They called him a “Half-Pint Moron” and “The Puny Killer.” But for a short three-month period, 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 his first light of day, she gave him up for adoption. It was rumored his father was a cop, which explained his hatred for anyone in a blue uniform. He was brought up by a woman named Anna Crowley, and he took her name, calling her his only mother.
By the time Crowley was 18, despite the fact that he stood only five-foot-three inches and weighed 130 pounds, he was already a full-blown criminal, and a murderer. He teamed up with hulking Rudolph “Fats” Duringer, who was said to be the largest man ever to sit in Sing Sing’s electric chair, and the Mutt and Jeff crime team soon started terrorizing New York City.
On February 21, 1931, Crowley, Fats and another unidentified male busted into an America Legion Dance Hall in the Bronx. They were uninvited, and when a slew of Legionnaires tired to toss them out, Crowley began firing with two guns, which gave him his nickname “Two Gun” Crowley. No one was killed, but two men were injured, and Crowley was now hunted by the police for attempted murder. He was cornered in a office building on Lexington Ave, but he shot his way out of arrest, plugging Detective Ferdinand Schaedel.
Crowley continued his crazed crime spree in rapid fashion. First, Crowley and his crew robbed a bank in New Rochelle. Then they staged a home invasion at the West 90th Street apartment of rich real estate investor Rudolph Adler. Crowley shot the feisty Adler five times, and just as he was ready to fire the final bullet into Adler’s skull, Adler’s dog Trixie went into attack mode and chased Crowley and his crew from the apartment.
In Crowley’s first murder involvement, he wasn’t even the shooter. On April 27, 1931, Crowley was driving a stolen car with his pal Fats in the backseat. Fats was busy trying to make moves on dance hall girl Virginia Brannen, who had just come along for the ride. Brannen told Fats to keep his hands to himself. This did not please the hulking gangster too much, so he shot her dead. Crowley and Fats discarded a bloodied Brannen outside the St. Joseph Cemetery in Yonkers.
After finding Brannen’s dead body, the police put out an all-points bulletin for the big and tiny psychopaths. On April 29, Crowley was driving a green Chrysler on 138 Street in the Bronx, when a passing police car spotted him. The cops sped in hot pursuit after Crowley, firing shot after shot at the speeding Chrysler. Crowley returned fired, and somehow he managed to escape. The next day, the police found Crowley’s abandoned car, riddled with bullets and smeared with bloodstains. The manhunt for Crowley continued.
On May 6, Crowley was smooching in a car with his 16-year old girlfriend Helen Walsh, in a secluded spot on Morris Lane, in North Merrick, Long Island. Patrolmen Frederick Hirsch and Peter Yodice approached the car and asked for Crowley’s identification. Instead of drawing his wallet, Crowley pulled out a pistol, firing. He shot Hirsch to death and wounded Yodice, before he fled the scene.
Now branded a cop-killer, the daily newspapers brought Crowley instant fame. The New York Daily News wrote: “Francis Crowley, who glories in the nickname Two Gun Frank, and is described by the police as the most dangerous criminal at large, was hunted throughout the city last night.”
On May 7th, the police traced Crowley to a top floor apartment on West 90th Street. Crowley was holed up there with Fats Duringer and Helen Walsh, and what transpired next will forever be known as “The Siege on West 90th Street”; the most fierce gun battle in the history of New York City. Two detectives first tried to enter the apartment and take Crowley and his crew away peacefully, but Crowley would have none of that. He screamed through the door, firing lead, “Come and get me coppers.”
The detectives retreated down to the street, where they were joined by an estimated one hundred police officers, rushed in from all parts of the city. Crowley yelled down at the assembled cops, “I’m up here. Come and get me.”
Over the course of the next several hours, and while an estimated 15,000 onlookers gawked from the streets and open tenement windows, more than 700 bullets were fired into Crowley room. Crowley had an arsenal himself and he brazenly returned fire. Helen Walsh and Fats Duringer reloaded Crowley guns for him, as they hid safely under the bed. At one point, the police cut a hole in the roof and dropped gas canisters into Crowley’s room. Crowley calmly picked up the canisters and threw them out the window, overcoming several police officers below. Finally, a dozen cops broke down Crowley’s door, and with four slugs in his body, the police were finally able to subdue Crowley. Fats Duringer and Helen Walsh gave up without a whimper.
The newspapers had a field day with this one. Crowley was described as “A Mad Irish Gunman” (even though 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. They were both sentenced to die in the Sing Sing electric chair.
In jail, Crowley kept up his tough guy act. He made a club out of a wrapped-up newspaper and some wire from under his bed. Then he tried to fight his way out of prison, by cracking a guard over the head with his handmade club. His escape attempt having failed, Crowley set fire to his cell, then took off all his clothes and stuffed them into his toilet, flooding his cell. For this, Warden Lewis E. Lawes forced Crowley to sit naked in his cell for several days, until the young maniac quieted down.
On his last days on earth, Crowley mellowed a bit. A bird flew into his cell and he nurtured it. He also began drawing pictures, for which he had more than a little talent for.
On December 10, 1931, Fats Duringer got the juice first. After Fats and Crowley hugged a last goodbye, and Fats started his last lonely trek down the hall to the chair, Crowley told a guard, “There goes a great guy, a square shooter and my pal.”
Crowley was not so charitable to Walsh, whom he refused to see, even though she visited the prison almost every day. “She’s out!” he told the newspapers, “She’s going around with a cop! I won’t look at her!”
On January 21, 1932, Crowley followed the same path to the electric chair that his old pal Fats had traveled. After the black leather mask was pulled over his face, Crowley’s last words were, “Send my love to my mother.” The lever was thrown and Francis “Two Gun” Crowley was executed at the tender age of nineteen.