"People called them hoodlums, and hoodlums they were, but they were a gusty element in community life, noisy and forceful."
On a pleasant evening, not many weeks ago, a young man bearing the rather picturesque name of Little Augie was standing with a friend on a street corner in New York's lower East Side. The friend was facing toward the curb, and suddenly he gave a cry of warning. Little Augie swung about in time to see an automobile charge down upon him. Two pistols were thrust through the curtain of the automobile—and within a moment or two Little Augie lay dead upon the sidewalk. His friend was hit, too; he died the next afternoon with the customary refusal to comment upon the matter.
It is perhaps a significant commentary upon the gang wars of New York City in this day to observe that Little Augie's death was predicted in 1922; that it required five years to generate one moment of forthright violence in which he was shot down.
As a matter of reality, the strife of which he was a victim is not a vastly important thing, as Manhattan criminal life goes. That is to say, the East Side gang wars have less effect upon the safety and the pocketbooks of honest citizens than other gang activities in New York. In the public mind, however, they serve to keep alive the fading illusion of romance in the doings of the underworld. So, perhaps, they may be worth considering. If they are to be understood, one must prowl for a little time through the days that are past.
Little Augie was the leader of his gang, and his gang was superficially the tradition of those loosely organized mobs which have always distinguished the crowded slums of Manhattan. In the middle of the last century, for example, East Side gangs were made up of savage and rollicking young Irishmen—brawny thugs who liked a fight better than anything on earth and rarely attempted to suppress their desires. They would break heads over any pretext whatever: women, politics, liquor, disputed money. Their weapon was a length of lead pipe, and most of the battles were straightforward riots, fought out honestly enough in some convenient street. These Irish gangsters, in the beginning, had no heart for prolonged vendettas. They brawled at the drop of a hat, but when the hat was picked up, with fitting apologies, the brawl was over. They went home to nurse their broken heads and forgive their enemies.
They lived by a countless number of small crimes: sneak thieving, purse snatching, administering 'knock-out drops' to late revelers, picking unwary pockets. People called them hoodlums, and hoodlums they were, but they were a gusty element in community life, noisy and forceful. New York was not a place of great riches. Small amounts of money were enough to keep body and soul together, and that was the end of every Irish gangster's desire. It was his pleasure to control the elections, when the elections needed controlling. And occasionally he even found himself on the side of the police—as in the draft riots of '64, when the Rabbit Foot Gang and the Gas House boys were of inestimable value in quelling disturbances which threatened to exterminate the constabulary altogether.
As the century waned, the money urge grew among common people. The gangsters began to think of big profits in addition to excitement and a full stomach. The infiltration of Italian immigrants who cast their lot with the mobs provided the necessary stimulation. They still fought among themselves, of course—the Italians with knives instead of lead pipes, and the Irishmen finally with pistols. But they also began to fight against the community, in a much more overt way than they had ever done before. The hired gunman became a recognized individual in New York life. Fixed prices were established for murders, and crimes of violence increased enormously.
The trade of gunman reached its scandalous climax in the celebrated Becker case. Four gunmen were hired by Lieutenant Becker to murder Rosenthal, the gambler, because Rosenthal had agreed to give ruinous testimony to a grand jury investigating police graft in New York. They performed their job in workmanlike fashion. (By now the Irishman had almost been pushed out of the trade, and none of these four belonged to that race.) But they were caught. They were convicted, and, along with Becker, they were executed. The city underwent a wave of revulsion and reform; and the gangs—having lost heart a little, anyway, at the sudden debacle of four invincible killers—dwindled away.
In 1920, or thereabouts, the East Side found itself populated entirely by Jewish people. The Irish had gone—broken their colony and scattered over the city with many potential Irish gangsters turning their faces toward the bright buttons and the neat blue uniforms of the police force. The Italians had moved into other regions.
