It was a frigid January night in 1933 Bronx, and Tony Marino’s dingy speakeasy was a warm escape for those choosing to drink away their troubles. For Marino, money was scarce and business bad. Only six months earlier in the summer of 1932, the Dow had hit an all-time depression low at 41.22. Unemployment in New York was running at 30 percent. Across the Atlantic, the National Socialists had elected a firebrand ideologue named Adolph Hitler as chancellor on promises that he would restore the country to greatness and reduce the estimated 25 percent unemployed. It was a time of despair and dark intentions.
Marino and his confederates had subsisted during these difficult times on graft, smuggling and murder. From a dimly lit corner booth, the gang that would be later labeled the Murder Trust; Marino, Joseph Murphy, a failed businessman turned bartender; Francis Pasqua, a local undertaker; Hershey Green, a New York cabbie; and Daniel Kreisberg, a local fruit vendor; spoke in low conspiratorial tones. It would be Pasqua who, momentarily distracted by a commotion at the bar as an alcoholic patron was refused further credit, would propose repeating a plan that had proved profitable a year earlier.
“Let’s take out another insurance policy on him.” He pointed to the patron who had been refused and was being summarily shoved from the bar like a broken scarecrow. “Him”; he pointed with lifeless eyes, “Malloy”.
The previous year, the five men had taken out an insurance policy on Marino’s girlfriend, a strawberry blond named Betty Carlson, who was mysteriously found dead in her apartment, stripped naked, doused with water and frozen from windows being left wide open. The coroner’s report declared cause of death to be pneumonia complicated by alcoholism. Her insurer immediately passed on a check for $800 to Mr. Marino along with his sincerest condolences.
In a period where insurable interest laws could be circumvented by a shady insurance agent or willing underwriter, the practice of murder for money held great appeal to an unimaginative group of thugs hungry for quick cash to plug the holes in their failed personal and business lives. Michael Malloy seemed the perfect victim, an unemployed fireman, a nobody – one of life’s cast offs and ne’er do wells that could disappear underneath the surface of the a dark urban ocean and not leave the slightest ripple.
Malloy had emigrated in the late 1800s from County Donegal, Ireland, seeking a better life and instead suffered a fate of unfortunate blows and disappointments so often preordained for first generation immigrants. The broken Gael was a frequent visitor to speakeasies and illegal establishments across the Bronx and chose to spend what meager earnings he made as a part-time janitor on whiskey. His alcoholism was advanced but his brogue and Irish charm still glimmered through the haze of his disease, enabling him to subsist on the kindness and amusement of patrons who would listen to Malloy regale them with tales of the old country. “They never got the best of me” was Malloy’s raspy punctuation to a colorful story.
The gang put their plan into action taking out three policies totaling more than $1,700 with the possibility of collecting double indemnity should Malloy die by accidental causes. In his advanced state of ill health, the group estimated Malloy would require no more than one week of an open tab before drinking himself to death. Marino and Murphy informed Malloy that due to stiff competition, drinks would be free for loyal patrons for one week. Each night, Malloy was only too eager to accept the house’s generosity drinking into oblivion and often passing out outside with little more than a shirt in the frigid winter night. Each morning, Malloy would miraculously return to the bar. After a week, the group became restless and decided to begin substituting anti-freeze for whiskey. Malloy downed the wood alcohol, and immediately lost consciousness. But like Lazarus, he miraculously rose from the dead, thirsty for another shot of that whiskey with a kick.
The gang was astounded at the Irishman’s resilience. They began substituting turpentine, horse liniment and finally arsenic into his beverages. Each morning, like a ghost, Malloy would stagger into the cantina anxious for a beverage and always quick to relate how the booze could not get the best of him. Marino was beginning to lose his patience and suggested they poison Malloy with rotten oysters saturated in wood alcohol. This entrée along with a sandwich laced with poisoned sardines, carpet tacks and metal shavings was offered the Irishman who engulfed the offering, bid everyone farewell and stumbled into the evening. To the delight of the Murder Trust, the next day came and went without an entrance from Michael Malloy. As they were readying their final phase of filing an insurance claim, a tired Michael Malloy walked in, apologizing for his absence and complaining of a slightly dyspeptic stomach. Pasqua and Kreisberg suggested a more drastic plan; a plan similar to the one that had succeeded in killing Marino’s girlfriend.
The gang proceeded to once again intoxicate Michael Malloy and waited until he had passed out. On a negative 14-degree bleak winter’s night, the group dragged Malloy to a nearby park, opened up his shirt and doused him with five gallons of water. His death from hypothermia was as good as guaranteed and the group awaited the news of the vagrant’s death. Instead, Malloy once again arrived at the bar, quite chipper after an invigorating evening spent sleeping rough in the park.
The group was now more than committed and the money that had seemed so certain a solution to their collective and individual problems was slipping through their fingers. They hired a professional, Tony Bastone, to assist them in tackling the seemingly indestructible Malloy. Once again, the group dragged an intoxicated Malloy out of the bar and attempted to murder him – this time propping him up in front of Green’s taxi which struck Malloy head on at 45 mph and then returned, for good measure, to run him over again.
For three weeks the group waited for a death notice that could be used as a certificate to collect on Malloy’s policies. Impatient to receive their hard earned royalties, the Trust attempted to murder another vagrant and plant papers on the body – identity papers belonging to the one and only Michael Malloy. The vagrant survived his brush with the murderers after a 55 day stay in the hospital. About this same time, Michael Malloy limped into Marino’s apologizing for his lengthy absence and sharing his terrible ordeal of a car that had tried to get the best of him.
The group had exhausted every means known to cause the accidental death of another human being. It seemed as if Michael Malloy was inhuman or possibly, immortal. As the group started to fracture in their resolve, Bastone, Pasqua and Marino took matters into their own hands and forced all the participants to drag a once again, drunken Malloy into a bedroom apartment where they succeeded in inserting a gas hose down his throat and killing him. The coroner declared the death a result of alcoholism and pneumonia. Malloy was quickly buried and the Trust began to debate over how to collect the insurance proceeds.
However, it seemed the memory of Michael Malloy would not die. While his mortal body was indeed deceased, his extraordinary resilience and the pending insurance reward began to divide his conspirators. Someone started sharing the remarkable story of the indestructible Malloy, while another murderer complained about his share of the money. The bickering escalated arousing the suspicions of the authorities. An investigation led police to the discovery of Michael Malloy’s body that was exhumed and confirmed as having been killed by inhalation of gas.
With the exception of Green, all four members of the Murder Trust went to the electric chair. Michael Malloy had found a way of rising one last time and making certain that even in death, his murderers would never get the best of him.