In the 1970s, Cleveland, Ohio was at war – rival factions fought for control of the city’s organized crime rackets, with deadly results. In 1976, Cleveland was the bombing capital of the United States.
High-profile crime figures were wiped out left and right with car bombs, leaving Cleveland residents shaken. In the center of all the mayhem and bloodshed was an Irish-American crime boss named Danny Greene who went to war with Cleveland’s long-established Italian criminal empire.
Danny Greene was born in Cleveland in 1933 and grew up in the city’s Collinwood neighborhood. As a teenager, he fought frequently with Italian-American kids and developed a dislike for Italians that he carried with him for his entire life. Greene joined the Marines, boxed in the Corps, and became an expert marksman. After his military duty, Greene returned to Cleveland and started working on the waterfront as a longshoreman. In 1962, before he had reached the age of 30, Danny Greene was elected President of the local dock workers’ union.
Greene caused controversy in Cleveland when he organized work stoppages and strikes. In 1964, Greene lost his union job when it came to light that he was allowing corruption to flourish, including kickbacks and having dock workers sign over their paychecks to him.
As he made headlines with the dock workers’ union, Greene caught the eye of a Jewish gangster named Shondor Birns, who had been active since the days of Prohibition. After Greene’s ouster from the union, Birns hired him on as an enforcer. While working for Birns, Greene also branched out on his own, building a criminal empire that included loansharking and gambling operations.
Despite his personal dislike for Italians, Greene also teamed up with a Teamster named John Nardi to expand his criminal activities. There has been speculation that Danny Greene may have been an FBI informant, which might help explain why he was able to avoid scrutiny from law enforcement for so many years.
Greene was a formidable figure, tough and not afraid to stand up for what he believed in. He was also fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, favored the color green, and wore a green crucifix around his neck.
He enjoyed notoriety in his home neighborhood of Collinwood, with many of the residents seeing him as a kind of Robin Hood figure because Greene gave money to the needy and was quick to help out his neighbors.
Greene took a job with the Cleveland Solid Waste Trade Guild, where he was seen as a skilled negotiator and peacekeeper. But when a trash hauler named “Big Mike” Frato pulled out of the guild, the two immediately went to war with each other. One of Greene’s men, 31-year-old Arthur Sneperger, was killed in 1971 when a bomb he was carrying to plant in Frato’s car exploded. Less than a month later, Greene shot and killed Frato after “Big Mike” tried to shoot him from a passing car. Greene was later acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
Danny Greene ran Shondor Burns’ numbers rackets while the old gangster served time in prison in the early 1970s. This only served to strengthen Greene’s reputation and cemented his power in Cleveland’s underworld. After Birns was released from prison, the relationship between him and Greene took a nosedive. Birns took out a $20,000 contract on Greene’s life, which severed the partnership completely. On March 29, 1975, Shondor Birns was killed by a car bomb, the weapon that would come to define the Cleveland gang war over the next couple years. Danny Greene’s house was bombed in May 1975, shortly after Birns’ assassination.
Greene and his army of men were now at war with other criminal elements in Cleveland, most notably the Italian mafia. Gangsters detonated an incredible 37 bombs in the Cleveland area in 1976. Attempts on Danny Greene’s life were made, but all failed – it seemed that the Irishman couldn’t be taken down. Then, Greene’s associate John Nardi was killed by a bomb in May 1977 outside the Teamsters office. After years of avoiding death, the Irishman’s luck was about to run out.
On October 6, 1977, Greene approach his Lincoln Continental after a visit to his dentist. Like many of Cleveland’s gangsters before him, Greene had reached the end of the road. That day, with newly clean teeth, the 43-year-old Greene was obliterated by a car bomb.
A mob hitman named Ray Ferritto was picked up for Greene’s murder, and he quickly turned informant, agreeing to spill everything he knew about Mafia operations across the United States in exchange for leniency. In the end, the death of Danny Greene and the testimony offered by Ray Ferritto brought down what was left of the Cleveland mob.
Thanks to Matt Gilligan.
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