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March 26, 2012
Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll
Vincent Coll, better known as Mad Dog Coll, was not a typical New York gangster. He was very young when he began a career of violent crime – only a teenager – and only 23 years old when he was killed in a hail of bullets in a Manhattan drug store. Yet, he had become the leader of his own gang and one of the most notorious criminals in New York at the time of his death.
Mad Dog Coll was a creature of his own invention. Shut out of controlling a slice of New York’s lucrative liquor trade during Prohibition, he started in his own gang and crashed the party. He was very different in another way: Coll robbed other gangsters by kidnapping them for ransom, and towards the end of his career he set himself up as an assassin who would accept contracts from one prominent gangster who wanted to kill a rival.
And finally, he was an Irish-born gangster who was born in Bunbeg, Co Donegal, and was one of the few Irish-born and the only Donegal-born gangster in New York during the glory days of the gangsters, in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
The Boy from Donegal
Coll has often been referred to in articles as the “Gweedore gangster” or the “Donegal gangster,” as if there was some connection between his life of crime and his place of birth. One author even suggested that Coll had inherited some violent genes from his Gweedore ancestors who had a number of violent confrontations with landlords in the Nineteenth Century.
A far more likely influence on the anti-social development of Coll was a broken home caused by the desertion of his father who left the family after they arrived in New York; the years he spent in New York orphanages where he was physically and sexually abused; and an upbringing in the crime ridden streets of the Bronx, where he lived after he was released from the orphanage.
In these streets Coll learned from his peers that helping himself to what belonged to others was no crime, and that those who resisted parting with their belongings could be attacked, and even killed, and that was no crime either.
After his mother died, Coll and his brother Peter were placed in a number of Catholic orphanages, but were found to be uncontrollable by the clergy who ran these institutions. Eventually they were sent to live with an aunt named Mary Friel, a native of Gweedore, Co Donegal.
If the authorities thought that living with a close relative would turn the boys into law abiding citizens, they were badly mistaken. The brothers used the Friel home as a base from which they organized a juvenile street game made up mainly of Italian youths who had dreams of becoming top Mafioso, like the leading Italian gangsters who were beginning to make a name for themselves in New York City.
In the 1960s, long after Vincent Coll’s murder, a Coll relative still living in Brooklyn, said that Vincent Coll had been led astray by the Italians in his neighborhood, and it was they who introduced him to a life of crime. She also said that “his Italian girlfriend” had also been responsible for his violent career, because he committed robberies in order to buy her jewels,
This story was an attempt to rewrite history, however, because Coll was never led astray by his Italian neighbors. In fact it was he who recruited the Italian youngsters into a gang, and all of them would end up dead, either murdered by other gangsters, or executed by the State of New York for the murders they had committed.
As for his “Italian girlfriend,” Coll’s longtime girlfriend was Lottie Kreisberger, a German Jew, and she and Coll were birds of a feather: They were violent sociopaths who were determined to get rich as quickly as possible. After Coll was killed, Lottie formed a gang of her own and continued to rob and kill until she was finally locked up.
The Enforcer for Dutch Schultz
Coll and his juvenile gang were initially involved in street crime, such as muggings and the robbery of grocery stores. But then at the age of 19 he was hired by a leading gangster named Dutch Schultz as an enforcer who collected debts owed to Schultz. His duties also included the protection of Schultz’s highly lucrative liquor distribution business, which was earning millions of dollars a month supplying bootleg whiskey and beer to taverns all over New York.
Prohibition was in effect in New York at this time and there was an insatiable demand for liquor of any kind, and Schultz was only too happy to supply all the liquor that was needed.
Coll’s job was to insure that taverns in New York that were being supplied by Schultz continued to buy liquor from Schultz and not from one of the other gangsters who were also in the liquor business. If the tavern owner stepped out of line and bought his liquor from another gangster, then Coll took whatever steps that were necessary to bring him back in line. On several occasions this resulted in the murder of the tavern own
Coll was so valuable an employee to Schultz that he was able to treble the number of taverns that used the Schultz product and this greatly increased the gangster’s profit margin.
