Dutch Schultz: Beer Baron of the Bronx
The Schultz-Coll War
1931 quickly became a year Schultz would want to forget. On January 24, Schultz got into a fight at Club Abbey with Charles Chink Sherman, an associate of rival bootlegger, Waxey Gordon. During the donnybrook, Sherman was beaten with a chair and stabbed seven times with the shards from a broken peanut bowl. Schultz was identified as the man wielding the chair, while his sidekick, Marty Krompier, performed the stabbing. The Dutchman did not walk away from the fray unscathed. Schultz took a bullet in the shoulder, but quickly recovered. It was later revealed that the fight broke out over a joke about a girl one of them was seeing.
Shortly after this fracas, Schultz gunman Vincent Coll decided he wanted a more important role in the gang and told the Dutchman he wanted to be taken on as a full partner. Schultz rebuffed him and Coll split from the gang and branched out on his own, taking some of Dutchs underlings with him. It was reported that Schultz was only too glad to see him go.
Prior to their split, Schultz had provided $10,000 to bail Coll out of prison on a Sullivan Law violation (carrying a concealed weapon). When the trial date arrived in the spring of 1931, Coll was a no-show forcing Schultz to forfeit the ten grand. Schultz responded by having Colls older brother Peter murdered on a Harlem street corner on May 30. Incensed by the killing of his sibling, Coll went on a rampage of hijacking the Dutchmans beer trucks and declaring open season on Schultz gang members. Within weeks four of the Dutchmans associates were killed at the hands of Coll and his men.
On July 28, 1931, in the middle of a heat wave that had already taken 80 lives in the northeast, New York City witnessed one of its most notorious gang war killings. Instead of lawless gunmen falling to the wayside, five innocent children were senselessly shot down in a botched murder attempt on Schultz associate Joey Rao. On this steamy hot evening as children played on the sidewalk along East 107th Street and adults leaned out of open windows in the hope of catching a slight breeze, an open touring car containing five men slowly made its way down the block. As it passed the Helmar Social Club, the men spotted Joey Rao lounging out front. With one gunman blasting away with a shotgun and another a .45 automatic pistol, gang warfare reached an all-time low. Five year old Michael Vengali was hit and died the following day. His seven-year-old brother was wounded five times, and a three-year-old, sleeping in a stroller, was hit twice in the back. Two other children, five and fourteen years old, received slight wounds.
Despite the angry public outcry, police were hard pressed to find anyone in the neighborhood who would talk to them. Rao had spotted his assailants and ducked for cover. When the shooting stopped he stood up and calmly walked away. Five days later an eyewitness to the shooting, George Brecht, came forward claiming he had been standing across the street as the touring car drove by. Brecht identified Coll and Frank Giordano, a former Schultz gunman, as the two shooters.
When Colls name was released to the newspapers as the main suspect in the shootings the press dubbed him, the Baby Killer. As a nationwide manhunt was on for him, Coll dyed his blond hair black and grew a mustache. On October 4, he was arrested at the Cornish Arms Hotel on Twenty-third Street, near Eighth Avenue. In late December 1931, Coll and Giordano were tried for the murder of Michael Vengali. Coll was ably defended by Samuel S. Leibowitz, one of the citys high profile defense attorneys.
Leibowitz tore apart prosecution witness George Brecht during cross-examination. He told the jury that Brecht had fabricated the story in the hope of collecting the $30,000 reward being offered for the killers. Leibowitz claimed that Brecht had acted in a similar capacity in another case where his testimony could not be substantiated. By the end of the trial the jury found Brecht to be absolutely unreliable. He was committed to the psychopathic ward at Bellevue for observation. Coll and Giordano were acquitted.
Giordano would not be as fortunate the next time he faced a jury. On October 2, two days before Colls arrest, Giordano and Dominic Odierno murdered Joseph Mullen, a Schultz employee, in front of a Bronx beer drop-off. This time, reliable eyewitnesses identified the two killers. A rarity in gangland history, the two men were tried, convicted, and executed for the murder.
Coll celebrated his acquittal and release from jail by marrying his girlfriend, Lottie Kriesberger. But their celbrations were ended early when they were arrested on a conspiracy charge and spent a part of their honeymoon at police headquarters.
On February 1, 1932 another sensational killing in the war made the headlines. Again, another innocent victim was shot down. This time it was Schultzs gunmen pulling the triggers. The gang received word that Coll would be attending a card party at a small home on Commonwealth Avenue in the North Bronx. Four gunmen entered and began blasting. Killed were Coll triggermen Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile, and Emily Torrizello, who was playing cards. Wounded were Basiles brother Louis and another woman. Miraculously, four children, two of whom were in cribs, avoided injury. Thirty minutes after the shooting, the Mad Mick arrived.
Colls reprieve from gunfire lasted a scant eight days. On February 9, Coll entered the London Chemist, a drug store, with his bodyguard at Twenty-third Street near Eighth Avenue. He stepped into a phone booth where it was alleged he called Owney Madden. Things had been tough for the baby-faced Irishman since his acquittal a month and a half earlier. Down to his last $200, he was living in a hotel room with his new bride and was said by one reporter to have been reduced to the lowly job of guard for a craps game.
