- Abraham Petz
- Bernie the Beat
- Big Boy
- David Friedland
- Don Nagle
- Eddie Conte
- Frank Meyer
- George K
- Grumpy Will
- James Leightnin
- Jimmy Wolf
- Jungle Juice Willy
- Rambling Ray
- Sal Jr.
- Sal Sr.
- The Friendly Stranger
- The Reprobate
- Union Terminal Cold Storage
Second Thief, Best Thief – An Old Jersey City Saying
The Jersey City Waterfront once was covered with warehouses and piers. Adjacent to these were miles of railroad yards dotted with innumerable sheds and small buildings for use as storage and as workshops for mechanics, machinists, and welders.
During the depression, children from impoverished families would climb onto the roofs of the outlying structures, both to hide and to gain a view of the surrounding area. From up there, they'd watch for workers stealing from the docks, the trains, or the warehouses. The initial crooks would sneak off into the weeds to hide the swag with the idea of retrieving it at the end of the shift. Seeing opportunity made available, the kids would wait a bit for the situation to cool. Then, they'd climb down, grab the goods, and make a getaway through the vacant lots.
Practitioners coined the saying "second thief, best thief" to describe this method of survival.
- That’s how you play the game. on
- A week or so after the abduction and murder of Butch Cap, . . . on
- Tommy’s comments on the reports of his death. on
- The father of “Crazy” Joe Gallo was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a fine Italian dinner. on
- Life-long resident of Jersey City hired as Security on
- Martin Casella: Don’t you know who I am?
- Nietzsche as a boy – The Brian Jonestown…
- “Our Computers Don’t Make Mistakes.”
- An attempt to murder all five heads of the New York Families
- The father of “Crazy” Joe Gallo was in…
- Lost Indian Tribe Surfaces In Jersey City –…
- Rape, Murder and Kidnapping
- Aniello Dellacroce was a financial wizard
- When Workman shot “Dutch” Schultz in Newark
- The Malcontent
- April 2022
- October 2019
- October 2017
- December 2016
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- December 2012
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- July 2011
- June 2011
In 1977, a week or so after the abduction and murder of Butch Cap, Tommy — a dealer in rare powders — was back in his North Bergen cliffside location and I visited him there. Partly from his pack rat, curio-loving nature, partly from keeping up appearances for his front of a supposed antique dealer, and partly as a way to have a multitude of notches and niches to keep things away from the shuddering glare of in plain view, Tommy had the place chock-a-block filled with bric-a-brac, object bizarre and early Addams Family decor. This was now all in a huge pile on the floor, as if hit by the proverbial hurricane. Tommy explained that the storm had come in the form of the Hoboken Police “looking for pictures of Butch Cap.” Whether he was there at the time of the search (and to some degree destroy) mission and so knew this by sight and sound or if it was just a surmise, that I don’t know. Tommy made mention that he did indeed have incriminating photos of his now dead partner. As the individual in question was quite definitely and permanently ex post facto, what the point was to one and all, I don’t know.
The day after Butch was stabbed and then pulled from there, I went up to River Road in North Bergen. I didn’t know about the mayhem of the night before. There was a “burnt-out” (non-functional) traffic light on River Road that served as a landmark. Tommy’s place was at the top of the long stairs going up the hill. Two grey Great Dane puppies (from Hope’s dog) were in a cage outside the door, crying because they were hungry. Everything else was strangely still. I walked down to the street and bought some sliced roast beef at a place that was there. I carried the meat back up to the puppies and then left.
Tommy wasn’t one to let things worry him for very long. Early that September, he even closed up shop for a few days — something for him generally unknown — to go to the Grateful Dead concert in Englishtown. He remarked that while listening to the music, he thought that “Since Butch always was so paranoid, he must be grateful to be dead.” If Tommy was with us now, I’d tell him that Butch Cap had proved Freud correct: “The paranoid is never entirely mistaken.”
