Buffalo Courier Express, July 11, 1933
ALBANY (AP) — John J. O’Connell Jr., 24, nephew of Edward J. and Daniel P. O’Connell, powerful upstate Democratic leaders, has been kidnapped and held since Friday for $250,000. Negotiations for his release have come to a standstill.
Police learned of the kidnapping today. The abductors had telephoned a warning that they would kill their captive if police were called into the case.
Young O’Connell, powerful athlete and lieutenant in the National Guard, is believed to have been snatched away from his home as he got out of his automobile on Friday at 1:15 a.m.
Perhaps no kidnapping in history has ever ended the careers of so many criminals. Some of those who wound up in prison were fairly successful thieves and murderers, but the abduction of the politically connected John J. O'Connell Jr., and particularly the number of people who participated, made me wonder just what the heck these folks thought they were doing?
Perhaps, because several of those involved had gotten away with so many crimes previously, including some that were outrageous, they believed this one would be fairly easy. To a great extent, this one fell into the category of gangster-on-gangster crime. The O'Connell family had legitimate businesses, including a brewery, but they ran a corrupt political machine, albeit one in a relatively small city that just happened to be the capital of what, in 1933, was our most populous and important state.
After the kidnapping it would be revealed that John J. O'Connell Sr., nicknamed "Solly," was the original target. "Solly" O'Connell wasn't a key figure in the political machine. He was a one-time boxing manager who became a sports promoter. Why his son would figure to replace his uncles someday is a question I cannot answer. But when three Albany hoodlums sat down with three New York City hoodlums in December, 1932, it was suggested that kidnapping "Solly" O'Connell would be an easy way to make $75,000.
Instead, seven months later, "Solly's" son was confronted outside his home at 1 a.m., when he returned from a date with the woman who would become his wife. This kidnap victim was young, strong, athletic, but part of a family that commanded far more fear than respect.
As such, his disappearance didn't generate much concern, outside of his family. There were some who suspected, that just like the Jerome and John Factor "kidnappings" in Chicago, something just wasn't right about the abduction of John J. O'Connell Jr., was was returned home after 23 days and a ransom payment of $40,000 — negotiated down from the original demand for $250,000.
From day one there were theories galore. Some thought the abduction was the work of some friends of the late Jack "Legs" Diamond, who was killed in an Albany hotel in December, 1931. It is widely believed the O'Connells orchestrated Diamond's death, perhaps having the Albany police chief leading the hit squad.
But in 1933, there were no friends of "Legs" Diamond. His widow was murdered a week before the O'Connell kidnapping, and a former Diamond bodyguard was killed a few weeks after.
As it was, at least according to James Dunn, author of "Kidnapping the Prince of Albany," four Albany gangsters and a small army of New York City bad guys, including seven associated with Waxey Gordon, then Public Enemy Number One in the Big Apple, teamed up to pull the O'Connell job. Again, what were they thinking?
As for Waxey Gordon, he was out of commission by the time O'Connell was kidnapped, so his gang had time on their hands. Gordon had been arrested for tax evasion, and before the year ended, he'd follow in the footstep of Al Capone.
Casting a shadow over the whole thing was very scary professional killer, Leonard Scarnici, who also robbed banks and other businesses. Scarnici was in on the early planning of the O'Connell kidnapping, but may not have played a role in the actual crime.
It is now common knowledge that in 1932 Scarnici and another hitman, Anthony Fabrizzo, accepted a $50,000 offer from Owney Madden, head of the Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen, to kill Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. On their first try, the invaded a Bronx apartment, expecting to find Coll, but wound up killing three people and wounding three others, none of whom was the target, who didn't show up until the killers had left.
Scarnici and Fabrizzo had better luck with their second try, Fabrizzo standing guard outside a drug store, while Scarnici went inside, told the cashier to "Keep cool, now," and then used a submachine gun to put fifteen bullets in Coll, who was in a phone booth talking to Madden, the man who had arranged his death.
That Scarnici killed Coll must have been unknown to police in 1933, because when he was arrested in connection with the O'Connell kidnapping, he'd be asked not about the drug store shooting, but the deaths of the three people in a Bronx apartment.
But Scarnici's downfall would be something the occurred after he went to Albany in May, presumably to talk about kidnapping one of the O'Connells. By all accounts, Scarnici was not enthused. Considering the number of players, the kidnapping would be a relatively small pay day.
