Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He also writes a monthly column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Gophers, Goose Chasers,
and the Early Years of Owney Madden
By Allan May
In New York City during the decades prior to the Prohibition Era there were many brutal gangs that roamed the streets of Manhattan. They had a variety of colorful names – Atlantic Guards, Battle Row Gang, Baxter Street Dudes, Daybreak Boys, Dead Rabbits, Dock Rats, Five Points Gang, Forty Thieves, Fourth Avenue Tunnel Gang, Hudson Dusters, James Street Gang, Little Doggies, Neighbor’s Sons, Pansies, Plug Uglies, Swamp Angels, and the Whyos, to name a few. Some of these gangs had roots that reached back to the mid-1800s. While many of these gangs were made up of brawlers and street fighters, there were some that consisted of robbers, thieves, and murderers.
One of these gangs was the Gophers. The Gophers were considered the lords of Hell’s Kitchen, the tough Irish section of Manhattan. Their domain ran from Seventh Avenue to Eleventh Avenue and from Fourteenth Street to Forty-Second Street. The Gophers got their nickname from their fondness for hiding out in basements and cellars. They were reputed to have some 500 members. The main target of the Gophers was the New York Central railroad yards which ran through their territory.
There was a lot of turnover in the leadership of the Gopher’s gang. Seldom did a gang leader last more than a few months. Therefore the gang did not produce any outstanding leaders like Monk Eastman or Paul Kelly. Instead there was a list of characters with catchy names like Newburgh Gallagher, “Stumpy” Malarkey, “One Lung” Curran, and “Goo Goo” Knox, the last of which helped found the Hudson Dusters.
“One Lung” Curran’s claim to fame was said to be a fashion trend he started. Looking for something unique for his girlfriend he blackjacked a police officer and stole his jacket. His girlfriend quickly stitched it into a “smart jacket of military cut” which created a new, but short-lived, fad. After several officers met with the same fate police began patrolling Gopher territory in groups of four and five and the new designer jacket craze came to an abrupt end.
Another Gopher of legend was “Happy Jack” Mulraney, called “Happy Jack” because he always appeared to be smiling. Mulraney actually suffered from a partial paralysis of the facial muscles. A virtual psychopath in nature, his lieutenants would incite him to rage by telling him that certain enemies had made disparaging remarks about his perpetual grin. Legend has it that when a close friend of his, “Paddy the Priest,” once asked “Happy Jack” why he didn’t laugh out the other side of his face. Mulraney responded by shooting him dead. For this, “Happy Jack” was sentenced to life in prison.
The Gophers even had a woman’s auxiliary. The Battle Row Ladies’ Social & Athletic Club, was better known as the “Lady Gophers.” The group was led by a succession of “tough broads” which included such luminaries as “Gallus Mag,” “Sadie the Goat,” “Hell Cat Maggie,” and “Battle Annie.” Said to be the “sweetheart” of practically the entire Gopher Gang, “Battle Annie” was known as the “Queen of Hell’s Kitchen.” “Battle Annie” earned a “handsome” income during the labor union wars by supplying lady warriors for both sides of the labor issue. There were few strikes in which she didn’t provide female muscle for “biting and scratching” either pickets or strike breakers.
One of the more sensational episodes involving the Gophers was a gang war shootout that the Hell’s Kitchen crew was not even part of. Warring members of the Five Pointers and the Eastmans (a major street mob headed by the infamous Monk Eastman) were blasting away at each other on Rivington Street under the Allen Street arch of the Second Avenue elevated railroad. Over one hundred gang members were involved in the fray, blazing away from behind the bridge pillars. Half a dozen Gopher members happened upon the fracas and joined in, not even bothering to find out who was shooting at who or why.
“A lot of guys was poppin’ at each other, so why shouldn’t we do a little poppin’ ourselves?” recalled one Gopher member.
After almost an hour of street warfare, police were finally able to bring the pitched battle to an end. Miraculously only three gang members were killed and seven were found wounded.
In 1910, Chick Tricker was running one of the factions that made up the remnants of the Monk Eastman gang. He had recently purchased the old Stag Café on West Twenty-eighth near Broadway and renamed it the Maryland Café. A year earlier, three men had been murdered there over an argument involving a woman. Now Tricker was inviting even more trouble when, according to author Herbert Asbury, “he made no objection when one of his thugs ventured into Hell’s Kitchen, captured the impressionable heart of Ida the Goose, and bore her in triumph to West Twenty-eighth street, where she was formally installed as belle of the Maryland.”
The disappearance of Ida the Goose, a true beauty who had been the “beloved” of many a Gopher captain, incensed the Hell’s Kitchen gang into action. The Gophers demanded her return under threat of war. When Ida declined to leave her new found love, Tricker refused to interfere.