The rumor regarding the telephone conversation was that Madden kept Coll on the line long enough for a trio of killers to arrive. When the car pulled up, three men got out. While two stood watch outside, the third walked into the drug store with a Thompson sub-machinegun telling several customers to Keep cool now. Colls bodyguard, who was believed to have helped set him up, got off his seat at the soda fountain and walked out past the two lookouts on the street, one of which was the seemingly omnipresent Bo Weinberg.
Depending on which account of the murder you read the machine gunner fired anywhere from ten to fifty rounds at Coll. The coroners report stated fifteen bullets had hit the Mad Mick, mostly in vital places. Whatever the number, Coll was dead before he hit the floor.
The gunman ran out and jumped into the automobile, where Weinberg was already at the wheel, and took off. The ordeal for the killers was not over yet. Two police detectives, ironically, assigned to tail Coll, came running at the sound of gunfire. One jumped on the running board of a taxicab and ordered the driver to pursue the speeding getaway car. With the detective firing from the running board, the taxi driver chased the gunmen twenty-seven blocks down Eighth Avenue at speeds of up to sixty-five miles per hour before the get-away car pulled away.
Back at the drug store a crowd gathered to see the fallen Baby Killer. Soon Colls wife, possibly alerted to the shooting by the turncoat bodyguard, came on the run from her hotel room across the street, screaming as she forced her way through the swelling crowd of onlookers. Later at police headquarters she played the gangster moll/wife role to a tee, refusing to answer questions, and when she did giving half-truths.
Lottie Kriesberger Coll would later serve time for violation of the Sullivan Law. She would also get slapped with a twelve year sentence in a womans reformatory after two companions killed a young lady during an armed robbery in the Bronx.
Less than one hundred people attended Colls wake at the Walter B. Cooke Funeral Home in the Bronx. Only family members were present at his burial at St. Raymonds Cemetery. In retrospect, a quote Coll made to reporters after Legs Diamonds murder may have come back to haunt him. The Mad Mick stated, I feel sorry for anyone who is bumped off, especially when a guy is lucky enough to beat a trial and so soon after acquittal. Diamond had been celebrating his acquittal the night he was murdered. The twenty-three year old Coll at least had the luxury of enjoying his acquittal for six weeks.
The war had been a costly one for Schultz. He lost gunmen, had numerous beer shipments hijacked, and several of his speakeasies had been shot up. His greatest loss was Danny Iamascia, a friend and bodyguard. Schultz had moved into a Fifth Avenue apartment that overlooked Central Park. An anonymous caller, a woman, notified police that a resident on the ninth floor of the building, Russell Jones, was none other than Dutch Schultz.
On June 18, 1931, New York City Detectives Stephen DiRosa and Julius Salke staked out the apartment from a park bench across the street. The detectives caught the attention of Schultz as they stared at one another through binoculars. Around 6:00 a.m. four men, including Schultz and Iamascia, left the apartment and walked over to find out what the two men, in plainclothes, were up to. As the four gang members approached the bench, one of them barked, Who are you guys and whaddya doin here?
DeRosa replied, We are the law, put up your hands.
With that DiRosa drew his revolver. Iamascia, either thought the pair were Colls gunmen, or perhaps he wasnt thinking at all, but he responded by pulling his own gun. DeRosa opened fire hitting Iamascia in the abdomen and left wrist. Schultz took off running toward 101st Street with Detective Salke in pursuit. The other two men hopped over a stone wall and disappeared into Central Park. Schultz quickly discarded his own revolver and, after Salke sent a bullet past the Dutchmans ear, came to a stop and put his hands up.
According to Salke, Schultz told him, Listen, Ive got a large sum of money. Take it and let me run. Im having a lot of trouble. Im on the edge. Im being followed by mobsters. They want to give me the works. I dont fight cops. Salke, an honest, dedicated police officer, arrested Schultz. The four men rode to Mount Sinai Hospital in a taxicab, Iamascia lying on the floor bleeding profusely. On the way Schultz offered the officers $50,000 apiece and each a house in Westchester, New York.
Iamascia was dropped off at the hospital and Schultz was taken to the 104th Street station house where he was booked for felonious assault and carrying a concealed weapon. He asked if he could have a sedative to calm his frayed nerves.
The following day Danny Iamascia died from his wounds. Unlike Colls funeral, which was still some eight months away, Iamascias was a gangland extravaganza. Both Schultz and Ciro Terranova, Iamascias former employer, tried to out do one another for the gaudiest floral tribute. The funeral service, held at Our Lady of Carmel Church, drew thousands. The funeral procession to St. Raymonds Cemetery consisted of 125 cars, of which 35 carried flowers.
Schultzs trial for the felonious assault charge ended with the jury deciding there was not enough evidence to show he had pulled his gun on the detectives. As far as possession of the gun itself, Schultz had a permit from a Suffolk County judge to carry it. Over the years Schultz had gone to great lengths to be able to carry a concealed weapon, including being made a deputy sheriff in the Bronx.
With the Schultz -Coll War over the Dutchman had more pressing matters to attend to in Harlem.