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Bill Dwyer (gangster)

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Title: Bill Dwyer (gangster)  
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Subject: New York Americans, Vannie Higgins, 1925–26 NHL season, Curse of 1940, Irish Americans in New York City, List of American mobsters of Irish descent
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Bill Dwyer (gangster)

Bill Dwyer
Date of birth: 1883
Place of birth: Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States
Date of death: 1946
Place of death: Belle Harbor, Queens, New York, New York, United States
Career information
Position(s): Owner
College: None
As owner:
New York Americans (NHL)
Pittsburgh Pirates (NHL)
Philadelphia Quakers (NHL)
Brooklyn Dodgers (NFL)

William Vincent Dwyer (1883–1946), known as "Big Bill" Dwyer, was an early Prohibition gangster and bootlegger in New York during the 1920s. He used his profits to purchase sports properties, including the New York Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates of the National Hockey League (NHL), as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National Football League. He eventually was brought down by the U.S. government through legal actions, leaving Dwyer penniless at the end of his life in 1946.

Early life & Prohibition

Born and raised in Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, Dwyer became one of the leading bootleggers during the early years of Prohibition. In his heyday he reportedly ran a fleet of 20 rum-runners.

Dwyer was working as a dockyard stevedore (hired by friend George Shevlin) prior to the announcement of the Volstead Act in 1919. With access to company supply trucks, garages, and other valuable resources, Dwyer quickly dominated bootlegging in Manhattan within a year. His network of garages was able to hide large numbers of supply trucks which, accessible only by secret doors and compartments, were known only to Dwyer and several others.

Eventually breaking away from Shevlin, Dwyer had organized a smuggling operation which ran from Europe directly to Manhattan. Forming a partnership with Owney Madden and, later Frank Costello, Dwyer soon began taking on future gangsters such as lieutenant Vannie Higgins[1] and others. Through James J. Hines, Dwyer was able to gain the political protection of Tammany Hall as well as members of the New York police and Coast Guard enabling Dwyer's shipments to be delivered to the coast without interference.

However in 1925, Dwyer was arrested for attempting to bribe members of the Coast Guard during an undercover operation by the Prohibition Bureau and was sentenced for two years. After thirteen months, Dwyer was released for good behavior and slowly began to withdraw from bootlegging instead investing his money into legitimate businesses including legalized gambling ventures such as casinos and racetracks as well as sports teams owning a football team and two ice hockey teams. By the end of Prohibition in 1932, Dwyer had retired from bootlegging and lived with his wife and five children in Belle Harbor, Queens. He died there in 1946, aged 63, of a heart attack.

Entry into professional sports

In 1925, Tex Rickard convinced Dwyer to purchase the Hamilton Tigers of the National Hockey League and he renamed them the New York Americans.[2] Dwyer paid $75,000 to turn the Tigers into the New York Americans. With a fortune made in Prohibition bootlegging, Dwyer handed out lucrative contracts, including a three-year deal to Billy Burch rumored to be worth $25,000. Shorty Green also received a huge raise, his salary going from $3,000 to $5,000. This was a time when most NHL players were said to make about $1,500 or $2,000.[3] He took an active role in owning the team, often trying to rig NHL games. For example, he put a goal judge in that would call a goal against an opponent merely if the puck touched the goal line. It happened one night in 1927-28 when Ottawa was at Madison Square Garden. However, the goal judge seemed more interested in taunting Ottawa goalkeeper Alex Connell. Connell finally butt-ended the goal judge in the nose, which caused Dwyer's buddies to seek Connell's death that night. It took a police detail to get Connell out of the Gardens that night and at the train station, someone inquired if a gentleman was Alex Connell. Connell lied and said he was not, knowing he was in danger.

The Americans flourished, and Dwyer secretly purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL, using ex-boxer Benny Leonard as the front man who appeared to be the team's owner. The team folded in 1930 as the Philadelphia Quakers. In 1930, Dwyer also purchased the NFL's Dayton Triangles for $2,500, relocated them to Ebbets Field and renamed them the Brooklyn Dodgers. He bought the team with Jack Depler, a former player for the NFL's Orange Tornadoes. By the end of the 1932 season, Dwyer had enough of professional football. The Dodgers, had cost him an estimated $30,000 in just three years. The team was then purchased by two former New York Giants players, Chris Cagle and John Simms Kelly for $25,000.

In 1935-36, the United States government won a big lawsuit against Dwyer, leaving him virtually penniless except for his ownership of the Americans, and he was losing money here, also. Just before the 1936-37 season, the NHL took control of the Americans, claiming that the financial status of the team was critical. Dwyer filed a lawsuit against the NHL for this, but the NHL settled by letting him own the Americans in 1936-37 to give him time to pay his debts. Red Dutton, who was manager and coach of the team, lent Bill $20,000 for the team and Dwyer promptly lost it all in a crap game.[4] When, at the end of the season, he could not pay the debts he owed, the NHL ordered the team under its control.

Further reading

  • Blumenthal, Ralph. The Stork Club: America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Café Society. Little, Brown & Company, 2000.
  • Lardner, James and Thomas Reppetto. Nypd: A City and Its Police. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2000. ISBN 0-8050-6737-X
  • Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
  • Reppetto, Thomas A. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7798-7


  • English, T.J. Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0-06-059002-5
  • Fox, Stephen. Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989. ISBN 0-688-04350-X
  • Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
  • Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: An International Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, Updated Edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8160-3016-2
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0

External links

  • Time, week of August 3, 1931
  • Time, week of December 23, 1946 Mention of Dwyer's death
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