Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He also writes a monthly column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The Tortured Soul of Ann Coppola
By Allan May
Mob informant Joey Cantalupo once stated in a video documentary that organized crime members, “like to keep their wives at home, barefoot and pregnant.” Mike Coppola handled things quite differently. He liked his wives to be bloodied and beaten and, if a threat to him, dead. Coppola’s two wives both died at a relatively young age. One from murder, the other from suicide.
Doris Lehman was a beautiful dancer. Tall and thin, she had long legs, dark hair and eyes. Many men found her stunning, Mike Coppola was one of them. Coppola, known as “Trigger Mike,” had risen through the mob ranks and by the early 1940s was running the Harlem numbers and narcotics operations. Coppola and Doris were married in 1943 and the following year a son was born.
In November 1946, “Trigger Mike,” Joey Rao, a Harlem associate of Coppola’s and another man, a Republican district leader, were discussing the upcoming election and Joseph Scottoriggio, the Republican district captain. Scottoriggio had decided to throw his votes behind the opposition candidate to Vito Marcantonio, the mob favorite. Also present at the meeting was Doris and her father David Lehman.
Early on Election Day morning, four men attacked Scottoriggio shortly after he left his apartment. The men, including Coppola and Rao, delivered a vicious beating that resulted in the death of Scottoriggio six days later.
Police soon arrested Coppola and Rao as material witnesses and they were held on $250,000 bond. When a corrupt judge granted a bail reduction, the two men were quickly released. Doris and her father disappeared soon after her husband’s arrest, leading authorities to believe the two could provide valuable information about the murder investigation. Their flight took them first to Queens, then to Florida, and finally to the mansion of Frank “Butsey” Morelli the mob boss of Providence, Rhode Island.
Under the stress of one of the greatest manhunts since the search for Lepke Buchalter, the pair surrendered and appeared before a grand jury. The jury indicted both of them on perjury charges. If Doris told the truth, her husband would go to jail. If she refused to testify, she could be sent to prison for ten years. To make matters worse, she was pregnant again.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1948, Doris gave birth to a daughter. The following day Doris died in the hospital. It was reported that she died from complications from childbirth. No autopsy was performed and, contrary to his religion, Coppola had his wife’s body cremated. Years later, Coppola’s second wife revealed she found proof that Doris was murdered, although she didn’t elaborate. For years after the incident, Doris’s father David Lehman received $200 a month from Coppola.
Anna Augustine was born on July 2, 1921 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She grew up to be a beautiful young lady. At five feet four inches tall, dark complected, with black hair and brown eyes, she turned a lot of heads. At sixteen she fell in love with a sailor. She was soon pregnant and the sailor took off. In July 1938, she gave birth to a daughter she named Joan. Ann needed to find work to support her child. She started a job waitressing at the Lookout House casino and was later a hostess and hatcheck girl at the Little Club, both owned by the Cleveland Syndicate and located across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Kenton County, Kentucky.
Ann began to date Charley Drahmann, a veteran gambler, and the two were soon married. Drahmann became the manager at the Lookout House and purchased an expensive home nearby where Ann entertained lavishly. In the wake of the Kefauver investigations, the Lookout House closed. Drahmann and Ann discussed moving to Miami Beach where Sammy Tucker of the Cleveland Syndicate was looking into opening another gambling house. However, on August 6, 1952, Drahmann and his boss, Jimmy Brink, were killed when Brink’s private plane crashed near Atlanta while the two were returning from a Florida business trip.
A few years later, Ann was introduced to Coppola in New York City. After a quick courtship, the two married on December 28, 1955. Ann moved into Coppola’s house in Miami Beach. A housekeeper, a cook, and a gardener tended the large house. Coppola’s two children from his first marriage lived there and Ann’s daughter Joan would soon join them.
After three weeks, Ann became curious about a bookcase in the house. Coppola was not a reader. As Ann examined it, she moved a picture and the back of the bookcase opened and she found $58,000 stashed in a hidden compartment. Later that night, Ann confronted Coppola about her discovery.
“Why you flat-nosed, frog-eyed bastard,” he screamed.
Coppola ran across the room, pulled a pistol from a shoe rack and fired at Ann. She ran downstairs and locked herself in the maids quarters. The following morning she returned to the bedroom and began to pack a suitcase. She knew Coppola wouldn’t let her leave, but at least she figured she would get an apology. She was right. He wasn’t about to let her leave.
“If you leave me bitch, I’ll kill you,” he yelled, striking her and knocking her down.
As Ann attempted to get to her feet, he repeated, “I’ll kill you if you try to leave. No one walks out on Trigger Mike Coppola.” He struck her again, this time splitting her lip and leaving her flat on her back.
One week later, the couple dined with Cleveland Syndicate leaders Moe Dalitz and Louis Rothkopf. Ann knew both men from when she was married to Charley Drahmann. After dinner, Ann whispered to Coppola suggesting he pick up the $300 tab. When they arrived home and were in the privacy of the master bedroom he knocked Ann down again and told her, “Look, get this straight once and for all. I don’t want to tell you again. I’m Trigger Mike Coppola. When I go out with people I’m doing them a favor now matter how big they think they are. Mike Coppola don’t take second place to nobody and don’t you forget it.”
A month after this incident, Ann discovered she was pregnant. Coppola was not interested in having anymore children and one morning at breakfast he calmly announced to his astonished wife, “Your period is two weeks late. You’re pregnant. Just leave everything to me.”
That afternoon, while the children were away, Coppola returned home with a Miami Beach physician known to the underworld as “Dr. D.” Coppola threw a sheet over the kitchen table and the doctor performed an abortion on Ann as “Trigger” Mike watched with a wolfish smile on his face. Coppola let Ann know that she had just cost him $1,000.
In the following months, Ann felt Coppola only wanted to have sex in order to get her pregnant so he could watch the abortions. Within three months she was pregnant again and the kitchen table scene was repeated. Two more abortions would follow in the months to come, each time with Coppola looking on.
Despite the beatings he gave Ann, Coppola continued to shower her with expensive gifts. Ann stated, “He gave me this vast amount of material things to prove to people how big and successful he was and to feed his ego until he himself believed he was God Almighty.”
One Thanksgiving a friend gave them a turkey. Ann asked for the last name of the friend explaining she wanted to send a thank you note. Coppola exploded, “You’re out of your mind. That son-of-a-bitch ought to thank me for taking his damned turkey. If you say one word to him I’ll break your neck.”
Coppola returned home once after a rough business trip to New York. Ann greeted him at the door and asked, “Did you have a nice time?” Thinking that she was being sarcastic, Coppola spread his two fingers like Moe Howard of the Three Stooges and tried to poke her eyes out. Ann’s eyes were both swollen and blackened. He finally took her to a doctor and said she had tripped over a lawn sprinkler.
Coppola gambled heavily and when he lost, which was most of the time, he used Ann as a punching bag to relieve his anger. Ann had been very close to her mother and loved her dearly. She had recently died and Ann still carried the sadness with her. After returning from Las Vegas and another huge loss, Coppola growled at her, “You mother
f----d niggers. That’s why you look like a nigger. You are a nigger.”
Perhaps the wildest incident happened on a visit back to Kentucky. Coppola got drunk and told Ann he was going to fly back home so her daughter Joan could get cocaine to feed her habit. Ann wasn’t even aware of Joan’s situation. He had someone take him to the airport. Ann jumped in another car and the two raced there. Ann ran to the ticket counter where Coppola was purchasing a ticket and began swearing at the top of her lungs at him. He told her to come outside where she continued the verbal assault. Coppola knocked her down with one swing and when he bent over to hit her again she kicked him with all her might, doubling him over. She then started fighting like an animal, but Ann was no match for the bigger man who soon bloodied her with punches and left her on the sidewalk.
Too embarrassed to go back inside he told his driver to take him back to the hotel. Ann got to her feet, climbed back into the car she came in, and caught up and cut off her husband’s car causing an accident.
Coppola got out and shouted, “Look you bitch,” he said. “You’ve got to stop this shit. Move over. We’ll go somewhere and talk.” Coppola drove to a deserted area and kicked Ann out into a ditch and left her there. Friends later found her and took her back to the hotel where she was treated by a doctor.
The final straw took place one morning when Ann tried to sleep-in and Coppola wanted her to fix his children’s breakfast. When he couldn’t get her to budge, he went and dragged Joan out of her bed and ordered her to take care of the children’s needs. The children quickly left the house realizing another fight was about to take place. As Ann barked at Coppola for dragging her daughter out of bed, he turned around and slugged her, knocking her into the table and onto the floor. As she tried to rise he began kicking her savagely. Once able to stand up, Coppola punched her again knocking her down. This time Joan stepped between them and helped her mother to her feet.
Coppola stepped back apparently not realizing Joan had been watching the beating. “Come on, Mom,” Joan said. “You don’t have to take this. Let’s go.”
With that Coppola sent a punch Joan’s way which Ann stepped in and took. She was staggered but was able to push Joan out the door and told her to go to a neighbor. Ann then slumped into a chair almost unconscious.
Ann had had enough and filed for divorce in February 1960. By the end of March the paper work was finalized. Shortly before Ann moved out of the house, an agent of the Internal Revenue Service approached her and asked her for help in auditing Coppola’s tax returns. Ann saw an opportunity to get even with “the old bastard” and eagerly helped with the investigation.
When Coppola realized Ann was helping the agents he had two goons kidnap her one night when she was in her car. Ann was taken to a deserted beach in an area called Eastern Shores. There the two men savagely beat and kicked her. After Ann returned home from the hospital, Coppola called and said, “Well, you whore, I hear you’ve been laying guys in your car up on Eastern Shores.”
On April 21, 1961 Mike Coppola was indicted on four counts of income tax evasion. After one mistrial the case finally got underway on February 12, 1962. Instead of going to trial, Coppola pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve a year and a day on each of the four counts, the sentences to run concurrently. Rumor had it that this decision was “agreed” upon by his mob associates who were afraid of what Ann might have to say once she was on the witness stand. In addition, he was fined $40,000, and placed on four years probation after he served his sentence. After he was released from prison, his standing in the mob hierarchy diminished. How could a man control the rackets, if he couldn’t control his wife? Coppola developed health problems over the next few years and in September 1966 was admitted to a Boston hospital where he died on October 1, 1966.
Although Ann was happy that Coppola was sent to prison, it wasn’t enough to soothe her torment. Whether it was fear of reprisal from Coppola, or his associates, or her own health problems, six months after Coppola went to jail, Ann, now living in Italy, sat down in a Rome hotel room, wrote a few good bye notes, and mixed Scotch with “a great many” barbiturates. In a letter to Harold Moss, the Internal Revenue Service attaché in Paris, she wrote, “Mike Coppola, someday, somehow, a person or God or the Law shall catch up with you, you yellow-bellied bastard. You are the lowest and biggest coward I have had the misfortune to meet.”
Ann’s last request, “Tell my family I want to be cremated and my ashes strewn over Mike Coppola’s home,” was denied.
Copyright A. R. May 1999