However, Scarnici didn't not want to leave Albany empty-handed. He and three associates stopped in nearby Rensselaer to rob a bank. In the process, a police detective was killed and a patrolman wounded.
This crime would put a crazy spin on the O'Connell case.
On September 20, New York police and federal operatives from the organization that soon would be known simply as the FBI, arrested Scarnici, four other men and two women in connection with the kidnapping. Police had them sit together to pose for a photo that appeared in newspapers, giving readers the idea the O'Connell case had been solved. There was no hint, however, just how bad the leader of this group really was.
Poof! One day later, Leonard Scarnici and friends no longer are kidnappers. They are questioned about bank robberies and murders, including the one in Renssalaer on May 29. Incredibly, Scarnici casually admits to a few killings.
Syracuse Journal, Thursday, September 21, 1933
By ARTHUR B. DONEGAN
NEW YORK (INS) — Feeling certain of obtaining convictions for murder and robbery, authorities today temporarily shelved the kidnapping charges against five men and two women seized in raids yesterday in connection with the abduction of Lieutenant John J. O’Connell Jr. of Albany.
The kidnapings investigation was swept aside when various cities put in claims for the right to try members of the band on charges growing out of their long careers as outlaws.
The seven prisoners were questioned in the lineup at police headquarters, and decision to prosecute for murder, assault and robbery followed the failure of O’Connell to clinch the partial identification of two of the suspects which he made when he first faced them last night.
Three of the men, including Leonard Scarnici, the leader, and Anthony Reino, alias Russo, were slated to face a murder charge in Rensselaer County for the death of a policeman during a bank robbery.
The state of Connecticut put in a claim for two of the gang in connection with a double murder during a gas station holdup at Woodbridge. Scarnici was alleged to have confessed killing these two “because they didn’t get their hands up quick enough.”
Mrs. Eleanor Scarnici and Mrs. Emma Reino, the two women caught in the O’Connell dragnet, face prosecution in Mount Kisco, New York, for possession of an arsenal which included a machine gun, a shotgun and a Luger revolver, as well as a large quantity of ammunition.
The others, Philip Ziegler, Charles Herzog, alias Shore, and Fred Prentel, were held on robbery charges.
Police obtained confessions which, they said, would clear up the murders of William Poffo and James Parkin, former members of the same gang; the killings of James Callegro and John Russo, whose bullet-ridden bodies were found near Harrison, N.Y., early this summer, and the killing of John Albino, 60, and his son, Louis, at their gasoline station in Woodbridge, Connecticut.
Scarnici, admitting participation in the murders and half a dozen bank holdups, according to police statements, refused to talk about the O'Connell case.
"You've got me for four murders," he snarled. "What more do you want?"
As police outlined the confession, Poffo and Parkin were slain shortly after a holdup of the Rensselaer (NY) bank on June 15 in which a detective was shot and killed.
There was a quarrel over division of the loot, police said, and Poffo and Parkin were lured from the gang hideout here, trailed to a point near Harrison, N. Y., and murdered.
Scarnici's confession was said to read, "We trailed them in a taxicab to the Albany Post Road, and then we killed them."
Police then questioned the pair about the Albino shooting again, detectives said, Scarnici admitting a slaughter.
"They didn't get their hands up quick enough," he said, describing a holdup of the filling station,"and we shot them."
Convinced Callegero and Russo were members of the gang participating in the Rensselaer bank stickup, police charged Scarnici and Reino with that murder also. Bodies of the two were found partly submerged in a ditch not far from the point where Poffo and Parkin met death.
According to Captain Richard Oliver, head of the undercover squad which has "spotted" every move of the gang for weeks, the band was responsible for at least five other bank holdups, including three in Manhattan, one in Richmond Hill, and one in Brooklyn, loot from which totaled at least $250,000.
Police and federal authorities today refused to divulge the source of their information leading to the roundup — one of the most brilliant coups in the war on crime and racketeering.
It was reported a leak from an underworld source first revealed the trail leading to the seven prisoners. Another report was that a contact made by the O'Connell kidnappers with Manny Strewl, Albany "go-between" in the ransom negotiations, led to the raids. Strewl has been indicted in Albany for the kidnapping of young O'Connell.
But officials of the New York police department gave credit to federal investigators, who took up the trail of the kidnappers and clung to it doggedly, in the face of countless difficulties.
The federal agents, co-operating with the state and local police, methodically and persistently located every member of the gang; day and night they kept watch on their comings and goings.
