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American Mobsters – Johnny Spanish (John Weyer)
Johnny Spanish, whose real name was John Weyer, was one of the most feared gangsters in the early part of the 20th century. He took the name Johnny Spanish because he was half Jewish and half Spanish, but on the Spanish side he claimed to be a descendant of Butcher Weyer, the last Governor of Cuba. So he figured Johnny Spanish had a lot more cache in him than plain old John Weyer.
The Spanish was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and he quickly immersed himself in various street crimes. The short, frail and brooding Spaniard was a loner whose specialty was robbing bars. However, he liked to throw in the twist of sending a message to the bar owner first, telling them of his imminent arrival. His legend grew immensely when he performed this feat at a dive on Norfolk Street, owned by Mersher the Strong Arm. The Spanish gave Mersher notice that he would arrive at a certain time, and he did, armed with his usual four guns, and an accomplice lurking behind him. He fired a few shots through the mirror behind the bar, then emptied the helmet. Then to add insult to injury, he lined up 10 customers against the wall and stripped them of all their cash and jewelry. Spanish’s notoriety grew, and soon he was accepted into Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang, where he continued his pranks.
The Spanish found it profitable to steal the proceeds of the very profitable suss gambling, which was a variation of the popular practice. He had his eye on one such game, operated by Kid Jigger on Forsyth Street. One day he approached Jigger, who was known as a fierce gunfighter, and demanded half the take of his game, from that point on.
“And why should I give you half of my stus graft?” Jigger asked.
“Because I’ll hit you if you don’t,” said the Spanish.
Jigger laughed. The Spanish got offended and said to him: “Okay then, I’ll get rid of you tomorrow night.”
Sure enough, being a man of his word, the next night when Jigger stepped from his suss game on Forsyth Street, the Spanish opened fire with two guns. Jigger ran back into the building to safety, but the bullets hit an eight-year-old girl who was innocently playing in the streets, killing her on the spot. This necessitated Spanish leaving the city for several months, and when he returned, he was alarmed to discover that his girlfriend (who happened to be pregnant by who knows who), had been stolen by fellow thug Kid Dropper, real named Nathan Kaplan. The Spanish assumed he would settle down with his ex-girlfriend first. He grabbed her off the streets, threw her into a cab, headed for the swamps of Maspeth, Long Island. There he tied her to a tree, then fired five shots into her pregnant belly. He left her there to die, but miraculously the woman survived and her baby was later born with three missing fingers.
Because of that atrocity, the Spanish was arrested and sentenced to seven years in Sing Sing Prison. After his release in 1917, Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gang was no more, and the Spanish assumed that he could take over Kelly’s former rackets. Only Kid Dropper had the same idea. The two old enemies fought over union protection for more than two years. One day early in 1919, the fatter Dropper cornered the Spaniard on the street and cut him badly with a knife. Spanish survived, but not for long.
On July 29, 1919, Spanish entered a restaurant at 19 Second Avenue when Dropper and two accomplices opened fire, hitting Spanish several times in the chest. Bullets being better than blades, the Spanish died a few days later in Bellevue Hospital.
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