The Westies is a notorious and ruthless Irish-American criminal gang, and an enforcement arm for the Gambino Crime Family and later an enforcement arm for the Genovese crime family. The Westies operate from the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan's West Side in New York City. According to crime author T. J. English, "Although never more than 12 to 20 members — depending on who was in or out of jail at any given time — the Westies became synonymous with the last generation of Irish in the birthplace of the Irish Mob...." According to the NYPD Organized Crime Task Force and the FBI, the Westies were responsible for 600-700 murders between 1968 and 1986. In the mid-1970s, The Westies started working as an extremely violent and ruthless hit squad for the Gambino Crime Family for more than a decade. The Westies was one of the Gambino crime family's most efficient and brutal hit squads. The Westies has killed as many as 400 people for Gambino crime family boss Paul Castellano and for Genovese crime family boss Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno from 1976-1984.
Spillane years Edit
In the early 1960s Mickey Spillane stepped into a power vacuum that had existed in Hell's Kitchen since gang leaders fled the area in the early 1950s to avoid prosecution. A mobster from Queens named Hughie Mulligan had been running Hell's Kitchen; Spillane, a native, was his apprentice until inheriting the throne.
Spillane, an old fashioned gangster, sent flowers to neighbors in the hospital and provided turkeys to needy families during Thanksgiving, in addition to running gambling enterprises such as bookmaking and policy, accompanied inevitably by loansharking. Loansharking led to assault, and Spillane had burglary arrests as well. However, among all his criminal activities, the most audacious was his "snatch" racket (kidnapping and holding local businessmen for ransom).
He was able to add to his neighborhood prominence by marrying Maureen McManus, a daughter of the prestigious McManus family which had run the Midtown Democratic Club since 1905. The union of political power with criminal activity enhanced the gang's ability to control union jobs and labor racketeering, moving away from the declining waterfront and more strongly into construction jobs and service work at the New York Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, and later the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
Spillane-Coonan wars Edit
The war began when James "Jimmy C" Coonan, an 18-year-old Irish hood, swore revenge against Michael "Mickey" Spillane, the boss of Hell's Kitchen, following the Spillane-initiated kidnapping and pistol whipping of Coonan's father. Coonan wanted revenge against Spillane more than anything. At first, Coonan would repeatedly call Spillane's house and threaten his wife and children, but when Mickey and his goons came to Mr. Coonan's job place, smacked him around and told him to control his son, the calls stopped. But Coonan was still angry. In 1966, Coonan fired an automatic machine gun at Spillane and his associates from atop a Hell's Kitchen tenement building. Although Coonan didn't hurt or kill anyone, Spillane understood that the younger hoodlum was not to be taken lightly. Coonan was imprisoned for a short period of time because of murder and kidnapping charges that were pleaded down to a Class C Manslaughter Felony Charge. He was released in late 1971 and continued his war with the Westside Gang and his criminal career. Later, Coonan recruited a Vietnam Vet named Mickey Featherstone as his right hand man in the fight against Spillane.
Trouble with the Genovese Family Edit
Hells Kitchen was no longer safe for Spillane and his family, and he moved to the Irish working-class neighborhood of Woodside, Queens. With Spillane gone, his control of the rackets in Hell's Kitchen began to deteriorate; Coonan became the neighborhood's boss, although some still viewed Spillane as boss. On the New York Commission, Spillane was still viewed as the Irish Mob boss on the Westside, putting the Javits Convention Center construction site under his control. Anthony Salerno, whom was the most powerful and richest gangster in the world, was the underboss of the powerful Genovese crime family, killed over 40 members of Spillane's criminal organization in a 4 year period. Despite Salerno's hatred for Irish people, and his long-time rivalry, with Mickey Spillane and the west-side Irish mob, Anthony Salerno wanted the center for himself and reached an agreement with Jimmy Coonan. If Coonan became the leader of the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob, Salerno would run the construction site and give Coonan a decent taste of the proceeds, and Jimmy Coonan could be an enforcement arm for Salerno, and Coonan's gang could also become a large hit squad for the Genovese crime family and the Gambino Crime Family.
Salerno then reached out to Genovese crime family hitman, Joseph Sullivan, to eliminate the three main Spillane lieutenants in Hell's Kitchen; Tom Devaney, Tom Kapatos, and Edward Cummiskey. Cummiskey had apparently switched sides to the Coonan camp after Coonan and Cummiskey dismembered and killed Patrick "Paddy" Dugan, because Dugan had killed Denis Curley (both Dugan and Cummiskey's best friend), but Salerno and Sullivan were not aware of the switch. Devaney and Cummiskey were murdered by Joseph Sullivan in late 1976, and Kapatos was tortured and brutally killed by Joseph Sullivan in January 1977. Spillane was now out of the picture, and the Genovese crime family won the war, and took out more than half of Mickey Spillane's criminal organization, and Coonan was the undisputed boss of the Hell's Kitchen Irish Mob, but it was felt that Spillane still had to die. Roy DeMeo, a Gambino crime family hitman, murdered Spillane by shooting him dozens of times with an uzi submachine gun. DeMeo murdered Spillane as a favor to the Genovese crime family. Mickey Featherstone stood trial for the murder and was found not guilty.
