Its hard to know if this fits in, he was born to Irish parents who emigrated to the US, so I guess it counts. I run a website that is mainly stories about Irish Prohibition Era gangsters, this story was actually written and sent to my website by an author of a book on the subject, which I have rad and spoken with the author quite a few times, however due to reasons of avoiding complications with his publisher, I have not named him per his request.
I find it interesting, these stories, about what happened to Irish people when they left Ireland for the US etc where they lived, what they did, the mojority struggled in their new lives, some turned to crime to survive and it just so happened that Prohibition made some amazing stories and characters which are still in circulation today.
Edward J. McGrath, or “The Big Guy,” as he came to be known around the docks, was born on January 31, 1906. His parents were two Irish immigrants who had settled on the Lower East Side of New York City in an area known as the Gashouse District. During his formative years, McGrath had a relatively normal childhood even though his family resided on the peripheries of a tough poor neighborhood and were not by any means privileged.
Still, Eddie excelled in school, was a member of the church choir, and worked a number of well-paying clerical jobs. He appeared to be on the right path, but after losing both of his parents before he reached his late teens, he began to drift into the world of petty crime.
Graduating from a burglar to a proficient armed robber, McGrath later fell in with Joseph Rao, a Genovese family Capo, during Prohibition. While still in the beginnings of his criminal career, McGrath was hit with a five-year sentence in Sing Sing. Prison has often been referred to as ‘college’ for gangsters, which proved true for McGrath. Early on in his term, he became associated with a group of incarcerated West Side Irish stick-up men, which included his future brother-in-law, John “Cockeye” Dunn.
Upon their release from prison, McGrath and his new West Side friends began to rob, hold-up, and steal anything that they could get their hands on. However, with Prohibition drying up, the West Side suddenly became a competitive criminal landscape that consisted of out-of-work hoodlums scrambling for every buck they could get their hands on. The most lucrative remaining rackets could be found on the numerous West Side piers where a mobster could engage in labor racketeering, gambling, loan sharking, cargo theft, and everything else in between.
West Greenwich, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen became a battlefield as desperate criminals fought to establish themselves on the thriving waterfront. McGrath and Dunn would play important roles in an eventual gang war that resulted in eleven murders, six near-killings, and dozens of shootings. Key events
included the murder of a rival while he slept in bed beside his wife and the brutal slaying of a gangster and his girlfriend, the latter whom was killed by a gunshot through the top of her head while she sat on the ground and begged for mercy.
When the smoke cleared, McGrath and Dunn had established themselves as a pair of cold-blooded killers. With their newfound power, the two vaulted themselves into leadership positions within New York City’s Irish Mob and, more importantly, on Manhattan’s West Side waterfront.
Other key members of their gang would grow to include their hitman of choice, Andrew “Squint” Sheridan, the notorious Bell brothers, George Daggett, Robert “Barney” Baker, John “Peck” Hughes, Frank “U-Boat” Kelly, Connie Noonan, Robert “Farmer” Sullivan, and Nicholas “The Bull” Tanzella. The gang also formed alliances with other key waterfront hoodlums such as Timothy O’Mara, a former confidant of Owney Madden, and the Bowers’ Gang of Hell’s Kitchen.
The West Side piers, or the North River waterfront as it is commonly known as, stretches along the Hudson River from West Greenwich (between Houston and 14th Street) to Chelsea (14th Street to 34th Street), to Hell’s Kitchen (34th Street to 42nd Street), and all the way to the Upper West Side (59th Street to 110th Street).
With over $900 million in facilities (or nearly $12 billion dollars today), the New York City had the world’s largest and busiest port with annual revenues of over $146 million dollars (or nearly 2 billion today). Out of the more than seven hundred miles of waterfront, over three hundred had been developed into piers. The port had roughly nine hundred docks operating in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island; over one hundred ferry landings; and tens of thousands of associated businesses, shipbuilding plants, and warehouses. Twelve major railroads connected to the waterfront, trucks constantly moved on and off the piers daily, and a quarter of Manhattan’s food was brought in by boat.
Using their fearsome reputations, the Dunn-McGrath Mob assumed control of many of the key illegal and quasi-legal industries that were connected to the waterfront. The duo also muscled their way into key union positions within the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the American Federation of Labor. By 1940, McGrath had begun working as an Organizer for ILA, while Dunn ran his own union local connected to the loading industry. The legitimate union officials needed the gangsters for muscle and McGrath and Dunn needed the unions to help maintain their operations on the piers. The mutually beneficial relationship flourished, and the mobsters counted many key labor leaders as close friends.
For the next decade, McGrath and Dunn together ran their own unchallenged criminal organization that controlled the piers with an iron fist. Nothing moved on the waterfront without their say-so and they had their fingers in every pie. To maintain order, the duo were responsible for ordering or carrying out more than thirty murders, and longshoremen up and down the West Side knew not to talk about the hidden overlords that oversaw their day-to-day existence.
It was not until the late 1940s that the gang hit their first stumbling block. After the murder of a renegade hiring boss went wrong, Cockeye Dunn, Squint Sheridan, and a third member of the gang were all found guilty of murder. McGrath lost his brother-in-law and favorite enforcer to the electric chair and the government began to turn their attention to the plight of New York City’s longshoremen and the corruption that permeated through the largest port in the world.
As law enforcement pressure began to build, McGrath disappeared from New York, eventually resettling in Miami. He claimed that he was now retired and told the FBI that they wouldn’t hear from him again. However, after nearly a decade of intensive investigation, it was determined that McGrath had continued to operate his rackets through two proxies in New York City, Henry “Buster” Bell and Hughie Mulligan. When it was all said and done, they found that when it came to the final word concerning criminal activities on the waterfront, McGrath was still the man to see.
Although the non-stop surveillance of McGrath would continue well into the 1970s, he only served a thirty-day jail sentence in the 1980s before quietly passing away on April 15, 1994. In the end, McGrath had secretly influenced the International Longshoremen’s Association for over thirty years and became the longest tenured New York City Irish mob boss in modern times, all while
having his name barely make the newspapers.
This story was originally a two part on my website and facebook page: