In the winter of 1933, the empty store stayed dark all day, dusty wooden crates piled high behind the windows. But if you lived close by, you knew that the door opened at night and that behind the stacked boxes was a bare-bones little speakeasy, a sofa, four tables, a plywood bar along the back wall, a fair supply of bootlegged whiskey, and a bartender who slept it off at night on the sofa.
If only one of them had a wealthy relative or, barring that, a sick one with a good insurance policy. The right kind of dead family member would have really come in handy right then. Too bad none of them had an expendable relative. But perhaps, Marino suggested, they could create one — someone no one would miss, someone hardly worth keeping alive anyway.
The conspirators in the Malloy scheme finalized their plans in January of 1933, clustered around a table at that no-name speakeasy. They persuaded their amiable victim to pose as the brother of bartender Red Murphy – in exchange for free whiskey. They took out two insurance policies with a combined payout of $1,800, big money in the breadline days.
In addition to Murphy, the others in the oddly assembled plot included Marino, a fruit vendor named Daniel Kriesberg, and Frank Pasqua, an increasingly money-strapped funeral home director. Their initial idea was simple. Prohibition was still in effect, and New York City was awash in poison alcohol, the product of shoddy home brews, government efforts to contaminate the liquor supply as an enforcement tool, and bootlegger concoctions. They would provide Malloy with a generous allotment of bad alcohol and watch him go down to the floor, just another victim of the speakeasy life.
It wasn’t until the end of February that they found the right weapon. Two of the men rented a room in an old boarding house with gas lighting. Once Malloy was again good and drunk, they hauled him there, connected a hose to the gas valve, ran it into the old man’s mouth. The illuminating gas was dense with that lethal poison, carbon monoxide. This time, Malloy barely lasted ten minutes.
The conspirators got the body buried quickly, quickly went to collect their payout. But unfortunately – at least for them – the story of the indestructible Malloy was too good to stay secret. It started circulating in other bars, making its way round other card games, until the Bronx police picked the rumors and, skeptically at first, began an investigation.
Both the cab driver and the physician made deals and testified for the prosecution. And Murphy, Marino, Kriesberg and Pasqua all went to the electric chair in the summer of 1934. A reporter for the now-vanished New York Daily Mirror recorded the execution in a grim staccato: “The kw-e-e- of the dynamo. Two thousand volts and ten amperes. The rip-saw current that tears one apart. Three shocks.” It was, he wrote, “the State’s toast to old ‘Mike the Durable’.”