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Paul Kelly (born Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli; December 23, 1876 – April 3, 1936) was an American mobster and former boxer, who founded the Five Points Gang in New York City after starting some brothels with prize money earned in boxing. It was one of the last dominant street gangs in New York history. Known for his high culture and gentle manners, Kelly recruited young men who later became prominent criminals of the 20th century, including Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Frankie Yale.[1]

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly-2.jpg
Paul Kelly in early 1900s
Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli

December 23, 1876
DiedApril 3, 1936 (aged 59)
OccupationBoxer, criminal
Conviction(s)Assault and robbery

At the peak of his criminal career, he was defined by The New York Times in 1912 as "perhaps the most successful and the most influential gangster in New York history".[2] Kelly was said to support election of Democratic Tammany Hall politicians with his gang's activities at elections.

After open street warfare with Monk Eastman's gang, Kelly and Eastman were ordered by Tammany Hall officials to end their competition with a boxing match. It ended in a draw, but the politicians finally withdrew protection for Eastman, who went to jail for robbery. After years as top dog, Kelly lost support when politicians wanted to clean up the Bowery. Gradually he became involved in rackets of the longshoremen's union.


Early lifeEdit

Born in New York City to Italian parents from Potenza, Basilicata,[3] he grew up in Bowery, Manhattan. After several jobs, he started as a boxer in the bantamweight division, changing his name to Paul Kelly in the 1890s. His career was short and quite successful, being considered by Bridgeport Herald newspaper as one of the "fastest and cleanest little boxers in the business" in 1897.[4] He used his boxing earnings to open brothels and clubs.

Five Points GangEdit

The New Brighton/Little Naples Cafe, main clubhouse of Kelly's Five Points Gang

Offering his services to Tammany Hall politician "Big" Tim Sullivan, Kelly was alleged to have used his gang to help elect Tom Foley against Tammany Hall incumbent Paddy Divver. The latter was a local saloon owner campaigning to keep the red-light districts out of the Fourth Ward during the 1901 Second Assembly District primary elections. On the day of the primary on September 17, Kelly's gang of over 1,500 men assaulted Divver supporters, blocked polling booths, and committed numerous acts of voter fraud to win the election for Foley, such as voting several times during the day; one gang member claimed that "I got in 53 votes." [5] Foley was the challenger, not the incumbent; the Second already had numerous houses of prostitution as Divver, a judge and longtime Tammany leader, was aware. Not one newspaper noted Kelly's gang or Kelly that day, although there was extensive coverage of the election.[citation needed] Divver was reported to have drawn a pistol on a personal enemy. Kelly later gained control of the vice districts of the Fourth and Sixth Wards, including prostitution, and controlled a virtual monopoly in the Five Points.

In 1903 Kelly was arrested for assault and robbery and served nine months in jail. On release, Kelly formed the Paul Kelly Association, an athletic club which he used to recruit younger criminals for his organization. The headquarters were located at 24 Stanton Street.[6]

He soon opened the New Brighton Athletic Club, a two-story cafe and dance hall at 57 Great Jones Street (between Lafayette and Bowery). Kelly charmed socialites and other prominent citizens who frequented his club. Always well dressed, Kelly spoke French, Italian, and Spanish fluently, appreciated fine art and classical music,[7] and his educated and sophisticated nature impressed many of New York's elite. During that time, Kelly's organization expanded into other parts of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey. Kelly's image alienated some top gunmen, such as "Kid Twist" Max Zwerbach and Richie Fitzpatrick, who later left for the Monk Eastman Gang. Others, such as Johnny Spanish, went out on their own.[7]

Rivalry with Monk EastmanEdit

Paul Kelly (right) and his henchman Jack McManus (left) at the Kelly's dive bar "New Brighton"

Kelly's main rival was Monk Eastman, whose gang of over 2,000 gunmen controlled New York's East Side. Eastman, an old-fashioned thug of the 19th century, was the opposite of the 'cultured' Kelly. While both gangs were under the control of Tammany Hall the two constantly fought over control of the "neutral" territory along the Bowery.[citation needed]

Paul Kelly's Five Points Gang controlled the area to the west of the Bowery, and Eastman's, everything to the east. Tammany Hall wanted a neutral area between them to be off-limits. When the gangs fought openly over the territory, Tammany Hall called them to a sit-down meeting. Officials ordered them to have a boxing match to settle the issue. The winner would take control of the prized neutral territory, and the war will end. Both parties agreed, and Kelly and Eastman duked it out, but the fight ended in a draw. The gangs resumed warfare.[citation needed]

Eastman was arrested for robbing a man on the West Side who was being tailed by detectives. Eastman was arrested for robbery, and Tammany Hall, eager to end the warfare between its two affiliated gangs, declined to provide protection.[7] Eastman was sentenced to 10 years in Sing Sing Prison.

Kelly's downfallEdit

With Eastman's arrest, Kelly completely controlled New York. He had internal competition, and in November 1905, Kelly's former lieutenants, Razor Riley and James T. "Biff" Ellison, now members of the Gopher Gang, tried to kill him at his New Brighton headquarters. Kelly, drinking with bodyguards Bill Harrington and Rough House Hogan, returned their fire. Harrington died protecting Kelly. Riley and Ellison escaped, and a wounded Kelly was taken to a private hospital before he could be arrested. Kelly turned himself in a month later, but charges were dropped due to his political connections. Ellison was arrested in 1911 and sent to prison. He became mentally ill and was placed in an asylum, where he died. Riley was found by police, dead from pneumonia, in his basement hideout in Chinatown. The negative publicity caused the New Brighton to be closed down by Police Commissioner William McAdoo for the protection of its socialite regulars, beginning the end of Paul Kelly's dominance in the New York underworld.[8]

Final yearsEdit

Tammany Hall also put pressure on Kelly to lower his profile as it sought to clean up the Bowery. After Kelly closed the New Brighton, he moved operations to the Italian immigrant communities in Harlem and Brooklyn. He also retained ties to his old neighborhood, becoming a vice president of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) under the name Paul Vaccarelli. He was based in the Chelsea area. He was expelled from the ILA in 1919, but returned to it later that year. He took leadership of a spontaneous port-wide strike begun in protest against a modest low wage increase (only five cents an hour) which management had agreed to. With the support of Mayor John F. Hylan, Kelly was appointed to a commission to resolve the strike, which he ended without obtaining any concessions for the strikers.[citation needed]

He became a labor racketeer, providing muscle in labor disputes during the 1920s.[citation needed] He died of natural causes in 1936.

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ Carl Sifakis, The Mafia Encyclopedia, Infobase Publishing, 2006, p.168
  2. ^ Nate Hendley, American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2009, p.123
  3. ^ David Critchley, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891–1931, Routledge, 2008, p.19
  4. ^ Eric Ferrara, Manhattan Mafia Guide: Hits, Homes & Headquarters, Arcadia Publishing, 2011
  5. ^ Jay Robert Nash, The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 2, Scarecrow Press, 2004, p.472
  6. ^ Eric Ferrara, Manhattan Mafia Guide: Hits, Homes & Headquarters, Arcadia Publishing, 2011
  7. ^ a b c Jay Robert Nash, The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 2, Scarecrow Press, 2004, p.473
  8. ^ Jay Robert Nash, The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 2, Scarecrow Press, 2004, p.474
  9. ^ "The Alienist: Antonio Magro to Recur on TNT's New Series". Retrieved May 28, 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Kimeldorf, Howard, Reds or Rackets? The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront, University of California Press, 1988.
  • Downey, Patrick. Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935, Barricade Books, 2004,2009

External linksEdit