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Mobsters in America – Vincent
He was known throughout the underworld as “Crazy,” but when he shot five kids in Harlem, killing one poor kid, Vincent Cole was forever known as “Mad Dog” Cole.
Vincent Cole was born on July 20, 1908 in Gweedore, a small town in County Donegal, Ireland. His parents moved to the United States when he was a baby, settling in a cold-water apartment in the Bronx. After five of his siblings died in accidents or illness, his father left the family, never to be seen again. Cole’s mother died of pneumonia when he was seven years old, and Cole and his older brother Peter were placed in the Mt. Loretto Orphanage in Staten Island, New York. The Cole brothers spent three years in the orphanage, and both were repeatedly beaten for disobeying orders. Eventually they escape and infiltrate New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where they become members of the notorious street gang The Gophers.
Soon, the Cole brothers were the lackeys of notorious smuggler Dutch Schultz. They took a hundred dollars a week to do Schultz’s dirty work, which included killing people when necessary. Finally tired of Schultz’s notoriously cheap pay for the crew, Cole approached Schultz and asked him to become a full partner. “I’m not your shoeshine boy,” Kerr told Schultz. “I’ll show you a thing or two.”
Cole forms a small gang that includes his brother Peter, and his girlfriend and future wife Lottie Kreisberger, who do nothing but keep Cole company. Cole’s first act against Schultz was a brazen daylight robbery of Schultz’s Sheffield Dairy in the Bronx. Schultz was so enraged by Cole’s betrayal that he stormed into the 42nd Precinct and told a roomful of police officers, “I’ll be here in Westchester for anyone who can kill that guy[Cole]buy house.
Cole then began trying to lure members of Schultz’s gang away from Schultz and join Cole’s gang. Through an old acquaintance named Mary Smith, the Cole brothers arranged a meeting with Vincent Barelli, one of Schultz’s finest sons. When Bareilly resisted their advance, they shot and killed him. Shocked by what she’s just seen, Mary sets up inadvertently and tries to run away, but Cole chases after her and shoots her in the head in the middle of the street. A few days later, members of Schultz’s gang machine-gunned Peter Kerr as he was driving in Harlem. Peter Cole’s death sparked a massive war between Vincent Cole and Schultz that left at least 20 dead.
Desperate for cash, Cole accepts 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 an additional $25,000 when he completed the task. Cole was in the lobby of Maranzano’s office building, waiting for an elevator with a machine gun hidden under his coat, when three men burst from the stairwell and rushed straight at him. Knowing who he is, the men tell Cole they’ve just killed Maranzano and ask Cole to defeat it before the police arrive. Cole smiled and turned away from the building, whistling with delight, knowing he’d just made £25 for doing nothing.
To further inflate his bank account, Cole began kidnapping the gang leader’s top lieutenants, such as Ernie “The Hitman” Madden, himself an Irishman. Madden paid Kerr $35,000 in return for his partner, Big Frenchy DeMange, who co-owns the Cotton Club in Harlem with Madden. Kerr then kidnapped Madden’s forward, the very popular Sherman Billingsley, at the Stork Club. Madden again paid the ransom, and Billingsley was soon back at the Stork Club, living happily ever after on the wonderful Badlands.
Cole’s next target is Joey Rao, Schultz’s No. 1 in Harlem. Rao and his group of boys were standing in front of the Helmar Social Club on East 107th Street, handing out money to neighborhood kids, when Cole and his buddies sped around the corner in an RV. Cole fired several times with the machine gun, completely missing Rao and his men and hitting five children instead. Five-year-old Michael Vengali Jr. was shot several times in the stomach and died before being taken to hospital.
Newspapers in New York City ran horrific headlines about the “Baby Killer” and called Cole Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole. 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 information leading to Cole’s arrest. Madden and Schultz upped the ante, offering a $25,000 reward each to anyone who could bring down Mad Dog with a bullet.
Cole hid out in various locations throughout the Northeast, eventually returning to New York City with Lottie. They hid in the Cornish Arms Hotel on West 23rd Street, and the police broke in based on clues and arrested Cole. His trial was expected to be a slam dunk for the prosecution, but brilliant legal maneuvering by Cole’s attorney, Samuel Liebowitz, got Cole off the hook.
After the trial, Cole met with the media outside the Crown Court building. He told reporters, “I have been accused of all kinds of crimes, but infanticide is the limit. I wish nothing more than to give my hand to the person who did it.”
Cole is back on the streets, but remains iconic in the eyes of the mob. He married Lottie at City Hall, but they’ve been on the run, moving quickly from place to place. On February 1, 1932, four men broke into a North Bronx home at gunpoint. They shot a table full of people playing cards. Two members of the Cole gang were killed (Fiorio Basile and Pazzi del Greco) and another was injured. Also killed was Madame Emily Torizelo, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and another woman was injured. The two babies in the crib were unaffected. Cole turned up at the house half an hour later, just as the police arrived.
Cole flees again. He ended up with Lottie at the Cornish Arms Hotel. Cole thought it was a good time to start kidnapping again, but this time it was different. He called Madden and told him he wanted $100,000 to keep Madden from being kidnapped. “Imagine how Dagos and Kikes feel when they have to shell out a hundred bucks to save your poor ass,” he told Madden. “Pay me now, and I’ll save you trouble.”
Madden said he needs some time to think about it. On March 8, 1932, Marden called Cole and asked Cole to call him from a phone booth at the pharmacy across from his hotel. At 12:30 a.m., Cole strode into the New London Pharmacy on West 23rd Street and headed to the phone booth behind. While he was on the phone with Madden, a man with a machine gun hidden under his coat calmly walked to the back of the drugstore and opened fire. Cole was riddled with 15 bullets. Lottie heard the commotion a few minutes later and rushed to the scene to find her husband’s battered body.
Lottie Cole declined to speak to police, but she wept to those who stood nearby when their life savings were nothing more than the hundred-dollar bills she stuffed in her bra. This proves that Vincent “Mad Dog” Cole died a terrible death despite being bitten badly.
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