The Westies: Inside New York’s Irish Mob-T.J. English
As of today, James “Jimmy C” Coonan, the former gangster that once ruled the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, is still incarcerated, serving a 75 year sentence handed down to him by former federal judge, Whitman Knapp. Coon and his former wife Edna, were convicted on the testimony of former associate Francis ” Mickey” Featherstone. Their gang which ruled Hell’s Kitchen with an iron grip became known in the press as the Westies. Coonan’s conviction and the gang’s dismantling, served as another notch in the belt of then Southern District prosecutor, Rudolph Giuliani, who would later run for and become Mayor of New York City.
In New York City history, the Italian-American mafia has always captured the public spotlight in regards to organized crime headlines. The five families, filled with larger than life characters, captivated the American public becoming glorified in films and music. But at one time in New York City, in a small neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, the Irish mafia controlled the streets. T.J. English takes us back in time to when Hell’s Kitchen was one of the most dangerous parts of New York City. Today the area has changed substantially. The faces have changed and the area once known to harden criminals, has seen a surge in gay and lesbian residents. The bars are still there but the area has become a focal point for New York City nightlife. The violence is long gone but some of the remnants from the past will always remain.
As we follow English back in time, we are re-introduced to the many notorious figures of the era and bear witness to the development of the racketeering, loansharking and homicides that became staples of the neighborhood. All of the major players are here, including Paddy Dugan, Mickey Spillane and even the Italian gangsters from Brooklyn such as Roy DeMeo, Paul Castellano and Nino Gaggi, Drugs, money, sex and violence are all here making the novel feel like something Martin Scorsese would have brought to the silver screen. Similar to ‘The Departed’ and ‘Goodfellas’, the fast life and hard fall for Featherstone, Coonan and company reminds the reader of the stark reality of life on the street where friends become enemies and enemies become acquaintances. The dark and seedy underworld rises to the surface, brought to life by English showing us the gritty scene that once existed in the island of Manhattan.
Similar to the story of Henry Hill, Sammy Gravano and Phil Leonetti, Featherstone also becomes a testifying witness and it is towards the end of the book, that the Vietnam Veteran and former street hustler makes a claim for redemption, helping the authorities to close homicide cases and break the Westies gang permanently. Now a member of the Witness Protection Program, Featherstone cooperated on the book and his participation gives the book an added touch of authenticity. And as we make our way to the epilogue, we learn the fate of the major figures throughout the book.
Featherstone and Coonan will never again walk the streets of Hell’s Kitchen together as they once did. Coonan will spend the rest of his life in prison and Featherstone has no desire to return to his old haunts. Their lives are no longer in NYC, but their past lives remain a permanent part of New York City history and time where there was much more to the name Hell’s Kitchen that most wanted to know.