Monday, February 4, 2013

Gangland Los Angeles, Part Two: 1940's

The War for the Sunset Strip

The war for control of the lucrative Bookmaking juice in Los Angeles began in 1947.  The war came down to one thing: basic greed.  Mickey Cohen had moved his bookmaking business from a paint shop in Beverly Hills to a building at 8800 Sunset Blvd.  The building was two stories.  Mickey based his wire room on the first floor which was below street level.  Upstairs Cohen housed a high end clothing store named Michael's Exclusive Haberdashery, which he filled with fancy suits that fit only him.  The reason for the move? This new location was in an incorporated area of Los Angeles and it fell under the LA Sheriff’s jurisdiction.  

Mickey had the inside track to pay off the Sheriff.  Mickey collected $250.00 for each phone line that a bookmaker had in his office.  This was a lot of money coming in every week.

Jack Dragna, the boss of the LA Family, had become fast friends with the Under Sheriff of LA County. He learned from the Under Sheriff that the take from the bookies paying the juice for the phone lines was just over $80,000 a week.   That is what sealed Mickey's fate.  When it comes to dirty money, you can bet the Cosa Nostra will get their cut.  The other reason was that Jack disliked Mickey because he was loud and obnoxious.  He was the John Gotti of the time period.  He liked to talk to the press and to dress flashy. That did not sit well with anybody living in the underworld, much like John Gotti in later years.

Jack knew that if Mickey was out of the way, the LA Family could take over the juice.

The LA Family took its first shot at Mickey in the summer of 1948.  The place chosen for the hit was the clothing store on Sunset.  Frank DeSimone walked the sidewalk across the street on Hollaway dressed in the clothes of a worker man.  He was the look out and back up shooter.  Hooky Rothman, one Mickey's men, came out and stood in front of the store. Suddenly a car pulls to a stop in front of the store.  Frank Bompensiro jumps out first with double barreled sawed off shotgun and a white hat pulled down low. Frank jabs the gun into Hooky's face and muttered "Don't you make a move.  Now back your way inside." Sam Bruno and another man push by Hooky with their pistols drawn.  They start blasting away the second they are inside the store.  Hooky makes a move, and Frank blows his head off.  Sam and the other guy come running out.  They had shot two of Mickeys guys, but Mickey was not there.  What they did not know was that Mickey was locked in the bathroom washing his hands. Mickey was obsessive compulsive about germs at this time. So Mickey walked away without a scratch as one of his men lay dead in the doorway.  The other two suffered only minor wounds despite the barrage fired by the hitters.

The LA Family then decided to make a bomb and blow Mickey up. In the movie Gangster Squad, the writers portray Mickey attempting to bomb Jack's home, when in reality, it was the other way around.  One of Jack's men who had learned how to make a bomb using dynamite during World War Two constructed the device. The LA Family had an inside man in Mickey's gang, so when they knew he was out of the house they planted the bomb in a crawl space under the master bedroom.  Once Mickey was asleep, an LA Family guy stealthily lit the fuse.   Nothing happened.  The bomb failed to detonate and it was later discovered by one of Mikeys men walking around outside his home.

The next chapter in the Cosa Nostra Vs Mickey Cohen came when Mickey and seven of his men were arrested for beating a repair man within an inch of his life.  The repairman had conned a widow out of her life long home.  Mickey dispatched his men to send him a message and the thugs were caught in the act.  Mickey bailed out his men using his property as collateral for the bonds.  This would turn out to be much more than a simple arrest, in fact it would turn deadly for some of the men.

Jack Dragna was not happy about the two failed hits. Some of the men thought Mickey was unnaturally lucky. So they came up with a spectacular hit on the Sunset Strip, right in front of a popular restaurant by the name of Sherry's.  Once again, in the movie Gangster Squad, a similar hit was portrayed, and the writers had it backwards.  It was not Mickey’s men shooting at Jack Dragna getting in his car outside the restaurant, as portrayed in the scene in which the shoe shine boy was hit.  It was a similar scene, but it was Jack’s men shooting at Mickey.  The plan was to have two shooters hide on a cement stairway at 9032 Sunset with shotguns until Mickey came out of the restaurant.  It was right next door to Bing Crosby's building, a three story white office building that was closed at the time of the planned hit.

The two shooters Jack would assign were Jimmy Regace and Arthur DiMara.  Years later, Jimmy Regace would be known as Dominic Brooklier and he would become the boss of the LA Family.

The night of the hit, Mickey and his group of nine others got to Sherry's two hours before closing.  The two shooters were already in place. The crowds had began to die along the strip as the hour grew late.  Finally, just after closing, Mickey and his party, now joined by a Los Angeles Police Sargent, stood in front Sherry's, waiting for their cars to be brought around front.

Jimmy and Arthur leveled their pump shotguns. Each of the shotguns was loaded with double aught buckshot and slugs. They took their shots: Boom, Boom, Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, eight times in all. They hit parked cars, the building that housed Sherry's,  a cop from the Attorney General’s office in Sacramento was hit and down.  The hoodlum Needie Herbert was mortally wounded.  Two women were hit  and Mickey took a slug to the shoulder.  Needie Herbert would be the only death that night.  The shooting had just stopped when the crash car zoomed off down the street. The Police Sargent jumped into his car to give chase, only to lose it.  The two shooters walked down the block and into a getaway car. The Los Angeles police arrested a number of suspects, including the Two Tony's.  None of those arrested were LA Family guys.

The battle for the Sunset strip was in full swing and the Hollywood created “tough guy” Mickey Cohen had not fired a shot at anyone in the Los Angeles Cosa Nostra.

If you want more information from a guy who knew a lot of these guys in their prime go to:

Anthony Fiato


kickass blogger - hollywood goodfella

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