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The Five Points Gang was a 19th-century criminal organization based in the Sixth Ward (The Five Pointsmarker) of Manhattanmarker, New York Citymarker.

The Five Points

A slum tour through the Five Points in an 1885 sketch
The area of Manhattan where the convergence of five streets, which were: Mulberry; Anthony (now Worth); Cross (now Park); Orange (now Baxter); and Little Water (extinct)) was known as "The Five Points". This area lay between Broadwaymarker and the Bowerymarker, an area located in present day Chinatown. By the 1820's this district was already starting to fall into disrepair and disrepute, and was even then considered as a "slum" area of the city. There were many gambling dens and houses of ill repute in the Five Points area, and as a result it received a bad reputation. It was known as a dangerous place to go to, and an area where many people had been mugged, particularly at night. During 1842 Charles Dickens visited the area and was appalled at the horrendous living conditions he had seen while he was there. During this decade a reform of the district was attempted by various church groups. They were intent on helping the people that inhabited the Five Points area. This area was so notorious at the time that it even had the attention of Abraham Lincoln, who in 1860 decided to visit the area before making his Cooper Union Address. The Sixth Ward also had a bad reputation as an area with a corrupt political process, more true particularly after the American Civil War. One glaring example was an election in which the number of ballots that were received was higher than the number of actual registered voters in the area at the time.

Origins

By the 1870s a wave of Italian and Jewish immigrants were settling into the area as criminal gangs were beginning to vie for control of the money to be made from illicit activities. Irish gangs such as the Whyos, replacing the Dead Rabbits, were composed mainly of Irish members and they fought with the predominantly Jewish gangs such as Monk Eastman's Eastman Gang, who were also terrorizing New York neighborhoods. Italian immigrant and criminal Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli, also known as Paul Kelly, formed the Italian Five Points Gang. This group would become the most significant street gang in American history and ultimately change the way criminal groups operated in America. During the gang's later years, Kelly's second in command was a brutal criminal named John Torrio, who would help form a national crime syndicate in the United States. The Five Points Gang had a well-earned reputation for brutality, and in battles with rival gangs they would often fight to the death. Kelly and Torrio recruited members from other gangs in New York to join the Five Points organization, looking for the most capable and brutal members from rival gangs to join their own. From the James Street Gang came another notable recruit, Al Capone, later to become one of the most notorious criminals in the country. It was John Torrio who initially sent for Capone to come to Chicago to help him with racketeering he had established there. The man who would later become the most powerful criminal in the country, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, also joined the Five Points crew.

The Rise To Power & The Conflict With The Eastmans

Biff Ellison, a former member and would be leader of the Five Point Gang.
As the Five Points Gang became more experienced and organized, Kelly and his lieutenants saw the money that could be made by supporting the corrupt politicians in their election bids. By threatening voters, falsifying voter lists and stuffing ballot boxes the gang helped aid corrupt city officials of the infamous Tammany Hall era to retain power. At the turn of the century the only real opposition to the Five Pointers was from Monk Eastmans' gang. The rivals were in a dispute over a strip of the Lower East Sidemarker in Manhattan. Both gangs laid claim to the right to carry on their criminal conduct there. In 1901 a Five Pointer shot Eastman in the stomach, but he survived the attack. Soon after the incident, a Five Pointer was shot and killed by a member of the Eastman crew. The feud escalated by 1903, and the two gangs openly engaged in warfare. In one incident Kelly, Torrio and fifty of the Five Pointers were in a gun battle with a similarly sized force of Eastmans' gang, and police were called to the scene but had to retreat due to the severity of the battle, which lasted for several hours. Three men were killed, and many were wounded in the battle. When the police finally gained control of the situation, Monk Eastman was arrested, but he only spent a few hours in jail. A Tammany-controlled judge released him after Eastman swore that he was innocent, and just happened to pass by when the battle broke out. Due to the general public's anger at this battle that took place in the streets of New York; a Tammany Hall deputy named Tom Foley brought Kelly and Eastman together and told them that neither one of them would receive any political protection if they did not resolve the border dispute. The gang leaders shook hands on the deal and peace was restored, but not for long. Within two months the war was raging again, and once more the leaders of the rival gangs were brought together for a meeting. At this time, however, it was determined that the two men should meet each other in a boxing match, with the winner's gang receiving the disputed territory and the acknowledgment that they were the "Top Crew" in the city.

On the appointed day, hundreds of men from both sides met at an abandoned house in the Bronxmarker. Eastman and Kelly fought each other for two solid hours, each determined to show he was the better man. Kelly had been a boxer in his younger days, and was said to make a better showing in the earlier rounds, but Eastman was a larger man and fought ferociously. At the end of the match, neither man had been knocked out, and the match was declared a draw. The gang leaders told their men that they were still at war. At this point the Tammany Hall bosses decided to back the Five Points crew, and to withdraw any legal or political help to Eastman and his gang. In 1904 Eastman was beaten unconscious by a policeman who had foiled a robbery while it was taking place, and Eastman was convicted of the crime and sentenced to a ten-year term in Sing Singmarker. When his successor Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach was murdered in 1908 by members of the Five Points Gang, the Eastman crew began to crumble.

Final years

Paolo Vaccarelli/Paul Kelley survived an attempt on his own life, shot three times by two of his own lieutenants, James T. "Biff" Ellison and Pat "Razor" Riley, in a gun battle inside one of his own nightclubs. Pressure from Tammany Hall forced him to keep a lower profile after this incident. He subsequently became more involved in the nascent labor union rackets and he ended up dying of natural causes in 1936.

After Monk Eastman was finally released in 1909, he was never able to regain the leadership of the criminal organization he had started, and fell into a life of petty crime and numerous jail terms. Within a few years, Eastman joined the army as a 44-year-old man to fight in World War I, and had a distinguished military record fighting in combat as fearlessly as he had on the streets of New York. He received an honorable discharge in 1919, but a year later was shot 5 times and killed by a corrupt prohibition agent named Jerry Bohan. He was given a funeral with full military honors.

The rackets and criminal activities that the Five Points Gang had established were taken over by the Mafia gangs that were becoming more powerful in the first twenty years of the century. Former Five Pointers like Torrio, Capone and Luciano became the new leadership of these groups and expanded their operations on a national and international basis. With the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, profits from bootlegged liquor became a huge earner for these groups, and what had been the Five Points Gang were absorbed into these Mafia families.


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