Feature Articles

March 2000

Public Enemy Number One:
The Short Life And Violent Times Of Two Gun Crowley And Trigger Burnke

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

The poverty that hung over the Irish ghettos of New York continued to spew out a whole array of gunmen well into the 20th century including the sad case of Francis "Two gun" Crowley.

Crowley had been abandoned as a child and was raised in foster homes since infancy. At age 12, one of these foster families farmed him out to work as a day laborer and factory worker.

From that point on, Crowley, who may have been mildly retarded according to some Police sources, grew into a small time neighborhood thief and pickpocket.

A timid young man, he never drank nor smoked, unusual for a New York neighborhood wise guy.

Crowley broke into his short lived criminal career in his late teens as an armed robber and eventually hooked up with another small time crook named Rudolf Durunger.

One evening, Crowley and Durunger meet a dance hall hostess named Virginia Banner, whom the pair eventually kidnaped and raped her, afterwards Crowley shot the girl through the head.

Police ballistic experts matched the bullets from the young women's body from those Crowley had fired at recent stick up but left them without any clues as to who the gun belonged to.

They found out several months later when Police officers patrolling a lovers lane stumbled on to Crowley and his girl friend parked along the road.

At first the officers politely told the couple to move along, but Crowley decided to argue the point. When one of the officers demanded to see Crowley drivers license, Crowley pulled out a revolver and shot the cop dead on the spot.

The cops matches Crowley's bullets again, but this time they had his name and description. Police put out a shot to kill order on Crowley, who had managed to escape into the city with his new girlfriend, 16 year old Helen Walsh and Durrunger.

Tracked down to an apartment on West 90th street by an army of policeman, the area was roped off for two square blocks after an all out, day light gun battle erupted between Crowley and the cops who fired 700 shots in the general direction of the apartment where Crowley and company were shooting from, all the while with Crowley, a gun in each hand, screaming out the window "You ain't gonna take me alive coopers"

That probably would have been fine with the police, except by now the whole gun battle had taken on a circus atmosphere with hundreds of spectators leaning out apartment windows or on roof tops cheering Crowley on.

Police responded with tear gas, which Crowley quickly tossed back at them, to the wild cheers from crowds. Finally enough tear gas was used and a squad of policeman rushed the apartment to find Crowley, Walsh and Duringer hiding under a bed.

At the trial Walsh testified against Crowley, claiming to have been kidnaped and Duringer, who was facing a rape/murder charge, blamed every crime he had ever committed on Crowley as well.

It didn't matter, both young men were sentenced to death in the electric chair. They were executed in November of 1933.

A few years later came Elmer "The trigger" Burke (He detested the name Elmer and insisted on being called trigger) was raised in New York by his brother Charlie, who took over care of the family upon the death of their parents.

Soon the two brothers were committing petty robberies. Burke was sent to reformer school in 1941 but had his sentence cut for joining the service where he served in the Italian campaign.

He returned to New York and throughout the late forties rented himself out as a hit man for hire, specializing in machine gun killings. He was arrested for robbing a liquor store in 1946, while sitting in his car outside the store, counting his loot, and sentenced to only two years in Sing Sing Prison.

During Burke's stay in the big house, his idol and brother, Charlie was gunned down in an underworld shot out. Burke swore vengeance on his brother's death, even though it was never completely clear exactly who the killer was.

It didn't matter to Burke. Upon his release from Sing, Burke hunted down the man he suspected of being his brother's killer and blew off the back of his head off with a double barreled shot gun. With personnel business finished, Burke went back into the killer for hire business, but now upping his fee to $1,000 for a standard syndicate hit. Burke was renown for his fierce and uncontrollable temper.

He once shot and killed a bartender named Edward "Poochy" Walsh, who dared interfere in a fist fight Burke got into with a local hoodlum. Walsh's exact mistake was protested Burke kicking his already half-dead victim in the head. Burke left the bar, though about the Walsh's interference and came back in to the bar and shot the Walsh in the face until he was dead and then just as calmly strolled back out of the tavern.

In 1954, the mob hired Burke to go up to Boston and kill Joseph Specs O'Keefe, one of brains behind the million-dollar Brinks robbery, because the Mob figured that O'Keefe would cave into Police pressure once they figured out that it was O'Keefe who was behind the robbery.

Burke took the job and went to Boston. He found O'Keefe in a Dorchester housing project and calmly chased him around the complex for a half an hour, letting off dozens of rounds while he ran. After thirty-five minutes of this, Burke finally shot O'Keefe in the leg.

Thinking he had killed O'Keefe, Burke calmly got into his car and drove off. Remarkably, Burke never left Boston and spent several days touring the city's landmarks.

Even more remarkably, O'Keefe filed a complain against Burke for attempted murder. Burke was arrested without incident eight days later by Patrolman Frank Crawford in the Back Bay section of Boston.

Confined to the Charles Street jail, Burke easily escaped and was recaptured a year later while waiting for a bus in Charleston.

Convicted of murdering Bartender Edward Walsh sentenced to death and electrocuted on January 9, 1958.

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