A Brief History
On April 3, 1882, notorious Wild West train and bank robber Jesse James was gunned down in his own house by a new member of his reconstituted gang, Bob Ford. Jesse had survived combat in the Civil War and several shootouts with law enforcement and concerned citizens, only to be killed by “the dirty little coward, that shot at Mr. Howard.” If you hang around with robbers and murderers, it should come as no surprise when one of them turns on you. Today we discuss 10 Bad Guys Killed by Bad Guys. Just goes to show you, you just cannot trust murderers and thieves!
1. Jesse James, 1882.
Notorious and a wanted man, James was living under the alias of “Howard” and had no trusted pals left from his heyday as a robber gang leader. His new set of “friends” was an unskilled and disloyal group of wannabe outlaws that included Bob Ford. Bob and Charley Ford were staying at the James house, when the traitor shot Jesse in the back as Jesse was (allegedly) straightening or dusting a picture on the wall, killing Jesse with a shot to the back of Jesse’s head. Motivation for the killing was a $5000 reward offered by the railroad companies the James Gang had robbed, and the fame and notoriety that would follow. The Fords were charged with the murder of Jesse James, convicted, and sentenced to death, but were soon pardoned by the Governor of Missouri. Bob Ford went on to perform reenactments of the killing with his brother, Charley, to earn extra money in the ensuing years. The refrain describing Bob Ford as “the dirty little coward that shot at Mr. Howard” was a line in a folk song about the infamous murder.
2. Robert Ford, 1892.
Bob Ford did not get to enjoy his infamy at being the killer of the outlaw Jesse James all that long. Bob Ford was himself murdered by another criminal in 1892 when Ford was only 30 years old. Ford was in Colorado attempting to make a living as a saloon owner and fringe outlaw, when Edward C. O’Kelley walked into Ford’s saloon behind Ford and said, “Hello, Bob.” When Ford turned around to see who was speaking to him, O’Kelley let Ford have it with both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun. (Would Joe Biden be proud?) History is unclear just why O’Kelley murdered Ford, though it could have been just for the fame (infamy) of killing the killer of Jesse James. O’Kelley was sentenced to life in prison but was released in 1902 due to health problems. (Note: The following story is pretty wild, even though it is not about a bad guy killing a bad guy.) In 1904 O’Kelley ran afoul of the law in Oklahoma City when he was arrested by a police officer named Joe Burnett. O’Kelley was released and was spouting off about revenge on Burnett when the 2 men passed each other on the street. O’Kelley attacked Burnett and drew a pistol. Burnett attempted to arrest O’Kelley and in the ensuing battle O’Kelley’s pistol was fired several times. When the revolver was empty O’Kelley bit off pieces of both of Burnett’s ears! All the while yelling about how he was going to kill Burnett, O’Kelley got some brief assistance from a friend who shot at Burnett, but then chickened out and ran away. Burnett repeatedly called for help from citizens who either did not believe Burnett was a cop or did not want to get involved. Finally, a railroad employee came to Burnett’s assistance and pulled on O’Kelley’s arm, giving Burnett the chance to pull his own gun and kill O’Kelley with 2 shots. By this time Burnett had bullet holes in his clothing, powder burns on his ear, powder burns on his gloves, and his clothes were on fire from the gunshots! O’Kelley was 46 when he died.
3. “Legs” Diamond, 1931.
The son of Irish immigrants, Diamond was born in Philadelphia in 1897, quickly turning to a life of crime. Prohibition brought bootlegging opportunities to go with various other criminal enterprises, exposing Diamond to many different sorts of bad guys, many of which at various times wanted Diamond dead. Legs (called that name either because of dancing skill or his fast running, we’re not sure) survived several attempts on his life between 1916 and 1931, earning a reputation as a hard to kill guy. In fact, he even survived one shooting when 2 bullets entered his chest just below his heart. In 1931 Legs was acquitted by trial for a kidnapping in Troy, New York, when that night 2 assassins came into his room and attacked him on his bed. One thug held Diamond down while the other poured 3 shots into the back of Diamond’s head, leaving no doubt about the outcome of this murder attempt. “Dutch Schultz” is often assumed to have ordered the murder of Legs Diamond, but nothing definitive is available. Only 2 years later Diamond’s widow was also shot to death by unknown assailants.
4. “Dutch” Schultz, 1935.
Born Arthur Flegenheimer in 1901, this Jewish-American mobster was making money in the numbers rackets and bootlegging, dangerous and competitive pursuits in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Schultz engaged in gang wars with the likes of Legs Diamond and may have been responsible for the murder of mobster Arnold Rothstein. Hounded by US Attorney and future Presidential candidate, Thomas Dewey, Schultz ignored orders from mob boss Lucky Luciano and “The Commission” to avoid attacking Dewey. Schultz attempted to have Dewey killed anyway in 1935, but was killed first by the “Commission” (Mafia leaders) in order to avoid opening a full blown war with the government. Schultz and a pair of his henchmen were gunned down in a restaurant by a pair of assassins from the infamous “Murder Incorporated.” Schultz took 22 agonizing hours to die from his abdominal wounds.
5. “Bugsy” Siegel, 1947.