I don’t think that I ever met the accomplices in the abduction and murder of Butch Cap, but Michael I had already run across. I was friendly with Manuel (Rocky) of Union City and his buddy Sammy from Hoboken. I’d drive them to Michael’s house in the Heights on New York Ave. (there were concrete — around 2 ft — lions out by the steps) or to the auto body shop in Hoboken. Hudson County is the world’s biggest small town.
Rocky had recently done a little time (1 yr Fed?) and somehow blamed Butch Cap. There often was talk of revenge, which struck me as fanciful. Everyone was very leary of Butch. I thought that he must be like the Hulk or something. I didn’t know about the uncle the mayor. I also didn’t know that Butch was doing business with Michael — and bad business at that.
If I remember correctly, Michael was shot (in the eye?) before the trial. He was out on bail in FLA. (Family trip?). He survived that. In prison, his father — a serious individual — was arrested for trying to sneak Michael out in the trunk of his car.
A Michael Labruno in a NJ State prison wrote a friend of mine. She was in the local papers for running a charity. Presumably, he saw the name there. He wanted to be a pen pal. Twenty years later — almost to the day — the Jersey Journal reported that someone with the same name as the Organized Crime figure convicted of the murder had been arrested on Colgate Street in Jersey City for possession of cases of stolen perfume. I’m not certain if it was one and the same, but the probable release date and the age were consistent.
At the Tunnel Bar, the Daily News began to disappear. As this happened late in the afternoon, it was just a nuisance. If this happened in the morning, it would have been a disaster. The paper was a necessity early as the Numbers (illegal lottery) players came in then to see if their interpretations of dreams and other omens had worked. (The winning number was the last three digits of the total daily take of a major race track, as reported in the Daily News.)
The paper was on the bar until well into the afternoon. When I’d look for it around 7 or so — to see what was on TV for the evening — it was gone.
I didn’t say anything, but began to keep an eye on the post noon to and fros of the journal. A regular customer was a Heights resident and longshoreman — one Jungle Juice Willy. While marinating with his many vodka and tonics with lemon juice, he’d read the Daily News. Once he felt well-informed, he’d parade the paper to a magazine rack at the end of the bar. Willie would then stay for another half hour or so, talking and watching TV. Getting ready to leave, he’d put on his trademark light blue windbreaker and head to the rest room, near where the magazine rack was located. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as he came out, grabbed the newspaper and stuck it under his jacket.
As Jungle Juice was a good customer, I kept quiet, The only thing I needed by time he came in was the TV section, so the following day I took that out at lunch time. When Willie left later on, again the Daily News walked out with him.
The next day Willy came in feathers a-ruffle and announced in a heated tone “Some skunk stole the TV page out of the paper yesterday!”
In the mid-60s, a protohippy (as luck would have it, a first cousin to the UBERHIPPY), and two accomplices, went to City Hall in Jersey City during normal business hours. Once inside, they hid and waited until the dead of night. Then, they snuck out and made their way to a safe believed to contain fifty thousand dollars in cash. The protohippy drilled a number of holes in the thick metal door.
“Hank, hand me the big screwdriver. I’m ready to rip.”
When the safe cracker’s apprentice heard this, the thought of all the money sent him into a state of shock. He released his grip and the metal tools fell to the stone floor with a clang that echoed throughout the building.
Alerted to intruders, the night watchman called the police, who quickly arrived on the scene. The little band of burglars attempted to escape by jumping out a first-story window. The cops quickly caught them hiding in a car less than a block away.
During this same era, Tom Whelan, the Mayor of Jersey City piled up over a million dollars through a seemingly infinite series of kickbacks and shakedowns. It’s often repeated that crime does not pay. That’s only true for those working the night shift.
One New Year’s Eve in the mid-’70s, a by now through-the-mill Protohippy (a first cousin to the Uberhippy, as luck would have it) and his brother faced a dilemma. They were stuck inside Mom’s Greenville apartment without the cash to buy heroin. The Protohippy decided to take action so as to be able to usher in the New Year in the proper manner for a confirmed substance abuser — zonked out on H.
The dreadful duo, Protohippy carrying a handgun, made their way around the corner to a local saloon. What they did not know was that the beat cop had commenced celebrations much earlier in the day and by now was stretched out on a cot in the bar’s back room. Hearing the Protohippy announce the holdup, the police officer tried to take his gun from the holster. In his drunken state, the cop pulled the trigger before drawing the weapon and wound up wounding himself in the leg.
The Protohippy and Bro’ exited and ran home to Mom’s.
What the would-be desperadoes had failed to notice was that it had snowed late that evening. With no one else out and about, impressions in the snow recorded one pair of footsteps from the apartment house to the bar, and another pair leading right back to the supposed maternal hideaway. The Jersey City Police, even without the assistance of bloodhounds or Sherlock Holmes, quickly arrested Protohippy and Bro’.
Subsequent investigation showed that the gun had been stolen from a doctor’s office during a burglary.
Armed robbery resulting in the injury to a police officer, illegal possession of a stolen weapon, suspects in the breaking and entry of a doctor’s office, . . . and — with the trail in the snow — first degree stupidity . . . Thinking of the charges that they had to be facing, I could only imagine the two coming out from behind prison walls many years later: Squinting from the unaccustomed exposure to sunlight, they’d be hunched over canes, long white beards reaching almost to the ground, like twin Rip Van Winkle’s emerging from slumber.
That’s not how it worked out.
The papers wrote up the story as the heroic cop who’d just happened to be in the bar to use the rest room. In the news accounts, the police officer tried to stop the criminals, but was gunned down by one of the vicious hoodlums.
In a plea bargain, the Protohippy confessed to shooting the cop and then received a lenient sentence. Released at the time of the court date with “time served,” Bro’ did even better.
Everyone in Jersey City’s involved with politics — even Vinny Buchelle.
Vinny was head flunky at a trucking outfit in Jersey City PG (PreGentrification). Any business here that’s bigger than the corner candy store donates to every candidate for mayor. The boss of the trucking company gave the likely winner and any real contenders donations of $1000 each. The rest of the pack were not forgotten, but they had to be happy with a pair of tickets to the $100 a plate shindig. This was how Vinny’s patron wound up with two tickets to the Cucci campaign bash. He tried to give the tickets away but nobody wanted them — except for Vinny.
Vinny sat in the Tunnel Bar — resplendent in clothes stolen from the Salvation Army especially for the occasion — watching the hands of the clock inch towards the Cucci fundraiser’s door opening time. Vinny offered the extra ticket to quite a few, but there were no takers. So, 7:30 or so he left by himself and headed south on Henderson.
The next day Vinny had a story of the bartender at the place at some point refusing to pour any more. Vinny started yelling, Hey! Whad’ya mean I can have a drink? I paid $100 buck for this ticket!”
Cucci himself interceded telling the bartender to “give him anything he wants.”
Tunnel Bar regular Margie’s boyfriend — Hoboken Frank (not to be confused with Biggie’s nephew, Frankie from Hoboken) — had an interesting tale about some guy he met when locked up over in NYC. Seems that the gent had committed a crime for which there is no common name; he’d married five women (Pentagamy?)
The “wives” all lived in the same Manhattan neighborhood. The scheme finally unraveled when the flock kept bumping into each other in the supermarket while selecting hubbie’s favorite fare.
The way the guy would hook the well-heeled and not gullible gals was this: he’d go to a posh spot early in the day and ask to speak with the maitre d’.
“Here, this is for you,” handing the restaurant employee a hundred dollar bill. (This would have been in the ’60s and so the cash would be worth much more now.)
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing. That’s a gift. But I can tell you a way to make another hundred.”
“I’m coming here tonight with a chick I’m trying to impress. Don’t worry. I’m gonna pay the bill and all. I just want you to stop by the table and talk with me like I’m one of the owners.”
That evening the maitre d’ profusely apologized for the interruption but needed to mention that they were having all sorts of problems with the decorators and just wanted him to know.
They told me I would die.
I have died a thousand times,
often without crying , at times by will
as when I left behind,
the desiccated skin
I called my life .
I died the moment I was born
and willed myself into another form.
I died every time I hated,
every time I mated and left satiated
too full, yet forlorn.
Who was I before I was born?
When the next night births my dawn.
Shall I rock or water form?
Every moment, is the death of the last.
We are seeds of summer’s past,
birthing flowers as each sun’s Rose
grows and withers at last.
I live yet not one single cell
of yesterday remains
Nor do I remember the hell
of my first birth’s pains.
Every word I write will pass
star-lit moons, filling the abyss.
Who will say I died
when Life embraced Death and kissed.
David Friedland 8/ 2015
I generally worked afternoons / nights at the Tunnel Bar. One morning, my father was hard at work implementing one of his improvement projects, so I was in tending bar early.
Though the window, I see a new Cadillac pull up right out front at the door to the bar. A very well-dressed middle-aged Gypsy gets out of the car. He opens the trunk and takes out a Electrolux vacuum cleaner. He walks into the bar holding the appliance by the top strap like a suit case.
“THE OWNER HERE?”
My father happened to be standing nearby. “Yeah, that’s me. What can I do fer’ya?”
“I’m sellin’ this vacuum cleaner. It’s new! Electrolux!”
My father puts down the hammer that he had in his hand. He then picks up the vacuum cleaner, looking it over. Unrolling the cord, he plugs it into an outlet.
My father placed his hand over the hose of the Electrolux and by his expression appeared impressed with the performance.
My father put his hand in his pocket. Taking out some folded bills, he located a fifty.
Instead of taking the money, the Gypsy walks over to electrical outlet.
“This is the demo. I’m gonna get you a new one in the box.”
“Nah. I don’ need no box. Picking up the vacuum cleaner with one hand and offering the fifty dollar bill with the other, “I like this one.”
Ignoring the money, the Gypsy started to tug at the vacuum cleaner. “THAT’S MY DEMO! I GOTTA HAVE THAT BACK!”
For a few seconds, my father and the Gypsy were in a tug of war over the ELectrolux. Before I could get around the bar, in walks Hal — all six-foot-four, 280 pounds of him. He’s immediately alert to the altercation.
“WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON HERE!”
The Gypsy took one very frightened look at the enraged giant and let go of the vacuum cleaner. Surprised by the quick release, my father slid back a few feet into the cigarette machine, still holding the vacuum cleaner under one arm and the fifty dollar bill in the other hand. The Gypsy pushed past Hal (who was still holding the door), jumped into the Cadillac and sped off.
That Electrolux worked great for many years and the price certainly couldn’t be beat.
New customers came to the Tunnel Bar by various paths. As the place was on 15th just outside the Jersey City side of the Holland Tunnel, I aimed to get at least a little bit of that endless traffic to flow our way by putting up signs spray-painted on scrap plywood. A pirate HBO rooftop antenna meant a TV with lots of movies and boxing. I’d get a case or two of any new stuff that the liquor companies were pushing on deep discount promotion. This way for the adventurous, there always was a novelty to explore. If the new and improved rotgut caught on, that was great and if it didn’t I’d get rid of it with a $1 a double special. This kept the heavy-hitter boozers walking in the door.
And not infrequently the State sent us customers by opening the prison gates. That’s how it was with Roy.
A guy from a large Heights family that was once in the waste management business (but unfortunately without the connections that usually went along with that trade) worked across the street at Hudson Refrigeration warehouse. One day he said that he wanted to speak to my father, the owner of the Tunnel Bar.
“My brother-in-law just got out of jail. Monday, he’s startin’ a job in the Erie Lackawanna. He’s a printer, so he gets paid pretty good, but right now he’s broke. I wanted t’ask ya to put him on the book till he gets paid. It’ll be two weeks before he gets a check. There ain’t gonna be a problem, but if there is, I’ll make good on it.”