The same circumstances which drove the Irish lads of 1850 into street-corner gangs now affected some thousands of Jewish boys. Enormously ambitious, yet held severely in their poverty by the great city looming over them, they drifted into carelessly organized fellowships. Natural leaders, of one sort and another, found themselves surrounded by cohorts, ready for almost anything. One of these leaders was Jacob Augen, who very soon came to be widely known as Little Augie. Another bore the name of the Kid Dropper—gained in his early youth when he earned his pin money by knocking down youngsters as they bent over sidewalk dice games and running off with their pennies.
Around each of these young men there gathered a score or two of purposeless lads. Most of them labored at small trades—driving laundry wagons, pressing trousers, cleaning windows. They were poor, and ambitious, and bored. They were likewise gregarious, and so they met together in the evenings to boast in their hard, clipped voices of their valorous plans in this world of men. Certain of them drifted into petty thievery; as the Irish had done before them. Perhaps one or two—a half dozen—were more daring, and engaged in the robbery of pay-roll messengers. On the other hand, still in the fashion of their Irish predecessors, the gangs did not commit crimes as a unit. They were too big, too unwieldy, for any sort of concerted action.
Before long, however, they found a way to profit from their fellowship, from their organization under an accepted leader. Several contractors, engaged upon important building enterprises;, were faced with strikes among their workers. They hired free-lance laborers. And to protect these fellows the lads of the East Side gangs were summoned. Little Augie and the Kid Dropper supplied their small-statured, unhealthy followers with weapons. And so they were launched in the new character of desperadoes.
Finding themselves suddenly in economic competition, and finding themselves just as suddenly emerging as dangerous fellows, it was only natural that the two gangs should begin to scorn each other. Inhabiting the same crowded, nervous streets, living in the same fantastic scene of poverty, and carelessness, and tremendous ambitions, a natural and somewhat purposeless animosity grew between the two gangs. The economic competition did not really amount to much, for, as their fame grew, there was work enough for both gangs. And so this animosity did not become dynamic until the paths of the two mobs crossed in the matter of those pretty, dark girls who live among the tenements.
Early in the spring of 1922, a scrawny, rather stupid boy of nineteen, disciple to Little Augie, had the ill fortune to bestow his attentions upon a girl whom the Kid Dropper had chosen for his own. The result was almost inevitable, considering that here were two companies of youths who carried pistols habitually, who regarded themselves as bad men, and who until this moment had not been vouchsafed the slightest possible occasion for the spilling of blood. A warning was sent that the scrawny boy would be killed.
Quite completely in terror of his life, he imprisoned himself in one of those dark tenement rooms which hang above Rivington Street. For more than a week he remained there, receiving food from his sister, visits from a friend or two, until at last he decided, in desperation, to venture out for a breath of air and a soda. Very late one evening he crept down to the sidewalk. A fellow gang member joined him, and together they walked a block or two. They paused in front of a confectionery store, watching the street carefully, moving jerkily, keeping themselves well in toward the buildings.
From an unsuspected direction an automobile with black curtains drove past, shotguns blazing.
The Kid Dropper was arrested a little time later. The dead boy's sister had given information concerning the threats which had come to him. But the police apparently despaired of convicting the gang leader. In compromise they entered into an agreement with him: he was to leave New York, join a brother living in Omaha, and never come East again. This agreement was reached in the Essex Market Courtroom, one Saturday morning, and it included the stipulation that the Kid Dropper was to receive safe conduct to the Grand Central Terminal.
The police took elaborate precautions. The block upon which the Essex Market Courthouse faces was closed to all traffic, and pedestrians were searched as they passed. Fifty policemen were drawn up along the street. It was arranged that two detectives would ride in the cab with the Kid Dropper, that another cab would precede them, bearing four detectives with drawn pistols.
These preparations having been made, the fugitive gangster was led down the steps of the building. He entered his cab and the two detectives of his escort followed him. But, just as the cab was beginning to move, a dwarfed youth broke from the edge of the police cordon and dashed toward it. As he ran, he tore away the newspaper wrappings of a package that he carried. A dozen policemen were running upon him as he reached the cab, but he clambered up to a perch on the rear bumper, shoved his pistol through the window, and fired three shots into the Kid Dropper's back.
The prisoner, arraigned five minutes later it, the courtroom, said that his name was Louis Cohen, that he was nineteen, that he drove a laundry wagon for a living, and that Little Augie was his friend. He was delighted to find himself in the hands of the police. It was a more pleasant thing than stealing anxiously through the streets, waiting for bullets from the Kid Dropper's outraged followers.
As it fell out, I was present at the trial of Louis Cohen. Under the quaint laws of New York State he was required to plead not guilty, and his lawyers strove valiantly in his behalf. While he sat quietly between his guards – thin, expressionless, at ease—the lawyers explained to the jury that the Kid Dropper had been a dangerous man; that he and his friends had threatened to do much murder among the members of the Little Augie fellowship; that Louis Cohen had been marked for early death. 'Even if he had fired these shots which killed the Kid Dropper, he would have been justified. His own life was in danger.' Furthermore, they said, society was well rid of a dangerous parasite. The jury listened carefully and convicted Louis Cohen of second degree murder, which means that he will spend approximately seventeen years in Sing Sing prison.
During that trial a half-dozen very small, very neatly dressed young men stood quietly about the entrance to the courtroom. Two of them were brothers of the Kid Dropper and lieutenants of his company. The rest were members of the gang. It was a little difficult, talking with them, to believe that they were dangerous fellows. Indeed, it was quite impossible to believe any such thing. Their extraordinarily diminutive stature, their perpetual swagger, their nods and winks to each other, were just a trifle grotesque. Nobody, except a member of a rival gang, could possibly have been afraid of them.
One of the brothers said to me, with his unchanging air of secrecy: 'If they like this Cowboy and Indian game, we'll show 'em how to play it.' And he made his prophecy concerning Little Augie: 'I don't guess that guy'll ever die of old age.'
Well, it was five years before Little Augie died. Five years in which there were no deaths at all among East Side gangsters. In that time the Droppers and the Little Augies went about their accustomed tasks, guarding strike breakers here and there (once in the pressroom of a great afternoon newspaper), performing such small crimes as fell in their way. But finally the moment of drama came. It found Little Augie quite helpless in the matter of defending himself.
That, as far as I can discover it, is the reality of East Side gang fighting in this day. It is a rather curious thing. From such killings as have occurred, there was no apparent profit to anybody concerned. The deaths have served no specific purpose to the men who brought them about. The gangs themselves are not, in essence, criminal organizations—parasitical organizations, indeed, but not, in point of fact, predatory where the community at large is concerned. They are simply a continuation of the old Irish fighting gangs, with such alterations of method as are explicable through racial differences. Try as the newspapers might, they have been able to distill no real glamour from these cautious, revengeful murders, which had no concrete purpose behind them and which yet were not marked by the honest quality of savagery. Not one of the dead men—not one of the gang members concerned in the war—has been a person of interesting or extraordinary character. There is something dull, idle, and mean about the whole business, and also something quite absurd.
The murders have served to defend neither honor nor property rights, as we conceive such things, for honor and property rights have not been closely involved. And so one reaches the conclusion that perhaps the current East Side war is being fought out by a group of embittered and unimaginative lads, bored with life, bearing a reputation for harshness and forced to live up to it, taking a criminal part for which they have neither real aptitude nor real stomach.
It is that single habit of killing each other off which has gained for the East Side gangsters the attention of the press—and, in this melodramatic theatrical season, the attention of so many playwrights. But, as I have attempted to show, the effect of their lawlessness falls sharply upon their own heads, and not upon the community at large. They are not important economic factors in the life of the city.
