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Gangsta Grandpa

Tuesday March 12, 2019
As my favorite holiday - St. Patrick's Day - draws near, I decided to write a bit about my Irish heritage. I recently did one of those geneology DNA tests and found I was of 68% Irish heritage. The remaining percentage were mostly English, Welsh and Scottish. Sounds like my people were more of the home and hearth types.
I have long been fascinated by my ancestry. On my mother's side of the family were Virginia plantation owners and a Texas Ranger. I am eligible for membership in the DAR - Daughters of the American Revolution - thanks to my mother's kin chasing around with muskets. My maternal grandfather had a large orchard and grew peaches for Del Monte. All well and good, but I'm afraid they pale in comparison to the life and times of my paternal grandpa, a man I call the Gangsta Grandpa. Fair warning - this is not a story about leprechauns or the Blarney Stone.
While on my quest to fill in the leaves on the family tree, I was not surprised to see a reference to possible records from the Bureau of Prisons for my Grandpa.  I knew he had done time in the Big House, although I had never discussed it with my parents. What I didn't know was that he had enjoyed the hospitality of Alcatraz for 30 years. Fortunately for me, the Bureau of Prisons was more forthcoming. Here is an excerpt from records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request:
On or about October 1, 1934, the prisoner and five other defendants conspired to hold up and rob a mail truck driver of registered mail matter consigned to the B.M.C. Durfee Trust Company, at Fall River, Massachusetts, and on January 25, 1935 did assault said mail custodian by means of a dangerous weapon, rob and take away from said mail truck driver said registered mail matter to the value of $129,200.
 
What is his principal business or trade?  Has none; is character of underworld.
 
What are the prisoner's habits as to industry?  No legitimate industry; known as rum-runner, high-jacker, hold-up man, highwayman, racketeer and gun-man.  
 
What is the character of his associates?  Very bad; of the worst.
 
The prisoner is known to have been a lieutenant of "Dutch" Schultz, deceased.  He admits he lost an eye in a gun duel in a New York City bar room, and has 13 gun bullet wounds which he received from a machine gun while participating in a high-jacking job in New York City. He is well known in the underworld of New York City.  
 
The judge had this to say: Yes, I do believe this man is a menace to society, a habitual criminal and a dangerous character. His record speaks for itself. I do not recommend parole for this prisoner, when eligible or at a later date. 
 
Grandpa's life of crime started with juvenile delinquency charges in 1916, and moved on to grand larceny, burglary, armed robbery, felonious assault, driver of getaway car, carrying a dangerous weapon, and various assorted parole violations. The list of charges and dispositions is a full page long. 
I found other references to Grandpa in the newspapers of the day. He apparently had an issue with Al Capone, and a run in with a friend of Capone's named Walter Warden. Both were imprisoned at Alcatraz at the same time as my Grandpa. Here's a portion of the colorful account from The Milwaukee Sentinel -   Oct 29, 1938:
He was working in the bake shop [at Alcatraz] with Charlie (One Eye) Harrigan, an O'Connel mobster and a former eraser for Dutch Schultz. Naturally, Harrigan didn't like Capone, and he began running off at the mouth for the benefit of Warden, who did like Capone. Harrigan began telling Warden that Capone was a no good, yellow snitch, who had gone singing to the G's about Johnny Torrio, who had given Al his start.  
Amazingly, Grandpa survived machine gun shootouts, 30 years in Alcatraz, and marriage to my grandmother. He worked in construction after his release from Alcatraz and died quietly in 1988 while living in New York. I have few memories of him; I only saw him a couple of times when I was young. My earliest and best memory of him were presents he gave to me and my three siblings: harmonicas for each of us. Although my mother swore she didn't know their whereabouts, I have always suspected they "took a powder".  
-Terry Harrigan
NW Parkinson's Community Member
and proud Irish person

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