Benjamin Siegel, Jewish-American gangster from New York, hated the name “Bugsy” and would not tolerate being called that to his face. Born in 1906, Siegel, like many Jewish, Irish and non-Italian mobsters was also associated with the Italian run Mafia mobs. Like many of his contemporaries, he was also heavily invested in bootlegging during Prohibition along with other criminal enterprises. A co-founder of “Murder, Inc.” Siegel was not above killing people, either. A moving force behind the the mob developing Las Vegas as a mob run money machine, Siegel ran afoul of the mob by overspending on Las Vegas projects and probably skimming mob money as well. He was shot to death in a hail of M-1 carbine fire while he sat in a Beverly Hills home, shot through a window with no arrest ever made for the murder. It may be that a 1946 meeting of Mafia heads in Cuba, attended by Lucky Luciano, decided to go ahead with the murder of Siegel.
6. “Joe the Boss” Masseria, 1931.
Born Giuseppe Masseria in Sicily in 1886, Joe was the Boss of one of the “Five Families” of the Mafia (the family that became the Genovese Family). From 1922 to 1931 he battled for control of the New York City crime scene, earning a reputation as “the man who could dodge bullets” in recognition of having bullets go through his hat and burn his skin without harming him. On April 15, 1931, after sharing a dinner with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Joe was gunned down where he sat at the table, probably by Luciano’s gunmen including Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis and Albert Anastasia. Luciano had excused himself to go to the bathroom, leaving Masseria alone at the table. Joe the Boss was killed with .32 and .38 caliber pistol shots to the back and back of the head. The pistols were recovered in an alley behind the restaurant, but no arrests were made.
7. “Easy Eddie” O’Hare, 1939.
The father of World War II US Navy fighter pilot ace, Butch O’Hare (the guy O’Hare airport is named after), Easy Eddie was himself a gangster, lawyer, and associate of the infamous Al Capone (pictured above). O’Hare signed his own death warrant when he provided prosecutors with information against Capone in 1931-1933 resulting in “Scarface” going to prison. O’Hare was killed while driving his Lincoln when Capone’s thugs pulled alongside and let go with a volley of shotgun slugs, killing the snitch. The killers were never arrested.
8. Ernst Julius Günther Röhm, et al.
Rohm was an early member of the Nazi party in Germany post World War I, and had risen to a position of power as co-founder and commander of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the militia arm of the Nazi party, armed thugs and enforcers. When Adolf Hitler and his cronies felt Rohm and Rohm’s associates presented a rival faction in the party, Hitler had Rohm and at least 85 (estimates range up to 200) of his associates murdered on June 30 to July 2 of 1934 in a purge infamous as the “Night of the long knives.” Like Hitler, Rohm was a decorated World War I veteran (though unlike Hitler, Rohm was an officer), and was arrested in the 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch.” Though a thug himself (orchestrating physical attacks on political rivals and Jews), Rohm was eclipsed by Hitler, one of History’s worst thugs.
9. Lee Harvey Oswald, 1963.
Oswald was a former Marine and defector to the Soviet Union who had returned to the United States with his Russian wife. He is officially considered as the assassin who murdered President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, as well as killing a Dallas police officer the same day. Only 2 days later, while deputy sheriffs were walking Oswald to a vehicle to be transported from the city jail to the county jail, right in close proximity to a throng of newsmen and others, Oswald was shot in the abdomen by petty criminal and nightclub owner Jack Ruby (Jacob Rubenstein), a murder captured on film and broadcast live on television. Oswald, only 24 years old when he died, had previously attempted to kill a retired US Army Major General with the same rifle used to kill Kennedy, but missed. (Allegedly.) Ruby’s motives are not well known, although he claimed he was not part of a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy and silence Oswald. Ruby was sentenced to death, but was awarded a new trial in 1966, but died of cancer in January of 1967 before the new trial could take place. (Feel free to share your conspiracy theories with us!)
10. Jeffrey Dahmer, 1994.
Known as “The Milwaukee Cannibal,” Dahmer was a sick, twisted goof that murdered at least 17 boys and men from 1978 to 1991, often raping, dismembering, and sometimes eating his victims! Sentenced to 15 life sentences for murders in Wisconsin (he had committed a previous murder in Ohio in 1978), Dahmer was tried, convicted and jailed in spite of his obvious mental illness, failing to reach the legal threshold of insanity. (Seriously, what does it take???) Dahmer was beaten to death in prison by a fellow inmate, Christopher Scarver, also a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. Scarver beat Dahmer and another prisoner (also a convicted murderer) to death with a metal bar taken from an exercise room at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Scarver earned himself more life sentences for these crimes as Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. When you are sentenced to life in prison for murder, don’t be surprised if your fellow inmates are murderous thugs as well!
Question for students (and subscribers): Which of these people do you consider the baddest and why? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Davis, Donald. The Jeffrey Dahmer Story: An American Nightmare. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1991.
Hancock, E. Ernst Röhm. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Hughes-Wilson, John. JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination. John Blake, 2016.
Raab, Selwyn. Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires. A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016.
Stiles, TJ. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. Vintage, 2003.
The featured image in this article, a woodcut showing Robert Ford famously shooting Jesse James in the back while he hangs a picture in his house, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.
You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube: