Whenever there is an economic downturn there comes the inevitable mention of the Great Depression. Within law enforcement circles the conversation often gets much more specific toward the topic of crime during that era.
Despite Hollywood’ portrayal of mobsters, public enemies and Bonnie and Clyde types in every town, the truth is crime actually went DOWN during the period of 1929 – 1943.
Even so, desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and one industry that did thrive was insurance fraud. Which leads to the amazing story of “Indestructible Mike Malloy.”
The year was 1932. Anthony Marino owned a speakeasy on E. 177th Street in the Bronx section of New York City. To get a prospective on how bad things were, in some parts of the city the unemployment rate neared 50%.
That led to Marino, along with his barkeep, Joe Murphy, undertaker Frank Pasqua and friend Dan Kriesberg to devise a plot to scam insurance companies by taking out policies on drunks and then hastening their deaths with booze.
The scam worked ok for a while and the men scored some easy money knocking off drifters or other societal drop outs. Among those, a pretty young blonde named Bette Carlson. After tricking her into signing an insurance policy naming the boys as the beneficiaries, she drank herself into a near coma. The boys quickly carried her upstairs, stripped her naked then poured cold water on her and left window open. The next day they had a natural death. An $800 policy payoff followed.
Then they picked the wrong victim.
At first fifty year old Mike Malloy seemed perfect. A former fireman and engineer, alcoholism had kept Malloy from holding down regular jobs and he eventually fell into the life of a drunken bum.
The conspirators met Malloy when he began hanging around the bar looking for handouts. It didn’t take long before the men figured it was only a matter of time before Malloy drank himself to death, so they invited him in with an offer of free drinks.
Malloy was accustomed to getting the bum's rush because of his lack of money, so he was thrilled with the generosity of his new “friends.” Several drinks later he was so grateful he eagerly signed a petition to help get Marino elected to local office. What he actually signed was an insurance policy from Metropolitan Life for $800, and two from Prudential for $495 each.
At first the boys tried to get Malloy to drink himself to death but the more they gave him, the more he seemed to thrive. Worse yet, after several weeks of feeding Malloy free liquor and a room in the back of the bar to sleep off his hangovers, (open window and all) Marino began complaining his new friend was starting to cost him money.
Fearing bankruptcy, Marino switched to some “new stuff” that had just come in. In actuality, it was anti freeze but Malloy eagerly chugged it down while commenting on its smooth taste. A couple hours later, Malloy collapsed on the floor and the boys carried him to a back room to expire in private. Imagine their shock when an hour later Malloy was back at the bar asking for more!
Over the next few days the boys kept feeding Malloy whatever they thought would kill him. When anti freeze was having no effect, they switched to turpentine. Malloy downed shot after shot with no effect. Even horse liniment laced with rat poison seemed to have no effect. The boys had to wonder what Malloy had been drinking all his life.
By now the boys figured nothing liquid could kill Malloy so they began feeding him raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol. Mallow downed two dozen and even commented “Tony, you should open up a restaurant, you sure know first class food.”
After several days of raw oysters and rotten sardines, the boys were desperate. They got Mallow drunk and hauled him outside in the snow where they stripped him, dumped five gallons of water on him and left him in a snow bank to die.
The next day the boys checked the papers but found nothing. This was especially upsetting to Frank Pasquq who almost caught pneumonia from the drop off. That evening Malloy was back at the bar telling his pals how he must have really tied one over because the police found him in the snow and bought him a new coat.
Now the boys were truly desperate. Not only would Malloy not die, he wouldn’t go away.
Faced with few options, the boys turned to a criminal cab driver named Harry Green to run Malloy down. After getting him drunk, the boys lead him out into the street and held him up for the cab to hit him. To make sure he was dead, green backed up and ran him over again.
Malloy was missing for three weeks this time before finally coming back to the bar explaining he had been in a car wreck and could sure use a drink.
By now the conspirators were beside themselves. They tried to hire a hit man to kill Malloy but couldn’t afford the $500 fee.
They then shanghaied another drunk, Joe Murray, loaded him up with liquor and stuffed his coat pocket with Malloy's ID and ran him over with a cab. Murray, a substitute for Malloy in every way, recovered from his injuries after two months in Lincoln Hospital.
By now the gang determined the only way to knock off Malloy was good old fashioned murder.
On February 23, 1933, the boys rented a room and held Malloy down and shoved a gas hose in his mouth until he stopped breathing. The killers then discovered they needed a corrupt doctor to sign a death certificate listing natural causes otherwise there would be an autopsy. That required another pay off.
Murphy posed as Malloy's brother and collected the $800 from Metropolitan Life. But, when agents from Prudential came around to pay off, they discovered he was in jail on another charge and became suspicious. They quickly contacted the police.
By now there were just too many people involved to keep quiet. Worse yet, the cab driver was complaining to friends the boys at the bar stiffed him on the car repairs. The police soon learned of a murder racket in the Bronx and began asking questions. Then they heard of Malloy’s death and subsequent burial four hours after his death. That was suspicious. Upon exhumation of Malloy’s body the gig was up and everyone started talking.
At trial at the Bronx County Court House, the four murderers either claimed insanity or shifted the blame to each other. None of it worked and they were all found guilty. The case was officially closed in 1934 when all four of the conspirators were executed at Sing Sing Prison.