When World War I broke out Lovett enlisted in the army and was assigned to Company C, 13th Machine Gun Battalion, 77th Infantry Division and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery for his actions during battles on the Western Front.
After the war when he returned to Brooklyn, he took his place in the local Irish mob known as the “Meehan Gang” or the White Hand Gang, a play on the name of their Italian rivals, the Black Hand Gang.
Lovett became the leader of the White Hand Gang after the murder Dinny Meehan, who was shot while sleeping at his home with his wife at his side on the afternoon of March 31, 1920. The killers casually entered his apartment in broad daylight and shot Meehan, his wife also took a bullet in the shoulder. While Frankie Yale is long thought to have arranged the murder, Meehan’s wife later said that the killer was in fact “Wild Bill” Lovett
(William “Wild Bill” Lovett, Centre)
Whoever was responsible for Meehan’s murder, Lovett took over swearing to avenge his death. His right-hand man was childhood friend and future brother-in-law Richard “Pegleg” Lonergan.
Over the next few years, a cycle of killings and revenge killings raged between the White Hand and Black Hand Gangs in Brooklyn. Lovett was believed to have planned an attempt of Frankie Yale’s life in lower Manhattan in February 1921, Yale was wounded and one of his aides killed. The two assassins who did the shooting, Petey Behan and Garry Barry, would be themselves murdered in retaliation the following year.
While Lovett had plenty of enemies in the Black Hand, he soon found just as many enemies among his own. Severely shot 3 times and wounded on January 3, 1923, when police questioned him as to who shot him, Wild Bill replied, “I got mine. Don’t ask any questions.” Later he added, “Don’t try to pump me. It’s give and take. When we get it, we take it and say nothing.”. In one version of events, names a young Italian, Vincenzo Gibaldi better known as Machine Gun Jack McGurn, who was out to settle a score over the murder of his father at the hands of Lovett’s gang. In another version of the story the gunmen were two disgruntled gangsters, Eddie Hughes and Timmy Quilty, who would both be killed in revenge.
After the failed attempt on his life, Bill Lovett grew close to Pegleg Lonergan’s sister Anna and eventually became engaged to her on one condition: Lovett would leave the gang and hand the leadership to someone else. Lovett accepted this and handed the leadership over to Richard “Pegleg” Lonergan.
For the most part Lovett got himself a job working on the docks, Wild Bill and Anna moved to a small 3-bedroom house in New Jersey where Wild Bill fitted into his new surroundings with ease, staying out of trouble for months.
On October 30, 1923 Wild Bill Lovett went to New York for a job interview, however he met some of his old friends and fell into his old habits and instead of going to the interview began drinking. After he had not returned home his wife Anna eventually was able to track him to Thomas Sand’s saloon and while on the phone Wild Bill Lovett asked Anna to pick him up, because he had broken his promises which made Anna angry she refused.
On the night of October 31, 1923 he drink with his old friends. He went to the Lotus Club on Bridge Street, drinking with a friend named Joe Flynn. After several hours of drinking Lovett and Flynn stumbled into an abandoned store on Bridge Street in Brooklyn, to sleep off the drink. Joe Flynn would later explain to police that he woke in the middle of night and went home while Lovett was still asleep, leaving him there. Police determined that sometime between 2 and 3 that morning, two men entered the store, one beat him about the head with a blunt object, while the other shot him in the head and neck. Lovett’s dead body was found several hours later.
In another version of the same story Bill Lovett was passed out in a speakeasy and the owner of the speakeasy decided to close up with him still inside. Arriving at his home around 1 a.m., the porter of the speakeasy had a encounter with members of Frankie Yale’s gang, during which he casually related to them that their arch-rival was passed out cold a few blocks away. Within fifteen minutes, Willie “Two-Knife” Altieri, Vincent Mangano, and Johnny “Silk Stocking” Giustra, were inside the empty saloon, smirking over the impending murder. While Mangano and Giustra emptied their pistols, they only scored two or three hits, which only woke Lovett up and jerked him off the bench he was sleeping on. Two-Knife Altieri then dashed forward and sunk a meat cleaver into Lovett’s skull.
William “Wild Bill” Lovett was buried with full military honors.
Patrick Downey. Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935