In the early morning of January 8, 1947, Andrew Hintz, hiring boss of Pier 51 at the foot of Jane Street, kissed his wife Maisie good-bye at the door of their third-floor apartment at 61 Grove Street and headed downstairs to work. Hiding on the second floor landing were three men, and one of them gunned him down. His wife ran into the hallway,saw her husband sprawled on the stairs, bleeding but still alive, and cried, “Who’s the rat who shot you?” His answer was“Johnny Dunn.” She then insisted that he repeat this information in front of neighbors who came to his aid. Hintzclung to life in St. Vincent’s Hospital for several weeks before he died. At first he stubbornly refused to tell the police who had shot him until a friend convinced him that if he should die his silence would endanger his wife. Dunn was then brought to his bedside and Hintz identified him in front of prosecutors.
For the first time the West Side waterfront code of never-tell-anything-to-the-police was broken. Thusbegan the unravelling of the Mob, a secret crime syndicate thatno government orlaw enforcement official at the time, from Mayor William O’Dwyer and District Attorney Frank Hogan to Governor Thomas E. Dewey to J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, would even entertain the idea of its existence.
A year and a half later, as Dunn awaited his fifth stay of execution, Malcolm “Mike” Johnson, ace reporterat the New York Sun,had been assigned to look into yet another waterfront murder, but his investigation was stymied by the usual wall of silence until he was introduced to William Keating, theassistant DA in the Homicide Bureau who had prosecuted the Dunn case. Keating had also hit a wall, disappointed that Dunn’s conviction, the first waterfront murder to be successfully prosecuted,didn’t lead to an investigation of the bigger picture. Instead, his bosses let him know it was time to cool it. Upon hearing that Johnson was looking into the latest murder, Keatingarranged a meeting and, finding him simpatico, handed him the DA’s file on Johnny “Cockeye” Dunn.
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Mob
The file was a page-turner. Dunn and his brother-in-law, Ed McGrath, controlled everything that went into and came out of the West Side piers from 14th Street to Battery Park, and they were as sinister as they come. Three of their West Village piers were so notorious the city couldn’t find anyone willing to rent them. Dunn also ran a murder-for-hire business that was more vicious than a Tarantino movie—husbands gunned down next to their sleeping wives, fathers wheeling a baby carriage, girlfriend witnesses in their cars.
The Dunn-McGrath gang’s reign of terror was successful at every pier in their district except Pier 51, where a troublesome hiring boss named Andy Hintz chose workers from the neighborhood at his shape-ups instead of their compliant men. When Dunn sent one of his hired guns to give Hintz a warning, his response was, “Tell Cockeye to go to hell,” which enraged the mobster so much that he went along for the hit, and when the trigger man’sgun jammed he did the job himself.
Keating then supplied Johnson with a stack of murder files. Finding numerous telltale links, hebegan to entertain the possibility that he was on to something big.After meeting Father John Corridan he was sure of it. Corridan was a Jesuit priest who worked out of the Xavier Labor School on 16th Street. A gentlebut sometimes tough and angry Irishman who grew up with the Westies in Hell’s Kitchen, he already knew the city was rotten around the edges, but the stories he heard from the longshoremen who enrolled in labor school classes to learn how to defend themselves against the Dunn-McGrath gang made him so furious that he went public with a speech, “Christ Looks at the Waterfront,” a scorching condemnation of the Mob, a word he was not afraid to use, and he had a room full ofdocuments that he was happy to share with Johnson. What the Sun reporter gleaned from Father Corridan and his sources was a story much bigger than the local racketeers. It was also about who owned them, and who owned their bosses, and the people in power who stood by and did nothing. The code of silence, broken 18 months before by Maisie and Andy Hintz and then forgotten, was about to be blasted wide open.
The New York Sun was no muckracking rag. It was a paper for gentle folk whose prior claim to famewas a response to a letter to the editor entitled Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. Its mild-mannered reputation changed overnight when the first installment of Johnson’s 20-part series hit the streets. Mobsters Linked to Vast International Crime Syndicate, blared the front-page headline,Rule New York Piers by Terror and Harvest Millions. Subsequent articles exposed Joseph Ryan, president-for-life of the International Longshoreman’s Union, which he ran like a racketeer from his office on the corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue. Other articles implicated the police department, Mayor O’Dwyer, DA Hogan, and Governor Dewey for looking the other way, and the series concluded with an expose of “Mr. Big,” an unnamed shipping tycoon who quite possibly owned them all.
“What’s Your Soul Worth If You Don’t?”
Meanwhile, Corridan’s incendiary speech had ignited a wildcat strike that grounded cargo and passenger ships all over the city and spread to other East Coast ports. Officials on every level of government went into panic mode. Then came the deluge. Dozens of dock workers and their families, oppressed for decades, came forward with their stories. At last the mayor ordered a full inquiry, with a focus on those three corrupt West Village piers. Next came hearings on organized crime by the Kefauver Committee. Millions watched the gangsters on parade on TV, the largest audience to date, mesmerized by a reality show too fantastic to believe. The Crime Commission Hearings followed, digging deeper into the waterfront mob, and ending with the unveiling of William McCormick, the mysterious Mr. Big. Finally, Hollywood got into the act, which is why 60 years later this story, with its origins in our very neighborhood,has not been forgotten.
When Budd Shulberg was writing the screenplay of On the Waterfront, he watched hours of the Kefauver hearings for authenticity, “forty delicious days of thug talk,” but the moral underpinning of the film is in the dialog he wrote for Father Barry, played by Karl Malden. His “Christ on the Waterfront” speech, which Shulberg and director Elia Kazan refused to shorten, is a version of the one Father Corridan gave that sparked the 1948 rebellion. (Malden wore Corridan’s coat and hat during the filming.) When Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy complains, “If I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel,” Malden’s response is pure Corridan, “And how much is your soul worth if you don’t?”
Mike Johnson’s series won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1949. Dunn died in Sing Sing’s electric chair. After testifying, Mr. Big went back to making piles of money. Mayor O’Dwyer resigned under a cloud of scandal and became ambassador to Mexico. On the Waterfront won eight Academyawards. DA Hogan prosecuted Bill Keating for refusing to reveal a source and was released from jail only after a public outcry. Cardinal Spellman persuaded Father Corridan to end his waterfront activism and retire. President-for-life Ryan was also forced to retire. A hundred of his ILA officials were sent to prison. The shape-up is no more. However, in 2002 Vincent “The Chin” Giganti, the pajama-clad mobster of Sullivan Street, was indicted for extortion of dock workers, the Mob having infiltrated the world of container shipping. Some things never change.
Other things do. In 2006, the Waterfront Commission of the New York Harborchristened the Father Corridan, a police boat thatpatrols the Hudson River. Pier 51 is now a children’s playground. Tourists flock to the Far West Village, no longer a grim, treeless, dangerous neighborhood. They crowd the sidewalk in front of Arthur’s at 57 Grove Street, the oldest jazz club in the city where Charlie Parker used toplay. At Marie’s Crisis next door at 59 Grove they read the plaque that commemorates the site of the death of Thomas Paine. However, there is no plaque at 61 Grove, and maybe there should be, to honorMaisie and Andy Hintz and what they did to expose the ugly underbelly of the Mob.