James Coonan
Biographical information
Other names:
"Jimmy", "Jimmy C"
Birthname: James Coonan
Born: (1946-12-21) December 21, 1946 (age 74)
Place of Birth: Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, New York City, NY, U.S.
Charges: Racketeering
Penalty: Imprisonment until 2030 in FCI Schuylkill (Pennsylvania)
Present criminal
Known for: Former member of the Westies criminal gang
Related to: Edna Coonan (wife)
Physical description

James Coonan (born December 21, 1946), also known as "Jimmy" or "Jimmy C", was an Irish-American gangster and boss of the notoriously violent Hell's Kitchen Irish mob known as the Westies, which was the most brutal Irish gang in history. Coonan is considered one of the most violent Irish gangsters of all time. He took over the Hell's Kitchen Irish mob after Mickey Spillane's 1977 murder. His reign lasted through the mid-1980s.

During his time as boss of the Westies, they gained a reputation as a vicious crew of murderers and came to dominate the narcotics and counterfeiting rackets in the Hells Kitchen area. Coonan forged a strong alliance with the Gambino crime family in the late 70s, and Jimmy Coonan and his gang worked for the Gambino Crime Family as a large hit squad and enforcement squad, for almost a decade. Due to his strong alliance with the Gambino crime family it was rapidly strengthening his own power. Coonan is currently incarcerated after being sentenced to 75 years in the late 1980s.

Early life

Coonan's criminal career began to take of at the age of eighteen, when he swore to seek revenge against Mickey Spillane, the boss of Hell's Kitchen because Spillane had kidnapped and pistol whipped Coonan's father who was an accountant not involved in criminal activity.[1] This was a racket that Spillane ran to collect a ransom from the victim's family. Coonan's whole purpose was to restore his father's honor. The "war" began in 1966 when the younger Coonan purchased an automatic machine gun and fired off a magazine from the top of a Hell's Kitchen tenement building at Spillane and his associates. Although Coonan failed to murder Spillane and his followers, not even wounding one man, Spillane received the word that the younger hoodlum was not to be taken lightly. </ref> Author T.J. English has credited this event in several books as Coonan's motivating factor in the takeover of the Westies.[1][2]

Coonan was imprisoned for a short period of time because of murder and kidnapping charges that were pleaded down to a class E disorderly conduct felony charge and a class C manslaughter felony charge. He was released in late 1971 and continued on with his war and his criminal career.

He and his gang of young Irish hoods began kidnapping, beating, and murdering Spillane loyalists. Coonan soon enlisted a 24-year-old Vietnam Vet by the name of Mickey Featherstone as his right-hand man in his war against Spillane. The war became so intense that citizens of Hell's Kitchen had to choose sides. Those who took Spillane's side were subject to beatings, kidnappings, store vandalism, and robberies, all at the hands of Coonan's younger generation of Irish hoods. Those who chose Coonan's side were immune from these harsh activities because Spillane's gang was much older and more respectable.

The Westies

Coonan formed the more powerful crew and took the neighborhood over from Spillane. Spillane eventually went into hiding and was killed by the Gambino crime family (rumored to have been at the hands of Roy DeMeo) as a favor to Coonan.

In the 1970's Coonan worked as an enforcer and bodyguard for big shot Jewish-loanshark Ruby Stein. After Coonan took over as the boss of Hell's Kitchen, he resolved to have Stein murdered. A number of the Westies owed large amounts of money to Stein and were looking to escape these obligations. Coonan also hoped to pocket Stein's 'Black Book' that contained all of the information on his loanshark operation and collect on the debts for himself. Stein was lured to the 596 Club bar where he was shot to death. Westies members then dragged his corpse to the bathroom and proceeded to dismember him and bag off the body parts to dump them in the Hudson River. However, Coonan was still in the 'learning stages' back then, as described by former Westies member Billy Beattie. Coonan had forgotten to puncture the lungs and Stein's torso was found washed ashore. This was a method of disposing of his victims that Coonan would repeat many times. According to Coonan lieutenant-turned-informant, Mickey Featherstone, when Coonan bought a new home he looked at it proudly and said "Thanks Ruby". On one occasion, Coonan killed a loanshark victim who could not pay his debt, dismembered him and cut off his hands. He put the hands in bags in a freezer with the intention of using them to put the fingerprints on a gun he would use in an upcoming murder he had in mind. Coonan learned how to dismember murder victims from Edward Cummiskey, a fellow Westies member, prison-trained as a butcher, and he disposed of the mangled remains in the swift currents of the East River.

