‘In the Footsteps of Mad Dog Coll’

Contributed photoCover of the book “MAD DOG COLL, AN IRISH GANGSTER” by Breandan Delap and Rich Gold.

Last week I received a pleasant surprise when a complimentary copy of a DVD titled “In the Footsteps of Mad Dog Coll” arrived in the mail. The one hour film was produced by Rich Gold. I had the pleasure of spending time with him when he visited Greene County in 2016 to shoot footage of places where Coll and his gang spent time in the early 1930s.

Americans seem to be fascinated by prohibition gangsters — Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, John Dillinger and in Greene County, Legs Diamond. All we have to do to confirm this is to look at the many books that have been written and movies that have been made about gangsters from that era. In the case of Diamond, the interest may stem from the fact that he often acted as a latter-day Robin Hood, giving some of his ill-gotten gains to the less fortunate of Greene County. With the exception of law enforcement, most people from here that knew him and his entourage had a positive impression.

Another 1920-30s gangster who spent some time in Greene County and receives less notice than Diamond is Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll (1909–1932). Coll was born and raised in New York City, the second son of immigrant parents from Ireland. As a teenager he was arrested as a disorderly child and sent to Immaculate Virgin Mission. That did not do much good. Before his 21st birthday he was arrested for breaking and entering, theft, grand larceny and violation of parole. He was found guilty and sent to Elmira Reformatory. After that his life as a gangster really began.

In his book “Bloodletters and Badmen” Jay Robert Nash has this to say about Coll after he was released from Elmira: “From 1930-1932, (he) became a bootlegger and policy rackets gangster; murdered Vincent Barelli and his girlfriend Mary Smith, 1931; killed five-year old Michael Vengalli, 1932 in an attempt to slay another gangster; killed in a telephone booth in a Manhattan drugstore in 1932 by gunmen on orders from the mobster leader Dutch Schultz.” He was only 23 years old when he was gunned down.

So what was Coll doing in Greene County? According to Breandan Delap and Rich Gold in their book “Mad Dog Coll, An Irish Gangster,” toward the end of his life Coll joined forces with Legs Diamond in opposition to Coll’s former boss Dutch Schultz. That partnership put Coll and his gang in Greene County.

Following is a summary of my connection with the making of the film. In May 2016 I spent a day with author Gold as he filmed scenes in Greene County for the video he was making about Coll. We visited places in Catskill, Coxsackie and Cairo where the Diamond and Coll gangs were known to hang out in the early 1930’s. One place Gold wanted to visit was an address at 395 Main Street in Catskill, the site of Nathan Richman’s former clothing store, where a member of the Coll gang had purchased a tweed hat. I couldn’t imagine why that fact would have any importance.

As Gold explained to me, that hat would become a piece of evidence in a murder trial for two of Coll’s henchmen; Frank Giordano and Dominick “Tuffy” Odierno. On Oct. 2, 1931, they drove to one of Dutch Schultz’s beer drops in the Bronx and Odierno shot and killed Joe Mullins, one of the Schultz’s men. As they fled, Odieno lost his hat, the same hat bought from Nathan Richman’s.

Apparently the hat had a label indicating the manufacturer. It read “The Packard Cap, the Classic System Cap.” Police obtained a list of stores that stocked the hat.

One of the stores was Nathan Richman’s in Catskill. When detectives went there, a sales clerk remembered selling it to Odierno. That and other evidence led to murder convictions for both men. They were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing on July 2, 1932. Odierno was 20 years old and Giordano was 32. Justice was swift in those days — the executions took place exactly 9 months after the murder.

Other places Rich Gold and I visited were Diamond’s house in Acra, and two locations police raided on July 19, 1931, one in Cairo and one in Coxsackie. They did not find Coll at either place, but members of his gang were arrested and a plethora of weapons were seized along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. One trooper was quoted in “The Cairo Herald” as saying: “The Coll gang is one of the toughest gangs in the nation. They would sooner shoot first and ask questions later.”

I get to do some interesting things as County Historian. The day I spent with Rich Gold was one of the most illuminating and enjoyable,

To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail gchistorian@gmail.com or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”

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