cause-of-death, a quick trip to the pauper’s cemetery, and they had already set about collecting the insurance policies before anyone got suspicious.
With four shiftless conspirators and at least two other people who’d been let in on the plot, though, once the sniffing started, their goose was cooked. Soon enough, so were the killers. And it only took the state of New York one try apiece.
* The young Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories television show dramatized this implausible story. Why The X-Files never made use of it, no one can say.
** The Daily News reckons it at six; a 1934 New York Times piece counted 10. The investigation suggested that they’d actually done someone else for insurance before, using the winter exposure method that Malloy survived.
Also on this date
- 1693: Elizabeth Emerson
- 1675: The murderers of John Sassamon, precipitating King Philip's War
- 1896: Bill Gay, prospector
- 1405: Richard le Scrope and Thomas de Mowbray, without color of law