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Prohibition Gangsters

The Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation

Marc Mappen

Publication Year: 2013

Master story teller Marc Mappen applies a generational perspective to the gangsters of the Prohibition era—men born in the quarter century span from 1880 to 1905—who came to power with the Eighteenth Amendment.

On January 16, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution went into effect in the United States, “outlawing the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” A group of young criminals from immigrant backgrounds in cities around the nation stepped forward to disobey the law of the land in order to provide alcohol to thirsty Americans.

Today the names of these young men—Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Nucky Johnson—are more familiar than ever, thanks in part to such cable programs as Boardwalk Empire. Here, Mappen strips way the many myths and legends from television and movies to describe the lives these gangsters lived and the battles they fought. Placing their criminal activities within the context of the issues facing the nation, from the Great Depression, government crackdowns, and politics to sexual morality, immigration, and ethnicity, he also recounts what befell this villainous group as the decades unwound.

Making use of FBI and other government files, trial transcripts, and the latest scholarship, the book provides a lively narrative of shootouts, car chases, courtroom clashes, wire tapping, and rub-outs in the roaring 1920s, the Depression of the 1930s, and beyond. Mappen asserts that Prohibition changed organized crime in America. Although their activities were mercenary and violent, and they often sought to kill one another, the Prohibition generation built partnerships, assigned territories, and negotiated treaties, however short lived. They were able to transform the loosely associated gangs of the pre-Prohibition era into sophisticated, complex syndicates. In doing so, they inspired an enduring icon—the gangster—in American popular culture and demonstrated the nation’s ideals of innovation and initiative.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-5


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-6

The patient admitted to Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center, Chicago, on May 14, 1992, was an eighty-six-year-old retired businessman, grayhaired, feeble, and dying from congestive heart failure and acute respiratory failure. There was little the doctors could do to save him, and his...

Part I. The Rise

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pp. 7-15

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Chapter 1. The Big Fellow in the Windy City

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pp. 9-30

“Honey, you have a nice ass, and I mean that as a compliment.” The year was 1917, the place was the Harvard Inn, a bar and restaurant in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, and the speaker of these unwelcome comments was a young waiter, Alphonse Capone, who had been eyeing the...

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Chapter 2. Big Battles in the Big Apple

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pp. 31-60

New York City in the 1920s is an iconic place and time in American memory. With six million people, it was the largest city in the nation. Chorus girls danced at the Ziegfeld Follies, nightclub hostess Texas Guinan greeted tipsy partiers with a cheery “Hello, suckers,” Babe Ruth smacked out home...

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Chapter 3. Smaller Cities

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pp. 61-76

New York and Chicago were the biggest cities and the biggest crime centers in America during the Prohibition era, but the wave of crime extended to smaller cities as well. The underworld conducted business and adapted the roles of different ethnic groups in three urban centers: Detroit, where one...

Part II. Atlantic City Interlude

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pp. 77-84

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Chapter 4. Gangsters in the Surf [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 79-96

From Monday, May 13, to Thursday, May 16, in 1929, top gangsters in the Prohibition generation came to Atlantic City for a conference. Spring in the resort town was a perfect time for the gathering; the temperature was in the comfortable upper 50s, and the summer vacation season with its tens...

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Chapter 5. The Conference as Comedy

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pp. 97-106

No matter how it has been interpreted the May 1929 Atlantic City Conference was serious business. But it has spilled over into two comedic classics, one a short story by a noted American writer and the other a celebrated Hollywood movie....

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Chapter 6. Capone's Long Trip Home

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pp. 107-116

The story told in the Inquirer and other Philly papers described how Capone and his bodyguard Frankie Rio appeared in the city the previous evening when they stepped off a train from the Jersey Shore. Two alert detectives from the Philadelphia City Hall Detective Bureau, James...

Part III. The Fall

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pp. 117-131

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Chapter 7. The Twilight of the Gangster

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pp. 119-127

The gangsters who attended the May 1929 conference in Atlantic City looked toward the future of their criminal enterprises. But they never anticipated a cataclysmic event that took place just five months later. In October 1929 the stock market crashed, killing the prosperity and high spirits that had...

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Chapter 8. Pay Your Taxes

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pp. 128-151

Manley Sullivan was thirty- nine years old in 1921, a hard- working resident of Charleston, South Carolina. He sometimes sold cars and tractors, but his basic line of work was selling bootleg liquor to his fellow Carolinians. His 1921 estimated income for that activity was ten thousand dollars, handsome...

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Chapter 9. Lucky v Dewey

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pp. 152-170

Early in the morning of October 17, 1929, Patrolman Blanke stationed in the Staten Island fishing village of Prince’s Bay saw a disheveled man staggering down the road. Officer Blanke could see that the man had been savagely beaten, his eyes were swollen and bruised, and he had slash wounds...

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Chapter 10. Shot to Death

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pp. 171-196

Prosecuting the crime lords for income tax evasion was an effective way for lawmen to put gangsters out of commission. But mobsters’ more immediate and cheaper strategy for eliminating their rivals— shooting them to death— did not require any expenses for courts, judges, accountants, and...

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Chapter 11. Lepke on the Hot Seat

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pp. 197-212

Louis Lepke Buchalter was the “intelligent Hebrew” who became the master of the labor racket in New York, primarily in the city’s garment industry (see chapter 3). By the 1930s he had branched out beyond the needle trades to bakeries and flour truckers. He was a leading crime figure; among...

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Chapter 12. For Them, Crime did Pay

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pp. 213-222

Many members of the Prohibition generation passed from the scene prematurely: Al Capone, who died a syphilitic death; Longie Zwillman, a suicide in his basement; Lepke Buchalter, strapped into the electric chair; Albert Anastasia, shot to death in a barbershop; and the Lonardo and Porrello...

Cast of Characters

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pp. 223-230

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A Note on Sources

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pp. 231-232

The first sentence in the first chapter in this book has waiter Al Capone say to Lena Gallucio, a female customer at a Brooklyn restaurant, “‘You got a nice ass, honey, and I mean it as a compliment. Believe me.’” This quote comes from William Balsamo’s interview with Lena’s brother Frank, which appeared in an article in the...

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pp. 233-234

The task of doing research has been vastly improved by digital age tools such as ProQuest, Google Archives, and WorldCat. But people still make the difference, and I want to thank the library and agency staff members who assisted me: at the Library of Congress, Kristi L. Finefield; National Archives, Richard W. Peuser...


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pp. 235-248

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 249-258


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pp. 259-266

About the Author

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pp. 267-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780813561165
E-ISBN-10: 0813561167
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813561158

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Prohibition -- United States -- History.
  • Organized crime -- United States -- History.
  • Mafia -- United States -- History.
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