A 1947 mob murder on Grove Street jolts the city

GrovestreettenementFrom the river pirates of the 1800s to the mobsters of the 20th century, New York’s once-thriving waterfront had always been riddled with crime.

One man’s murder on a quiet West Village street in 1947 revealed just how depraved and corrupt the criminals who ran the piers could be.

On the morning of January 8, 1947, Anthony Hintz was leaving the third-floor apartment he shared with his wife at 61 Grove Street (right).

Hintz was headed to Pier 51, at the foot of Jane Street, where he was the hiring boss. His job was to run the “shape-up,” the process of deciding which longshoremen looking for a job that day would be picked to work.

GrovemurderjohndunnAlmost all of the city’s piers were run by hiring bosses under the thumb of crime syndicates. The bosses would demand kickbacks from men who wanted to work, and the money would be shared with the mobsters.

Pier 51 (below), however, was not controlled by the mob. Hintz refused to submit to gangsters.

Naturally, the mob want to get rid of Hintz. The job was undertaken by gangster and enforcer John “Cockeye” Dunn (left) and his associate, Andrew “Squint” Sheridan.

On January 8, these two killers with the noir-ish nicknames (along with a thug and former boxer named Danny Gentile) lay in wait for Hintz beside the stairwell in his building.

Grovestreetpier51Dunn, Sheridan, and Gentile ambushed Hintz right just after he kissed his wife good-bye and walked out the door.

He was shot six times and lay bleeding in the hallway in front of his wife, who came out to see what was happened. “Johnny Dunn shot me,” he said.

Gravely injured, he was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital up Seventh Avenue. There, he held on long enough to tell police that Dunn was the shooter. Hintz died three weeks later.

Dunn and Sheridan were quickly arrested; Gentile turned himself in a few months later. All three were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair.

Grovestreetnytimesjuly81949Gentile was lucky; his sentence was commuted. Dunn and Sheridan, ruthless and remorseless, were electrocuted in 1949.

If any of this real-life mob murder sounds familiar, here’s why: the story of Hintz’s murder and an exhaustive New York Sun series about it inspired Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront.

[Second photo: mafia.wikia.com; third photo: NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth image: New York Times headline July 8, 1949]

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4 Responses to “A 1947 mob murder on Grove Street jolts the city”

  1. Jon Phillips Says:

    While Elia Kazan is deservedly identified with “On the Waterfront,” which he was selected to direct, it was written by Bud Schulberg, son of Hollywood mogul, B. P. Schulberg, and film giant in his own right. There are, therefore, many who might take exception to identifying this film as the sole intellectual possession of Elia Kazan.

    “Buddy,” as he was known by a milieu where he grew up as a brat in tennis whites and prep school, brought many of his personal obsessions to the screenplay he wrote, and re-wrote to satisfy his various task makers. For example, Terry Malloy’s love of pigeons and keeping them in a coop, reflected Buddy’s own romantic love of the bird (racing pigeons was a sport he embraced as a teen). It was a passion Schulberg was well aware he shared with such notorious gangster characters as Owney “killer” Madden, who was allowed to keep pigeons in Sing-Sing, and also kept them in his private coop on the roof of London Terrace where he maintained a penthouse apartment convenient to his Madden Beer factory on 11th Avenue in West Chelsea.

    “On the Waterfront” was criticized by Harry Cohen, the last mogul standing as head of Columbia Studios, for making gangsters the heavies instead of communists infiltrating the union. This was one of Cohen’s pet peeves as he hated SAG and the Screen Writers Guild (mostly Harry hated paying). But, Sam Spiegel, who owned the rights as producer and Bud Schulberg as the author refused that change.

    In fact while Kazan sought his personal vindication for “naming names” to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, in his direction of “On the Waterfront,” the events that inspired it went well beyond the obvious elements of the Hintz murder -which itself had underpinnings in a concerted attack on the Left, which was locked in a struggle for leadership of the NMU – (National Maritime Union) in 1946-47 immediately after the end of World War II. Jack Lawrence, then one of the heads of the NMU was locked in a leadership fight with Joe Curran – who was backed by among others, J. Edgar Hoover citing “the Red Menace” never mind that Joe and Jack had come up together through the ranks of the NMU as friendly rivals. Jack Lawrence lived a couple of blocks from Mintz in the Village and would get soused at an old inn on Cornelia Street where songs from the IRA and the Wobblies would be sung at three in the morning to pounding from above. To demonstrate how New York City was at one degree of separation in those days, consider that Jack Lawrence was married to Helen “Brownie” Brown – the former editor of Vanity Fair and close personal friend of Conde Nast and Clare Luce.

    The Genovese Family and Mafia in general had been allowed by authorities to control the shipyards and docks through its control of the Longshoreman’s Union through Tammany Hall (then controlled by Genovese friendly, Carmine De Sapio, also head of the NY Assembly at the time, and the FBI who viewed them as the lesser of two evils. (This was at the height of anti-Communist fever when the headlines were preoccupied with the Rosenberg Trial and a young aide to Irving Saypool, the 21 year old Harvard whiz kid, Roy Cohen, had already captivated the ear of FBI J. Edgar, who still frequented the Stork Club when in New York).

    While all this sounds obscure and complicated today, to Buddy Schulberg, who knew Sherman Billingsley (the owner front) at the Stork Club (Owney Madden was always reputed to have retained a piece of it), it was familiar territory and the use of the mob to infiltrate and break the shipping and longshoreman unions went back to the labor wars of 1936-7 when Hoover promoted himself as the ‘gangster killer’ and was put up in the “honeymoon suite” when he visited New York, by Billingsly along with his aide Clyde Tolson
    (Billingsly discretely referred to Hoover and Tolson as “Mr. & Mrs. Hoover, according to Richard Hack in his biography of the ex-FBI Dircetor). Meyer Lansky years later liked to infer that he still had photos from that liaison that protected him from serious FBI prosecution.

    • Robert O'Brien Says:

      None of which has anything to do with Cockeye Dunn or Andy Hintz

      • Jon Phillips Says:

        Since Andy Hintz was anti-mob corruption and worked for the left side of the aisle in the longshoremen union, and got hit for it, that would seem to relate pretty directly to him. Since Sheridan and Dunn were simply mob muscle doing as they were told- you can make an argument that nothing had anything to do with them since they knew little than what they were told to do.

        If you’re saying that the struggle for the NMU was unrelated to the struggle for the Longshoremen’s Union – and unrelated to the struggle between the old IWW and the AFL-CIO – then you are not very familiar with labor history.

        My point, however, is that it is a common error to identify “On the Waterfront” narrowly with Elia Kazan – who was a secondary choice to direct the film. The idea came from Buddy Schulberg who wrote the play and the screenplay.

  2. Timothy Grier Says:

    Less than three years between the crime and the electric chair. The judicial process moved a lot quicker back then. That timeframe is unthinkable today.

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