Then, armed with what they feel sure is convicting evidence, they sprang the trap.
Police also reveal something they suspected all along, that an Albany criminal named Manny Strewl, who had acted as a middle man between the O'Connell family and the kidnappers to deliver the ransom, was actually the person who planned the kidnapping.
It would take four years, but Strewl and no less than twelve others would be hit with charges stemming from O'Connell's kidnapping, while the seven persons arrested on September 20 would be charged with and convicted of other crimes. Farnici would be the only one found guilty of murder, and he would be executed two years before the kidnappers were tried.
Ironically, it is pretty much agreed today that while Farnici killed many people, he did not fire a shot during the Rensselaer bank robbery, and could not have killed Rensselaer Detective James Stevens. One of his partners may have been responsible, but the two who were tried — Anthony Reino (aka Tony Russo) and Charles Shore (aka Charles Herzog) were acquitted of murder. So Farnici was electrocuted for a murder he did not commit.
By the time the kidnapping gang came to trial, two of them already were dead, and one was still in hiding.
Albany Knickerbocker News, August 13, 1937
The verdict of the federal court jury, finding that John Oley, Manning Strewl and six others guilty, came a little more than four years and a month after John J. O’Connell Jr. was seized in front of his Putnam Street home.
Early July 7, 1933, after a social engagement with Miss Mary Fahey, who is now his wife and mother of his week-old son, young O’Connell was grabbed by a mob and carried to Hoboken in a “trap” truck.
Ransom letters then were mailed to Daniel P. and Edward J. O’Connell, uncles of the kidnap victim.
Strewl, later to be the first defendant apprehended, was selected to negotiate O’Connell’s release after three lists of proposed intermediaries had been published in code in New York City and Albany newspapers. Later in July, he left Albany with the ransom, accompanied by Louis Snyder, Albany attorney.
Twenty-three days after he was abducted — on the night of July 29 — O’Connell was hustled into an automobile in Hoboken. He arrived, exhausted, at the camp of his uncles near Albany early next morning.
The following night, Strewl was taken into custody for questioning. He later was released.
Subsequently arrested as a participant in the kidnapping, Strewl was convicted in Albany Supreme Court in 1934 and sentenced to 50 years in Clinton Prison. Two years later, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
Strewl pleaded guilty to blackmail soon after the second trial opened at Catskill, and he was sentenced to the 15-year term he is now serving.
Meanwhile, a nationwide search was underway for brothers John and Francis Oley, and for Percy Geary, all of Albany, and later claimed by the government to have been associates of Strewl in a pre-repeal beer business. It was not until late in 1936 that the first “break” came, unofficially attributed to a prison “leak.”
Christopher Miller, one of 13 persons subsequently indicted for complicity in the kidnapping, was arrested by government agents as he left the Federal Court Building in New York City on December 27, 1936. Thereafter, the case broke wide open in a rapid series of widespread moves.
The tall and gaunt Frank Fischer was taken as he was released last January from Rikers Island Penitentiary in New York City.
Almost simultaneous raids by government agents and New York City police on three different New York City apartments on February 1 netted Harold “Red” Crowley, John Oley and Geary. The raids followed by a few days the arrest of Francis Oley, a brother of John, in Denver, Colorado, where he was living with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.
Police in Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, nabbed stubby, red-faced Thomas Burke, 29-year-old ship’s steward, on March 4. [Elsewhere Burke is listed as 39 years old.]
The roundup was then directed toward two prisons, a nation’s distance apart. From the federal government’s gloomy, impregnable Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, authorities plucked John McGlone, 34; Charles Harrigan, 37, and Thomas Dugan, 35. They are doing 25 years each for their part in a $129,000 Fall River, Massachusetts, mail truck robbery in January, 1935.
George Garguillo came from Massachusetts State Prison at Charlestown, where he is serving 20 to 25 years for a 1936 Boston payroll robbery.
In February, a federal grand jury returned extortion indictments against the 12 men, along with James Sweeney, who is still at large. Additional federal indictments were found in April against all but Strewl for conspiracy to violate and actual violation of the Lindbergh law through interstate transportation of a kidnap victim.
The 12 were arraigned May 3 in Syracuse, surrounded by the greatest display of Federal Department of Justice strength since the 1935 trial of Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer, slain gang leader, on income tax charges. The O’Connell trial was set for Binghamton.