Coll knew his worth to Schultz and he resented the fact that he was just an employee and was not sharing in the profits.
Schultz was only six years older that Coll and Coll was convinced that Schultz was not that intelligent and that he had become successful because of pure luck. Coll envied the amount of money that Schultz was making and the respect that Schultz was given throughout New York City, even though it was widely known that he was a gangster.
Schultz was immune from prosecution because he shared his profits with those that had an ability to harm him. Coll regularly dropped off brown bags full of cash to police stations in every area in which Schultz operated, as a gift from the gangster.
Leading politicians also received their share in overstuffed envelopes. It was only the workers in the Schultz gang who were shut out of the profit-sharing, and Coll was determined that this practice would end.
So he went to Schultz and told him he wanted to be a partner in the operation and he wanted a share of all profits. Schultz laughed in his face and told him he would remain on a salary and if he did not like that he could leave the gang.
Crowding in on Dutch Schultz
Coll left the gang and recruited a dozen members of the Schultz gang to join him in this new enterprise.
Coll was not an idiot and he knew that he could not just set himself up in a criminal enterprise and no one would object to it. He knew there were a number of problems facing any gangster who wanted to break into the lucrative liquor distribution business in New York City during Prohibition.
First of all, the entire city had already been carved up into areas where individual mob bosses controlled all aspects of the business. Shultz operated mainly in the Bronx and Harlem, while Owney Madden, an Irish gangster who was the mob boss of Hell’s Kitchen, had a sphere of influence in Manhattan. Other mobsters controlled other areas of the city.
Each mob boss had his own fleet of trucks to distribute the liquor, and all had drivers who were armed to the teeth. Madden even had his own brewery in Manhattan in which he brewed all types of spirits. All of these mobs operated without any violence, because each mob boss respected the territorial rights of the other gangsters.
The politicians and police went along with this arrangement because they knew they would never be able to stamp out all the production and distribution of bootleg liquor, so they tolerated the gangs who were not violent.
Of course, the hefty bribes that came their way was another incentive to turn a blind eye to the illegal liquor business.
The media knew all about the mob’s activities but there were few editorials in the newspapers to crack down on the gangsters, because the gangsters would have little hesitation in killing any editor who made trouble for them and the editors knew this. Anyway, stories about murder and other violence in the world of the mob sold newspapers because the public was fascinated by the lifestyle of the gangsters.
When Coll decided to become a mob boss, he knew that he could not possibly begin a liquor distributing business without infringing on the territory of some other mob boss. And he knew well that the reaction would be all out war between his gang and the gang of the mob boss he had targeted. But he intended to go ahead anyway because he wanted the money, and he wanted the power and the glamour that went with the role of a successful mob boss in New York City. And he was determined to succeed.
Coll was a little cautious at first. He approached Owney Madden of the Hell’s Kitchen Irish gang and tried to create an alliance with him. He told Madden he could persuade many of the taverns supplied by Shultz to accept his beer and liquor, if Madden would make him a partner.
Madden saw the raw ambition in Coll’s eyes and he knew that here was a person who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, so he treated Coll with a great deal of caution because he did not want to make an enemy of this dangerous young man. He even took Coll to the famed Cotton Club for dinner and told him that if he proceeded with care he could achieve everything he hoped for, including dining at the Cotton Club every night. But that if he acted rashly he would make an enemy of every gangster in New York and he would achieve nothing.
Coll listened to Madden, but when it became clear Madden was not going to do business with him, he rejected Madden’s advice and declared war on Dutch Shultz. Before it was over there were a score of gangsters assassinated and several others were executed in the electric chair.
