Posts filed under 'Organized Crime'

1953: Abel Danos, le mammouth

Add comment March 14th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1953, the French gangster and Nazi collaborator Abel Danos was shot as a traitor.

Once a small-time crook for the milieu criminal syndicate, Danos upon his arrest went way beyond turning state’s evidence and offered his goon talents to the German police. From 1941 to 1944 he murdered people — he’s believed to have personally executed over 100 French Resistance members during the war — for salary as a member of the French Gestapo. Though arrested at the end of the war, he made a sensational escape and got into the robbery outfit Gang des Tractions Avant; he fatally shot both Italian and French police in that vocation. Career-wise you have to credit the man for focusing on his core value-adds while remaining flexible to embrace new opportunities.

“Le mammouth” — so nicknamed for his heavy build — went extinct courtesy of a firing squad at Fort Monte-Valerien, refusing a blindfold after a last swig of rum.

There’s a 2006 French-language biography of Abel Danos, by Eric Guillon.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Treason

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1820: John and Lavinia Fisher

Add comment February 18th, 2019 Headsman

February 18, 1820 was the execution date of South Carolina crime Hall of Famers John and Lavinia Fisher.

By legendary repute the first serial killer in America, Fisher and her husband John were said to lure travelers to their Six Mile Wayfarer House near Ashley Ferry outside Charleston where they’d be poisoned, stabbed, and robbed.

Alas, the Fishers were actually a more conventional sort of brigand.


National Advocate for the Country (New York, N.Y.), January 28, 1820.

Quite incredible legends have been embroidered for this purported Bates Motel of the early Republic: for instance, that their cover was blown by a man named John Peoples/Peeples who grew suspicious enough to avoid drinking the poisoned tea and then sat up all night like young Felix Platter until he caught wind of the imminent attack, sprang out a window, and fled to safety. If so, it was a woeful failure of the period’s journalists merely to report that he had been savagely beaten and robbed.

A few books about the Lavinia Fisher case

Instead, these two seemed to be part of a gang of bandits who occupied not only their Six Mile House but also the Five Mile House, and Lavinia wasn’t the only woman in the lot: one Jane Howard was among the half-dozen arrested when the Six Mile lair was raided by a vigilante posse in February 1819, along with William Heyward, James M’Elwray, and Seth Young, along with others uncaptured. (Names via National Advocate, March 3, 1819) Papers of the time slate them with offenses like stealing livestock and highway robbery, and it’s the latter crime — not murder — that brought the Fishers to their gallows.

Either way, Charleston tour guides will tell you that she haunts the old city jail to this day. She’s also famous for her purported last words, “If you have a message you want to send to Hell, give it to me; I’ll carry it,” which might even be a real quote.


Alexandria [Va.] Gazette & Daily Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1820

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Organized Crime,Public Executions,South Carolina,The Supernatural,Theft,USA,Women

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1723: Charles Weaver, John Levee, Richard Oakey and Matthew Flood

Add comment February 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1723, Tyburn was graced by a quadruple hanging.

Charles Weaver hanged on the occasion for stabbing a creditor to death as they argued about money crossing the Thames; his tragedy, we find from the Ordinary’s Account, compounded since “his Wife with Child, being kill’d about a Fortnight ago, by a Dray, or Cart that ran over her, in — as she was going to her Husband in Newgate.” He left a seven-year-old orphan.

The other three at the fatal tree — John Levee, Richard Oakey and Matthew Flood — were all part of the same circle of thieves, outlaws in a secondary orbit of the legendary crime lord Jonathan Wild.

Wild has already been profiled here, and in many other places besides; in fine, his racket was as London’s preeminent thief-taker to batten on that city’s vast traffic in stolen goods by acting as a sort of legitimate fence who would use the guise of policing to pretend to “find” the loot boosted by his own affiliates and return it to its owners in exchange for a cut. A great many of the city’s thieves in effect worked for Wild, an arrangement that Wild in his law enforcement guise could enforce by arresting criminals at his convenience and pocketing a handsome reward from the public purse into the bargain; over the years, his testimony sent something like 60 criminals to the gallows.

Here in the first weeks of 1723 the nature of Wild’s empire was not yet widely known, but the executions of Levee, Oakey and Flood were a little milepost en route to its discovery.

All three crooks had been members of a 30-strong gang centered around Irish highwayman James “Valentine” Carrick, a group that Wild had profitably busted up months before. One of their number, and a partner on the same highway robbery that hanged them, was one of Wild’s longtime cronies, a thief named Joseph Blake who was known as “Blueskin”. According to Aaron Skirball’s readable history of Wild’s rise and downfall, The Thief-Taker Hangings,

As a boy, Blueskin went to school for nearly six years, but he showed little propensity for education. Nevertheless, it was at school that he met William Blewit. Through Blewit, Blake was introduced to Jonathan Wild and entered the thief-taker’s junior league.

