When Mob Boss Eddie McGrath Ran the West Side

Neil G. Clark is the author of Dock Boss: Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront; the real-life story of the preeminent racketeer on Manhattan's lucrative waterfront and the bloodshed that long haunted the ports of New York City. The book is available now at all major retailers.

And Neil is getting some strong kudos, too, for Dock Boss -- including from TJ ENGLISH! In  addition to Scott Deitche, who has written quite a few books about the Mafia, including Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld, and The Silent Don: The World of Santo Trafficante Jr., and our old friend Dennis Griffin, who wrote Andrew DiDonato's book on life as a Gambino associate under Little Nicky Corozzo, Surviving the Mob: A Street Soldier's Life Inside the Gambino Crime Family, a must-read for anyone interested in the New York Mafia in the 1990s, a period of incredible violence.

Before becoming a waterfront power, Eddie McGrath started out as a low-level bootlegger during Prohibition. McGrath’s regular companion during this period was a childhood friend, Nicholas Tanzella, who was known in criminal circles as “The Bull” due to his muscular build. With connections to the Italian community on the East Side, Tanzella had been providing his criminal services to bootlegging boss Joey Rao, a stocky gangster who ran a large piece of the action in the Italian section of East Harlem.

Partnered with Tanzella, McGrath first began working as a delivery driver and salesman. Through Rao, McGrath was introduced to a young Italian-American gangster named Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, more commonly known as Jimmy Alo. McGrath would later relate to a friend that Rao had sent Alo to him so that Alo could learn the ins and outs of Rao’s bootlegging operation after he was released from prison for an armed robbery conviction. The two soon became close friends.

McGrath’s bootlegging business would be cut short after a string of arrests and a long stay in Sing Sing. Although originally from the East Side, McGrath would fall in with a group of West Siders, including his future brother-in-law John “Cockeye” Dunn, while serving his sentence. Upon his release from prison, McGrath relocated to the West Side. However, with Prohibition over, New York City became a competitive criminal landscape that consisted of out-of-work hoodlums scrambling for every buck they could get their hands on. West Greenwich, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen became war-zones, and McGrath and Dunn would play important roles in a gang war that resulted in eleven murders, six near-killings, and dozens of shootings.
Joseph Rao

When the smoke cleared, McGrath and Dunn had established themselves as a pair of cold-blooded killers. With their newfound power, the two vaulted themselves into leadership positions within New York City’s Irish Mob and, more importantly, on Manhattan’s lucrative waterfront.

The Port of New York City was crucial to ensuring that business in the city ran smoothly. With over $900 million in facilities (or nearly $12 billion dollars today), the city had the world’s largest and busiest port with annual revenues of over $146 million dollars (or nearly $2 billion today). Out of the more than seven hundred miles of New York City waterfront, over three hundred had been developed into piers. The port had roughly nine hundred piers operating in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island; over one hundred ferry landings; and tens of thousands of associated businesses, shipbuilding plants, and warehouses.

All along the New York City waterfront, gangsters were taking over the piers. In Brooklyn, Tony Anastasio and his brothers controlled docks; however, their power lay in the fact that one of the brood was Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, a future boss of the later named Gambino family. Also from the Gambino family was Alex “The Ox” DiBrizzi, a criminal with a two-page-long criminal record who had muscled his way into power in Staten Island with the assistance of his nephews. The remaining piers in Manhattan, which were not located in the Dunn-McGrath Mob’s West Side territory, were controlled by members of the Genovese family. Soldier Michael Clemente was in charge of the East River piers, while his mentor, Joseph “Socks” Lanza, had run the docks at the Fulton Fish Market before being convicted of labor racketeering charges in 1938.

McGrath had established himself as the pre-eminent racketeer on the waterfront and he also obtained an influential position as General Organizer with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). During this period, McGrath re-connected with his old friend Jimmy Alo, who had risen to become one of the most influential mobsters in the country. Alo became McGrath’s connection to the powerful Genovese family, and the two frequently cooperated in various illegal ventures.

The control that McGrath and Alo wielded on the waterfront can be best illustrated in a wiretapped conversation that picked up Genovese family soldier Michael Clemente complaining about Anthony Anastasio encroaching on his East River union rackets. Clemente explained that the problem could only be solved if he reached out to Jimmy Alo, who would speak to McGrath, who could then get the ILA leadership to intervene on his behalf. He added that McGrath was one of the only gangsters who had a direct line to the ILA leadership and that McGrath was only to be consulted as a last resort. Clemente ended the discussion by saying that “He [McGrath] is the ILA.”

Read more about organized crime’s influence on the waterfront, the violent gang wars of the 1930s, and more in Dock Boss: Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront.

“Not since On the Waterfront has the world of labor racketeering been presented in such an enlightening and entertaining way. Neil Clark presents a fascinating portrait of Eddie McGrath and his waterfront minions, dock wallopers and hoodlums with names like Mutt, Cockeye, Squint, and the Bull. Dock Boss is essential reading for anyone with an interest in organized crime history, the sociology of New York’s West Side, or the long, lost universe of the waterfront rackets, through which gangsters once held sway over the economic fortunes of an entire generation of working men.”
- T.J. English, author of the Irish Mob Trilogy (The Westies, Paddy Whacked and Where the Bodies Were Buried)

"Dock Boss is a fascinating and well-researched look at one of the most influential Irish mobsters of the 20th century. Eddie McGrath was not only the king of the New York waterfront, but a street-smart Irish mobster who stayed one step ahead of the law and his enemies. Neil G. Clark brings to life McGrath's story with clear prose and a sharp eye for detail."
- Scott M. Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia: The Complete History of the Tampa Underworld and Garden State Gangland: The Rise of the Mob in New Jersey

Garden State Gangland is one book we highly anticipate reading!

"In his new book, Dock Boss, author Neil G. Clark takes his readers inside the violent world of the New York City waterfront and the man who controlled it. It isn't a pretty world, but it was Eddie McGrath's world. It's a story that needed telling and one you don't want to miss."
- Dennis N. Griffin, author of Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness and Surviving the Mob: A Street Soldier's Life Inside the Gambino Crime Family

"True crime history fans will find Dock Boss: Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront a gripping saga of organized crime that combines the biography of Eddie McGrath with the rise of mob activities in the 1930s. The story reads with the drama and action of fiction, but all events come from real life."
- Midwest Book Review