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Mobsters in America – Vincent
He was known throughout the underworld as “Mad Mick,” but when he shot five children in Harlem and killed one poor kid, 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 baby, his parents moved to America and settled in a cold-water apartment in the Bronx. After five of his siblings died in accidents or illness, his father left the family and was never seen again. Cole’s mother died of pneumonia when he was seven, and Cole and his brother Peter were taken by New York State to the Mt. Loretto Orphanage on Staten Island. The Cole brothers were in the orphanage for three years, both of them were beaten several times for their disobedience. They eventually escaped and infiltrated New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where they became members of a notorious street gang called The Gophers.
Soon the Cole Brothers were working as masters for the notorious bootlegger Dutch Schultz. Schultz was paid a hundred dollars a week for his dirty work, which included a few murders if necessary. Eventually, fed up with Schultz’s known cheapness when it came to paying his crew, he approached Schultz and demanded to be made a full partner. “I’m not the shoeshine boy,” Cole told Schultz. “I’ll show you a thing or two.”
Cole formed a small band that included his brother Peter and his girlfriend and future wife Lottie Kreisberger, who did nothing but keep Cole company. Cole’s first move against Schultz was a brazen daylight robbery at the Schultz Sheffield Dairy in the Bronx. Schultz was so angry at Cole’s betrayal that he went into the 42nd Precinct and told a room full of cops, “I’ll buy a house in Westchester for anyone who can kill that mickey (Cole).
Cole then set out and 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 refused their advance, he was shot dead. Horrified by what she saw and unwittingly standing up, Mary tried to run away, but Cole distracted 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 while he was driving in Harlem. Peter Cole’s death sparked a full-scale war between Vincent Cole and Schultz that resulted in at least 20 murders.
In need of 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 and another $25,000 after the job was done. Cole Maranzano was waiting for the elevator in the lobby of his office building with a machine gun hidden under his coat when three men rushed out of the stairwell and plowed right into him. Knowing who he was, the men told Cole that they had just killed Maranzano and for Cole to beat him up before the cops arrived. Cole smiled, looked around, and exited the building whistling happily, knowing that he had just pocketed twenty-five grand for doing absolutely nothing.
To further swell his bank account, Cole began kidnapping the gang leaders’ top aides, such as Owney “The Killer” Madden, who writes himself. Madden paid Cole $35,000 for the return of his partner, Big Frenchy DeMange, who was Madden’s co-owner of the Cotton Club in Harlem. Cole then kidnapped Madden’s frontman at the Stork Club, the very popular Sherman Billingsley. Madden again paid the ransom, and Billingsley soon returned to the Stork Club, happy and in good health.
Next on Cole’s hit list was Joey Rao, Schultz’s front man from Harlem. Rao and a bunch of his sons were standing outside the Helmar Social Club on East 107th Street handing out pennies to neighborhood kids when Cole and his gang rolled around the corner in a buggy. Cole let go with several blasts from a machine gun, completely missing Rao and his men, but hitting five children instead. Five-year-old Michael Vengali was shot several times in the stomach and died before he could be taken to hospital.
New York newspapers ran frightening headlines about the “Baby Killer” and named him Cole – Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole. And like all “mad dogs”, the public and the underworld demanded Cole be put down. New York City Mayor James Walker offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Cole’s arrest. Madden and Schultz upped the ante, each offering $25,000 to any mug who could knock down “Mad Dog” with a bullet.
Cole hid out in various parts of the Northeast before finally returning to New York with Lottie. They were pulled over at the Cornish Arms Hotel on West 23rd Street when cops, acting on a tip, swooped in and arrested Cole. His trial was a slam dunk for the prosecution, but the brilliant legal tactics of Cole’s attorney, Samuel Liebowitz, got Cole off the hook.
After the trial, Cole spoke to the press outside the Criminal Court building. He told reporters: “I’ve been charged with all kinds of crimes, but baby murder was the limit. I’d like nothing more than to lay my hands on the man who did this.”
Cole is back on the streets, but still a big man in the mob. He married Lottie at the town hall, but they were constantly on the run, moving quickly from place to place. On February 1, 1932, four men broke into a home in the North Bronx, 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 wounded. Mrs. Emily Torrizello, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was also killed and another woman was wounded. Two babies remained untouched in their cradles. Cole showed up at the house half an hour later when the police arrived.
Cole was on the run again. He went back with Lottie to the Cornish Arms Hotel. Cole decided this 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 rob Madden. “Imagine how Dagos and Kikes will feel when they have to pay a hundred thousand to save their ass,” he told Madden. “Pay now, in advance, and I’ll save you the trouble.”
Madden said he needed some time to think it over. On March 8, 1932, Madden called Cole and told Cole to call him from the phone booth at the pharmacy across the street from his hotel. At 12:30 p.m., Cole entered the New London Pharmacy on West 23rd Street and headed for the back phone booth. While Madden was on the phone, a man with a machine gun hidden under his jacket calmly walked to the back of the drugstore 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 body.
Lottie Cole refused to talk to the police, but she cried to a bystander that their savings at the time was a tiny hundred-dollar bill stuffed into her bra. This proved that Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole, despite his terrible bite, had perished.
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