Perhaps it is for the very reason that the other sorts of gangsters restrain the impulse to murder each other that they are important economic factors in Manhattan. I think of a dozen kinds of gangs. There are, for example, the innumerable bands of men who are engaged in the whiskey trade. The great majority of these fellows are not, in their own eyes, criminals at all. Their state of mind is not criminal; they do not hold themselves with that aloofness toward society which distinguishes the usual professional lawbreaker. Two or three years ago bootlegging in New York ceased to be a dangerous or a romantic enterprise. It became a perfectly commonplace business. The men who work at it do not think in terms of guns, knives, hot pursuits, last stands against the law. They think in terms of supply and demand, of profit and loss, of specific gravities, trade lists, and customers.
It is interesting to observe that in Chicago an entirely different situation prevails. The larger part of the criminal population there—thugs, gunmen, scoundrels of every sort—devote themselves to the hazardous game of liquor dealing. And it is a hazardous game because rival mobs fight each other bitterly over territories, over sources of supply and disposal. Those without the capital to deal straightforwardly in the bootlegging business attempt it anyway by stealing the laden trucks of their betters. And over all the commerce there hangs the disturbing influence of police officials greedy for a lion's share of the profits.
In New York, as I have indicated. the business goes forward in more orderly fashion. The police department—tolerant, on the one hand, and free from undue greed, on the other—keeps a reasonably steady hold upon the situation. There is plenty of territory for all to work in. And so we are spared, on the island of Manhattan, that bloody spectacle of rival bootleg gangs warring with machine guns over their disputes. As a matter of fact, prohibition has brought about a rather remarkable situation in New York City. A great many hundreds of those social misfits whom we term potential criminals—undeveloped thieves, cut. throats, thugs—have turned to bootlegging because it is a profitable and safe pursuit. They have made the discovery that if bootlegging is to remain profitable and safe it must be carried on without mayhem and murder. This, apparently, suits them very well. For the tamest class of lawbreakers in America are those men who deal in contraband alcohol in the vicinity of New York City. And prohibition becomes, in effect, a softening influence upon a great many potentially violent men.
Another sort of gang altogether is that known as the Hudson Dusters. It numbers among its fellowship former stevedores, roustabouts, seamen, villains of a very sturdy type, who earn a rich living along the water front. The Hudson Dusters are workmanlike and thorough thieves. And they are undisturbed by internal strife or rivalries with other bands of criminals. I must confess that I draw this latter conclusion by the process of deduction. I believe them to be workmanlike, careful, and, after their own lights, peaceful, for the reasons that their thefts are enormous, they are rarely in the hands of the law, and death does not follow in their trail.
They steal something like $1,250,000 worth of goods every year from the piers and warehouses along the North River. They are colorful rogues, and they have performed several exploits of a thoroughly daring nature. Perhaps the most striking was the theft of a freight car loaded with silk. The car was being lightered across the river from New Jersey late one night, when the tug which had it in tow was approached by a motor boat. The boat came alongside, hailing the captain. A moment or two later that unfortunate gentleman was contemplating the barrel of a pistol and listening to a very explicit order which bade him surrender his wheel and descend to the motor boat. Quite naturally he complied. He was landed, with the two men of his crew, in a dark slip on the Jersey shore. Two days later the hue and cry came up with the tug and its barge, stranded on the coast south of Sandy Hook. The box car, of course, was empty.
These river thieves derive protection from the somewhat peculiar way in which New York's harbor is policed. Jurisdiction over the port is divided between the harbor police of Manhattan, the detectives of Staten Island and of Brooklyn, and the harbor police of New Jersey. It is usual, when a waterfront theft occurs, for the police of each district to insist that the criminals have gone beyond their territory. It is also usual for this to be denied. While the authorities grow discursive the thieves run; and thus far they have run with entire cunning.