By the time it opened on June 2, self-inflicted deaths had cut the defendant line to 10. Francis Oley and Miller having hung themselves in Utica and Albany jail cells.
Fischer and Burke, who said they guarded O’Connell at the Hoboken hideout, pleaded guilty at the outset of the trial and later testified for the government. Eight defendants elected to fight it out.
And all eight defendants lost their fight. Each was found guilty of several crimes. For some, their sentences ran consecutively, for others they ran concurrently. The maximum sentence to be served by any one defendant was 77 years, but you know how that goes. Most prisoners are released before completing their sentences.
Fischer and Thomas Burke were the men who, for 21 days, stood guard over O'Connell, who was kept at a hideout in Hoboken, New Jersey, home base for some of those involved in a crime that had an unnecessarily large cast.
My guess is none who participated realized how many laws were being broken. Fischer and Burke were accused of "conspiracy to use the mails to extort ransom for the return of a kidnapped person," and a separate charge for each letter that was mailed. Taking O'Connell across state lines brought another charge, as did the actual transportation.
Fischer and Burke received concurrent sentences, so they would serve only as long as the longest, which in Fischer's case was three years, Burke four years and one month. Burke, however, would die of a heart attack in a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, while Fischer, the most cooperative of the bunch, would be the first one released from prison, by many years.
Manning "Manny" Strewl, alleged brains of a crime that netted $40,000 to be split at least thirteen ways, was hit with sentences that ran consecutively. Using the United States mail to extort money and the actual mailing of ransom notes added up to five separate charges and sentences totaling 58 years and a $10,000 fine.
The rest of the gang included Harold "Red" Crowley, Percy "Angel Face" Geary, John J. Oley, Charles Harrigan, John "Sonny" McGlone, Thomas Dugan and George Garguillio. Some operated out of Albany, some out of the New York City-Hoboken area. Most of them faced 77 years in Alcatraz.
Two of them, Garguillio and Strewl, had sentences to complete at other prisons for other crimes before starting to pay for the O'Connell kidnapping.
Lawyers for John Oley, Geary and Crowley filed appeals and kept their clients from immediately being transported to prison. While these were being argued, the three men escaped from Onondaga County prison, but soon were recaptured. Oley and Geary were sent to Alcatraz, Crowley to Leavenworth.
Garguillo returned to Massachusetts State Prison to finish his sentence for an armored car holdup, but soon committed suicide.
Thomas Dugan died in prison in 1946.
Crowley was discharged from prison in December, 1957.
Strewl was released from Atlanta Federal Prison in August, 1958. After briefly returning home to Albany, he worked the docks in New Jersey. He went back to Albany in the 1970s, got married, and died of natural causes in 1998 — at the age of 95.
John Oley was medically paroled in 1959 and died of cancer a year later.
Charles Harrigan was paroled in 1959, and died in 1988 in Long Island City.
Geary, the only Albany member of the gang still imprisoned in 1959, committed suicide at the federal facility in Atlanta. According to James Dunn ("Kidnapping the Prince of Albany"), Geary was frightened by the prospect of his upcoming parole, choosing death over freedom, and doing it in strange fashion: He threw himself under the wheels of a truck that was driving inside the prison walls.
John "Sonny" McGlone was paroled in 1960, and died in 1982.
James Sweeney, the thirteenth member of the gang, was arrested in Los Angeles in 1937, soon after the trial ended. He did something brilliant — he hired Samuel Leibowitz as his lawyer. Leibowitz outfoxed the prosecution by pointing out the fine points in the statute of limitations regarding kidnapping. Sweeney was charged only with tax evasion, and was sentenced to a mere one year — and a day.
As for the victim of the kidnapping, he died in 1954. He was only 45 years old:
New York Journal-American, September 5, 1954
ALBANY, Sept. 4 (AP) - John J. O'Connell Jr., nephew of Albany Democratic leader, Daniel P. O'Connell, died today in an Albany hospital.
Mr. O'Connell, executive vice president of an Albany brewing company, received nationwide publicity in 1933 when he was kidnapped and held for ransom. He eventually was released unharmed.
He was chairman of the Albany County Democratic Committee from 1940 through 1946.
He was succeeded by his uncle Dan, who long has been the Democratic chief of Albany County, whether holding the title of chairman or not.
He was a 24-year-old National Guard lieutenant when kidnapped here in 1933 and held captive for 23 days. He was released when his uncle paid a $40,000 ransom.