Shultz was terrified by the savagery of Coll’s attack on his organization. Coll hijacked scores of Schultz’s beer trucks and sold the beer at discount rates to taverns; he gunned down drivers who resisted hijackings; he burned down a warehouse belonging to Shultz, destroying 26 trucks and a vast supply of beer; he assassinated several of the top gangsters in the Schultz organization and then went after Schultz himself. Shultz retaliated by murdering Vincent Coll’s brother, Peter, and put a bounty out on Vincent.
However, Vincent Coll did manage to bully his way into the control of some sections of Harlem and the Bronx that were previously controlled by Shultz, and he gained ownership of several taverns by telling the previous owners that he would kill them if they did not get out of town. Within a year Coll was on his way to being a player in the beer wars of New York.
Coll’s tactics so terrified Schultz that he offered a large sum of money to several policemen to murder Coll. They turned down the offer.
Kidnapping the Prominent for Profit
Meanwhile, Coll decided to take advantage of his growing reputation for violence to get involved in other criminal activities: like the kidnapping of prominent personalities for ransom; and contract murders that serviced the needs of the leaders of organized crime. Those kidnapped were prominent in show business; the contract killings were requested by Mafia leaders who wanted to eliminate other Mafia leaders. Coll’s fee for such a killing was $50,000, which in 1930 was a huge amount of money.
The kidnapping activity made the Coll gang a great deal of money. He kidnapped show business legend Rudy Vallee and received $100,000 for Vallee’s release. Next to be taken was Sherman Billingsly, owner of the Stork Club, the most famous restaurant in New York, who paid Coll $25,000 for his release. Then Billy Warren, a New York banker, parted with $83,000 to get his freedom. Coll then had the nerve to kidnap George De Mange, a close aide to Owney Madden and forced Madden to pay $38,500 for his release. There were many other kidnappings that received no publicity, but all of them added to the growing wealth of Coll, who was making more money from this activity than he was making in his war with Shultz.
None of the victims of Coll’s kidnapping ever filed a complaint with the police, nor did they complain about Coll to the media. The reason for this was that the victims knew that if they filed a complaint with the police they would immediately be put on Coll’s hit list, so they kept very quiet about the crime. Another reason they kept quiet was that the ransom money paid was usually money that had never been declared as income to the Internal Revenue Service, so they would have set themselves up for an IRS audit if they told the authorities they had handed over a huge amount of cash to Coll.
Coll was very careful to select victims who would not complain about his crime, and he was delighted at the ease with which he was making huge sums of money.
Craving Respect and Recognition
But this activity was not generating any publicity for the gang in the newspapers and since Coll craved the notoriety of Owney Madden and Dutch Shultz, he was frustrated that his terror tactics were not making him a superstar in the New York night clubs.
Nevertheless, Coll liked to project the image of a successful gangster and he invested some of his income in expensive suits and hats, and insisted that his gang members dress in a similar manner. Expensive clothing did a great deal to enhance the image of Coll, who was handsome and had a natural self confidence, but the majority of his gang members looked like thugs even when they were dressed up, so the expensive clothing merely drew negative attention to them.
Coll continued to crave respect when he visited the famous clubs of New York… the kind of respect that Owney Madden received, or the respect given to leading Mafia mobsters like Lucky Luciano or Maranzano.
But it was obvious to him that the club owners reacted with fear to him, and he knew they saw him as a vicious young thug who was extremely dangerous.
On one occasion, Coll, accompanied by his girlfriend Lottie Kreisberger, attended an Irish fundraiser in Brooklyn, which had been organized by immigrants from Gweedore, Co Donegal. The benefit was for a family who lost all their belongings in a fire.
Coll and Lottie showed up dressed in designer clothes and swaggered around the venue as if they were superstars. This was the first social contact Coll had with a group of people from his homeland, and he may have thought his growing notoriety and his glamorous image would have made him a celebrity at the event. He did not know any of the people in attendance, but all of those present knew who he was and they knew he had a criminal reputation. The reaction of the Gweedore immigrants to Coll astounded him. Not a single person approached him to give him a friendly greeting, and those that he tried to interact with were cold and looked at him as if he were unwelcome.