Considered from the standpoint of net profits and of health to participating members, the Hudson Dusters are the best organized and perhaps the most successful of all the gangs in New York. Like those numerous organizations which deal in the smuggling and the peddling of narcotic drugs, they are specialists: they work diligently, quietly at their job, seeking neither fame nor excitement, but cash.
Concerning the drug peddlers, I can perhaps do no better than to quote from the observations of one of them a hard-bitten, nervous fellow of thirty five, Italian by birth, who had in turn been simple drug addict, robber, convict, dance-hall proprietor, and procurer. At the time he was brought to me—by a reformed convict who believed he could make an honest living by writing or by supplying information for men who write—he was himself broken of the drug habit. He was in the employ of a carefully directed organization for the distribution of cocaine and heroin.
'There's money in it,' he said. 'Plenty of money. Most of it goes to the big men, because the little men are generally addicts themselves and haven't the courage to stand out for their honest share. Dope peddlers and dope addicts are the most peaceful people in the world, and the most timid. They know that their habit, or their connection with the trade, is a defect which keeps them from being as good as other men. It's all a foolish notion that drugs excite addicts, and make them commit wild crimes. Think of it this way: a drug addict is a man who has gotten himself in such shape that he can only be normal when a certain amount of dope is in his system. When it isn't there, he is terribly nervous, weak, miserable. Even his desperation doesn't make him courageous. When it is there, he is just about like ordinary men.
'Nobody can do anything to stop the drug traffic. Most addicts become so through physical pain, mental worry, poverty. All the tales about the systematic making of addicts are ridiculous. No drug user will ever try to make another man take dope. They will tell everybody to avoid it as long as possible. But there are enough addicts always to create a big demand. Naturally that demand is going to be supplied. The drugs are brought into the country by a hundred different ways. Steamship stewards bring a great deal of it. Anyway, there is always enough. And the organization for distributing it is very good.
'Take me, for instance. I work for a ring, and there are two fellows who work for me. We have our regular list of customers, addicts who have regular places to meet us. The drugs are passed so carefully that there is little danger of being caught. In my case, for example, I never actually make a delivery, or receive any cash, or have any drug on my person. My two men do the work while I watch them to keep them honest. If they are caught, they will never squeal. They know that even if they are in jail they must have drugs, and they will depend on me to supply them. They protect me in order to protect themselves. It works like that throughout the organization. And the men at the top are known to so few people that they run practically no danger at all.'
Almost every person connected with the drug traffic in New York will insist that a certain high police official (they state his name with relish) has profited to the extent of millions from the drug rings. There is no possible way of knowing whether this is true or not. It may grow simply from a rumor which the drug peddlers seize upon with delight because it reflects ignominy upon their traditional enemies. Whether it be true or not, it is at least certain that a newspaper publisher who latch conducted an exposé of the drug trade gave his investigators fifty thousand dollars with instructions to use as much of it as might be necessary to pin a substantial charge upon the police official in question. They were able to get no evidence that would survive court proceedings. The lesser members of the drug rings—all of whom, perversely enough, seem to regard their trade with resentment—point to that failure as a striking example of the protection which can be thrown around the big fellows.
At any rate, it is a very rare thing to find individuals connected with the commerce in drugs revealed as participants in other crimes. They remain severely to themselves. The very nature of their business fills them with an uncommon urge for secrecy. With all their elaborate organization, with all the heavy trade which they must handle, they dwell far beneath the surface of city life. Were it not for the occasional newspaper crusade,—usually quite unpardonably lurid, and usually quite misleading,—the ordinary citizen of New York could live out his years without the faintest suspicion of their existence.
