Ulster and Sullivan Counties have been written about as a “favorite” destination of Mafia notables. This is true for the Italian Mafia as well as the Jewish Mob. Examples include Legs Diamond, whose hideout was at the hotel which became the Rocking Horse Ranch, and Anthony “Three Fingers” Castellito, who was “whacked” in Kerhonkson where he had a country home in 1961. Even the Sopranos, from the hit HBO series, made it to Upstate New York (though to neighboring Sullivan County, not Ulster).
One thing is for sure, there was a considerable amount of activity in the area, especially during the 1930s. For instance, when one of the Gaffney boys went to his family’s orchard to pick apples, he came upon a dead body. Locals immediately thought this to be a mob hit. However, it became apparent that the deceased man had ties to the Kansas City Mob and the Union Station Massacre.
Frank Nash had a long list of prior convictions when he escaped from Leavenworth Federal Prison in Kansas. He had only served a few years of a 25 year sentence. He broke out of jail in 1930 and was on the run until 1933 when, after a nationwide manhunt, he was apprehended on June 16, 1933. A tip led authorities to his location in Hot Spring, Arkansas.
According to FBI records, Nash was apprehended by “two FBI agents, Frank Smith and F. Joseph Lackey, and McAlester, Oklahoma Police Chief Otto Reed.” It was decided that Nash would be driven by police to “Fort Smith, Arkansas, where at 8:30 PM” he would board a Missouri Pacific train bound for Kansas City, Missouri. Arrangements were made for other lawmen to meet Smith and Lackey at Union Station in Kansas City to escort the prisoner back to the penitentiary.
While the FBI was en route with Nash, some of his friends decided to put together a plan to free him. FBI Records reveal that the plot to liberate Nash was “engineered by Richard Tallman Galatas, Herbert Farmer, “Doc” Louis Stacci, and Frank B. Mulloy.” Vernon Miller, another accomplice, was “designated to free Nash.” Miller sought the help of John Lazia, who was a top mob boss in Kansas City. He chose not to get involved because he felt that this scheme was too risky; he also followed a code in which law enforcement were not to be harmed due to the “heat” it would bring about.
Instead, Lazia decided to enlist the help of “Pretty Boy” Floyd as well as another gunman, Adam Richetti. He introduced his guys to Miller. The three men arrived at Union Station, armed in their vehicles with machine guns, and were approached by the lawmen. When Nash and the officers advanced, at least one machine gun opened fire with one of the gunmen yelling, according to the FBI, “Up-up!” Another agent heard someone yell “Let’em have it!” The ensuing hail of gunfire resulted in the deaths of some officers, as well as Nash.
FBI agents quickly realized that this massacre was the work of Miller, Richetti, and Floyd. This was confirmed “by a fingerprint lifted off a beer bottle at Miller’s home and at the scene.” Richetti was also linked to the scene of the crime and was charged on October 22, 1934. Authorities eventually traced Miller and his girlfriend to Chicago, then New York, and finally back to Chicago again. It was there that he was killed in November 1933 by an underling of “Longie Zwillman, a Newark, New Jersey Mobster allegedly because Miller had killed one of [his] men.” Miller was beaten and strangled; then, his body was dumped.
Michael “Jimmy Needles” LaCapra was a soldier working for Lazia. He was, by some accounts, a heroin addict – hence, due to his preferred method of getting “high”, he was known as Jimmy Needles. On August 18 or 19, 1935, LaCapra was taken for a ride by unknown mobsters. The papers at this time referred to this as a “mob ride.” The men ordered LaCapra to get out of the car and they proceeded to walk 20 feet off of the side of Tucker’s Corner Road and onto the property of the Gaffney Family. LaCapra was shot once in the head with a .38 caliber bullet exiting through the center of his forehead. As the car was leaving the scene, it ran over his body and disappeared into Ulster County.
The Gaffney Family notified the police of the dead body in their orchard. Once Sergeant Trooper Lockhart arrived with Deputy Sheriff Abrahm Molyneaux, the two were able to eventually identify the body as that of a “dapper gunman” named Michael LaCapra. They were able to do this with the help of the New York City Police Department. He was no stranger to the law, as he had previously been picked up for possession of drugs as well as concealed weapons.
LaCapra had been running for his life because he had a contract on his head and had already almost been killed twice. One such attempt, according to the Iola Daily Register, involved Jerome Crete, John Pace and Robert McCoy who tried to off LaCapra in what the newspaper called “gangland fashion.” Partly because of this, he turned himself into the FBI. Once in protection, The Emporia Gazette reported that LaCapra told stories about the Union Station Massacre that he had heard from his brother-in-law Sammy Socia, who was also a gangster that was alleged to have been present at the massacre.
One thing is for sure – someone wanted LaCapra silenced. He not only knew too much about the Union Station Massacre, including that it was Lazia who gave safe passage to the gunmen out of town, but it was also believed that he had a hand in the killing of his boss Lazia in an attempt to take control of his crew…which failed. Some believed that he was marked for revenge by his old Kansas City Crew, and still others thought Richetti, who was in jail facing a death sentence, was after him. Richetti was the only gunmen brought to justice and was eventually sent to the gas chamber in 1938 based, in part, on the testimony of LaCapra.
This would not be the only investigation by Lockhart into a mafia presence in Ulster County. In fact, he would become well acquainted with names such as LaCapra (Jimmy Needles), Charlie the Jew, and Portuguese Joe. While the mystery surrounding LaCapra had yet to be solved, Lockhart wondered if the body found floating in the Hudson not long before had any relation to this murder.