“Yeah, sure,” my father said. “I’m glad he’s gettin’ back on his feet.”
“What limit do you want on the tab?” I asked.
“I don’ think he’ll be spending much more than $5 a day.”
“So, sixty dollars for the two weeks?”
“Yeah, that sounds just about right. I’ll try to bring ‘im on Monday to introduce ‘im, but his name’s Roy. He’s probably the only guy aroun’ here called that.”
Roy was a little below medium height and on the skinny side. He had a thin mustache and was always neatly dressed. He came in every day for a sandwich and a beer at lunch and another beer before he went home. After two weeks, right after work, Roy was in the tavern with his check. He cashed that, paid the bill and this time got a six pack to take home.
The following week, Roy again was in the bar twice a day on credit. We didn’t see him the week after that.
“What’s goin’ on with Roy’s tab? Did you say anytin’ t’ his brother-in-law about it?” my father asked.
“Nah. He gets paid every two weeks. Maybe he just didn’ feel like drinkin’ or was sick or sumtin’. I’m gonna wait t’ next week t’ see what happens.”
Roy had never been in the Tunnel Bar on the weekend, living as he did in the Heights, but he showed up that Saturday.
“Hey! Sorry I wasn’t in on Friday, but I’m not at the place around the corner no more. It was a real sweat shop! I got another job, with a big outfit this time.”
While he was talking Roy had been signing a check that he handed to me. The amount was a little more than the pay at the print shop in the Erie Lackawanna. The company name on the check was along the lines of CONSOLIDATED AMALGAMATED, something impressive that didn’t mean anything at all.
From then on, Roy only stopped in on paydays. He’d cash his check, have a couple of beers, and take a six-pack to go. This went on for maybe a month. Some checks were a little less (“Missed a day this week.”) and some a little more. (“Whew, it’s been busy! Got some OT!”)
On a Saturday morning, Roy’s brother-in-law walked in the door of the Tunnel Bar. He, too, lived in the Heights and so generally only was by on work days.
“Have you still been cashin’ Roy’s checks?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s out aroun’ the corner but . . . “
“Roy stole a box of checks from the printer. He been cashin’ checks all over the Heights. The bar on South Street got hit real heavy. Roy even took up wit’ some Black hooker, an’ he been sellin’ checks to her friends. Since I brought ‘im in here, I wanted to let you know. I’m sorry it’s sorta to late, but I just foun’ out meself.”
This was not good news. I figgered that it might have been around two grand in checks from Roy that I’d cashed.
Monday I looked up a phone number for Consolidated Amalgamated.
“Consolidated Amalgamated, Who should I put you through?”
“It’s sorta complicated. I dunno who I should talk wit. As it turns out, wittout knowin’ it, I cashed a bunch your outfit’s checks that were stolen.”
“Why did you do that!?”
“Likes I said, I didn’ know. This is a bar. We cash paychecks. Some guy said he worked there.”
“Well, who should I connect you with here?”
“Likes I said, I dunno. Let me speak wit’ whoever deals with this sorta thing.”
I was on hold for a long time. All of a sudden, a voice boomed on the line.
“I’m calling because we cashed a number of your company’s checks that were stolen. I wanted to know what you plan to do.”
“You didn’t cash any of our checks.”
“I didn’t know that they were stolen, but, I’m sorry to say that we definitely did cash a bunch of your checks. An’ it’s not jus’ us.”
“You didn’t cash any of our checks”.
The line went dead.
The Tunnel Bar never heard anything more about the Consolidated Amalgamated checks. They didn’t bounce and no police ever investigated. We guessed that a large firm didn’t want any bad publicity and either just wrote it off or maybe the printer’s insurance took care of it.
I did see Roy again some months later. He was dirty and disheveled. He sat groggy on the sidewalk in front of the supermarket on Central between Manhattan and Franklin.
“ROY! Howya doin’?!” I said in a loud and upbeat voice.
