Mobsters in America – Vincent
Mobsters in America – Vincent
He was known throughout the underworld as “Mad Mick,” but when he killed five children in Harlem, killing one poor boy, Vincent Cole became forever known as “Mad Dog” Cole.
Vincent Cole was born on July 20, 1908 in Gweedore, a small town in County Donegal, Ireland. When he was a child, his parents moved to America, settling in a cold-water apartment in the Bronx. After five of his siblings died from accidents or illness, his father abandoned the family, never to be seen again. Cole’s mother died of pneumonia when he was seven, and Cole and his older brother Peter were taken in by New York state and placed in the orphanage Mt. Loretto in Staten Island. The Cole brothers were in the orphanage for three years, both were repeatedly beaten for insubordination. They eventually escaped and insinuated themselves into New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where they became members of the famous street gang called The Gophers.
Soon the Cole Brothers were working as promoters for the notorious bootlegger Dutch Schultz. They were paid a hundred dollars a week to do Schultz’s dirty work, which included some killing when necessary. Eventually, fed up with Schultz’s notorious cheapness in paying his crew, Cole approached Schultz and demanded that he become a full partner. “I’m not your shoeshine guy,” Cole told Schultz. “I’ll teach you a thing or two.”
Cole created a small gang, which included his brother Peter and his girlfriend and future wife, Lottie Kreisberger, who did nothing but keep Cole company. Cole’s first move on Schultz was a brazen daytime robbery at Schultz’s Sheffield Dairy in the Bronx. Schultz was so angry at Cole’s betrayal that he stormed into the 42nd Precinct and told a room full of cops, “I’ll buy a house in Westchester for anyone who can kill this Mick (Cole).
Cole then tried to lure members of Schultz’s gang away from Schultz and into Cole’s gang. Through an old school acquaintance named Mary Smith, the Cole brothers arranged a meeting with one of Schultz’s best boys, Vincent Barelli. When Barelli rejected their advances, he was shot dead. Mary, horrified by what she had just seen and inadvertently ridden, tried to escape, but Cole chased after her and shot her in the head in the middle of the street. A few days later, members of Schultz’s gang machine-gunned Peter Cole as he drove through Harlem. Peter Cole’s death precipitated a full-scale war between Vincent Cole and Schultz, resulting in at least 20 murders.
Needing quick cash, Cole accepted an assignment from Italian mob boss Salvatore Maranzano to kill Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese in Maranzano’s downtown office. Maranzano paid Cole $25,000 upfront, with another $25,000 to be paid after his assignment was completed. Cole was in the lobby of the Maranzano office building, with a machine gun hidden under his coat, waiting for the elevator, when three men ran out of the stairwell and stabbed him directly. Knowing who it was, the men told Cole that they had just killed Maranzano and that Cole beat him before the cops arrived. Cole grinned, turned around and left the building, squealing happily, knowing he’d just pocketed twenty-five grand for doing absolutely nothing.
To further inflate his bank account, Cole began kidnapping top aides to the gang leaders, including Owney “The Killer” Madden, an Irishman. Madden paid Cole $35,000 for the return of his partner Big Frenchy DeMange, who co-owned with Madden the Cotton Club in Harlem. Cole then kidnapped Madden’s leader in the Stork Club, the very popular Sherman Billingsley. Again, Madden paid the ransom and Billingsley soon returned to the Stork Club, happily in good health.
Next on Cole’s hit list was Joey Rao, Schultz’s point man in Harlem. Rao and a group of his boys were outside his Helmar Social Club on East 107th Street, handing out pennies to neighborhood kids, when Cole and his gang came around the corner in a sedan. Cole let loose with several rounds from a machine gun, missing Rao and his men entirely, but hitting five children instead. Five-year-old Michael Vengali was shot several times in the stomach and died before he could be rushed to hospital.
New York City newspapers ran terrifying headlines about the “Baby Killer” and named Cole — Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole. And like any “mad dog,” the public and the underworld demanded that Cole be put down. New York City Mayor James Walker offered a $10,000 reward for anyone providing information leading to Cole’s arrest. Madden and Schultz upped the ante, each offering $25,000 to any mug that could bring down the “mad dog” with bullets.
Cole hid out in various parts of the Northeast, before finally returning to New York City with Lottie. They were holed up in the Cornish Arms Hotel on West 23rd Street, when the police, acting on a tip, broke in and arrested Cole. His trial was expected to be a shambles for the prosecution, but the brilliant legal tactics of Cole’s lawyer, Samuel Liebowitz, got Cole off the hook.
After the trial, Cole held court with the press outside the Criminal Courts building. He told reporters: “I’ve been accused of all kinds of crimes, but the limit was killing babies. I’d like nothing better than to get my hands on the man who did this.”
Cole was back on the streets, but he was still a marked man for the mob. He married Lottie at City Hall, but they were constantly on the run, moving quickly from place to place. On February 1, 1932, four men entered a house in the North Bronx with guns blazing. They shot a table full of people playing cards. Two members of Cole’s gang were killed (Fiorio Basile and Patsy Del Greco) and another was injured. Mrs. Emily Torrizello, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was also killed and another woman was injured. Two babies in their cribs were left untouched. Cole showed up at the house half an hour later, just as the police arrived.
Cole ran away again. He returned with Lottie to the Cornish Arms Hotel. Cole decided it was a good time to start kidnapping again, but this time with a twist. He called Madden and told him he wanted $100,000 not to kidnap Madden. “Imagine how the Dagos and the Kikes will feel when they have to pay a hundred thousand to save your sorry ass,” he told Madden. “Pay me now, in advance, and I’ll save you the trouble.”
Madden said he needed some time to think about it. On March 8, 1932, Madden called Cole and told him to call him from the drugstore phone booth across from his hotel. At 12:30, Cole walked into the New London Pharmacy on West 23rd Street and went to the phone booth in the back. While talking to Madden on the phone, a man with a machine gun hidden under his coat walked quietly to the back of the pharmacy and opened fire. Cole’s body was riddled with 15 bullets. Hearing the commotion, Lottie arrived a few minutes later to see her husband’s mangled corpse.
Lottie Cole refused to speak to the police, but did yell to someone nearby that her life savings, at the time, was a flimsy hundred-dollar bill that she had stuffed inside her bra. This proved that Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole, despite his gruesome bite, had died ruined.
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