Book Review - Bad Seeds in the Big Apple: Bandits, Killers, and Chaos in New York City, 1920-40 by Patrick Downey
Everyone seems to know the stories of the Capones and Dillingers of the crime world. But there are other criminals of that era who commanded nearly as much press at the time. Patrick Downey covers these other renegades in his book Bad Seeds in the Big Apple: Bandits, Killers, and Chaos in New York City, 1920-40. It's fascinating reading if you're interested in that part of American history. The only downside is that they all tend to run together by the end of the book.
Gentleman Gerald and the Dutchman; Let's Misbehave; Ma Flanagan's Boys; Two Worthless Diamonds; Urban Cowboys; Bum, Killer, and Ice Wagon LLC; The Daly Show; The Candy Kid; Red Scare; From Maiden Lane to the Tombs; Don't Cry Out Loud; Seeing Red; Dishonorable Mention 1920-1929; New York's Most Desperate Criminal; Sexy Takes a Ride; King of the Punks; College Boy; It Came from Massachusetts; Bride of the Mad Dog; The $427,000 Payday; FBI vs. NYPD; Messing with the Mob; Dishonorable Mention 1930-1940; Appendix 1 - And in the End; Appendix 2 - Where It Happened; Notes; Resources; Index
As indicated by the title, the focus of the book covers the criminal elements in New York City during the days of Prohibition and the Depression. Rather than rehash all the well-known stories of the time, Downey does extensive research on the "second tier" criminals that were big news of the day, but that didn't necessarily have the story and presence to become part of American folklore. Many of the gangsters took advantage of the common payroll processes of the day to make off with substantial sums of money. Since payroll money was physically carried from the banks to the company buildings for payment to the employees, they were prime targets for planned assaults and robberies. This also happened in reverse, when armored cars would pick up daily receipts from companies to deposit at the bank. The $427,000 Payday story is but one such action planned and executed by seven gangsters. At the time, it was the biggest robbery in history, and Downey tells the story of the long search for the perpetrators. It took nearly five years to track down all who were involved and bring them to justice, and the mixture of detective work and pure chance is an interesting story. Downey also reveals how dangerous it was to be a cop during that time. I was amazed at how many officers lost their lives, either as part of a direct shootout, or by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While we may think we live in a bad time when it comes to crime, we don't actually have a clue as to how much worse things used to be.
My biggest difficulty with the book was how, by the end, all the crimes and criminals started to run together. Since there were few "big name" criminals that we're used to hearing about, names started to blur after awhile. "Dutch" was apparently a very popular nickname, and it seemed that every other crime had some "Dutch" character who played a part. I enjoyed the first appendix that followed up the characters and covered how they lived out what remained of their life. But I think I would have preferred to have that material included at the end of each chapter rather than in a separate appendix. If you didn't read the appendix at the end of each chapter, it was somewhat difficult to remember some of the crime details for each of the "where are they now" parts. Having the material at the end of the chapter would have wrapped up each segment in a clear, concise way.
Even with the blurring of details, the material and Downey's writing ability is well worth reading if you have an interest in that time and place of American history. It was truly a time where criminals loomed large in everyone's lives, and many of them feared little when it came to shooting it out with others.