Coonan and Featherstone Edit
During the late 1970s, Coonan tightened the alliance between the Westies and the Gambinos, during this time, Paul Castellano was the boss of the Gambino crime family, and Castellano was also the head of the Commission. Coonan's main contact was Roy DeMeo, a ruthless, lethal and efficient hitman and soldier for the Gambino Crime Family. In 1979 both Coonan and Featherstone were acquitted of the murder and dismemberment of a bartender, Harold Whitehead. Another Westie, Jimmy McElroy, was acquitted of the murder of a Teamster in 1980.
Even though both Westies leaders were imprisoned in 1980 — Coonan on gun possession charges, Featherstone on a federal counterfeiting rap — the gambling, loansharking, and union shakedowns continued on the West Side. After DeMeo himself was murdered, Coonan's Gambino connection became Danny Marino, a capo from Brooklyn. Coonan eventually interacted directly with John Gotti, who took over the Gambinos after Castellano's murder in December 1985. From time to time, the Westies worked for the Gambinos as a contract killer squad.
After Featherstone and Coonan had a falling out (due to Featherstone's distaste for Coonan's Italian mob connections), Mickey was convicted of the murder of Michael Holly, a construction worker, in early 1986, ironically the one murder he didn't commit. A fellow Westie member Billy Bokun actually killed Holly. Believing that Coonan had set him up, Featherstone began cooperating with the government in hopes of getting the conviction overturned. The information he and his wife Sissy provided, and the recordings they helped make, achieved this aim. In September 1986, the prosecutor who oversaw Featherstone's conviction told the presiding judge that post-conviction investigation had revealed Featherstone was innocent. The judge immediately overturned the verdict.
At that point the information provided by the Featherstones resulted in the arrest of Coonan and several other Westies on state charges of murder and other crimes. Shortly afterward, federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani announced a devastating RICO indictment against Coonan and others for criminal activities going back twenty years. Featherstone testified in open court for four weeks in the trial that began in September 1987 and concluded with major convictions in 1988. Coonan was sentenced to sixty years in prison on assorted charges. Other leading gang members were also sentenced to long prison terms, including James McElroy, a top enforcer who was sentenced to 60 years, and Richard "Mugsy" Ritter, a career criminal sentenced to 40 years on loan-sharking and drug related charges.
Kevin Kelly and Kenny Shannon Edit
During the mid-to-late 1980s, while Jimmy Coonan lived in his luxurious suburban home and Mickey Featherstone futilely attempted to support his family by legitimate means, Kevin Kelly and his sidekick, Kenny Shannon, became the most active racketeers on the West Side. Sports, gambling, and dealing coke to young professionals on the East Side were their primary rackets. In 1988, after two years on the run for a failed murder attempt, Kelly and Shannon could no longer take the heat after being featured on Americas Most Wanted and decided to turn themselves in to the authorities. Giuliani claimed that they were the last ruling body of the Westies, but he was wrong.
"The Yugo" and the new era Edit
By the early 1990s, the old demographic of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood was disappearing. The blue-collar Irish-American community was being displaced by a more affluent and ethnically diverse group of residents. With this change came a decrease in street crime and a change in leadership. Bosko “The Yugo” Radonjich, a Serbian nationalist and onetime anti-communist started his Westies affiliation as a low-level associate of Jimmy Coonan in 1983. He became the boss of the Westies when Kelly was sent to prison in 1988. Around 1992, Radonjich fled the country to avoid jury tampering charges. He was eventually arrested by U.S. Customs officials during a stopover in Miami, Florida in 1999. However, Radonjich was released when the main witness in the case, Sammy Gravano, was deemed unreliable. Radonjich has since returned to his native Serbia.
The Modern Westies Edit
To this day, small groups of loosly allied Irish-American mobsters continue to dominate the West Side rackets. But, like Hell's Kitchen, they are by no means what they used to be. Less powerful and less violent, along with a lower profile and an increased tolerance for initiating other ethnicities, are the key differences between the Westies of the past and the modern day Hell's Kitchen racketeers.
Known Westies Edit
- Mickey Spillane
- Mickey Coonan
- Jimmy Coonan
- Mickey Featherstone
- Edward Cummiskey
- Eddie Shannon
- William Bukon
- Henry "Butch" Murray
- Ritchie Ryan
- Chuck "Fix" McElroy
- Jimmy McElroy
- Patrick Dugan
- Joe Romero
- Tommy Hess
- Tommy Collins
- Dennis Coonan
- John Coonan
- John Coonan, Jr.
- Tom Devaney
- John M. Dunn
- Tom Kapatos
- Eddie McGrath
- Richard "Mugsy" Ritter
- Tommy Hess
- Tommy Litwin
- Jason "Trigger" Inman
- Brian Downey
- Jimmy Conway
- Denis Curley
- David "Plumb" Quintard
- Justin "JD" Hixon
- Edward Sullivan
- James Reily
- Billy Beattie
- John "Johnny" Halo
- Hughie Mulligan
- Bosko Radonjich (associate)
Confirmed murders committed by The Westies Edit
- Bobby Lagville
- Jerry Morales
- Mike "the Yugo" Yelovich
- Patrick "Paddy" Dugan
- Ruby Stein
- Walter Curtis killed by Edward Cummiskey
- Rickey Tassiello killed by Jimmy Coonan
- William Walker killed by Jimmy McElroy
- Harold "Whitey" Whitehead killed by Jimmy Coonan
- Henry Diaz
- Tommy Hess killed by Richie Ryan
- Tommy "Butter" Moresco
- Vincent Leone killed by Kevin Kelly
- Michael Holly killed by Billy Bokun