There are swindling gangs—smooth, quiet workers who occupy themselves with horse racing and the stock market, who lift their thousands and slip almost unnoticed out of sight. There are bands which devote themselves to the theft of securities. There are silk thieves and fur thieves and rogues who specialize in a dozen other ways of robbery. Together, these men prey upon honest folk to the extent of millions of dollars in every year. Their effect upon the pocketbooks of the city is many, many times more profound than that of dull, petty East Side gangsters. But little is written of them for the simple reason that little is known of them. They are professional criminals of a very high ability. They have long ago learned that the limelight may be a lure for lesser fellows, but that it is only destruction for themselves. Many of them have not the manners of criminals. Many of them live richly, if a little gaudily. They are incredibly shrewd in protecting themselves from the law, and few of them indeed are called upon to pay the penalties for their crimes.
But there remains yet another type of gang, which in many ways does more than any of the rest to provide New York with a sustained consciousness of crime. It is the sort of gang whose best examples are the Diamond brothers and the Whittemore boys, of unhappy memory. In the public mind, the exploits of such men are often confused with the activities of those little fellows who do murder against each other in the East Side. But in reality there is not the slightest relation between the two. They are murderers, these Diamonds and Whittemores. Yet they do not kill each other off in purposeless wars. They are, in the phrase of Mr. William Bolitho, murderers for profit. They do more than all other classes of criminals to assure the man in the street that our civilization has not quite rid itself of harsh passions, of brutality, and of danger.
Such gangs as these have, naturally, many mutations in their formation, their success, their purpose. The best indications of the two extremes are the two gangs I have mentioned already.
The Diamond brothers were not, before their single calamitous exploit, professional criminals. As far as could be learned, neither of them had ever engaged in any major crime. They were the proprietors of a small business, living with their mother and sisters, facing no immediate demands for money. Chance threw them with two Italians, fellows of dubious history, penniless and filled with the lust for money. Chance, a bit later, brought to them a foolish lad who worked at some small job in a Brooklyn bank. The five began to meet frequently. They talked of money—large amounts of money—until it filled all their dreams. Presently the suggestion of a robbery was vouchsafed.
Thereafter the band was an organized unit with a single purpose: the robbery of the bank in which the youngest of them worked every day. They planned and argued for weeks. There is a great deal of superficial lore which comes to the ears of every man who moves in the lower-class world which these five inhabited—elementary rules which apply to the commission of every crime. The Diamonds took these rules to heart. They learned from the boy the exact hours and days when the bank's messengers carried bags of cash into Manhattan. They hired rooms near the elevated station which the messengers used. They watched with eager care, made time schedules, and once rehearsed their crime. At last it only remained for them to set a day, to steal an automobile, transfer its license plates to another automobile, and proceed with the business in hand.
They performed with almost professional shrewdness. When the two bank messengers, carrying between them some thousands of dollars in cash, were halfway up the stairway leading to the elevated tracks, they were set upon by two members of the gang. It appeared for a moment as if they would resist, and so they were shot down in a sudden access of terror and fury. The money pouches were wrenched from their dying hands, and the thieves made off'. An automobile with motor running was waiting a few steps away. After a mad drive of a mile or two they came to a predetermined rendezvous where they abandoned the first car and made off in a second one. The flight was swift and it was effective. The police lost the trail, and for a week nothing happened.
But, with the job done, the robbers lost their professional air, assumed quite perfectly for the crime itself. In Philadelphia they began to throw money about recklessly. They drank, and they boasted of their achievement to two girls. A few days after that unfortunate moment of vanity they were all languishing in New York jail cells—all but one of the Italians, who, in his wisdom, fled to Italy. Ultimately three of them were executed.
The Whittemore band, by way of contrast, suffered from no such prompt destruction, and this was chiefly because of its complete professionalism. One seasoned, expert rogue in the Diamond band might have given it that steadiness which it lacked. The Whittemore gangsters were all seasoned rogues. Prison acquaintanceships had brought together from several corners of the world a half dozen of the hardest criminals which this generation has known. There was Whittemore himself, Baltimore thief and murderer; he had been arrested for a robbery and had killed a prison guard in making his escape. There were the Kramer brothers—European safe robbers of world renown, inventors of the can-opener process for breaking steel safes. With an immense tool of their own contriving they could, without the use of explosives, rip through the strongest steel precisely as the most useful of kitchen gadgets cuts the tin of a vegetable can. There were several others in the gang, eight in all—jailbirds, old hands at the game of taking other peoples' money.
