Thursday, January 9, 2014

Done: "Legs Diamond: gangster" by Patrick Downey.

Done: Legs Diamond: gangster by Patrick Downey, 2011, 9781461088141.

Well done little bio of the bootlegging gangster.  Downey seems to have done a lot of hunting and researching and has plenty of endnotes and footnotes pointing out inconsistencies among those sources.  Downey says Diamond hit the newspaper most every day at the height of his fame in from about '29 through '31 and was on the front page of the NYT several times. 

But, Diamond is a tough subject to research.  
  • Diamond was only 34 when murdered in 1931 and never seemed to have a legitimate job.  
  • His surviving family barely knew him.
  • Many of his contemporaries were also murdered - or disappeared, same difference.  
  • Surviving peers, employees, and pals were crooks, cons, and liars and highly unlikely to admit to information regarding murder, extortion, drug running, prostitution, etc.  
  • His wife was murdered a few years after his death.  
  • His girlfriend was more interested in cashing in on notoriety and eventually disappeared.  
  • The newspapers of the time reported plenty of rumors and conjecture and a British newspaper fabricated a Diamond interview (some things never change).  
  • The only papers Diamond kept were taken as evidence by the police.

Anyway.  This was an interesting read and I think Downey did well pulling all the archival and public documents he could find.  Diamond was incredibly famous at his prime.  He was recognized in public and reporters followed him.  He worked alongside and against Dutch Schultz, Mad Dog Coll, and Lucky Luciano.  Governor Roosevelt had the State's Attorney going after Diamond.

Diamond was born in Philadelphia but the family fell apart when his mother died of TB.  He ended up in New York City in his middle teens and started getting arrested.  He started bootlegging by robbing the beer and liquor trucks of other gangsters.  He was shot and wounded on four different occasions.  He was suspected in the murders of several people.  He started to expand into the Catskills and forced the many taverns and hotels to buy his beer and booze.

Diamond seemed to both love and loathe the press attention.  He kept a book of his press clippings but would often complain about newspapers and reporters and accuse them of fabricating a persona.  His life in the Catskills was welcome at first, he was a celebrity and could be charming.  Once Diamond's men started threatening locals and kidnapped and murdered a local tavern owner the locals decided he was not so nice after all.

The State's Attorney started to focus on Diamond and the police investigation and seizures cramped Diamond's cash flow.  Attorney fees and bail fees drained his cash.  Diamond skated from court on some acquittals but was still facing federal time at his last acquittal in Albany in Dec., 1931.  He was murdered that same night in the Albany rooming house he was staying in.

1.  Gun nerd thoughts.  Diamond was shot plenty of times but recovered.  Most shootings were from handgun.  I wonder what caliber was used.  Around that time .38 specials were everywhere but so were plenty of .32s and .38 ACP. 
2.  Gangsters would not talk to the police.  Even when they were dying in the hospital. 
3.  Diamond had Dutch Schultz working for him.  Dutch branched later branched out on his own.
4.  In the last few months of his life Diamond was constantly moving around to avoid hit men. 
5.  Who killed Diamond?  There are pet theories but plenty of people wanted him dead.  Theories include: his wife hiring goons, other gangsters, corrupt cops or politicians.
6.  Unlike some slackers Downey has endnotes, indexing, and a resources list.
7.  The Epilogue was very neat and detailed Diamond's wife trying to cash in on the fame and her subsequent murder.  Downey also covers the many colleagues that were murdered after Diamond.

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