Dandy Johnny Dolan was the subject of a Simon & Kirby comic book in the 1940’s, based on the life and crimes of the real John Dolan, who was born in 1849 in Lower Manhattan, he became the leader of one of the most notorious gangs in the mid to late 1800’s, The Whyo’s Gang, which came about from the remnants of earlier gangs, such as the Dead Rabbits
Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, who were artists, editors and comic book writers themselves, Joe Simon is credited with creating Captain America, and either individually or together worked with Stan Lee to create the Fantastic Four, The Hulk & X-Men, DC Comics & Marvel to name a few. Both Simon & Kirby also had a fascination with true crime and made a comic book series called Real Clue Crime Stories featuring stories about Dandy Johnny Dolan, George Leonidas Leslie and the Notorious Whyo’s Gang, they possibly would have been readers of Herbert Asbury’s book The Gangs of New York and based the characters on it.
John Dolan or Dandy Johnny Dolan as he was known was a thief and murderer, which put him in good company with the rest of his gang. The Whyo’s had some of the most notorious criminals of the day within their ranks, who also had some colorful names, Red Rocks Farrell, Piker Ryan, Clops Connolly, Googy Corcoran etc. In fact they were known to offer specific services for a fee, Piker Ryan, when arrested by the NYPD in 1884 had a list with prices the gang offered:
Both eyes blacked $3
Nose and jaw broke $7
Jacked out (knocked out with a Blackjack) $15
Ear chewed off $15
Leg or arm broke $19
Shot in the leg $20
“Doing the big job” (murder) $100 and up
Dandy Johnny Dolan was reportedly an intelligent and resourceful gangster, who was said to have a number of devices he would use during his criminal escapades such as a brass eye gouger, which he would wear on his thumb for use during fights, its also said that he had a specially made pair of boots that had blades built into the soles for stamping on people while on the ground. He was described in a New York Times article as a “well known in the various low saloons on the Bowery as a man of desperate character.”
As well as being a gangster, he was also a Dandy, which is in the name, a Dandy was a fashion statement in the 1800’s. A dandy is described as a man who takes great pride in his appearance and fashion. He would have the best of clothes, walked with a cane, his hair would be slicked with oil and he smelled of the finest fragrances.
Dandy Johnny Dolan did serve some time in prison, he served two different sentences on Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island in the East River, a 4 and 6 month sentence for robbery, he also served a 2 and half year sentence in Sing Sing for burglary. However you would eventually be found guilty of murder and hanged in the Tombs prison in New York.
On 22 August 1875 a factory owner James H. Noe was checking up on his business, his business was manufacturing brushes when he surprised a burglar who had let himself in through the roof, the burglar was Dandy Johnny Dolan. When James Noe disturbed Dolan, Dolan hit him in the head with an iron bar, Dolan hit him a few more times and when Noe collapsed, Dolan was “considerate enough to provide a pillow for the bleeding head,” that he made from rags found on the floor, according to the New York Times. Reportedly Noe was bound, gagged and robbed of a watch and chain along with other items.
When Noe was found by a woman named Catherine Harris who heard moans and groans, found him tied in James L. Noe & Sons building he was barely conscious. James Noe did live for a few days but died of his injuries, he was able to give a description of his attacker. Reports do say that Dolan was arrested after pawning a watch that belonged to Noe. The pawnbroker initially declined to identify Dolan, but then did identify Dolan later.
Dolan claimed he was at his mother’s house, drunk, at the time of the murder. He said someone had given him the watch to pawn, this person was never found. Some of the evidence found at the scene was a blood soaked handkerchief used to gag Noe. A witness, who was subjected to intense and repeated police interrogation, identified the handkerchief as belonging to Dolan, Dolan denied that it was his. A specialized cane with a silver monkey head carved into it, was also found at the scene and a witness identified it as Dolan’s cane.
Dandy Johnny Dolan was found guilty of murder of James L. Noe, based on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to death. However Dolan went to great lengths to save himself through the appeals process, he eventually lost the legal battle. At the final hearing Dolan rose and told the judge, “I never lifted my hand against any man … I never shed human blood,”.
On April 21, 1876, at the Tombs Prison in New York City Dandy Johnny Dolan was hanged. The official cause of death was strangulation.
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