During their rather long career the Whittemore band—the Baltimore youth was the leader because of his intrepidity, his amazing, bitter coolness—performed something more than a dozen successful robberies. These ranged from the elaborately planned looting of a Broadway jewelry shop in midafternoon, with two policemen half a block away, to the holdup of an armored money car in Buffalo. Their profits were immense. And they never committed a robbery without murdering at least one man.
In many ways these gentlemen proved themselves to be the most ruthless and bloody criminals ever to grace our history. They were taken at last, as everybody knows. But it was not precisely their own folly which brought about their downfall. It was a series of unpredictable accidents, coupled with certain luck which befell a cunning detective or two. I saw Whittemore during the period of his detention in New York. Very tall he was, slender, straight, with extremely neat clothing. His face was not debauched, nor was it particularly vicious. It was cold, expressionless, indescribably grim. His lips were set in a faint, changeless sneer. His eyes were black, gleaming, defiant.
These two, then, the Diamonds and the Whittemoms, are variations of the small gang which is organized for the explicit purpose of robbery by murder. Their chief difference lies in the experience of the individuals involved before they came together in a gang. So far as they affect the common scene of metropolitan life, there is not a great deal of difference between them.
As the methods of the gangs have changed since the turn of the century, so have the methods of the police changed. Criminals of nowadays do not haunt particular sections of New York. It follows that there are no dangerous localities in the city, no section in which an honest man need fear to show himself. It also follows, since there in a compensating difficulty for every advantage, that the police no longer enjoy the benefits which formerly canoe from having criminals concentrated in a few known sections.
There are two obvious reasons for the changed aspects of New York criminal life. They are, in their effect, very closely related. The first is prohibition, and the second is reform in the matter of prostitution. In the old days there were the 'honky-tonks,' those fantastic embellishments of city life which were recognized haunts for all types of blackguards. All of them were alike establishments of glittering mirrors and long mahogany bars, of back rooms wherein wine and women and song were ever to be found. And while they existed they were the ganglia, as it were, of Manhattan's criminal life. By simply watching them, the police had a definite knowledge of the criminal population of the city. They knew names and faces and habits, and they could make use of that ancient tool, the stool pigeon. Thieves and murderers were forced by boredom to haunt the honky-tonks. And as long as they did, the police had a grip on them. Most of the stool pigeons were women who had been scorned, or weakling men who had suffered the taunts of the bullies. Police contact with crime was very close. The conflict between law and the lawless was direct, blunt, simple.
But those days, with all their raw gusto, their segregation of criminal populations, are gone. The underworld no longer has a habitat—it is everywhere. Prostitutes are a vastly different breed from what they once were. They do not dwell among rough thieves and scoundrels, but are scattered throughout the city. Stool pigeons are no longer of value, for they have no point of contact with the rogues they might betray. With these changes, crime has lost nearly all of that curious romance which once hung over it. They are not wild, careless, carousing fellows any more, the criminals. They have become remote from the workaday world; more secret and rather more subtle than they were in other times. They have been considered by the psychologists; and nowadays, in advanced circles, they are called unfortunate, abnormal, pathetic variations from the norm.
Perhaps the psychologists are right. The world, no doubt, is learning. But pondering upon the Kid Droppers and the Little Augies, the Diamonds and the Whittemores, the efficient Dusters, the nameless silk thieves and bond thieves, the dope peddlers and the bootleggers of our generation, one is moved occasionally to wish for one more glimpse of a brawling, downright bad man—a husky who would bellow his contempt for law and order, and leave a trail of not too badly broken heads behind when they hauled him off to jail.