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Owney "Killer" Madden

Englishman Owen "Killer" Madden took over the remnants of the Gophers gang when he was only 18 years of age. He founded the Cotton Club, host to stars such as Duke Ellington ,and he became La Cosa Nostra's representative in Hell's Kitchen and later in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Owney "Killer" Madden His ties with the predominantly Irish Gophers gang lead many to believe that Owen Madden was Irish. He was in fact born in Liverpool, England in 1892. In 1903, his family emigrated to New York and settled in the slums of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. At an early age, Owney joined the Gophers and despite his light build, he was renowned as a tough and crazy gangster. He was a crack shot with a pistol and he used his trademark weapon, a lead pipe concealed in a rolled-up newspaper, to great effect. He was nicknamed "Killer Madden" at the age of 17 because by that time he already had two murders under his belt. Many more would follow.

Madden moved out of his family's tenement apartment and rented a house with Tanner Smith. Smith had been leader of a relatively unsuccessful street gang known as the Marginal Gang, but became a Gopher when the Marginals split up. Soon after they moved into the house, neighbours began to complain about the all-night parties that the two gangsters held. Members of the Gophers would often come over and spend the night drinking, gambling and brawling at Owney and Tanner's. When the landlord threatened to throw them out, Madden asked "Mister, did you ever hear of Owney Madden?" The man replied that he had heard of him and Madden said: "Well Mister, I am Owney Madden."

Apparently, that was enough to intimidate the owner of the house, but the neighbours continued to suffer from their entertainment and one night, a number of policemen arrived to break up a party. When he spotted them Madden shouted through a window: "We'll shoot the gizzard out of any cop that tries to come in here." True to his word, when the sergeant knocked on the door, Madden aimed his pistol through the window and killed him.

The police retreated, waited for reinforcements and then stormed the house, handing out severe beatings to the gangsters they found inside. They never discovered which of the men fired the shot from the window and Madden, still a minor, was released the next day on a $500 bond. As a side note, when Tanner Smith was released he made a complaint to New York's Mayor William J. Gaynor about police brutality, resulting in Order Number 7 which banned New York police officers from using their nightsticks unless it was in defence of lives.

Of the many organizations that fell victim to the crimes of the Gophers, New York Central Railroad was struck particularly hard by the gang's hijackings and assaults. In the early 1910s, the company hired a force of armed railroad police to deal with the gang. The railroad police, which included many ex-cops with grudges against the Gophers started a vigilante war with Hell's Kitchen's most notorious criminals. Known members of the gang were beaten on sight and it's power was effectively broken.

When leader Newburgh Gallagher was imprisoned, the already weakened Gophers disbanded and the old members formed into 3 factions, the largest of which was lead by Owney "Killer" Madden. The main leaders in Madden's gang were Eddie Egan, Bill Tammany and Chick Hyland. To celebrate his new status as a gang leader, Madden murdered a man. Never one to be worried about onlookers, he was promptly arrested, but when witnesses started disappearing the police were forced to release him.

Not long afterwards, he shot a man during an argument over a woman. He was apprehended after a dramatic chase across the rooftops of the clustered apartment buildings of Hell's Kitchen, but was once more saved by the phenomenon of disappearing witnesses. During his early career, he was arrested more than 50 times for burglary, armed robbery and assault, but the police found it was almost impossible to get convictions.

Rival gangsters found it equally difficult to get Madden out of the way. On November 6 1914, he walked alone into the Arbor Dance Hall on 52nd street. By this time, he had such a reputation that people who saw him stepping onto the dance floor began to leave and the band actually stopped playing. Madden insisted that they carry on with their merriment and reassured them that he wasn't there to "bump off" anyone. He went up to the balcony and spent much of the night drinking whisky and talking to a woman he picked up. Then quite suddenly, 11 members of the rival Hudson Dusters gang surrounded him and drew pistols. Madden began insulting them, saying that they didn't have the courage to shoot anyone. When he drew his gun, the eleven assassins opened fire, spraying the dance hall with bullets and hitting Owney 6 times. He was lucky to survive.

In hospital, he refused to tell the police who had attacked him. He told them it was his own business and he would take care of it himself. During his first week in hospital, 3 of the Hudson Duster shooters were murdered. Meanwhile, one of Madden's men was spreading rumours that Owney was paralysed. William Moore aka "Little Patsy Doyle" was jealous because his girlfriend Freda Horner left him for Madden, and now Madden and Horner were enganged. Doyle wanted revenge and he wanted to take over the gang. By the time Owney left the hospital, his men had been split in two sides and a number of fights broke out. In the end, Madden saved his gang by convincing most people that Doyle co-operated with the police.

On Saturday evening, November 28 1914, Madden's girlfriend Freda was with her friend Margaret Everdeane at Ottner Brothers bar at 41st Street and 8th Avenue. Margaret rang Patsy Doyle and told him that Freda wanted to get back with him. Freda left the bar and when Doyle arrived at 8:30, he was told she was in the Ladies Room. As he waited, two of Madden's men, Johnny McArdle and Art Blieder shot him. He staggered out of the bar and died of his wounds.

Freda Horner and Margaret Everdeane were arrested along with "Willie the Sailor" who had been drinking with them. The girls testified that Madden was behind the shooting, but denied their own part in the murder. Later, they recanted their testimony but to no avail. Madden, who had been arrested 57 times for various crimes, finally received a murder conviction and received a 10-20 year sentence. McArdle was put away for 30 years and Blieder for 18. When Owney "Killer" Madden was paroled in January 1923, he was a changed man. The violent, erratic street thug had become taken on a more amicable demeanour. He no longer made his money from one-off robberies, but got into the more organized crime such as bootlegging and racketeering. On his release, he began working as an enforcer for Larry Fay. Though Fay had a sharp mind for crime, he was not the toughest of gangsters and he needed Madden's muscle to help him take control of New York's milk trade. While Madden had been in prison, the government passed the Volstead Act which placed a ban on alcoholic drinks. Madden took full advantage of this law and the money he earned from Fay, and set up a brewery.

Eventually, Madden had several breweries supplying speakeasies throughout Hell's Kitchen. He also bought the Club Deluxe, a failing night club on 142nd Street and Lennox Avenue in East Harlem, Manhattan. He re-opened it as the Cotton Club and it became one of the most popular nightspots in the city. The club operated a strict whites-only policy, although every one of the performers and most of the waiters were black.. The name itself came from the light brown color of undyed cotton, which was the skin-color of the women who danced at the Cotton Club's shows. Renowned musician Fletcher Henderson played on the opening night, and Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman were in his band. The Cotton Club was the venue for many of the country's top jazz, blues and tap performers. Jazz musician Duke Ellington was the in-house performer for many years, and when he left, Cab Calloway took over. Tap-dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and blues singer Lena Horne both kicked-off their careers in the Cotton Club.

The head doorman at the club was George Dean DeMange, or "Big Frenchie" as he was known. He was Madden's chief lieutenant throughout the Prohibition and made sure that the whites-only policy was strictly enforced. Even W.C. Handy, the acclaimed "Father of the Blues" was surprised when "Big Frenchie" turned him away from New York's premier jazz and blues club.

In their early careers, gangsters such as Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer, Jack "Legs" Diamond and Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll worked as bouncers at the Cotton Club. While the operating the club, Madden continued to control the beer trade in Hell's Kitchen and his gang collected protection money from many businesses in the area. Madden's wealth and influence also helped him to get a piece of boxer Primo Camera, who became a world heavyweight champion during the Prohibition.

When the Prohibition ended, the Cotton Club became a legitimate club and moved to 48th street. Meanwhile, the Mafia families across the country were forming the National Crime Syndicate, La Cosa Nostra. Although official members had to be Italian, many non-Italian mobsters had much influence during the syndicate's early years and the Mob recognized Hell's Kitchen as Madden's territory.

In 1931, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll broke ties with his boss "Dutch Schultz" and began a kidnapping spree to fund his own new gang. One of his victims was "Big Frenchie" DeMange and on July 15, Madden paid a $35,000 ransom for the safe release of his friend. The old "Killer Madden" would have taken action immediately, but Owney took his time and it was several months before Coll met his end.

In the months leading up to February 2, 1931, Coll, who had killed some children in a botched hit, was a fugitive from the police, Dutch Schultz's gang, Madden and the general public. On that day, Coll made a pre-arranged call from the phone booth in London Drug Store on 23rd Street. The details of exactly how the hit was set up are unknown, but the person Coll called kept him on the line long enough for one of Shultz's men to enter the store and riddle him with bullets from a Thompson submachine gun. The unconfirmed story is that Owney Madden was the man who Coll was talking to when the shooting began.

In the early 1930s, Madden left the New York rackets and retired to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hot Springs was a fast-developing tourist resort with a reputation for illegal gambling. Though Madden seems to have lead a relatively quiet existence in Arkansas, he shared in the profits of a number of casinos and was considered the mob's representative in the city. His home was also a safe haven for gangsters "on the lam". Al Capone availed of this hospitality when he needed things got dangerous in Chicago and he needed a few weeks to let the dust settle. Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was arrested in Hot Springs on April 1 1936. A Sicilian-New Yorker, Luciano was at the time the most powerful mobster in the country and was hiding with Madden to escape a prostitution indictment.

In 1964, Owney "Killer" Madden died of natural causes in Hot Springs. He died peacefully and wealthy at the age of 72. 20 years after his death, Bob Hoskins played the part of Madden in Frances Coppolo's gangster-drama The Cotton Club.


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