Young Blake picked pockets on London’s streets, focusing on pedestrians around Lincoln’s Inn Fields. By age fifteen, Blake knew the interiors of the city’s array of prisons and workhouses. But he was never more than an ordinary thief. For him, it was a matter of quantity. He sto.e plenty.

Blake grew into a ma of disheveled brawn. He was never a gentleman of the road, but rather a coarse, rugged, unkempt highwayman. On one occasion, after he stopped a coach from Hampstead and met with obstinacy from a woman in the carriage, who declared that Blueskin was sure to hang for the deed, he flew off the handle.

“You double Pox’d Salivated Bitch,” he said. “Come, no dallying, deliver your Money, or else your life must be a Sacrifice to my Fury.” Then he ordered the woman, a bawdy house operator named Mother Wybourn, to strip naked.

As the years passed, Blake robbed with Richard Oakey and John Levee and drifted into the Carrick gang. He amassed a pretty penny from his multitude of robberies, but apparently lost a great deal at the gaming tables with Carrick. Through it all, Blueskin remained interlinked with Jonathan Wild. In 1723, Wi9ld arrested Blake after a fierce struggle that left Blake with a saber gash. Yet, in prison Blake received from Wild an allowance of three shillings and sixpence a week, and the thief-taker picked up the bill to have him stitched up as well.

This allowance was a small price to pay in comparison to the hundreds of quid in rewards that Wild realized for having his accomplices hanged. Blake obligingly gave the evidence at their trial that doomed them all.

It’s difficult to trace Blueskin’s exact loyalties and motivations moment by moment here, but it’s clear that Wild’s pennies had not fully sewn up the injuries done to him: perhaps the further year-plus that Blake was obliged to cool his heels in prison before arranging his release in mid-1724 hardened him against the old boss. Once Blueskin got out, he joined forces with anti-Wild celebrity burglar Jack Sheppard in a caper that would see both those men to the gallows … but also bring down Jonathan Wild into the bargain.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Theft

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2018: The Sultan of Coins

Add comment November 14th, 2018 Headsman

Iran today hanged two men for financial crimes.

Vahid Mazloumin, dubbed “the Sultan of Coins”, was arrested in July with two tons of gold coins in his possession. He was condemned with accomplice Mohammad-Esmaeil Qassemi of comprising a “smuggling gang”.

Iran’s currency has collapsed in recent months ahead of the bad-faith U.S. nuclear sanctions, leading Iranians to rush for precious metals.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Organized Crime,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines

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2009: Xu Wei, Jilin gangster

Add comment November 5th, 2018 Headsman

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported thusly:

CHANGCHUN, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — A Mafia ring leader, who is also son of a former high-ranking city official, was executed Thursday by lethal injection in Changchun, capital of northeast China’s Jilin Province, according to a court statement.

Convicted of murder, kidnapping, intentional injury, extortion and other crimes, Xu Wei, 42, was sentenced to death by the Changchun Intermediate People’s Court on Sept. 20, 2007. The Higher People’s Court of Jilin Province ruled against Xu’s appeal and upheld the first-instance verdict on July 10, 2008. The Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence after reviewing the case.

Xu, deputy manager of Yushu City Thermal Power Co. and son of Xu Fengshan, former deputy mayor of Yushu city, was found to have provided guns to two gangsters who shot dead Xu’s business rival in 1997. Xu even pulled strings through his police complice and bailed out one of the killers, the court was told.

Believing a township head didn’t pay him enough respect, Xu ordered his men to beat him to death in 1998. In the end, the man was struck into coma and died in hospital in 2000 at the age of 49, court verdict said.

In a separate case, the father Xu Fengshan was sentenced to death with a reprieve of two years for taking more than 20 million yuan (2.93 million U.S. dollars) in bribery and harboring criminal organizations.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Organized Crime,Pelf

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1965: Eighteen prison rioters from Pulau Senang

Add comment October 29th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, newly-independent Singapore hanged 18 former inmates of the Pulau Senang penal settlement for a deadly 1963 riot.


Pulau Senang. (cc) image by Jnzl.

“Island of Ease” the name means in Malay — but inmates at the experimental prison colony established there in 1960 found it anything but. Singapore’s 1959 elections, its first under self-rule within the British Empire, brought in the People’s Action Party. The PAP still rules Singapore to this day, famously tough on crime.

Ever thus. One of PAP’s objectives in 1959 was to root out a plague of gangsterism in the city, and to that end it instituted the Pulau Senang settlement on the virtually uninhabited 81-hectare coral island. It had a classic penitential vision: hard-core underworld gangsters sweating away their appetite for crime, learning hard work and practical trade skills, emerging reformed — “every violent lawless man could find their own way back to decent society given a proper chance and hard work,” in the words of its superintendent, Irishman Daniel Stanley Dutton.