Roy didn’t answer. He looked at me, grimaced, and then looked away.
At one point in the ’60s, Hal, armed robber and free lance enforcer for La Cosa Nostra, lived in a relatively large apartment house in Bayonne. The residents were all White — as was the entire neighborhood. Everyone in the building was White, that is, until Hal’s African-American girlfriend moved in with him.
Then and there, people were not what one might describe as particularly broad-minded. Even so, under certain circumstances they might decide that every rule required an exception or two. With the Mob at the height of its street power, very few people would do anything to upset anyone connected even by the thinnest thread. And for any unconcerned with clouds still over the horizon, Hal at 6′ 4′, a formidable 250 lbs, and staring out at the world with the Devil’s own burning blue eyes, alone was reason enough to keep quiet concerning contrary opinions.
All except for a little old guy, the place’s superintendent. Every time Hal happened by, the character always seemed to be coughing or clearing his throat: “Uf, Uf, pieceofshit, Uf, Uf”, “Ur, Ur, Ar, asshole, Ur, Ar”, “Huw, Huw, lowlifeclown, Huw” and with many, many variations on the theme.
Hal ignored the snipe for a while. One day, Hal was putting the garbage in the basement and the super was there.
“Ahuh, Ahuh, scumbag, Ahuh, Ahuh”
Hal’s right arm shot out and grabbed the other much smaller man by his spindly throat. Hal lifted the guy up, keeping him at arm’s length. Looking right into the feeble fool’s terror-struck eyes, Hal simultaneously released the grip of the right hand and slapped with the left. The super went flying into the garbage cans, collapsing in a heap.
Hal started to go up the couple of flights of stairs. Hearing the sirens, he turned around and went outside and waited for the police to arrive.
A couple of police cars screeched to a halt out front. As the officers opened the doors of the vehicles, the super yelled from the basement window.
“THAT’S HIM! THAT’S THE ANIMAL THAT ATTACKED ME!”
Hal said nothing. The police placed him under arrest.
Later that same morning, Hal was led into court. The super scowled at him from the front row. Charges were read and the supposed victim was sworn in before testifying.
The super at first provided a factual account of the morning’s doings, leaving out his own provocative mumbling. The judge and the the others in the courtroom looked at the old man with expressions of shock and sympathy. They then turned their eyes to Hal, glaring at him with anger and contempt, and then looked back to the source of the story.
Instead of following sage advice of “go on till you come to the end: then stop”, the super so enjoyed being the center of attention that the he kept on talking.
“And after I hit the garbage cans, he put one foot on my throat and kicked me with the other. Then, he picked up a shovel and beat me on the head with it. And after that, . . .”
The judge and the rest listening to the tale now were looking at the old guy with expressions of disbelief. All heads then turned to Hal, nearly big enough to be two people, but seated and silent, as if in church and not appearing at all threatening.
“. . . he took a wrench and hit me on the knee. I tried to get away, …”
The judge interrupted, “When did all this happen?”
“About two hours ago, your Honor.”
The Judge looked at the huge defendant and then — sternly — at the thin and tiny complainant.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, but if this was true, you’d be in the hospital for a VERY long time. If you ever waste the court’s time again trying to make trouble with your lies, I’LL make sure that YOU are in JAIL FOR A VERY LONG TIME! CASE DISMISSED!”
Standing, Hal allowed himself a slight smile.
One of the regulars in the Tunnel Bar was Grumpy Will, an 85 year-old gent who had done a long stretch in Dannemora for murder. One day he asked me, “Did you ever think about becoming a fence?”
“Nah, buying for a third and selling for half don’t seem all that invigoratin’ in terms of profit-margin.”
“No, NO! you buy for little or next to nothing and sell for MORE than retail.”
“How d’ya go about doing that? If someone is gonna go through the risk of stealin’ somethin’ aren’t they gonna have what it’s worth like all figgered out in advance?”
“Anybody who thinks that they are smarter than everybody else is the easiest person to con.”