In October 1910, four Gopher gunmen calmly walked into the Maryland Café and ordered beers. In the bar were six Tricker gang members, two bartenders, and Ida the Goose. Tricker gangsters, “amazed at the audacity” of the four men, nervously watched them without saying a word. Only Ida the Goose, who recognized them, spoke up.
“Say!” said the Goose. “Youse guys got a nerve.”
Ignoring her, the Gophers finally drained their mugs, looked at each other, then one said, “Well let’s have at it.”
The Gopher’s spun around with guns in each hand and began blasting away. The shooters seriously wounded five of the Tricker men. Huddled behind the bar were the two bartenders, Ida, and her new lover. The Gophers waited to see how Ida the Goose would respond. Realizing the situation was futile she looked at the “craven wretch” who had won her affections and quickly gave him up.
“Say youse!” cried the Goose. “Come out and take it.”
She then shoved him out in the open where he fell to his knees and trembled. Each gunman put a bullet in him and then the Gopher who had been Ida’s last lover stepped forward and delivered the coup de graze. The Gophers then marched out of the Maryland and headed back to Hell’s Kitchen with Ida the Goose following at a respectable distance. Glowing with pride over the deadly gunfight that had just been fought in her honor, it was said that Ida the Goose never again strayed from Hell’s Kitchen.
In the early 1910s the New York Central Railroad organized a special police force to stop the pillage and plundering that the Gophers had wreaked upon them. A number of these officers were ex-policemen who had “suffered grievously” at the hands of Gopher gang members. The tables were now turned and without the protection they had enjoyed from corrupt politicians in the past, the Gophers were beaten, literally, from one end of Hell’s Kitchen to the other by the new authorities. The Gophers were decimated by clubs, blackjacks, and pistols within a few short months. Leader Newburgh Gallagher was soon convicted of crimes and sent to Sing Sing leaving the Gophers in total disarray.
The gang soon split into three factions with Owen Victor Madden heading the largest group. Madden was born in Liverpool, England in 1892. He was described as “slick, slim and dapper, with the gentle smile of a cherub and the cunning and cruelty of a devil.” He arrived in America when he was eleven and by the time he was seventeen he had already been a suspect in two murders and earned the nickname “Owney the Killer.” In “The Gangs of New York,” Herbert Asbury tells us this about Madden:
“He was but (eighteen) when he assumed command of one of the Gopher factions, and had scarcely passed his twenty-third birthday, with five murders chalked against him by the police, when he was imprisoned. He was a crack shot with a revolver, and an accomplished artist with a sling-shot, a blackjack, and a pair of brass knuckles, not to mention a piece of lead pipe wrapped in a newspaper, always a favorite weapon of the thug. The police regarded him as a typical gangster of his time – crafty, cruel, bold, and lazy. Until he went to jail he had never worked a day in his life, and often boasted that he never would.”
Another description of Madden comes from Craig Thompson and Allen Raymond in their classic, “Gang Rule in New York,”
“Owney was not a big boy, nor a big man either, and he did not go in for much activity with his fists. He preferred an ‘equalizer,’ or pistol, a weapon that would make all men his own size. In common with his mates, he wore the turtle-necked sweater and cap which was the standard raiment for a tough guy…He talked out of the corner of his mouth in the ‘dese’ dose’, and dem’ dialect, a habit he never got over.
“The thing that marked Owney for leadership in the mobs was his utter contempt for life, his own or anyone else’s.”
Madden was accused of murdering an Italian man to celebrate his becoming a leader of the Gopher faction. He was released when several witnesses conveniently disappeared. Less than a year later he murdered a man on a trolley car after they argued over a young lady. On his deathbed, the victim claimed Madden was his assailant and police apprehended Owney after a chase across the tenement rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen. Again Madden avoided conviction as witnesses to the shooting vanished.
Once Madden and Tanner Smith, the former leader of the Marginal gang, rented a couple of rooms in a house and established the Winona Club. Into this quiet neighborhood came hoodlums and drunks and they partied, hollered, and fought late into the night and early morning. One night the house owner, who resided on the ground floor, went upstairs to tell the group that neighbors were complaining.
“You’ll have to keep quiet up here or I’ll put you out of my house, “ he stated.
You’ll put me out of your house?” said Madden. “Mister did you ever hear of Owney Madden?”
“Yes,” answered the homeowner.
“Well, Mister, I am Owney Madden!”
The homeowner retreated and was afraid to tell police and neighbors who was making all the noise fearing that he would be held responsible. When a neighbor finally did complain to the police a squad was sent out to deal with Madden.
“We’ll shoot the gizzard out of any cop that tries to get in here!” yelled Madden.
