Becoming the boss of Brooklyn’s White Hand Gang was something that many wanted, none more so than “Wild” Bill Lovett. The current leader Dinny Meehan suspected that Lovett was going to become an issue that would have to be dealt with sooner or later. Unfortunately for Dinny Meehan, it came sooner.
Bill Lovett was born in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to a respectable family, but Bill would find himself straying to the wrong side of the tracks, stealing fruit from vendor carts, stealing lead pipes from houses and selling them to junkmen and learned the basics of crime from the kids he hung out with on the streets. Like many he hung around with he was arrested for minor crimes but would usually get off with a lecture from the police because of his families standing in the neighborhood. By the time he was 18 Lovett had served a six month sentence for disorderly conduct.
After his stint in prison, