Knock-out Drops

Knock-out Drops

If you watched the second episode of The Alienist on TNT recently, you may have wondered about the harrowing experience of John Moore (played by Luke Evans) after knock-out drops were put in his drink.

Moore, a newspaper crime illustrator and friend of the alienist, Dr. Lazlo Kreizler, takes a trip alone to the “boy whorehouse” in lower Manhattan, where Giorgio Santorelli, the teenage victim whose brutal murder Kreizler is investigating, worked before his death. He hopes to interview Giorgio’s employers and coworkers in an effort to prove his detective skills to Kreizler. However he gets more than he bargained for when the bartender spikes his drink with a powder. The episode ends with Moore falling paralyzed on a bed, unable to move or speak, as the brothel’s young male prostitutes swarm over him.

Is there any truth to this part of the plotline in the show? Did bartenders actually spike their patrons’ drinks with paralytic drugs?

Crooked bartenders did, in fact, spike drinks with knock-out drops or powders (probably chloral hydrate) during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, usually for the purpose of robbing the victim. A case in point is a bartender named Dennis Houlihan, also known as “Happy Hooligan” and “Knock out” who was active in Fort Wayne, Indiana in August 1901.

Dennis, an Irishman with a florid complexion, was described in the news as a “grafter, dispenser of knock-out drugs and all round thing man.” He worked as a bartender at the Shamrock Saloon, a tavern owned by a man named Jack Cain. Dennis was arrested on suspicion of having “relieved the pocket” of Shamrock customer Thomas Otis of $17. However Thomas, who’d had plenty to drink, along with possibly a bit of the old knock-out powder, wasn’t able to say for certain where his money went missing, so the case against Dennis was dismissed.

Police were informed that Dennis and Jack previously ran a notorious “joint” in Cleveland, where sailors were regularly given knock-out drops and robbed of their cash. Unwilling to let Dennis off scott-free, they immediately rearrested him for “flim flamming” a man out of a twenty-dollar bill at a different bar. This time the charges stuck and “Knock out” got what was described as the stiffest sentence ever handed out in Fort Wayne — $200 and six months in the workhouse. If unable to pay the fine, which is quite likely, he became the guest of the Fort Wayne police for a whopping 495 days.

Police suspected Dennis might move his operations elsewhere, so they shared his details with police detective bureaus in other cities. The card that survived (back shown below) is from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Dennis Houlihan_back

A final story about Dennis appeared in an Indianapolis newspaper, in 1907, after he was arrested for knocking down a drunken friend, stealing the man’s watch and pawning it. Initially he denied the accusation but later he admitted his guilt. “A man will do anything when drunk,” he commented, “even to his best friend.” And as John Moore discovers in The Alienist, a sober bartender’s enemy suffers the most severe consequences of all.

Featured photos: Dennis Houlihan’s mugshots from his Bertillon card dated August 12, 1901. Collection of the author.

New Dillinger Molls

New Dillinger Molls

Brady gave me a diamond. I always considered we were married. He didn’t kill a policeman. He was sweet and kind. He was good to me. He slept like a baby at night. I love him. I’ll marry him, even if I go to jail, to the electric chair or to hell.

— Margaret Barry, quoted in The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana), June 12, 1937

Margaret Barry Larson met gangster Al Brady during “the whirl of Mardi Gras” in February 1936. The pair took a shine to each other, so 24-year-old Margaret dumped her husband and small son and headed north with Al.

brady_fbi_photo

Al Brady

Alfred James “Al” Brady got his start in crookery in 1930 at the age of 20 when he stole a car, was caught and sent to the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton. Prisons are good places to learn how to commit crime and Al was an excellent student. After his release he recruited a group of like-minded young men, including Clarence Lee Shaffer and James Dalhover, to join his gang of thieves and killers. Al’s goal was to fill John Dillinger’s shoes. (Dillinger, a fellow Hoosier, had been killed by G-men in 1934.) Often driving stolen cars, the Brady gang pulled off more than 200 armed robberies, killed four lawmen and a civilian and wounded many others between 1935 and 1937.

Margaret Barker newsWith Margaret in tow the gang went to Ohio in March 1936. There they held up jewelry and grocery stores. In the course of robbing one grocery store, Al killed a young store clerk in cold blood. The gang escaped to Indianapolis but was traced there by police. During an attempt to arrest them, Sergeant Richard Rivers of the Indianapolis Police Department was shot and killed by one of the gang. They fled to Chicago with their loot, valued at $68,000.

Al and Margaret spent the next few days together at a Chicago hotel. Police located them and took the lovebirds into custody on April 30, 1936. James was also arrested in Chicago and Clarence was captured in Indianapolis.

Some of the loot was found in the gang’s safe deposit box in Chicago, however James revealed to police that a group of armed Chicago gangsters had stolen a portion of the takings from gang’s various holdups. About $6000 of the booty was discovered in the home of jewelry salesman Jack Becker, who rented the deposit box for the gang and acted as their fence. Becker and his wife Laura, who were considered to be part of the Brady gang, were arrested.

Margaret and Laura were described in the news as being the “new Dillinger molls.”

According to James, the gang was captured because Margaret insisted Al stay one more night with her at their Chicago hotel. When a man makes a serious error in judgement it makes sense to blame a woman, right?

Margaret, who’d been held on a vagrancy charge, was released from custody and reportedly went to work at a Chicago tavern. Despite her proclamations of eternal devotion and her professed willingness to follow Al to hell, the two never saw each other again.

Brady shootout

Bodies of Al Brady (closer to camera) and Clarence Lee Shaffer after the Bangor shoot out. Bangor Daily News.

Al, Clarence and James were sent back to Indiana to face a murder charge for the death of Officer Rivers. On October 11, 1936, all three men escaped from the jail where they were held. They spent the next 12 months committing a spree of robberies, primarily on the east coast, culminating in a shoot out with the FBI in Bangor, Maine, on October 12, 1937. Al and Clarence were killed in the gun battle — the bloodiest in Maine’s history. James was returned to prison in Indiana, where he was electrocuted the following year.

Featured photo: Margaret Barry (in hat), Laura Becker (seated) and policewoman Mary Henneberry, April 30, 1936. Collection of the author.