This was the first time that Coll became aware that he was not respected in the Irish community in New York. Indeed these Donegal immigrants acted as if they despised him. His fancy clothes and glamorous girlfriend meant nothing to those who were present.
There were several of Coll’s second cousins present and they were so embarrassed by Coll’s presence that they left the venue without identifying themselves.
The Gweedore immigrants had a reason for their attitude. They had come to America to find a better life and have opportunities available to their children not available back in Donegal. Already the children of previous generations of Gweedore immigrants were sending their children to college; were buying homes; were joining the police department; and were firmly on the side of law and order. They rejected the lifestyle of people like Coll whom they viewed as a menace to society. Above all, they were furious and embarrassed that Coll was referred to in some Irish American newspapers as the “Gweedore gangster,” as if Coll was a product of his parish back in Donegal.
Coll would put a different spin on his visit to Brooklyn when he talked about it later. He described the Gweedore people as little nobodies who were jealous of his success, and he said they lacked ambition and were willing to settle for little weekly salaries instead of reaching for the stars as he had. He also said they were cowards who were afraid of the police.
The Beginning of the End for Coll
Coll’s involvement in contract killing made all the crime bosses in New York nervous – none more so than Schultz – because they believed that none of them were safe as long as he was roaming the streets. This sideline was freighted with danger for Coll as well, but what led to his doom was a gunfight in the streets of New York in which the Coll gang tried to kill members of the Shultz gang but instead killed a 5-year old boy and wounded three other children.
The child’s death created such an uproar about gang warfare in the streets that all of the power brokers in New York: the crime bosses, the police, the politicians, and the media were in unanimous agreement that Vincent Coll had to be eliminated, because it was believed that nobody was safe as long as he was around.
The leaders of organized crime offered $40,000 to anyone who would kill Coll, and the City of New York chipped in another $10,000 that was added to the mob fund. Coll and Lottie went intro hiding in upstate New York, and his gang scattered all over the city.
The media dubbed Coll a “baby killer” and filled the pages of the newspapers every day with negative coverage on him. The media called him the worst criminal in America, and the FBI named him as #1 on its famed Ten Most Wanted List. Mayor Walker christened Coll a “Mad Dog” and from then onwards he was known as Mad Dog Coll.
The idea that Coll was “the worst criminal in America” was of course nonsense. Most of the Italian mob leaders had killed scores of rivals, and Irish gangsters Owney Madden and Legs Diamond had also murdered a score of rivals. These other gang leaders also controlled huge criminal enterprises that were vast in comparison to the activities of Mad Dog Coll.
Coll’s real crime was that he had disrupted the criminal status quo in New York City by hijacking the assets of another crime boss who was giving generous bribes to the police and leading politicians. He was also offering to execute the leading gangsters in New York for a hefty fee, and it was believed he would also execute the mayor if the price were right.
No city that had a well-run criminal enterprise that supplied the illegal substances that the public craved, and shared its ill gotten gains with the police and the politicians, could tolerate such a loose canon, so all parties with a stake in the status quo got together to demonize Coll, and the media was only too happy to cooperate with front page headlines.
One would imagine that the Coll gang would be horrified by the torrent of bad publicity that had descended on the head of their leader. But in reality Coll was delighted with the publicity, as if he had just been elected president of the United States, and the gang members were immensely proud of their notoriety and openly boasted about their membership in the gang.
Other small time gangsters in the New York area were attracted to the gang by this notoriety and made it known that they would love to join the gang. But Coll thought it wise to hide out in upstate New York, where the gang got together again.
Coll approached Legs Diamond, another notorious Irish gangster, and tried to form a joint enterprise with him – smuggling beer and whiskey into areas far from New York City. Coll told Diamond they could make a fortune. Diamond was cautious in his dealings with Coll and he had every reason to be since he knew Coll had once accepted a Mafia contract to assassinate him.
