Paul Kelly (born Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli; December 23, 1876 – April 3, 1936) was an Italian immigrant who founded the Five Points Gang in New York City after starting some brothels with prize monies earned in boxing. It was one of the last dominant street gangs in New York history; Kelly recruited young men who later became prominent criminals of the early 20th century, including Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Frankie Yale. Kelly was said to support election of Democratic Tammany Hall politicians with his gang's activities at elections.
After open street warfare with Monk Eastman's gang, Kelly and Eastman were ordered by Tammany Hall officials to end their competition with a boxing match. It ended in a draw, but the politicians finally withdrew protection for Eastman, who went to jail for robbery. After years as top dog, Kelly lost support when politicians wanted to clean up the Bowery. Gradually he became involved in rackets of the longshoremen's union. He died a natural death.
Born Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli, he adopted the name Paul Kelly when he began professional boxing after emigrating to New York in the early 1890s. Using money gained from prizefighting, Kelly began operating several bordellos in the Italian immigrant district east of the Bowery. He later opened several athletic clubs, which became fronts for the local street gangs which he began to control.
Five Points Gang
Offering his services to Tammany Hall politician "Big" Tim Sullivan, Kelly was alleged to have used his gang to help elect Tom Foley against Tammany Hall incumbent Paddy Divver. The latter was a local saloon owner campaigning to keep the red-light districts out of the Fourth Ward during the 1901 Second Assembly District primary elections. On the day of the primary on September 17, Kelly's gang of over 1,500 men assaulted Divver supporters, blocked polling booths, and committed numerous acts of voter fraud to win the election for Foley, such as voting several times during the day; one gang member claimed that "I got in 53 votes." Foley was the challenger, not the incumbent; the Second already had numerous houses of prostitution as Divver, a judge and longtime Tammany leader, was aware. Not one newspaper noted Kelly's gang or Kelly that day, although there was extensive coverage of the election. Divver was reported to have drawn a pistol on a personal enemy. Kelly later gained control of the vice districts of the Fourth and Sixth Wards, including prostitution, and controlled a virtual monopoly in the Five Points.
In 1903 Kelly was arrested for assault and robbery and served nine months in jail. On release, Kelly formed the Paul Kelly Association, an athletic club which he used to recruit younger criminals for his organization. The headquarters were located at 24 Stanton Street.
He soon opened the New Brighton Athletic Club, a two-story cafe and dance hall at 57 Great Jones Street (between Lafayette and Bowery). Kelly charmed socialites and other prominent citizens who frequented his club. Always well dressed, Kelly spoke French, Italian, and Spanish fluently, and his educated and sophisticated nature impressed many of New York's elite. During that time, Kelly's organization expanded into other parts of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey. Kelly's image alienated some top gunmen, such as "Kid Twist" Max Zwerbach and Richie Fitzpatrick, who later left for the Monk Eastman Gang. Others, such as Johnny Spanish, went out on their own.
Rivalry with Monk Eastman
Kelly's main rival was Monk Eastman, whose gang of over 2,000 gunmen controlled New York's East Side. Eastman, an old-fashioned thug of the 19th century, was the opposite of the 'cultured' Kelly. While both gangs were under the control of Tammany Hall the two constantly fought over control of the "neutral" territory along the Bowery.
Paul Kelly's Five Points Gang controlled the area to the west of the Bowery, and Eastman's, everything to the east. Tammany Hall wanted a neutral area between them to be off-limits. When the gangs fought openly over the territory, Tammany Hall called them to a sit-down meeting. Officials ordered them to have a boxing match to settle the issue. The winner would take control of the prized neutral territory, and the war will end. Both parties agreed, and Kelly and Eastman duked it out, but the fight ended in a draw. The gangs resumed warfare.
Eastman was arrested for robbing a man on the West Side who was being tailed by detectives. Eastman was arrested for robbery, and Tammany Hall, eager to end the warfare between its two affiliated gangs, declined to provide protection. Eastman was sentenced to 10 years in Sing Sing Prison.
With Eastman's arrest, Kelly completely controlled New York. He had internal competition, and in November 1905, Kelly's former lieutenants, Razor Riley and James T. "Biff" Ellison, now members of the Gopher Gang, tried to kill him at his New Brighton headquarters. Kelly, drinking with bodyguards Bill Harrington and Rough House Hogan, returned their fire. Harrington died protecting Kelly. Riley and Ellison escaped, and a wounded Kelly was taken to a private hospital before he could be arrested. Kelly turned himself in a month later, but charges were dropped due to his political connections. Ellison was arrested in 1911 and sent to prison. He became mentally ill and was placed in an asylum, where he died. Riley was found by police, dead from pneumonia, in his basement hideout in Chinatown. The negative publicity caused the New Brighton to be closed down by Police Commissioner William McAdoo for the protection of its socialite regulars, beginning the end of Paul Kelly's dominance in the New York underworld.
Tammany Hall also put pressure on Kelly to lower his profile as it sought to clean up the Bowery. After Kelly closed the New Brighton, he moved operations to the Italian immigrant communities in Harlem and Brooklyn. He also retained ties to his old neighborhood, becoming a vice president of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) under the name Paul Vaccarelli. He was based in the Chelsea area. He was expelled from the ILA in 1919, but returned to it later that year. He took leadership of a spontaneous port-wide strike begun in protest against a modest low wage increase (only five cents an hour) which management had agreed to. With the support of Mayor John F. Hylan, Kelly was appointed to a commission to resolve the strike, which he ended without obtaining any concessions for the strikers.
He became a labor racketeer, providing muscle in labor disputes during the 1920s. He died of natural causes around 1936. Vaccarelli's year of birth is not reliably known. Some reports have him born in 1871 and dying in 1927; his gravestone in Calvary Cemetery in Queens lists his dates as born December 23, 1876 and died April 3, 1936. There are some doubts whether the site marks his remains.