By Nate Hendley
Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll was a dangerous lunatic whose impulsive violence startled his own underworld peers.
Hot-tempered and unstable, Irish-American Coll initially made his mark as a henchman of Dutch Schultz (aka “the Dutchman”), a major crime boss in New York City in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Coll excelled as a thug but harboured dreams of greater things.
In 1931, Coll approached Schultz with a view to getting a promotion and more power within the Dutchman’s operations. Schultz turned him down flat. While Coll was terrific at maiming and killing people, Schultz had serious misgivings about his managerial potential.
Humiliated, Coll stormed off. In the spring of 1931, Coll was put on trial for carrying a concealed weapon. Schultz, who was famously tight-fisted, generously put up Coll’s $10,000 bail. When the case was called, however, Coll was a no-show and miserly Schultz had to forfeit his bail money.
In retaliation, the Dutchman murdered Coll’s brother Peter on May 31, 1931. Coll formed his own gang and began hijacking his former boss’s beer trucks and killing their drivers.
All of this led to Mad Dog Coll’s most reckless act. On a steamy summer night in late July 1931, Coll and his crew drove listlessly around New York. As they neared the Helmar Social Club on East 107th Street, Coll’s men spotted Joey Rao, one of Schultz’s friends, on the sidewalk. In front of Rao were a bunch of kids, playing.
Without hesitation, Coll and another goon drew their weapons and began to shoot at Rao, through the crowd of terrified kids. The bullets fatally wounded a five-year-old boy and injured several other kids. Rao escaped unharmed.
After this incident, Coll was dubbed “Mad Dog” by the press. Even other hardened gangsters were appalled at his behaviour.
Coll met a fittingly violent end in February 1932 when his enemies tracked him down as he made a phone call in a pharmacy.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York , describing what happened next:
About ten minutes into Coll’s conversation, a limousine containing three men pulled up outside. Bo Weinberg, who was rapidly becoming Schultz’s top enforcer, was driving. He stayed at the wheel and left the motor running as the two other occupants got out. One man stood watch by the curb while his partner sauntered into the pharmacy with a Thompson machine gun. The gunman told customer to “keep cool” as he approached Coll’s phone booth.
Standing only a few feet away from his target, the gunman leveled his weapon and sprayed the phone booth with automatic fire. Mad Dog Coll didn’t have a chance. As the U.S. military experts who developed the weapon noted, the Thompson machine gun was fantastically lethal at close range. It literally cut its victims apart.
The heavy slugs tore through Coll’s body and gouged huge holes in the wall behind him. By the time the shooting ended, the phone booth looked as though it had been hit with an artillery barrage.
With shell casings littering the floor, the machine-gunner raced out of the pharmacy. Corn plasters, cough syrup, and bandages fell from the shelves as he brushed against them in his haste. Horrified clerks and customers stared gap-jawed as the man ran past, still gripping his smoking Thompson.
Needless to say, no one in the New York underworld was too upset by Coll’s death.
(Nate Hendley is a crime writer based in Toronto, Ontario. You can find out more about his books and background at www.natehendley.wordpress.com)