The hest-laid plans of mice, men and murderers often go awry. Here, we return to 1930’s New York, to the dark days of Prohibition, insurance fraud, bungling murderers and an apparently immortal victim whose fame, ironically, has seen him live on long after his killers met their end.
Michael Malloy was an Irishman from County Donegal. He’d emigrated from the Emerald Isle to the US, settling in New York City like so many sons of Erin. In better times he’d been a firefighter, but by the early 1930’s the better times were a distant memory and he was homeless drunk. The nearest Mike got to a home was whichever bar he fell asleep on. Mike spent a few years going from place to place, running up prodigious bar tabs as he went and moving on to the next bar and credit account as soon as his last booze emporium banned him for not paying his bill.
Thus it was that Mike stumbled into a dingy, back-streets speakeasy called Marino’s in 1933, looking for his next drink and doing odd jobs around the place in return for booze, food and a room. Unfortunately for Mike, he’d just stumbled into the headquarters of the infamous ‘Murder Trust’ who became infamous for multiple murders, insurance fraud and their increasingly desperate attempts to add Mike to their list of victims.
The ‘Murder Trust’ had a fairly simple concept. They’d find a victim, the kind of person that nobody was likely to miss much and whose death was unlikely to arouse either surprise or suspicion. Then they insured their victim, paid the premiums, killed them in ways that looked accidental if you didn’t look too closely and divided up the profits. Simple.
Speakeasy owner Tony Marino was the gang’s leader. Joseph ‘Red’ Murphy was a former chemist and now a bartender at Marino’s. Francis Pasqua, conveniently for the gang, was an undertaker. Harry Green drove a taxicab and Daniel Kreisberg was a fruit vendor. Between them the ‘Murder Trust’ possessed most of the skills needed to make serial murder look like a series of typical illnesses and accidents which is useful when you want to profit from large numbers of killings without being caught. Courtesy of ‘Iron Mike’ the ‘Murder Trust’ finally were caught. Choosing Mike Malloy was their first mistke. Their increasingly desperate and more convoluted efforts to get rid of him was their second mistake and a fatal one for most of the gang’s members.
On paper, Mike Malloy looked like the perfect victim. He was a semi-homeless alcoholic with a gigantic drink problem and virtually alone in the world. It didn’t look like making his death look perfectly normal and pocketing the proceeds would be difficult. The gang were wrong on both counts.
First they tried giving him endless supplies of free alcohol. Prohibition being prohibition and bathtub hooch being the standard fare in speakeasies, it looked a simple matter to simply let Malloy drink himself to death. Once the fraudulent insurance policy, listing Malloy as being 15 years younger than he really was and in perfect health, had been arranged the murder plot could begin. Unfortunately for Marino and his pals Malloy proved infinitely more durable than anybody would have expected.
After a few weeks Malloy was still turning up daily, running up a gigantic tab and drinking Marino’s dry. What he didn’t seem to be doing was dying or even looking any more sick than usual. With his stocks being rapidly decimated by his intended victim and no sign his co-operating by dying of liver cirrhosis and/or alcohol poisoning, Plan B became an option. Anti-freeze. Malloy might not have been dying from excessive booze, but he was befuddled enough not to know exactly what he was drinking. Anti-freeze being another form of alcohol, it wasn’t too hard to persuade him that it was simply some new booze. Day after day the gang scanned local newspapers looking for a report of Malloy’s recent death. Day after day at opening time, Malloy showed up none the worse for being slowly pickled and asking for more. He got more than he was expecting.
With the failure of bathtub booze the gang turned to neat turpentine. Lot os neat turpentine, as much neat turpentine as Malloy could stomach which (you’ve guessed it) turned out to be far more than medical science would normally consider lethal. ‘Iron Mike’ responded to turps just as he did to bathtub hooch. He got blasted all and every day, and every day he’d show up at opening time genially asking for more of what he’d had the day before.
Next up was anti-freeze. Anti-freeze works just fine in car engines, refrigerators and various other household appliances. It’s potentially lethal to humans and animals even in small amounts and the amounts Malloy was swilling down daily should have been more than enough to do the job. They weren’t. Every day Mike showed up at opening time. Every day he staggered out at closing time pickled in anti-freeze. And every day he showed up at opening time again back and ready for more.
With anti-freeze not working either, the gang turned to horse liniment. Undiluted horse liniment had no more effect than bathtub booze or anti-freeze. Even spicing up the previously-undiluted anti-freeze by diluting it with rat poison had no effect. It didn’t seem to matter what they slipped into his glass all day. Mike Malloy proved to have the constitution of a Sherman tank even before Sherman tanks actually existed. Consulting one of Tony Marino’s other delightful acquaintance, a hitman named Anthony ‘Tough Tony’ Bastone, Bastone advised them to keep it simple and just murder Mike. Marino refused, believing that the insurance would be much harder to collect if Malloy was obviously murdered. Back to the drawing board for the ‘Murder Trust.’
