Trevor Laffan: Did you hear about the  Irish man who defied the Grim Reaper?

Trevor Laffan
Trevor Laffan: Did you hear about the  Irish man who defied the Grim Reaper?

CITY LIFE: Michael Malloy lived on the mean streets of New York during the Prohibiton era a century ago

THE Government’s minimum alcohol pricing strategy came into force this month, which put an end to low-cost wines and cheap slabs of beer.

So now there is a minimum price below which alcohol can’t be sold.

Campaigners have said that minimum unit pricing of alcohol will save lives, cut hospitalisations and bring societal benefits, as well as savings for the Exchequer.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly agrees and said the measure is designed to reduce the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol and will delay young people beginning to consume it.

Others suggest this plan could revive the smuggling trade and there is a precedent for that.

During the Prohibition era in the 1930s, the American Government tried to reduce the consumption of alcohol, but it led to a massive underground operation instead. It introduced the ‘speakeasys’, which operated like our shebeens, and business boomed.

Many argue that alcohol consumption rose to record levels during Prohibition and a rise in hospitalisations from alcohol-related illnesses.

Alcohol poisoning was common because the hooch produced in hidden stills was frequently tainted with impurities. Many died but some say this wasn’t always accidental either.

Conspiracy theorists accused the Government of deliberately contaminating the pure alcohol that bootleggers needed, by adding kerosene and gasoline to the mix, supposedly to scare people into giving up illegal drinking.

That’s hard to believe, but while reading up on this, I came across a strange tale involving Irishman, Michael Molloy.

Originally from Donegal, Molloy made quite a name for himself in New York during Prohibition. He was a homeless alcoholic who survived several attempts to kill him by acquaintances who wanted to claim on his life insurance policy.

They fed him with anti-freeze, turpentine, and poison, tried to freeze him to death, and even ran over him in a car, but he survived it all. His ability to deft death earned him the nickname ‘Mike the Durable’.

The story began when five conspirators met in a speakeasy in New York City on a cold winter night in 1933. They were down on their luck, like so many others at the time, and looking for a way to make some extra money.

One of the men owned the speakeasy, which wasn’t making much money, and over several rounds of drinks, they came up with a plan.

They would take out an insurance policy on their intended target, naming themselves as beneficiaries, then they would kill the victim and collect the cash.

One of the men claimed to have done it before and got away with it so they agreed to give it a go. All they needed was a victim.

When they saw Michael Malloy passed out from drink at the end of the bar, they knew they had their man.

Molloy lived in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a former firefighter who fell on hard times and ended up doing odd jobs like sweeping alleys and collecting garbage.

He was homeless, and at night he usually made his way to the speakeasy and drank until he passed out. He often drank himself into oblivion and slept on the floor in the speakeasy.

It was on one of those nights, while he was unconscious in the corner, that the five realised they had their victim.

Molloy appeared the perfect candidate. He was in his fifties but looked much older because of his lifestyle and they assumed his health couldn’t be good. He was a loner so he wouldn’t be missed by anyone when he was gone either.

The men devised a simple plan. They would give him an unlimited tab at the bar, and in no time at all, he would drink himself to death.

Molloy was delighted with his new-found friends and the unlimited credit, and he made full use of it. He drank his loaf off and returned every night for more.

He was thriving and when the five conspirators realised the plan wasn’t working fast enough, they upped their game. They started mixing his drinks with anti-freeze.

When that had no effect, they tried adding turpentine and rat poison, but he continued drinking as usual. It didn’t knock a feather out of him.

The men fed him raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol and gave him sandwiches of stale tuna laced with crushed glass and carpet tacks, and he devoured the lot. Some said he even put on a little weight.

So the gang decided to try a more direct approach. They waited until he passed out one night, then carried him outside and lay him in the snow. They poured gallons of cold water on his chest and left him there, certain he would freeze to death from the cold. The following night, Molloy appeared back at the speakeasy for his tipple.

For their next attempt, the men lay his unconscious body in the street and drove over him in a car.

Molloy was carted off to hospital in an ambulance with a few broken bones but no life-threatening injuries. Within three weeks he returned to the bar for more drink.

In desperation, the conspirators made a final attempt. One night after Molloy had passed out, they put a hose in his mouth and connected it to a gas jet. He died within a short time of lobar pneumonia.

They had finally succeeded and looked forward to a big pay out, but they never collected a cent.

There were lots of rumours circulating around town and the police got suspicious when they heard stories of ‘Mike the Durable’. Molloy’s body was exhumed and forensically examined.

The cause of death was discovered, and the investigation soon identified the conspirators. One went to prison, while the other four were sent to the electric chair.

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