And it had its moment in the sun: during the colony’s short life, several hundred of its inmates were found sufficiently rehabilitated for release.

But obviously not every resident was a success story, for on July 12, 1963, a confrontation over laboring conditions on the Isle of Ease spiraled into a mutiny that saw the inmates hack Dutton himself to death with the tools he’d given them to save their own souls. Two of Dutton’s assistants were also slain in the rising, and before gendarmes arrived to restore order the inmates had torched and sacked most of the colony infrastructure that they and their predecessors had painstakingly constructed over the preceding three years.

The ensuing mass trials saw a shocking 18 men capitally convicted and eventually hanged on a single date: October 29, 1965. (Twenty-nine others received lesser prison sentences for mere rioting convictions.)

Dutton’s untimely end also meant the end of his project, which was retired from the Singapore penal system in 1964. Today, it’s a military testing grounds and live-fire range.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Organized Crime,Rioting,Singapore

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1999: David Leisure, mob war veteran

Add comment September 1st, 2018 Headsman

Gangster David Leisure — not to be confused with the “Joe Isuzu” actor of the same name — was executed by lethal injection in Missouri on this date in 1999.

A rare real-life mafioso — perhaps the first executed in the United States since Murder, Inc. boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter in 1944 — Leisure shattered the tense 19-day calm after St. Louis mob boss Anthony Giordano died in 1980.

What would the post-Giordano underworld look like? The Leisure family sized up 75-year-old James “Horseshoe Jimmy” Michaels Sr. as a rival to eliminate for reasons both personal and professional. Paulie Leisure, his brother Anthony, and their cousin, our man David Leisure, already held Michaels responsible for permitting the murder of another family member in 1964. But as a more direct inducement, Michaels purposed to wrest control of a mobbed-up union from the Leisures.

On September 17, under Paulie’s orders, David Leisure and Anthony Leisure tailed Michaels onto Interstate 55, where by remote control they detonated a bomb they’d attached to the undercarriage of their enemy’s Chrysler Cordoba.

A nationally known gangland war ensued, nicknamed the “Syrian-Lebanese War” — not in tribute to world news but because mobsters of Levantine descent were a principal St. Louis crime faction, and it was for primacy among them that the Michaels and Leisure circles murdered one another. The next year, Paulie Leisure lost his legs to a retaliatory bomb, which in turn led the Leisures to kill Michaels’s grandson, and on and on.

By 1983, FBI informants had brought all our Leisure characters under indictment. David Leisure already had lengthy prison sentences for racketeering and for a different car bomb murder by the time the Show Me State was ready to prosecute the Michaels murder. Paul Leisure never got the death penalty but he died in federal prison a few months after his cousin’s execution. The St. Louis mafia has been said to be reduced by the present day to little more than a social club for aging wiseguys from a bygone world.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lethal Injection,Missouri,Murder,Organized Crime,USA

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1941: Pittsburgh Phil

Add comment June 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Brooklyn gangster Pittsburgh Phil went to the Sing Sing electric chair.

The smart-dressed Pittsburgh Phil* — “Harry Strauss” to his parents or just plain “Pep” to his friends — was the most notorious contract killer of the Springsteen-worthy crime syndicate Murder, Inc.. He racked up an alleged body count well north of 100 — possibly several multiples of that figure — popping whomever some organized crime figure needed to be rid of. (Like this guy.)

Pep eschewed any single m.o., murdering with blades and bullets and garrotes and lungs full of water, and he rarely even carried a weapon lest it incriminate him on a chance arrest. Well did he know this tradecraft, for he beat no fewer than 17 prosecutions in New York. The man also took hit assignments all around the country, for other crime lords in cities whose patrolmen did not recognize him by name and reputation.

And fittingly, it took another assassin to kill him.

Fellow Murder, Inc. killer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles — a childhood buddy with whom he’d come up in the Prohibition crime world via Meyer Lansky‘s organization — got caught in the government’s sights and realized that his only probable purchase on life involved giving evidence against his mates.

We’ve seen that his testimony did in Frank Abbandando and Harry Maione, even though Reles had “fallen out of a window” before those goons sat in the mercy seat. Reles likewise gave up Pittsburgh Phil, who in Raymond Chandler’s was “electrocuted with a sneer on his face” on this date along with his fellow Murder, Inc. plugger Buggsy Goldstein.

* Why did they call him “Pittsburgh Phil”? Who knows! He is at any rate not to be confused with groundbreaking horse bettor George “Pittsburgh Phil” Smith.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,New York,Organized Crime,USA

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1748: Arthur Gray and William Rowland, Hawkhurst Gang smugglers

Add comment May 11th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1748, Arthur Gray and William Rowland — two desperadoes of the Hawkhurst Gang smuggling syndicate — were hanged at Tyburn.