But before the new alliance could be created, New York State police captured most of the Coll gang, and a few days later Coll himself and Legs Diamond were captured and were booked on capital murder charges.
Coll was charged with the murder of the 5-year old boy in New York and it was the consensus of opinion in the city that Coll was on a fast track for an appointment with the electric chair. Indeed, there was a demand in the city for a speedy trial and execution.
Coll on Trial
Coll had a great deal of cash, which he had acquired from his kidnapping activities, and he used this cash to hire Samuel Liebowitz, one of the leading attorneys in New York. The stakes were very high for Coll, who knew that he would be quickly executed if he were found guilty.
Coll insisted from the very beginning that he had nothing to do with the murder of the child. He said the child was killed in a crossfire between rival members of the Shultz gang, and that the authorities were trying to frame him for the killing because they had been paid off by Shultz.
The prosecution’s case was very weak because it rested on the testimony of a single eyewitness who claimed he saw Coll inside a car using a Tommy gun to rake the street with bullets, one of which killed the child. But after two days of questioning, Liebowitz thoroughly discredited the witness by revealing that he had a long criminal record and that he had committed perjury on the stand in another trial in the Midwest. Coll was acquitted.
If Coll had an ounce of sense, he would have fled the city and disappeared into the American countryside once he was allowed out of jail. He should have learned something from what happened to Legs Diamond, who had recently been acquitted by a jury but then gunned down by the Mafia who did not like the fact that Diamond was on the loose again.
Coll complained to the media about the hit on Diamond saying that it was just not fair that a man could be acquitted by a jury and then executed by gangsters. He seemed to think that gangsters should respect law and order, which was ironic since he was the last person in the world who respected law and order.
Coll’s Final, Fatal Gambit
Instead of running for his life, Coll and Lottie organized a new gang, and the first thing Coll did was to threaten to kill Owney Madden, the Hell’s Kitchen boss, if Madden did not hand over $50,000. Madden promptly put word out that he would give $50,000 to anyone who would kill Coll. This inspired gunmen from all over the country to come to New York and go on a hunt for Coll.
The police and the Mafia were so incensed that Coll was back on the streets again that they were determined to put Coll out of business. The Mafia supplied Owney Madden with assassins whose marching orders were to track down Coll and kill him. The police stated that they would arrest Coll every time they saw him on a city street, and they followed up with that threat, hoping to make life so tough for Coll that he would leave New York.
Coll was outraged at the way he was being treated. He told reporters that he had never been convicted of killing anyone and that Owney Madden and other mob bosses had scores of murders to their credit. He said that Mafia dons could assassinate scores of people and the police, the politicians and the press treated them with respect, yet he was treated as if he was a pervert.
Coll claimed the Catholic clergy were also in cahoots with the mob because they allowed elaborate funerals for dead gangsters even though they knew the gangsters made their money from illegal activities. All of Coll’s complaints were ignored.
As the pressure on Coll increased, Coll and Lottie told some close friends that they might go “home” to northwest Donegal.
Coll believed he would be respected back in his native parish. But there is little doubt that he would have received a very cold welcome there, because ordinary criminals were shunned and disrespected, especially if they were killers. The only persons who had killed someone and were still respected were those who were activists during the Irish War of Independence, and Coll certainly would not have fitted into that particular category.
As the hunt for him intensified, Coll proved to be a wily quarry who could not easily be cornered. He insisted that his gang break up into small units and that they move from one address to another every couple of days. Coll himself used numerous disguises and rarely exited a building from the same entrance.
Strangely enough, as the pressure mounted on Coll so did a support network of friends who conspired to provide a safe haven for Coll and members of his gang. Indeed, there were scores of people who had only had a casual relationship with Coll who volunteered their homes as safe havens, so the gang had numerous hideouts all over the city.
This had a tragic consequence for one family that was playing host to members of the Coll gang when some of Madden’s hit men caught up with them.