When a police sergeant rapped on the door with his nightstick the gang responded by firing a shot out a window and wounding the officer. After a short stand off, police stormed the house, handcuffed the occupants and proceeded to beat them bloody. In court the following day, Madden, still a minor, was lectured to before being released on a five hundred-dollar bond. His roommate, Tanner Smith, took his battered and bruised body to the mayor and screamed police brutality. Mayor William J. Gaynor reprimanded the police department and in the aftermath of the incident the infamous “Order Number 7” was instituted which forbade New York City police officers from using their nightsticks unless they were ready to prove it was in defense of their lives. The order was rescinded two years later by a new law and order mayor.
In the meantime, Tanner Smith became a gang hero and was said to have “strutted in the limelight.” He later served a year for gun possession. After he was released he claimed to be reformed and began a stevedore and contracting business. With his profits he opened the Marginal Club, named after his old gang, on Eighth Avenue where he was murdered in 1919.
In Madden’s Gopher gang, Eddie Egan, Bill Tammany, and Chick Hyland became his chief henchman. None, however, would distinguish themselves. Tammany was soon sent away for fifteen years in Sing Sing. Hyland soon followed with a four-year term, and Egan simply dropped out of sight.
Left with determination, a huge ego, and little support, Herbert Asbury tell us that Madden…
“…thrived principally upon sneak thievery, stickups, loft burglaries, intimidation of merchants and saloon-keepers, and collections from shady politicians. He made enemies by the score, for he was ambitious and domineering, and frequently let it be known that he aspired to be the acknowledged king of all the gangs.”
On November 6, 1914, his enemies made the best of an opportunity that the drunken Madden presented them. At the Arbor Dance Hall on Fifty-Second Street near Seventh Avenue, Madden walked in alone and strutted into the middle of the dance floor where he stood with folded arms and a scowl on his face. The music quickly stopped and women and men backed off the dance floor and moved toward the exits.
“Go on and have your fun!” Madden shouted. “I won’t bump anybody off tonight. I don’t want to spoil youse guy’s party.”
Madden walked up to the dance hall’s balcony where he kept an eye on the happenings and drank whiskey for several hours. When a pretty admirer sought his company he chatted and relaxed his vigil only to find himself surrounded by eleven stone-eyed gunmen from the rival Hudson Duster’s gang. Madden rose to his feet and confronted the would-be assassins.
“Come on youse guys!” he hollered. “Youse wouldn’t shoot nobody! Who did youse ever bump off?”
Pistols were pulled and bullets flew, mostly in Madden’s direction. Madden was hit six times. When police questioned him in the hospital as to who shot him, Madden replied, “Nothin’ doin’. The boys’ll get ‘em. It’s nobody’s business but mine who put these slugs into me.” Less than a week after the shooting it was reported that three of the shooters were dead.
While Madden recovered from his wounds, William Moore, better known as “Little Patsy Doyle,” a member of the old Gophers gang, made a power play in Hell’s Kitchen. Announcing that Madden would not be returning, he attempted to take over leadership of the gang, spurred on by jealousy; his ex-girlfriend, Freda Horner, said she was going to marry Madden. Patsy began to assemble a small crew of thugs.
In the meantime, Madden was discharged from the hospital, dispelling all of the rumors Doyle had started about him being in a paralyzed state. A small internecine war ensued. Beatings and stabbings took place on both sides until Madden was able to convince Doyle loyalists that “Little Patsy” was a stool pigeon. Stripped of his protection, Madden plotted Doyle’s murder with Gopher associates Johnny McArdle and Art Biedler.
On November 28, 1914 Gopher pin-up girl Margaret Everdeane met with Freda Horner and “Willie the Sailor” at the Ottner Brothers’ bar at Forty-first Street and Eighth Avenue. Everdeane telephoned Doyle and told him that his old flame Freda wanted to reconcile. Doyle fell for the ruse and arrived at the bar around 8:30 that Saturday night. When Doyle entered he was told that Freda was in the ladies room and while he waited McArdle and Biedler shot him. Doyle staggered out of the bar and fell dead on a tenement doorstep.
Police arrested the girls and “Willie the Sailor” as material witnesses. Maintaining that they had no knowledge of the set-up, the three testified against Madden who was charged as an accomplice to the murder. Aside from one traffic violation, this would be the first crime of the fifty-seven Madden was charged, of which he was convicted. Later, the girls recanted their testimony, but the judge didn’t buy it. Madden was sentenced from ten to twenty years in Sing Sing. McArdle received thirty years, and Biedler got eighteen.
When Madden was released from prison in January 1923, after having served less than ten years, the criminal landscape had changed. The days of the rough and tumble street gangs were gone. Smarter gangs had come upon the scene with the advent of a new money making device called Prohibition.
Madden would have to find a way to adjust to survive.
Copyright A. R. May 1999