A 1930s gangster guns down a little boy

On the evening of July 28, 1931, five-year-old Michael Vengalli was playing with a group of friends on East 107th Street in Harlem’s Little Italy.

The block, between Second and Third Avenues, was crowded with several hundred children and adults, news accounts reported, who sat on stoops and leaned out tenement windows that summer evening.

Little did they know that ruthless Bronx-born gangster Vincent Coll, 22, was also in the neighborhood, driving toward 107th Street.

Coll, a former protege of Dutch Schultz, was planning to kidnap a Schultz underling.

Things didn’t go as Coll planned, and a shootout ensued. Coll fired his machine gun repeatedly, missing his target but hitting Michael in the stomach. He died instantly; four other kids were wounded.

Dubbed the “baby killing” (watch a clip of the boy’s massive funeral procession here), the entire city was outraged. Newspapers offered thousands of dollars in reward money to anyone who could help ID the gunman.

Coll was soon caught; Mayor Jimmy Walker gave him the nickname Mad Dog. Thanks to a strong defense lawyer, Coll was acquitted later that year.

He got his due in February 1932. That’s when Schultz’s men pumped 15 bullets into Coll while he was on the phone with gangster Owney Madden at a London Chemists drugstore on Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street (above).

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8 Responses to “A 1930s gangster guns down a little boy”

  1. Denise Helms Ferraro Says:

    My husband’s grandfather Nunzio told this story to us many times. He referred to it as the ” 107th St. massacre”. His friend was picked up for questioning after the shooting, and when a female reporter attempted to interview his friend, Nunzio advised “don’t tell her nothin’ “. Nunzio was amused when the reporter referred to him as “the pugilistic friend” in the newspaper the next day. He also told us that Coll was bad to the bone.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Great story. Some of the news articles I read while researching this also pointed out that though several hundred people were on the street at the time and witnessed the shooting, practically no one came forward or admitted they saw a thing. Guess they thought they’d be next.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Just look at the mug on the killer, it looks like you could be next.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Yeah, and he’s only around 22! Awfully young to look so hard.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I knew a guy just like that on the Lower East Side, even had the cleft in his chin. Ended up in prison but that’s the last I heard of him. Was no good.

  5. John David Howard Says:

    Wow, nice little snippet of history. That very spot is pretty unremarkable today, the bland housing complex Franklin Houses was built over the razed tenements along with 107-109th streets if I remember correctly.

  6. John Warren Says:

    Great post. Three Coll gang members were captured in my hometown of Averill Park in Rensselaer County in the spring of 1932. My great uncle was said to have broken into the gang’s hideout (which still stands) after the cops left and made away with one of the gangsters’ long coats.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thanks. I’ve been to Averill Park; doesn’t seem like a place three gangsters could successfully hide out! (Maybe it was different in the 1930s…)

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