Madden had spies everywhere in the city who supplied him with information on the movements of Coll. One evening Madden was informed that Coll and a dozen members of the gang were seen entering an apartment house in the Bronx and Madden dispatched three gunmen armed with machine guns to wipe the gang out.
Unknown to Schultz, however, Coll and Lottie had stayed in the building for only a few minutes and then left by a back entrance. When the gunmen burst into an apartment, some members of the Coll gang were playing cards with a group of friends, that included several women and two babies, and in the ensuing gun battle, the hit men killed three people and wounded six others. Coll, of course, was long gone.
This slaughter created panic in the streets of New York and new demands that Coll be brought down. The whole city knew that it was the mob bosses who were initiating the violence in this case, but Coll still got the blame because people reasoned that it was the activities of Coll that were the root cause of the violence, which in a way was true.
The Assassination of Mad Dog Coll
Madden eventually came up with a strategy that led to the murder of Coll. Through his informants, he learned that Coll was moving around with a single bodyguard, a Polish gangster named Edwin Popke, aka Fats McCarthy, a gunman who was just as ruthless as Coll.
Madden contacted McCarthy, and by either bribing him, or threatening him, or a combination of both, he persuaded McCarthy to set up Coll, and allow him to be murdered while pretending to protect him. The plot worked.
Coll and Lottie were staying in the Cornish Arms Hotel, 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue, on February 9, 1932, and were planning a kidnapping of Owney Madden. He had contacted Madden and made a demand for $50,000, and he told Madden that if he did not come up with the money, he would kidnap him.
Coll had been calling Madden from different phones around the city in order to prevent Madden from tracing the calls, and when he called Madden on February 8, he told Madden that if he did not come up with the money by 12:30 p.m. the following day that the Coll gang would come after him. Madden told him to call back the following day and he would have his answer.
Madden contacted Fats McCarthy and asked him where Coll made his telephone calls, and McCarthy gave him a list, one of which was the London Chemists, on 23rd Street and 8th Avenue. Madden then assembled a team of three assassins that included experienced assassins Bo Weinberg, Dutch Shultz’s right hand man, and two professionals, Leonard Scarnicki and Anthony Fabrizzo, and ordered them to park near the Cornish Arms Hotel the following day and observe where Coll went to make the call to Owney Madden.
Coll left the hotel the following day shortly after noon and strode directly across the street, accompanied by McCarthy, and entered the drugstore. There was a lunch counter near the door and he told McCarthy to sit at the counter and guard the door. McCarthy was armed; Coll was not. There were five people in the drug store when Coll arrived. Three were customers and two were staff members. One of the customers was Peggy Boner, who worked in the Cornish Arms and who was a native of northwest Donegal.
Coll went to the back of the store, entered a phone booth, and called Madden. He had been on the phone no more that two minutes when a car pulled up outside the entrance and Sarnicki and Fabrazzio got out. Weinberg remained behind the wheel. Fabrazzio went in first and pointed a tommy gun at the three customers, two staff members, and McCarthy and told them not to move or utter a sound. McCarthy, who had been sitting at the counter, got up and walked out the door and Fabrizzo did nothing to prevent him from leaving. Coll, who was in the back of the store and inside a telephone booth, was not aware of any of this nor did he see Sarnicki walk across the floor and fire fifteen bullets through the glass door into his body. Only in the final instant of his life would Coll have been aware that his time had come.
There was a policeman on patrol several hundred yards from the London Chemist when the gunfire erupted inside the drugstore, and the police officer arrived at the entrance to the drugstore just as the gunmen were pulling away from the store and were racing up Eighth Avenue.
The officer made no attempt to go into the drugstore, but instead hailed a passing cab and gave chase to the gangsters. The gangster were speeding at 70 miles an hour up the Avenue when the officer began the chase and when the cab caught up with the getaway car the cop started to fire his pistol at the car creating a very dangerous situation for innocent bystanders on the sidewalks as bullets ricocheted off the getaway car. The chase ended when the car occupied by the gangsters began to weave in and out of traffic and the taxi driver lost his nerve and dropped out of the chase.
