THE INFAMOUS HARLEM BABY MASSACRE (JULY 28, 1931)
On this hot summer day, the temperature reflected the bloodthirsty rage of one Vincent Coll. Not yet known by the “Mad Dog” nickname that would become his permanent moniker, the 23 year old had lost his brother Peter to gangland violence two months earlier. Coll was embroiled in a vicious war with his former employer, Dutch Schultz, for control of the Harlem and Bronx bootlegging trade. Coll aired daring raids and ransom kidnappings until Schultz’s gunners caught up to his brother.
Now, Coll was prowling the streets for any Schultz men to fire on. As he turned onto East 107th Street, he spotted a Schultz man, Joey Rao, standing outside of the Helmar Social Club with several bodyguards. Never mind that the scene also included several children outside playing in close vicinity.
Coll opened fire with a tommy gun, spraying the walls and front door of the social club but missing Rao and his bodyguards. His bullets did find five children. Several tore into a baby carriage, seriously wounding a 4 year old and Michael Vengalli, 5 years old, was killed.
The reckless shooting would earn Coll the revulsion of the public and underworld. Schultz and Owney Madden allegedly each put up $25,000 contracts for Coll’s head. The man now known as “Mad Dog” Coll would eventually face trial for Vengalli’s death in December 1931 but was acquitted of all charges.
Coll escaped legal justice but would soon have his reckoning with the streets two months later in February 1932.