During the late 1970s, Coonan tightened his alliance between the Westies and the Gambino organization, then run by Paul Castellano. Coonan's main contact was Roy DeMeo and Anthony Gaggi, who had brought him word of Spillane's assassination. With Coonan's cunning and Featherstone's reputation, the two men ensured a notoriously vicious stranglehold on the already brutal racketeering circles of Hell's Kitchen. In 1979 both Coonan and Featherstone were acquitted of the murder of a bartender, Harold Whitehead. Another Westie, Jimmy McElroy, was acquitted of the murder of a Teamster in 1980.

Even as both Westies leaders were imprisoned in 1980—Coonan on gun possession charges, Featherstone on a federal counterfeiting rap—the gambling, loansharking, and union shakedowns continued on the streets of the West Side. After DeMeo himself was murdered, Coonan's Gambino family connection became Daniel Marino, a capo from Brooklyn. Coonan eventually interacted directly with John Gotti, who took over the Gambino family after the murder of Castellano in December 1985. From time to time, the Westies worked for the Gambino family as a contract killer squad.


Jimmy Coonan arrest photo

Bad blood between Coonan and Featherstone, in part due to Featherstone's distaste for Coonan's Italian mob connections, eventually led to Featherstone being framed for the murder of Michael Holly, a construction worker and neighborhood bar owner who refused to give the Westies "protection money." Holly became an enemy of the Westies gang when an off-duty policeman saw John Bokun shoot Michael Holly in Holly's bar. The policeman shot and killed John Bokun and the Westies blamed Holly for the death. Holly was murdered in broad daylight on West 35th Street in April, 1985 by Westie member, and John's brother Billy Bokun, while wearing a wig and mustache to impersonate Featherstone, and renting a car identical to the one Featherstone was driving.

Featherstone was convicted in early 1986 and began cooperating with the government in hopes of getting the murder conviction overturned. The information he and his wife Sissy provided, and the recordings they helped make, achieved this aim. In September 1986 the prosecutor who oversaw Featherstone's conviction in the Holly frame told the presiding judge that post-conviction investigation had revealed Featherstone was innocent of that particular crime. The judge immediately overturned the verdict.

At that point the information provided by the Featherstone's resulted in the arrest of Coonan and several other Westies on state charges of murder and other crimes. Shortly afterward, federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani announced a devastating Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment against Coonan and the Westies for criminal activities going back twenty years.

Featherstone testified in open court for four weeks in the trial that began in September 1987 and concluded with major convictions in 1988. Jimmy Coonan was sentenced to sixty years in prison on assorted charges. Other leading gang members were also sentenced to long prison terms, including Jimmy McElroy, a top enforcer who was sentenced to 60 years, and Richard "Mugsy" Ritter, a career criminal sentenced to 40 years imprisonment on loan-sharking and drug related charges.

Coonan lived with his wife, Edna, in Hazlet, New Jersey before his incarceration. He's serving his time at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

Known murders

  • March 22, 1966: Bobby Lagville
  • April 3, 1966:
    • Jerry Morales
    • Charles Canelstein (survived)
  • May 5, 1977: Ruby Stein
  • January 18, 1978: Rickey Tassiello


  1. 1.0 1.1 English, T.J. (2005). . Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-059003-1.
  2. English, T. J. (2011-11-15). The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob (en). Open Road Media. ISBN 978-1-4532-3426-6.

External links

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