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Bill Lovett

For other people with similar names, see Wild Bill

William "Wild Bill" Lovett (c. 1894-October 31, 1923) was an Irish-American gangster in early 20th century New York.

Beginnings

Early in life, he fell in with the local street gangs around the Brooklyn waterfront. During World War I, Lovett saw action as an Army infantryman and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery. Upon his return to Brooklyn, he resumed his place in the local Irish mob, alternately known as the "Meehan Gang" or the "White Hand", a play against their Italian rivals, the "Black Hand."

Rise to Prominence

Lovett became the leader of the White Hand Gang after the rub-out of Dinny Meehan who was shot while sleeping at his home with his wife at his side on the afternoon of March 31, 1920. While arch-nemesis Frankie Yale is long thought to have arranged the murder, Meehan's killers casually entered his apartment in broad daylight, even stopping to chat with his young son, something rival Italian mobsters were unlikely to have done.

Whoever was responsible for Meehan's murder, Lovett took over swearing to avenge his death at the hands of the hated Italians. His right-hand man was childhood friend Richard "Pegleg" Lonergan. Over the next few years, a tit-for-tat war raged between the "White Hand" and "Black Hand." Lovett was believed to have engineered the February 1921 attempt of Frankie Yale's life in lower Manhattan. Yale was severely wounded and one of his aides killed. The two Irishmen who did the shooting, Petey Behan and Garry Barry, were themselves murdered in retaliation within the following year.

While Lovett had plenty of enemies in the Black Hand, he soon found just as many adversaries amongst his own people. Severely shot and wounded on January 3, 1923 in the bedroom of his Brooklyn apartment, Lovett narrowly escaped death. Gangland legend names the shooter as a young Italian, Vincenzo Gibaldi, who was out to settle a score over the murder of his father at the hands of Lovett's gang. (Gibaldi went on to become a deadly killer for none other than Al Capone's Chicago Outfit, better known as "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn). More probably, the shooters were two disgruntled White Handers, Eddie Hughes and Timmy Quilty. Both would be killed in revenge in the coming months (Quilty was murdered personally by Lovett in May 1923 in a Brooklyn saloon.)

Retirement and Death

After the failed attempt on his life, Bill Lovett grew close to Pegleg Lonergan's sister Anna and eventually became engaged to her on one condition: Lovett would leave the gang and hand the leadership to someone else. Lovett accepted ths demand handing the leadership over to Richard "Pegleg" Lonergan. Lovett got himself a job working on the docks and he and Anna moved to a small 3-bedroom house in New Jersey. Wild Bill fitted into his new surroundings with ease.

On the night of October 31, 1923, however, with Anna's consent, he returned to Brooklyn to catch up with old friends. He wound up in the Lotus Club on Bridge Street, drinking with an old pal named Joe Flynn. After several hours, Lovett passed out and the owner of the speakeasy decided to close up with him still inside. Arriving at his home around 1 a.m., the porter of the speak had a chance encounter with members of Frankie Yale's gang, during which he casually related to them that their arch-rival was passed out cold a few blocks away. Within fifteen minutes, Willie "Two-Knife" Altieri, Vincent Mangano, and Johnny "Silk Stocking" Giustra, were inside the empty saloon, smirking over the impending murder. While Mangano and Giustra emptied their pistols, they only scored two or three hits, which only woke Lovett up and jerked him off the bench he was sleeping on. Two-Knife Altieri then dashed forward and sunk a meat cleaver into Lovett's skull.

William "Wild Bill" Lovett was buried with full military honors in Cypress Hills Cemetery.

References

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York. New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 1927. ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  • English, T.J. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-06-059003-3

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