Gang Members – Big Bill Dwyer – King of the Rum Runners

He started out as a simple docker, went on to boat laying on a large scale and was known as the ‘King of the Rum Runners’. Big Bill Dwyer made so much money that he teamed up with well-known gangsters in several chic New York City nightclubs. Dwyer also owned two professional hockey teams, including the Americans from New York, and owned the Brooklyn Dodgers football team. But in the end, Big Bill Dwyer, when he died, died out of the limelight and broke flat.

William Vincent Dwyer was born in 1883 in the Hells Kitchen area on the west side of New York City. Two gangs, the Hudson Dusters and the Gophers, ruled Hell’s Kitchen at the time, but Dwyer avoided joining both gangs and instead took a job in the port as a stevedore for the International Longshoremen’s Union (ILU).

While working on the docks, Dwyer started his own bookshop. After the Volstead Act passed in 1919, banning the distribution of alcohol, with the money he made from making books, Dwyer branched out into the smuggling business. Dwyer purchased a fleet of steel-lined speedboats, each with a mounted machine gun, in case crooks attempted to hijack a shipment. Dwyer also bought several large rum-running ships, which were required to unload the illegal hootch from whatever boat it provided.

Dwyer traveled to Canada, England and the Caribbean to bond with those who sold him the liquor he needed to smuggle into the United States. Dwyer then set up a system whereby his ships would meet the ships that gave him the drink many miles away at sea. There, the liquor was transferred to Dwyer ships and then quickly transported to Dwyer speedboats, which were closer to the coast of New York City.

The speedboats were unloaded into the docks, which were protected by ILU Local 791, of which Dwyer was a charter member. From the docks, the drink was moved to various warehouses in the New York area. When the time came, trucks of illegal alcohol and protected by convoys of team members transported the drink across the country, carrying heavy loads to Florida, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati and as far away as New Orleans.

Dwyer was able to smuggle large amounts of liquor into New York because he knew a simple fact: you had to bribe the police and coast guard if you wanted to be successful in the smuggling business. And Dwyer did that by handing over thousands of dollars to anyone who had to be greased.

Paying off the New York City police was easy. The police who had not rolled up their sleeves for vaccinations were among the few. However, Dwyer was particularly adept at recruiting Coast Guard members to look the other way as his speedboats sailed into New York waters.

Dwyer’s first contact was Petty Officer Olsen from the Coast Guard. Through Olsen, Dwyer met with dozens of Coast Guardsmen, “Guardies” whom he called them, who may have been willing to take bribes. Dwyer would take these Guardians to the bright lights of New York City, where he would give them delicious meals, bring them to Broadway shows, and even deliver a fancy hotel room occupied by the lady of their choice, for whom Dwyer would pay to. Once a Guardie took bribes from Dwyer, he was told he could make hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars more if he brought in other Guardies to help protect Dwyer’s shipments.

Soon Dwyer made so much money from smuggling that he was considered the largest distributor of illicit alcohol in the entire United States of America. However, Dwyer had one major problem that he needed help to solve. Whenever one of his trucks left New York to distribute the drink to other parts of the country, they were vulnerable to being seized by the hundreds of hijackers operating across the country. Dwyer knew he had to avoid this, he had to include partners – members of the Italian mob and the Jewish mob. Since he brought in millions of profits, Dwyer didn’t mind and could certainly afford to share the wealth. The problem was that Dwyer saw himself as a businessman and was not a gangster himself. Dwyer needed someone in the underworld who could make the contacts Dwyer needed to continue operating without fear of being hijacked.

Almost by accident, that person fell straight into Dwyer’s lap. In 1924, two of Dwyer’s shipments were hijacked in New York State. Dwyer leaned on the police on his payroll to find out who was responsible for the hijackings. Soon Dwyer returned that the perpetrator arrested for the hijackings was none other than Owney Madden, himself an Irishman, who grew up in Liverpool, England, before emigrating to New York as a teenager. Madden was a common crook nicknamed “The Killer” and had once ruled the murderous gang of Hell’s Kitchen Gopher.

Dwyer paid the one who had to be paid to drop the charges against Madden, ordering, “Give me Owney Madden. I want to talk to him. I have a business proposal that we should discuss. “

Madden was told who his benefactor had been and that he was expected to meet with Dwyer. The two men met at Dwyer’s office in the Loew’s State Building in Times Square. There is no recording or transcription of this meeting, but T.J. In his masterpiece about Irish mobsters, called Paddy Whacked, Engels said the conversation between Madden and Dwyer would have been something like this:

“You have a problem,” Madden would have said to Dwyer. “Gangsters pick out your trucks like seated ducks and what are you going to do about them?”

“That’s why I called you here.”

“You have to organize the gunners and the pickers, to say nothing of the bulls (police) and wrist (politicians).”

‘You’re right. I need the hijackings to stop. I need a place to make my own brew here in the city. Protected by the tiger and the buyers. And I need electrical outlets – speakeasies, night clubs, you name it. ”

“You need a lot, my friend.

“Are you on my side?”

“Give me a reason why.”

“I can make you rich.”

“Friend, you and I are two peas in a pod.”

And that was the start of the New York City Irish Mob, which would then unite with the Italian and Jewish mob to control the smuggling trade in the United States of America. The grouping of the three ethnic gangs was known as the ‘Combine’.

With millions from Dwyer, Madden oversaw the creation of the Phoenix Cereal Beverage Company, which was located on 26th Street and 10th Avenue, in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, where both Madden and Dwyer had grown up. This red brick building, which encompassed the entire block, was originally the Clausen & Flanagan brewery, which was established to produce and sell near beer, which no real beer drinker would ever pass. The beer produced in the Phoenix was called Madden’s No. 1.