We have in these pages formerly detailed the muscle of this fearsome gang, which having established a lucrative commercial enterprise evading tea duties and distributing its discount leaf did not shrink from brutalizing and murdering the king’s own agents to preserve it.*

Britain by the late 1740s was pressing hard to suppress the shocking violence of the smuggling trade. To that end, she had armed herself with legislation permitting the capital prosecution of people for carrying smuggled goods while armed — the attainble bar which was cleared for both of the prosecutions at issue in today’s post.

However, as the Newgate Ordinary described, there were much more shocking atrocities to be attributed:

There are numerous Instances might be given of the Barbarity of Smugglers, but I shall confine myself to one or two very remarkable, in which Gray was principally concerned, in Decem. 1744. The Commissioners of the Customs being informed that two noted Smugglers, Chiefs of a Gang who infested the Coast, were skulking at a House in Shoreham in Sussex, they granted a Warrant to Messieurs Quaff, Bolton, Jones, and James, four of his Majesty’s Officers of the Customs, to go in Search of them. The Officers found them according to the Information, seized them, and committed them to Goal. But the rest of the Gang, of which Gray was one, being informed of the Disaster of their Friends, convened in a Body the Monday following, and in open Day Light entered the Town with Hangers drawn, arm’d with Pistols and Blunderbusses; they fired several Shot to intimidate the Neighbourhood, and went to a House where the Officers were Drinking; dragg’d them out, tied three of them Neck and Heels (the fourth, named Quaff, making his Escape as they got out of the House) and carried them off in Triumph to Hawkhurst in Kent, treating them all the Way with the utmost Scurrility, and promising to broil them alive. However, upon a Council held among them, they let Mr. Jones go, after they had carried him about five Miles from Shoreham, telling him, they had nothing to object to him, but advised him not to be over busy in troubling them or their Brethren, left he might one Day meet the Fate reserved for his two Companions. They carried the unfortunate Mr. Bolton and James, to a Wood near Hawkhurst, stripped them naked, tyed them to two different Trees near one another, and whipped them in the most barbarous Manner, till the unhappy Men begg’d they would knock them on the Head to put them out of their Miseries; but these barbarous Wretches told them, it was time enough to think of Death when they had gone through all their Exercise that they had for them to suffer before they would permit them to go to the D – l. They then kindled a Fire between the two Trees, which almost scorch’d them to Death, and continued them in this Agony for some Hours, till the Wretches were wearied with torturing them; they then releas’d them from the Trees, and carried them quite speechless and almost dead, on Board one of their Ships, from whence they never return’d.

That’s all about Arthur Gray, a butcher by training who had advanced to a leadership role in the Hawkhurst Gang. Juridically, this entire story is nothing but the Ordinary’s gossip; the whole of Gray’s trial consists not of torturing and disappearing lawmen but an anodyne description of Gray’s having formed a convoy of about eight men, armed with blunderbusses and carbines, to carry uncustomed tea and brandy. It’s the get Capone on tax evasion school of using whatever tool is available; in fact, the very crime here for Gray is “tax offences”.

It’s the same for William Rowland, who was a person of much less consequence in the gang; the Ordinary has no scandal of interest to share with the reader, and by his telling Rowland awaiting the gallows seems preoccupied mostly with annoyance at his naivete in surrendering himself upon hearing of the warrant, thinking his involvement in the racket too trivial to have possibly come to hemp.

The Hawkhurst Gang would be broken up by 1749.

* On the lighter side of moral panics, we find philanthropist-noodge Jonas Hanway (who thought a proper Briton ought to fortify himself with robust beer instead of strained leaf-water) amusingly fretting in the 1750s that thanks to the 18th century’s tea craze

men were losing their stature, women their beauty, and the very chambermaids their bloom … Will the sons and daughters of this happy isle for ever submit to the bondage of so tyrannical a custom as drinking tea? … Were they the sons of tea-sippers who won the fields of Crécy and Agincourt or dyed the Danube’s shores with Gallic blood?

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Public Executions

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1964: Jack Ruby condemned

Add comment March 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Dallas nightclub owner Jacob Rubenstein — notorious to history as Jack Ruby — was condemned to the electric chair for the dramatic live-televised murder of accused John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, captured by snapping shutters in one of the 20th century’s indelible images.

Ruby would never sit on that mercy seat.

For one thing, his punishment arrived as the American death penalty lulled into hibernation. Had he lived his sentence eventually would have been vacated by the 1972 Furman v. Georgia ruling. But instead of seeing that juridical landmark, the enigmatic Ruby died in prison inside of three years, awaiting retrial after an appeal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Infamous,Jews,Murder,Not Executed,Notable for their Victims,Organized Crime,Popular Culture,Texas,USA

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