The murder of Coll was a joint operation by a number of people who wanted to see Coll dead. The gunmen had been provided by Schultz, but Madden had been the one who set up Coll. The Italian Mafia had contributed heavily to the bounty fund used to pay the killers of Coll, and even though the police knew where Coll was living, they made no effort to intervene in the hit before it occurred.
The lone policeman who pursued the killers was probably not aware that his superiors did not want the killers arrested. However, it was odd that Patrolman Sherlock made no effort to enter the London Chemists to see who shot whom, or who might want immediate help, but instead went careening up 8th Avenue after the gunmen shooting wildly at them. How could he be aware that Coll had just been killed and that it was Coll’s killers he was pursuing, unless he was one of the police assigned to keep an eye on Coll and saw him walk into the drugstore and then put two and two together when he heard the gunfire.
Lottie Coll heard the sirens of the police and ambulances in the street and ran out to see what was going on. When she saw the police enter the drugstore, she ran across the street and went in and saw the mangled body of her husband slumped in a phone booth. She screamed and cried but would not give the police any information about who might have killed her husband. She was questioned about the identity of the bodyguard who had entered the drugstore with Coll, but she refused to identify him.
The elimination of Coll was welcomed at all levels of New York society, as if a major problem for the citizens of the city had been eliminated. Now that a dangerous loose canon had been destroyed, law and order could be restored, and organized crime and the rule of law could return to a peaceful coexistence, as soon as Coll was hurried off to his grave.
Coll’s Funeral – With Flowers “from the boys”
Lottie Coll did not arrange for the funeral of her dead husband – this chore was handled by Coll’s older sister Florence Redden, who had also buried her other brother Peter nine months previously when he had been gunned down in the street.
The relationship between Florence and Lottie was not a warm one, and at one point after Vincent’s murder Florence said that even though Vincent had taken out a license to get married he had never actually married Lottie.
Florence may have disliked Lottie because she was Jewish, or may have believed that Lottie, who had been accused of killing three previous boyfriends, would also kill Vincent. Anyway, Florence and Lottie were two different people. Florence had an Irish accent and spoke Gaelic; Lottie was the typical New York street girl who hung around gangsters.
But when it came to criminal activities, Florence was no more law-abiding than other members of her family were, because she was involved with Vincent in his criminal activities and involved her teenage son in these activities as well.
When Vincent and his gang were hiding out in upstate New York, Florence and her 14-year old son Joe were holed up in the house with them, and the boy relished the excitement of being with the gang. However, after Vincent’s murder, Florence and the boy, unlike Lottie, managed to stay out of jail.
Coll’s funeral, unlike the funerals of other prominent gangsters, was an extremely modest affair. Some Mafioso were given elaborate send-offs with High Masses in their parish church, numerous priests on the altar, and thousands in attendance. A Mafia funeral procession to the graveyard could include 100 limousines, with 30 of them carrying flowers. All the major mob families in America sent flowers to a murdered gangster, including bouquets from the mob boss who sanctioned the murder. Coll’s passing had none of that glamour.
When Florence tried to arrange a funeral mass in St. Raymond’s Church, she was told by the parish priest that Coll would be denied a funeral mass, and no priest would be allowed to provide a service at his grave. Priests were also banned from praying over his body at the Walter Cooke Funeral Parlor, on Willis Avenue, Bronx. However, Coll was allowed to be buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery because the Catholic hierarchy stated that he had gone to confession in the days prior to his death and this entitled him to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Florence Coll was furious at the church because she claimed the clergy were only “playing politics” by refusing Vincent a Catholic burial. She argued that if the church were aware that Coll had confessed his sins before he was killed then he died in a state of grace, and if he died in a state of grace why were the clergy treating him like a devil. She also claimed that if Coll had been Italian there would have been no question about him receiving a Catholic burial.