Their next bright idea was raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol. Marino and Pasqua had heard of people dying from healthy oysters in drinkable alcohol and decided bad oysters in undrinkable alcohol would finally solve the increasingly frustrating case of ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.’ Yet again they were wrong.
Mike turned up at the bar, drank nearly a dozen shots of horse liniment and rat pison then ate and entire plate of bad oysters soaked in wood alcohol. Then he downed another dozen or so shots, staggering out at closing time to what the gang believed (and probably prayed) would be his death bed. At opening time the next day, Marino opened up as usual. As usual, there was Mike, in search of free booze and another plate of juiced-up oysters.
Time for Plan C, it seemed. Exploring another avenue in making murder look natural, and somewhat scrapping the barrel for different ways to achieve a seemingly quite straightforward objective, they started feeding Mike free sandwiches. Sardine sandwiches. Sardine sandwiches made with rotten sardines and liberally garnished with an enticing mixture of horse liniment, rat poison, carpet tacks and even metal shaving. Couple a single one of these sandwiches with possibly a bottle of anti-freeze daily and most people would be dead within hours. Mike was back within hours, every day, at opening time, delighted with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of free food and booze.
Things were getting desperate. Not only was Mike drinking the bar dry daily, he was now eating Marino out of house and home while giving no sign at all of imminent and profitable death. Consulting with ‘Tough Tony’ again and again being advised to just murder his thoroughly unco-operative and increasingly expensive victim, Marino finally began to consider less subtle and hopefully more effective methods.
Seeing as Mike clearly had a cast-iron digestive system the gang turned to trying to freeze him to death. In the winter of 1933 they got him stewed even by Mike’s standards, stripped off his clothes and left lying in a snowdrift to freeze to death. And back he came the next day in search of free food and booze. ‘Tough Tony’s advice to simply kill him in any way available was now the only option. The gang’s resident cab driver agreed to kill Mike in an unfortunate case of hit-and-run. Being run over by a cab isn’t that rare an accident to happen and was unlikely to cause much comment or suspicion so the gang got Mike smashed on anti-freeze and fed him more of their toxic buffet before letting stagger a safe distance from Marino’s speakeasy where he was promptly mown down by a cab that didn’t stop. The gang heard nothing about Mike for the next three weeks. Nothing. He didn’t turn up at the bar, but his death wasn’t announced either. As the days ticked by without a report of Mike’s actually being dead, the gang began to think their worst nightmare was about to become a reality. It was.
Around a month after his unfortunate road accident, the gang were hanging out at Marino’s when there was a loud knocking at the door. It was Mike Malloy. Again. Still alive, albeit having been seriously hurt, and after a few weeks of sobriety in the party mood once more. The gang must have stared in disbelief as Mike walked in and started where he’d left off, guzzling copious amounts of anti-freeze while devouring toxic sandwiches.
Enough was enough. The gang finally abandoned any sense of finesse or pretence. They simply got Mike blasted one final time at a room rented by one their number, stuffed a gas hose in his mouth and gassed him to death. Finally ‘Iron Mike’ Malloy was dead and carbon monoxide had accomplished what just about everything else had failed to do. A local doctor, completely missing the gas poisoning, certified that Mike had died of lobar pneumonia and chronic alcoholism. Marino collected the insurance pay-out and promised to split their hard-earned and ill-gotten gains with the rest of the gang and no more would Mike Malloy haunt the ‘Murder Trust.’
But he did, one last time. As gangs often do they began squabbling over the spoils. ‘Tough Tony’ demanded a cut in return for his advice. Marino didn’t fancy sharing and ‘Tough Tony’ was promptly despatched to join Mike Malloy. Then other members began complaining and their complaints reached the ears of insurance investigators and then the New York Police Department. Checks revealed that this wasn’t the first time Tony Marino had conveniently insured people right before their deaths and, one by one, the members of the ‘Murder Trust’ were rounded up. Mike Malloy was exhumed for a proper autopsy and it was then that got his posthumous revenge.
Mike’s autopsy provided ample evidence of carbon monoxide and various other toxic substances in his body. The gang’s resident undertaker had made a fatal error when Mike died by having him simply buried instead of cremated. Soon enough. ‘Tough Tony and ‘Iron Mike’ would be joined by several of the gang’s members.
Marino, Murphy, Pasqua and Kreisberg were all tried, convicted and condemned. Marino, Pasqua and Kreisberg were re-untied with their erstwhile drinking buddy via Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair in June, 1934. Murphy joined the heavenly host a month later in July.
The doctor who falsely certified Malloy’s death was also implicated. It was found that he’d taken a bribe to certify Mike’s death as being from natural causes. Having had no part in the actual murder he drew a long prison term as an accessory after the fact, but was spared the death penalty as he took no part in the actual murder.
The ‘Murder Trust’ were gone. But ‘Iron Mike’ Malloy lives on as one of crime’s strangest and most resilient murder victims. Feel free to raise a glass to him, it’s what he’d probably have wanted. Just make sure the contents are slightly more drinkable and a lot less lethal.