American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia


"American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia" ranges from Western outlaws revered as Robin Hoods to the Depression's flamboyant bootleggers and bank robbers to the late 20th century's drug kingpins and "Dapper Dons." It is the first comprehensive resource on the gangster's historical evolution and unshakable grip on the American imagination.

"American Gangsters, Then and Now" tells the stories of a number of famous gangsters and gangs--Jesse James and Billy the Kid, the Black Hand, Al Capone, Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels, the Mafia, Crips and Bloods, and more. Avoiding sensationalism, the straightforward entries include biographical portraits and historical background for each subject, as well as accounts of infamous robberies, killings, and other events, all well documented with both archival newspapers and extensive research into the files of the FBI. Readers will understand the families, the places, and the times that produced these monumental criminals, as well as the public mindset that often found them sympathetic and heroic.


This book defines a gangster as someone who controls or participates in a criminal organization that uses violence and illicit means to amass money and power. By this definition, Al Capone, John Gotti, and Jesse James (leader of the notorious bankrobbing James-Younger Gang) are all gangsters. the Dead Rabbits, the Bloods and the Crips, and Murder, Inc., are all gangster organizations.

For reasons of space, this book will not look at criminals who fall outside of the “gangster” definition, such as serial killers, mass murderers, presidential assassins, white collar criminals, violent cult leaders, etc. This encyclopedia does not include terrorists either (who might belong to groups that commit criminal acts, but are generally more interested in advancing a social/political/religious agenda than getting rich).

The entries in this encyclopedia are designed to offer a broad sweep of history and demonstrate that the gangster is not a new phenomenon. “The Wild West” era (roughly 1850–1890) was selected as the start-point simply because it is so rich with gunfighter/ outlaw lore. Also, readers are more familiar with Wild West figures than criminals from earlier times in American history.

Though the James-Younger gang, the Daltons, and Billy the Kid are all examined in detail, criminal developments in “the Wild East” are not ignored either. the late Victorian-era saw the emergence of urban crime bosses such as “Monk” Eastman and Paul Kelly, who mixed feral criminal cunning with an astute grasp of corrupt municipal politics. Both are featured within.

The Prohibition era (1920–1933) was an obvious choice for inclusion, both for the famous mobsters it spawned (Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, the Purple Gang, etc.) and its impact on organized crime. Thanks to Prohibition, local crime bosses began operating on a national, even international, scale. Prohibition offered a template for contemporary criminals—the bootlegger has an obvious counterpart in today’s drug trafficker. the illicit drug trade, like Prohibition, is covered in detail.

This book examines crimes that were once widespread but have largely disappeared, such as the “numbers” racket and “Black Hand” intimidation. the involvement of . . .

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