Lottie stayed out of the controversy for a number of reasons. First of all, she was Jewish, and therefore was in no position to argue with Catholic clergy on this issue. Secondly, she had no money – Coll had only $100 when he died – so Florence was the one who was in charge of all arrangements, since she was footing the bill.
The whole burial service was a low-key affair. The public was kept out of the funeral parlor, but friends of the family were allowed in to pay their respects, and hundreds of them did in fact show up. Among the mourners were scores of Italians from Coll’s old neighborhood in the Bronx who knew him since he was a boy.
Scores of Donegal folk living in America also showed up, some of whom were family members, and some were neighbors of the Coll family from Donegal.
One of the ironies of the fact that there were so many Irish in attendance was that many of those who showed up for the wake would never have associated with Coll when he was alive, because they despised gangsters. But they showed up when he was dead because they wanted to sympathize with Florence Redden.
When the wake was over, a member of the undertaker’s staff read a brief prayer over the body before it was placed in an inexpensive coffin. There were two limousines carrying the Coll family that followed the body to the grave, and another limousine that carried wreaths of flowers, including one from Dutch Shultz, which included a sympathy card, which stated – “from the boys”.
Carloads of detectives took up the rear. There were a dozen mourners already in the graveyard when the body arrived, and all were silent as Coll’s coffin was placed in the open grave and covered up. Nobody said a prayer. A massive polished granite tombstone stood over the grave, placed there several months previously by Vincent Coll in memory of his murdered brother Peter. Vincent Coll’s name would be added to the tombstone later in the year, and Frances Redden’s name would be added in 1956.
Coll’s assassins collected the $50,000 reward for killing him, but fate had a violent death in store for each of them also. Shortly after the Coll murder, Fabrizzio accepted a contract to kill Bugsy Siegel, a psychotic Jewish gangster, but failed in the attempt.
When Siegel learned that Fabrizzio was involved, he ambushed the gunman and killed him.
Years later, after he moved to Las Vegas to rule the casino industry, Siegel was murdered by the mob in a home he owned in California.
Sernicki was executed in the electric chair in Sing Sing for the murder of a detective, and Bo Weinberg was murdered by Schultz for cooperating with Lucky Luciano. Schultz encased Weinberg’s feet in concrete and then dumped him alive into the Hudson River.
Schultz himself was murdered by the Italian Mafia later that year in a Newark, N.J., restaurant, because he stood in the way of a complete Mafia takeover of the crime industry in New York.
Owney Madden saw the handwriting on the wall and offered the Mafia all his assets if they allowed him to retire: an offer that was accepted, and Madden fled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he opened a hotel and lived on until 1965.
A remnant of Madden’s organization continued to exist in Hell’s Kitchen until modern times, a gang that was known as “The Westies.” The Mafia initially tried to overrun this gang, but these Irish-American gangsters were so ruthless and violent that Mafia Dons decided to leave them alone because they murdered anyone who crossed them.
But in a flash back to the days of Vincent Coll, from time to time the Mafia hired members of the Westies as killers. Like Coll, the Westies enjoyed their notoriety and the fear they instilled in other gangsters.
Lottie Coll tried to form her own gang after Vincent was murdered, but all she achieved was a long jail sentence. After she was released from jail in 1945, she vanished.
Frankie Giordano and Dominick Odierno, the last two members of the Coll gang, had even worse luck: both went to the electric chair for the murder of a Dutch Schultz employee.
Florence Redden and her son Joe dropped out of sight after Coll’s death, and the only time Florence Redden’s name appeared in the newspaper was a death notice in 1956. She is buried with her two brothers in Saint Raymond’s Cemetery.
Joe Redden also disappeared from the media and to date has never surfaced.
The Colls are not talked about that much over in Donegal, even though there are scores of his cousins living there. Since there is no way to make folk heroes out of them, Gweedore folk believe the best strategy is silence on the subject. That makes sense.
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