UNMURDERABLE MIKE

In the winter of 1933, in a ragtag little speakeasy in the Bronx, four guys were playing cards. The boss of the joint, Tony Marino, was telling his friends how he barely made enough to stay open. This was the Depression, and times were tough.

Tony and his buddies – the barman, “Red” Murphy, a cash-strapped funeral director called Frank Pasqua, and a fruit seller called Dan Kriesberg – got to talking about money. If only one of them had a wealthy relative with a good insurance policy. One good pay-out could get them all out of the hole.

There was a loud snore from the end of the bar. They all turned and looked at the no-good drunk sleeping off another bender on the plywood bar.

“If we don’t have a sick relative,” Frank said, “maybe we could make one.”

“It’s not like anyone’s going to miss that guy,” Tony said. “He’s just a bum. He doesn’t even pay his tab.”

And the plan was set in motion …

unmurderable mike
Tony Marino

The bum’s name was Mike Malloy. A former firefighter, now pushing sixty, he lived on the streets. When he sobered up, Tony and the guys persuaded him to pose as Red’s brother and take out two life insurance policies worth $1800 – a tidy sum in today’s money. In exchange, Tony promised him free booze.

Surely, the guy would just do them all a favour and drink himself to death. After all, it was Prohibition and the city was awash with shoddy home brews, as well as whisky that had been deliberately poisoned by government agencies as part of the enforcement effort, and other equally lethal bootlegged concoctions.

Mike duly drank himself into oblivion every night, and kept coming back for more the next day. Tony couldn’t believe it. How could anyone drink that much moonshine? Tony starting replacing the liquor with anti-freeze; Mike got a taste for that as well. So Tony tried turpentine, then horse liniment mixed with rat poison.

Mike slammed his glass on the bar and asked for another.

The boys took up the challenge, feeding Mike poisonous bar snacks to wash down the poisonous liquor – bad oysters, rotten sardines mixed with carpet tacks, then sandwiches laced with metal shavings and glass.

Mike couldn’t get enough. Rediscovered his appetite, in fact.

A month later, he was still standing. They couldn’t believe it. One freezing February night, in pure desperation, the four of them waited until he passed out, then carried him to a local park. They laid him out in the snow, soaked him in ice water and left him to do the right thing and die.

That, they thought, was surely the end of Unmurderable Mike.

Nope. He didn’t even get a cold. The next night he was back at the bar, throwing back glass after glass of the moonshine that had put much younger men in the cemetery.

What to do? They hired a cab driver called Hershy Green and had him run Malloy down in the street. Green was moving at 45 mph when he hit him. A policeman found Mike lying on the road and got him to a hospital. Three weeks later, he was discharged and back in Tony’s bar, demanding more whisky on his open tab.

Enough was enough. On February 23, 1933, after he had again passed out on the bar, the guys carried him to Red’s room, put a hose in his mouth and connected it to the gas jet.

This finally did the trick.

A corrupt local doctor called Frank Manzella signed the death certificate, attributing Mike’s death to bad alcohol, and they quickly buried him and collected their windfall from the insurance company.

But rumours of the plot to murder the Unmurderable Mike had already spread through the Bronx. It was a great story, after all, and inevitably, the cops got wind of it.

They had Mike exhumed. Even back then, before CSI, forensic physicians could detect lethal levels of carbon monoxide. The cabbie and the doctor turned state’s witness to save themselves and Tony and the rest of his friends were convicted on murder one.

The four buddies went down to Sing Sing and the electric chair while their victim went down in history – as Unmurderable Mike.

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Colin Falconer

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