Guns in the Sun.
The Cohen-Dragna War.
John William Tuohy
Micky Cohen, born Cohen Meyer Harris Born September 4, 1913 Brooklyn, New York. Died July 29 1976. Mickey Cohen was an affable, if slightly mentally unbalanced drug pusher in LA, by way of Chicago. Jack Dragna represented the local LA Mafia, the so-called Micky Mouse Mob.
Originally from Brooklyn, the Cohen’s moved to Los Angeles in 1920, where Micky’s father ran a drug store. At the start of prohibition, Cohen’s older made gin in the back of the store at Micky, at age 9, was the operations delivery boy until he was arrested. Cohen turned to prize fighting in his teen years and had a brief but respectable career before he landed in Chicago and worked in the Capone organization at various odd jobs but was forced to leave town after he took part in a gun battle that left several gamblers dead.
Cleveland mobster Lou Rothkopf is said to have taken a liking to Cohen, something that was easy to do, and sent him to Los Angeles to work with Bugsy Siegel. When Siegel was murdered in 1947, Cohen was granted most of the dead gangsters gambling operations around Los Angeles. It was around this time that Cohen supposedly Cohen introduced a hoodlum named Johnny Stompanato to troubled movie starlet Lana Turner.
Cohen then wired Stompanato’s bedroom and recorded the actress and Stompanato having sex and then pressed two thousand copies of the master recording and sold them $5 each. Turner’s daughter, Cheryl, later stabbed Stompanato to death in a killing ruled to be justifiable homicide.
The essence of the Dragna-Cohen war was control and power. Although Dragna was the unquestioned Mafia power west of Las Vegas, he felt slighted within the ranks of the traditional mob that moved in on Las Vegas without so much as a nod to him and generally disrespected by freelance hoods like Mickey Cohen and Jack Whalen who ran their bookie and narcotics operations. Dragna and Cohen could not be more different. Jack Dragna (He was born Ignazio Dragna but renamed himself years later in LA) was born on April 18, 1891, in Corleone, Sicily and arrived in the United States as a child. He returned to Sicily in 1908 and served a hitch in the Italian army. He then travelled back to the US in 1914.
Dragna is the suspected killer of Bernard Baff, a hapless kosher chicken wholesaler in Brooklyn. There is a possibility that Dragna worked with the New York mobs and the Capone operation at some point before venturing out west. Over the years, he had convictions for attempted extortion (1915) and served time in San Quinton prison. He was released in 1918 and never again arrested for a serious offense.
Dragna, who lived at 3927 Hubert Avenue in Los Angeles, took over the tiny LA outfit in 1931 after the boss, Joe Ardizonne vanished in 1931. (He lived at 10949 North Mount Gleason Avenue) A shy and retiring person, he avoided the limelight and the newspaper people. However, on April 15, 1951, when the LA police began a harassment campaign against the Mafia, the cops recorded Dragna having sex in his girlfriend’s trailer at 330 Mariposa Street in LA and arrested him (and her) for engaging in lewd acts by consent (Oral sex)
Mickey Cohen, on the other hand, went out of his way to bring attention to himself, especially the press, which generally went lightly on him as a flashy, interesting character. Flashy, good humored and outgoing, Cohen quickly became the overall public favorite in the short lived, almost comical war with Dragna largely because Cohen understood the fundamentals of public relations. When an elderly widow named Elsie Phillips lost her house at 5631 Homeside Avenue in LA in a suit over an unpaid $8.00 radio repair bill, Cohen paid the lien judgment ($1,013.95) for her. Then his men beat the radio repairman up.
The shooting started when Dragna demanded a piece of the $40 per phone per week plus a general surcharge of $5.00 that Cohen was charging bookie. Cohen refused. So on February 7, 1950, Dragna, planted a bomb under Cohen’s home on 413 Moreno Blvd. in West Hollywood. (The same street where Jack Dragna lived)
The bomb, which went off at 4:15 AM, left a crater ten feet deep and broke every window in every house for 5,000 feet around. The explosion was felt seven miles away. The problem was, for Dragna anyway, was that his men had placed the bomb directly under a double laid cement floor where Cohen kept his safe. Because of that, the bomb blasted sideways instead of upwards. All that happened to Cohen was that the explosion lifted him up out of his bed and threw him back down again. His wife, LaVonne, their maid and the Cohen family dog were uninjured in the blast.
Cohen’s car in front of Sherry’s where the Dragna mob did a drive by shooting in an attempt to murder Cohen in July of 1949. It didn’t happen. Cohen was slightly wounded, shot to the shoulder. His companion, journalist Florabel Muir, was hit in the rear end by a ricochet. Afterwards Cohen had his car bullet proofed and battle ready.
Members of the Sica gang were rounded up and questioned in the bombing but released when no evidence could be found to tie them to the case. “I am completely in the dark as to who done it” Cohen said and then added “And I ain’t no gangster” The newspapers reported that Cohen was “almost put to tears” that his neighbors could have been hurt in the blast. One neighbor responded “That’s very touching. What would be even more touching is if Cohen moved away from here” The neighbors then declared the Cohen “an intolerable nuisance” and demanded they leave the neighborhood. Cohen sent out a three- page letter to each resident, begging their forgiveness and asking that they reconsider.
Next, Dragna sent Sam Bruno to shot Cohen to death. Bruno was said to be the best shot in the mob. One bright, beautiful afternoon he hid behind a tree and fired a shotgun into Cohen's car as he drove by. He fired another round and effectively killed the car but Cohen was untouched. The bullets didn’t even come near him. After that, mobster started saying, and probably believing, that Cohen made a pack with the devil. In Las Vegas, they were actually taking odds on how long it would take to kill him off and the odds were in Micky Cohen’s favor. There were a number of failed attempts, all of which Cohen survived, basically through dumb luck.
The Kefauver Committee caused Cohen to be convicted of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison. In 1961, a separate indictment found him guilty of income tax evasion in a second case. Sent to Alcatraz, Cohen was attacked by another inmate who hit the aging gangster in the skull with a lead pipe, dramatically affecting his motor skills. “The guy” Cohen said “scrambled my brains” He was released from prison in 1972 and died in his sleep four years later.