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The Westies was a predominantly Irish American organized crime association and a "hit squad" for the Gambino Crime Family operating from the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan's West Side in New York City. According to crime author T. J. English, "Although never comprised of more than twelve to twenty members — depending on who was in or out of jail at any given time — the Westies became synonymous with the last generation of Irish in the birthplace of the Irish Mob...." According to the NYPD Organized Crime Squad and the FBI, the Westies were responsible for as many as 1,500 murders between 1968 and 1986.

Spillane years

In the early 1960s Mickey Spillane stepped into a power vacuum that had existed in Hell's Kitchen since gang leaders fled the area in the early 1950s to avoid prosecution. A mobster from Queens named Hughie Mulligan had been running Hell's Kitchen; Spillane, a native, was his apprentice until inheriting the throne.

Spillane sent flowers to neighbors in the hospital and provided turkeys to needy families during Thanksgiving, in addition to running gambling enterprises such as bookmaking and policy, accompanied inevitably by loansharking. Loansharking led to assault, and Spillane had burglary arrests as well. However, among all his criminal activities, the most audacious was his "snatch" racket (kidnapping and holding local businessmen and members of other crime organizations for ransom).

He was able to add to his neighborhood prominence by marrying Maureen McManus, a daughter of the prestigious McManus family which had run the Midtown Democratic Club since 1905. The union of political power with criminal activity enhanced the gang's ability to control union jobs and labor racketeering, moving away from the declining waterfront and more strongly into construction jobs and service work at the New York Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, and later the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Spillane-Coonan wars

The war began when James "Jimmy C" Coonan, an 18-year-old Irish hood, swore revenge against Michael "Mickey" Spillane, the boss of Hell's Kitchen, following the Spillane-initiated kidnapping and pistol whipping of Coonan's father. In 1966, Coonan fired an automatic machine gun at Spillane and his associates from atop a Hell's Kitchen tenement building. Although Coonan wounded no one, Spillane understood that the younger hoodlum was not to be taken lightly. Coonan was imprisoned for a short period of time because of murder and kidnapping charges that were pleaded down to a Class C Manslaughter Felony Charge. He was released in late 1971 and continued his war with the Westside Gang and his criminal career.

Trouble with the Genovese Family

Hells Kitchen was no longer safe for Spillane and his family, and he moved to the Irish working-class neighborhood of Woodside, Queens. With Spillane gone, his control of the rackets in Hell's Kitchen began to deteriorate; Coonan became the neighborhood's boss, although some still viewed Spillane as boss. On the New York Commission, Spillane was still viewed as the Irish crime boss on the Westside, putting the Javits Convention Center construction site under his control. Anthony Salerno, a powerful front boss of the Genovese crime family, wanted the center for asll for himself and reached an agreement with Jimmy Coonan. If Coonan became the leader of The Westies, Salerno would run the construction site and give Coonan a small taste of the proceeds, Coonan agreed, knowing if he rejected he would be killed.

Salerno then reached out to Buffalo crime family associate and professional assassin, Joseph Sullivan, to kill the three main Spillane underlings in Hell's Kitchen, Tom Devaney, Tom Kapatos, and Edward Cummiskey. Cummiskey had apparently switched sides to the Coonan camp, but Salerno and Sullivan were not aware of the switch. Devaney and Cummiskey were murdered in late 1976, and Kapatos was killed in January 1977. Spillane was now out of the picture, and Coonan was the new leader of The Westies. It was felt that Spillane still had to die. Roy DeMeo, a powerful and much-feared Gambino crime family soldier and veteran hitman, murdered Spillane as a favor to Salerno. Mickey Featherstone stood trial for the murder and was found not guilty. Salerno set a hit squad to murder the rest of Spillane's loyalists, thirteen of Spillane's supporters, and the rest of his loyalists were all murdered by the Genovese crime family.

Coonan and Featherstone

During the late 1970s, Coonan tightened the alliance between the Westies and the Gambinos, then run by Paul Castellano. Coonan's main contact was Roy DeMeo. 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 though 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 West Side. After DeMeo himself was murdered, Coonan's Gambino connection became Danny Marino, a capo from Brooklyn. Coonan eventually interacted directly with John Gotti, who took over the Gambinos after Castellano's murder in December 1985. From time to time, the Westies worked for the Gambinos as a contract killer squad.

Featherstone was convicted of murder in early 1986 and began cooperating with the government in hopes of getting the 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 told the presiding judge that post-conviction investigation had revealed Featherstone was innocent. The judge immediately overturned the verdict.

At that point the information provided by the Featherstones 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 RICO indictment against Coonan and others 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. Coonan was sentenced to sixty years in prison on assorted charges. Other leading gang members were also sentenced to long prison terms, including James McElroy, a top enforcer who was sentenced to 60 years, and Richard "Mugsy" Ritter, a career criminal sentenced to 40 years on loan-sharking and drug related charges.

Kevin Kelly and Kenny Shannon

During the mid-to-late 1980s, while Jimmy Coonan lived in his luxurious suburban home and Mickey Featherstone futilely attempted to support his family by legitimate means, Kevin Kelly and his sidekick, Kenny Shannon, became the most active racketeers on the West Side. Sports, gambling, and dealing coke to young professionals on the East Side were their primary rackets. In 1988, after two years on the run for a failed murder attempt, Kelly and Shannon could no longer take the heat after being featured on Americas Most Wanted and decided to turn themselves in to the authorities. Giuliani claimed that they were the last ruling body of the Westies, but he was wrong.

"The Yugo" and the new era

By the early 1990s, the old demographic of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood was disappearing. The blue-collar Irish-American community was being displaced by a more affluent and ethnically diverse group of residents. With this change came a decrease in street crime and a change in leadership. Bosko “The Yugo” Radonjich, a Serbian nationalist and onetime anti-communist started his Westies affiliation as a low-level associate of Jimmy Coonan in 1983. He became the boss of the Westies when Kelly was sent to prison in 1988. Around 1992, Radonjich fled the country to avoid jury tampering charges. He was eventually arrested by U.S. Customs officials during a stopover in Miami, Florida in 1999. However, Radonjich was released when the main witness in the case, Sammy Gravano, was deemed unreliable. Radonjich has since returned to his native Serbia.

The Modern Westies

To this day, small groups of loosley allied Irish-American mobsters continue to dominate the West Side rackets. But, like Hell's Kitchen, they are by no means what they used to be. Less powerful and less violent, along with a lower profile and an increased tolerance for initiating other ethnicities, are the key differences between the Westies of the past and the modern day Hell's Kitchen racketeers.

In Literature

The Westies by TJ English provides the authorizative account of the gang while Dock Boss: Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront reviews the Irish Mob in New York City prior to the Westies.

Known Westies

Confirmed murders committed by The Westies

  • Bobby Lagville
  • Jerry Morales
  • Mike "the Yugo" Yelovich
  • Paddy Dugan
  • Ruby Stein
  • Walter Curtis killed by Edward Cummiskey
  • Rickey Tassiello killed by Jimmy Coonan
  • William Walker killed by Jimmy McElroy
  • Harold "Whitey" Whitehead killed by Jimmy Coonan
  • Henry Diaz
  • Tommy Hess killed by Richie Ryan
  • Tommy "Butter" Moresco
  • Vincent Leone killed by Kevin Kelly
  • Michael Holly killed by Billy Bokun