Francis "Two Gun" Crowley
Live Fast, Die Young
Breathless, sweating, already bleeding from several gunshot wounds, Cody Jarrett races up the twisting steps of a gasoline storage tank until he reaches the top of the huge structure. He surveys the hopeless situation down on the ground. As dozens of police bullets whiz by his head, he fires both his handguns at his attackers who scramble around in the darkness below. Cops run for cover under the iron stairways and behind the complex maze of steel pipelines below.
"Come and get me, coppers!" Jarrett screams. He giggles compulsively as he fires a dozen shots into the crowd below. A police undercover agent, once a former confidant of Jarrett, obtains a sniper rifle and places Jarrett in the crosshairs. He fires one shot, which hits the raving madman in the chest and knocks him to the metal flooring. But Jarrett rises from his knees and laughs at his tormenters.
"What's holding him up?" the cop says as he chambers a second round. He quickly fires another shot and wounds Jarrett again. This time, he struggles to his feet and, realizing it's the end of the line, he shoots into the gasoline tank under his feet. A hundred cops at the base of the storage vat run for their lives as a geyser of flames erupts from the metal flooring.
"Look out! It's going to blow!" one cop screams. As if to cheat the police out of their revenge, Jarrett pumps several more rounds into the metal floor.
"Made it, Ma!" he shouts triumphantly. "Top of the world!" And with those words, the tank explodes in a gigantic mass of flames, sending Jarrett into oblivion and James Cagney into movie history.
This was the final heart-pounding scene of one of the most exciting and memorable gangster films ever made, White Heat (1949), directed by Raoul Walsh. Cagney's portrayal of a mother-fixated psychotic killer remains one of the screen's most vivid roles and was frequently imitated in the decades to come. But though Cody Jarrett and the script in White Heat were fiction, not many people are aware that the story was partly based on a true incident.
In the spring of 1931, a furious gun battle took place on New York City's Upper West Side. The incident involved hundreds of cops, dozens of machine guns, tear gas, grenades and a teenage killer who was consumed by an intense hatred of police. As many as 15,000 spectators watched the clash in which hundreds of bullets were fired into a fifth floor apartment while the barricaded suspect screamed out an open window: "You'll never take me alive coppers! Come and get me!" His name was Francis "Two-Gun" Crowley, and this stunning "Wild West" shootout became known as the Siege of 90th Street.
He infuriated the police when he repeatedly shot his way out of trouble, and many officers wanted to put a bullet in his head. Crowley was a pint-sized dynamo, standing just over 5 feet tall and weighing only 110 lbs. Warden Lewis Lawes of Sing Sing prison said in 1932 that Crowley's "clear complexion and general appearance would have marked him as a choir boy." But like a runaway train, Crowley created havoc wherever he went. Beginning as a car thief, quickly graduating to bank robbery, cop-killing, murder and more, he bought a one-way ticket to hell during a furious crime spree that landed him in the electric chair at the age of 19.