With Dwyer basically the money man behind the scenes, Madden became the architect who created and cherished their empire. Madden hired Larry Fay, a former taxi company owner, to headline several top-notch establishments needed to sell Madden No. 1, plus all the whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy and champagne smuggled in the Combine. city. One of these places was the El Fay at 107 West 54th Street.

The main attraction on El Fay was Texas Guinan, a bawdy comedian / comedian, who was later copied by May West. To entice Guinan to work at El Fay, Madden and Dwyer made Guinan a partner. Guinan was known for her wise squatters, which she knocked over between the jaws of a frog or the toots of a piercing whistle while she sat on a high stool in the great room. Guinan’s signature saying was “Hello Sucker,” which is how she greeted all well-healed El Fay customers.

When a singer or dancer ended their performance at El Fey, Guinan urged the audience to “Shake the little lady a great hand!”

One day, a prohibition agent, who could not be bought by Madden or Dwyer, raided the El Fey. He marched to Guinan, put his hand on her shoulder and said to his colleague, “Give the little lady a very big handcuff.”

Dwyer did what he was good at, Guinan was released from prison and the El Fey quickly hopped again, making all those involved very rich indeed.

Madden and Dwyer also worked with former bootlegger Sherman Billingsley at the highly fashionable Stork Club on East 53rd Street. The two Irish gangsters spread their wings to northern Manhattan when they bought Club De Luxe from former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. They added Big Frenchy De Mange as their operating partner and changed the name to the Cotton Club. At the Cotton Club, De Mange instituted a “Whites Only” access policy, despite the fact that the waiters, dancers, and main artists, such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and the Nicholas Brothers , were all black.

Still, the Cotton Club was hugely successful with the big spenders from the center putting tons of money in the pockets of Dwyer and Madden.

In 1925, Dwyer was arrested for trying members of the Coast Guard to buy during a sting operation led by Prohibition Bureau. Dwyer was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, but was released after 13 months for good conduct. With Dwyer in the can, Frank Costello took over Dwyer’s smuggling business.

While in prison, a dispirited Dwyer told one of his cellmates. “I wish I had never seen a case of whiskey before. I spent years in daily fear of my life, always expecting to be arrested, always with scam artists and look-alikes, and now look at me. worse than broken. ‘

As we will see, that was not quite the truth.

When Dwyer took to the streets again, he left the smuggling business and left the rum operation to Costello and Madden. To kill his time, Dwyer started investing in legitimate business, especially sports teams.

In 1926, boxing promoter Tex sentenced Rickard Dwyer to buy the Hamilton Tigers from the National Hockey League. Dwyer did that and he moved his team to Madison Square Garden in New York, calling them the New York Americans. As clever as Dwyer was in running shoes, he was as stupid as running a hockey team. His pockets are bursting with contraband, Dwyer’s strategy for winning was in fact overpaying everyone on his team. With an average hockey player between $ 1500 and $ 2000 per year earned, Dwyer Billy Burch gave a three-year contract of $ 25,000. Shorty Green also got a huge raise when Dwyer rewarded him with a $ 5,000 a year contract.

A long-time crook, Dwyer took an active part in leading his team, going as far as trying to manipulate the games. Dwyer paid goal judges to decide that his team had scored a goal when the puck to the goal line just hit, instead of the goal line completely to pass, what was the rule.

During a match in Madison Square Garden in 1927, the goal judge, who had Dwyer in his pocket, started taunting Ottawa goalkeeper Alex Connell for some unknown reason. Connell responded by inserting his hockey stick into the nose of the goal judge. Dwyer was infuriated by the actions of the Ottawa goalkeeper (you don’t treat one of Dwyer’s employees) and Connell was told to leave town soon after the game. A police detail took Connell to the train station and protected him until the train was safely out of town. After the train left the station, a man asked Connell if he was Ottawa keeper Alex Connell. Scared of his life, Connell said no to the stranger. And as a result, he lived to other hockey games.

Dwyer ignored a league rule that no one can own two hockey teams and bought ex-lightweight boxing champion Benny Leonard as his front man, the NHL’s Pittsburgh Pirates, in 1929. In 1930, Dwyer also put his dingy fingers in the newly formed National Football League by buying the Dayton Triangles for $ 2,500. Dwyer moved the team to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, calling them the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In three years, Dwyer, again overpaying his players, began to lose so much money that he sold the Brooklyn Dodgers to two former New York Giant Football players: Chris Cagle and John Simms, for $ 25,000. Although he sold the team 10 times more than he had paid, Dwyer estimated that he lost in the three years he owned the team still $ 30,000.

In 1934, when he had enough of American sports teams (he still had the Americans in New York, but she bled money), Dwyer bought the famous Tropical Park Horse Racing Track in Miami, Florida.

However, the roof fell on Dwyer when he was charged with gambling in 1935. Dwyer hit that case, but then the government did what they did to Al Capone: they beat him with tax evasion. Those charges got stuck, and Dwyer was stripped of all his possessions, except for the Americans of New York, and a house in Belle Harbor, Queens. Almost destitute, Dwyer no longer had the money to keep the Americans afloat in New York.

In 1937, the National Hockey League temporarily took control of the Americans in New York. To show the NHL that he was financially solvent, Dwyer borrowed $ 20,000 from Red Dutton. But instead of paying his team’s salaries, Dwyer decided to try multiplying his money in a craps game. That didn’t go so well when Dwyer retired and lost the entire twenty million. Unable to pay for his team and raise capital, the NHL Dwyer finally started up and took ultimate control of the Americans in New York. Dwyer broke and dejected and retired to his home in Belle Harbor.

On December 10, 1943, Big Bill Dwyer, the “King of the Rum Runners” died at the age of 63. Dwyer was reportedly destitute at the time of his death, his only possession was the roof over his head.