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Mickey Duffy

The Only Good Gangster is a Dead Gangster! Read more about the notorious villain in "Innocence Lost", a historical crime novel soon to be published

Hi there, Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s….

Sherilyn’s writing this great new series set in my own hometown, Philadelphia. The villain of the piece is the notorious Mickey Duffy, King of the Bootleggers.

Duffy’s not that well known outside of Philly. Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, or Baby Face Nelson were probably more famous, but in our little corner of the world, there wasn’t anyone meaner or richer than Mickey Duffy.

Prohibition was a business opportunity for many of those guys, and Duffy was quick to seize the advantage and make his mark.

She asked me to pull my notes on the guy as part of the research she’s doing. It wasn’t hard finding stuff ‘cause the Philadelphia Inquirer has a whole drawer full of files, headlines, and newspaper clippings.

Early Years

Born Michael Joseph Cusick somewhere around 1889, Mickey grew up in a poor Polish immigrant family in the Greys Ferry area in Philadelphia. He was the toughest tough kid from a tough part of town. Somewhere along the way, Mickey changed his name to Mickey Duffy in order to sound more Irish and fit in with the local gangs better.

At 16, Mickey wound up in reform school. He wound up going in and out several times on charges of armed robbery and hijacking. Each time he got out, he went back to the only line of work he knew, getting in a little deeper each time.

Duffy was arrested in May 1919 for assault and battery with intent to kill and served two years and eleven months at the Eastern State Penitentiary. When he got out, Prohibition was the law of the land and crime syndicates were in the business of smuggling, making and selling illegal alcohol to a thirsty nation. Mickey saw an opportunity, and an entrepreneur was born!

Just Business

Duffy opened his first brewery in Camden, NJ and it wasn’t long before he was known as the Beer Baron of South Jersey.

With profits pouring in (pun fully intended), Duffy opened the fashionable Club Cadix at 23rd and Chestnut in 1924.

Max “Boo Boo” Hoff, a fight manager, controlled bootlegging in Philadelphia in the mid-1920s was one of Mickey’s biggest rivals. The Bailey brothers were a small time gang that worked for Boo Boo Hoff and were often the muscle involved in the rivalry between Hoff and Duffy.

A 1928 Grand Jury closed in on Hoff, ending his career. With Hoff gone, Mickey took over Philly’s illicit beer racket.

Mickey’s tendency for gaining power at gunpoint brought him into conflict with Max Hassel, who controlled numerous breweries in Pennsylvania and Northern New Jersey.
The aggressive Duffy muscled his way into the lucrative Jersey territory, with Hassel handing over some of his breweries to him. At times, Hassel and Duffy were business partners.

He ran his bootlegging and numbers racket from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

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Married Life

He met and married Edith Craig shortly after his release. She had also been born into poverty, becoming a hat-check girl at Zeiss’s, a famous pre-prohibition nightclub. Acquaintances say she matched his brazenness with nerves of steel and faith in his abilities.

A Brush with Death

Bootlegging was a violent business and Mickey was shot three times leaving the Club Cadix late on the night of February 25th, 1927. His bodyguard, John Bricker, was killed, and Earl Brown, the Club’s doorman, was also wounded. It was the first time that Tommy guns were used in a gangland slaying.

 

Black Palms

Mickey did very well in the bootlegging business. He and Edith built a palatial home at 1505 City Line Avenue near Haverford Avenue in Penn Wynne. Duffy’s mansion was on the Penn Wynne side of City Line across from Seventy-Seventh Street. Built by McWilliams & Maloney to look like a Mediterranean villa, the structure was white with green satyrs on the sides and black painted palms on the façade. Two large parrots occupied gilded cages on the stone ledges of the patio.

 

The End

A man as powerful and dangerous as Mickey Duffy naturally attracted enemies. During the night of August 29th, 1931, as he lay sleeping in his suite at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, someone shot him dead.

Duffy’s funeral was a big deal. Thousands of people flocked to the cemetery to see him off. Souvenir hunters took flowers from the hundreds of floral tributes at the gravesite to remember the poor Polish kid from Grays Ferry who had gone on to become Philly’s Public Enemy No. 1.

 

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