Organized Crime

Gangster Era Reborn: Unearthed Crime Scenes from New York’s Prohibition Underworld

Nearly 100 years later, there's still new information to discover.

CAPONE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT TO PEG LEG: THE ADONIS SOCIAL CLUB MASSACRE – DECEMBER 26, 1926

New York Daily News December 26, 1926

When Richard “Peg Leg” Lonergan stormed through the entrance of South Brooklyn’s Adonis Social Club moments after midnight on December 26, his mere presence turned a joyous Christmas night celebration into a powder keg of racial and gangland tension. The club, founded by Italians and Irish, threw dances and other social events in Brooklyn with the goal of bringing together both cultures in a safe and festive atmosphere.

Lonergan, who lead the infamous White Hand Gang and was at war with Italian mob boss Frankie Yale for control of the Brooklyn waterfront, held two other titles well-known throughout Brooklyn — virulent bigot and killer. Gangland lore alleged multiple bodies and he relished brutalizing Italian men found in the company of Irish women. Tonight, Lonergan was flanked by up to six men. His two armed henchmen, Cornelius “Needles” Ferry and Aaron Haines (Harms), stayed close to him. Lonergan also had his own pistol on hand.

The group immediately made themselves known with obnoxious slurs to the Italians present and chasing out the door any Irish women with them. Despite being outnumbered, Lonergan’s arrogance and racism made him oblivious to the conspiracy brewing around him and his crew. The liquor made his insults louder, and through it all he ignored the ominous presence of a native Brooklyn observing the theatrics.

Al Capone made a prodigal return to Brooklyn for his son’s operation and he no doubt visited family and friends on the trip. One of his most important friends was Frankie Yale, who gave Capone his underworld start in Brooklyn and later traveled to Chicago to commit two high-profile murders (Jim Colosimo and Dean O’Banion) for his former pupil. Whether planned in advance or luck, Capone now had the opportunity to return the favor.

As Lonergan sat drinking with Haines by the piano, Ferry was attacked while walking towards the bar. A gun butt split his head open. Then a gunshot pierced his chest. In the mere seconds after this took place, the lights went out. The next light that illuminated the club would come from gunfire all centered towards Lonergan and Haine’s direction.

Within 15 minutes, police arrived on the scene to discover a silent and grisly scene. Ferry, his face a crimson mask, was discovered dead outside the club. A slug-like trail of blood showed he’d been dragged out and dumped by the gutter.

Lonergan and Haines were left where they fell, curled up in fetal positions. Lonergan, full of bigoted bravado moments earlier, is in the forefront and obscures most of Haines’s body.

10 men, including Capone, were brought in for questioning in the days that followed. With no witnesses willing to cooperate, everyone walked. It has never been confirmed whether the killings were pre-planned or spur of the moment. Despite this being lost to history, one can be assured Frankie Yale enjoyed Capone’s belated Christmas gift. Lonergan and his crew did not.

Homicide at Speakeasy at 154 20th Street, Brooklyn shooting of Richard(Peg Leg) Lonegan, Aaron Haines and Neil Ferry, 7890a: Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives

Cornelius “Needles” Ferry lies dead outside the Adonis Social Club in South Brooklyn. He was bludgeoned with a gun and then shot. The trail of blood indicates his body was dragged out the club before police arrived.
Homicide at Speakeasy at 154 20th Street, Brooklyn shooting of Richard(Peg Leg) Lonegan, Aaron Haines and Neil Ferry, 7890b: Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives

Expanded view of the scene where Lonergan and Haines were slain. You can zoom in to see Haines’s body under the piano. Both men were killed instantly after the club’s lights were turned out, possibly on orders from a present Al Capone.
White Hang Gang leader Richard “Peg Leg” Lonergan lies dead beneath White Hand underling Aaron Haines. Both men were shot mere seconds after the lights were doused in the venue. The possible fatal blow to Lonergan, a bullet wound above the left eye, is visible via close-up view. A close-up of Haines’s body shows the pistol he was unable to fire.

Homicide at Speakeasy at 154 20th Street, Brooklyn shooting of Richard(Peg Leg) Lonegan, Aaron Haines and Neil Ferry, 7890c: Courtesy of The New York Municipal Archives

16 comments

  1. Are there anymore gangsters pictures from the archives? They were incredible. The Vincent Coll pictures were insane. I’d love to see some of Maseria and Marrazano. That would be incredible. Please let everyone know if there’s anymore being released. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for checking it out, Jonathan! So Masseria and Maranzano photos remain big targets for me. My take is they have to be somewhere, just a matter of if the Archives have it or the NYPD themselves. Believe it or not, even all these decades later there’s still records the NYPD haven’t transferred over to the Archives. There’s definitely more gangster photos. The tricky thing with the searches is that a lot of times the names are completely misspelled due the officers who arrived on scene (you’ll notice this on some of the pictures as that’s how they’re listed in the Archives records). So, it’s really a grind to go through the records but so worth it when you find gems like these. Rest assured, once the pandemic slows down and the Archives are open to the public, I’ll be right back in there searching.

      1. Couldn’t email you directly but try this – At the bottom of the first page on the site, you should should see a list of numbers going horizontally across the page in little boxes. Each of these represents a different page with the pictures. If you’re on a mobile device, it’ll be right before title of the next article.

    1. Appreciate the support James and I absolutely loved your Youtube video! You put a big smile on my face and I’ll proudly carry that new favorite person title haha Once the pandemic slows down and the Archives reopen, I plan to get right back in there digging for more gems.

  2. Amazing pictures. Nice research Ismael. I enjoyed it including the stories that go with it. I hope you find more (Greetings from the Netherlands)

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