They called him “half-pint jerk” and “the petty killer.” But for a brief period of three months, Francis “Two Gun” Crowley was the most dangerous man in New York City.
Crowley was born in New York City on October 13, 1912. His German mother was not married, and as soon as little Francis saw the first light of day, she put him up for adoption. His father was rumored to be a cop, which explained his hatred for anyone in a blue uniform. He was raised by a woman named Anna Crowley, and he took her name, calling her his only mother.
By the time Crowley was 18, even though he was only five feet three inches tall and weighed 130 pounds, he was already a full-fledged criminal and murderer. He teamed up with the burly Rudolph “Fats” Duringer, who was said to be the greatest man to ever sit in Sing Sing’s electric chair, and Mutt and Jeff’s criminal team soon began terrorizing the city of New York.
On February 21, 1931, Crowley, Fats, and another unidentified man stormed a Legion of America ballroom in the Bronx. They weren’t invited, and when a large number of legionnaires got tired of shooting them, Crowley began firing with two pistols, which gave him his nickname “Two Gun” Crowley. No one was killed, but two men were injured, and the police were now pursuing Crowley for attempted murder. He was cornered in an office building on Lexington Ave, but shot out of arrest, plugging Detective Ferdinand Schaedel.
Crowley continued his maddened crime spree in rapid succession. First, Crowley and his crew robbed a bank in New Rochelle. They then organized a break-in at the West 90th Street apartment of wealthy real estate investor Rudolph Adler. Crowley shot the wrestler Adler five times, and just as he was ready to fire the last bullet into Adler’s skull, Adler’s dog, Trixie, went into attack mode and chased Crowley and his team out of the apartment.
In Crowley’s first murder, he wasn’t even the killer. On April 27, 1931, Crowley was driving a stolen car with his friend Fats in the back seat. Fats was busy trying to make moves with the girl from the ballroom Virginia Brannen, who had just come for a walk. Brannen told Fats to keep still. This did not please the huge gangster too much, so he shot her dead. Crowley and Fats discarded a bloody Brannen outside of St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Yonkers.
After finding Brannen’s body, the police published an all points bulletin for psychopaths big and small. On April 29, Crowley was driving a green Chrysler on 138 Street in the Bronx when a passing police car spotted him. The cops rushed in pursuit of Crowley, firing shot after shot at the speeding Chrysler. Crowley shot back and somehow managed to escape. The next day, police found Crowley’s abandoned car, riddled with bullets and stained with blood. The search for Crowley continued.
On May 6, Crowley was making out in a car with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Helen Walsh, in a secluded spot on Morris Lane in North Merrick, Long Island. Troopers Frederick Hirsch and Peter Yodice approached the car and asked for Crowley’s identification. Instead of pulling out his wallet, Crowley pulled out a pistol and fired. He shot Hirsch to death and wounded Yodice, before he fled the scene.
Now branded a cop killer, the newspapers brought Crowley instant fame. The New York Daily News wrote: “Francis Crowley, who takes pride in the nickname Two Gun Frank and is described by police as the most dangerous criminal overall, was chased across town last night.”
On May 7, police tracked Crowley to a top-floor apartment on West 90th Street. Crowley was hiding there with Fats Duringer and Helen Walsh, and what happened next will forever be known as “The Siege of West 90th Street”; the fiercest shooting in New York City history. First, two detectives tried to enter the apartment and take Crowley and his crew peacefully away, but Crowley did not want to do any of that. He yelled through the door, shooting lead, “Come get me cops.”
The detectives withdrew to the street, where they were joined by a hundred police officers, estimated to arrive from all over the city. Crowley yelled to the assembled policemen, “I’m here. Come find me.”
Over the course of the next few hours, and as some 15,000 spectators gawked at the streets and at the open windows of the houses, more than 700 bullets were fired into Crowley’s room. Crowley had an arsenal himself and brazenly responded to fire. Helen Walsh and Fats Duringer reloaded the Crowley pistols for him, while they hid safely under the bed. At one point, the police punched a hole in the ceiling and threw gas canisters into Crowley’s room. Crowley calmly picked up the canisters and threw them out the window, beating several policemen below. Eventually a dozen policemen broke down Crowley’s door, and with four bullets in his body, the police were finally able to subdue Crowley. Fats Duringer and Helen Walsh gave up without a moan.
The newspapers had a field day with this one. Crowley was described as “A crazy Irish gunman” (although he was actually German), with “the face of an alter boy”. Crowley and Fats were convicted of the murder of Virginia Brannen and Crowley of the murder of patrolmen Frederick Hirsch. Both were sentenced to die in the Sing Sing electric chair.
In jail, Crowley continued to act tough. He made a club out of a wrapped newspaper and some wire under his bed. He then tried to fight his way out of the prison, hitting a guard over the head with his handmade club. His escape attempt having failed, Crowley set his cell on fire, then stripped off all his clothes and flushed them down the toilet, flooding his cell. To do this, Warden Lewis E. Lawes forced Crowley to sit naked in his cell for several days, until the young maniac calmed down.
In his last days on earth, Crowley softened a bit. A bird flew into his cell and fed him. He also began to draw pictures, for which he had more than a little talent.
On December 10, 1931, Fats Duringer took the juice first. After Fats and Crowley said goodbye for the last time, and Fats began his last lonely journey down the hall to the chair, Crowley told a guard, “Here goes a great guy, a square shooter, and my friend.”
Crowley was not so charitable to Walsh, whom he refused to see, even though she visited the prison almost every day. “She’s out!” she told the newspapers: “She’s with a policeman! I won’t look at her!”
On January 21, 1932, Crowley followed the same path to the electric chair that his old friend Fats had traveled. After his face was covered with the black leather mask, Crowley’s last words were, “Send my love to my mother.” The crowbar was thrown and Francis “Two Gun” Crowley was executed at the tender age of nineteen.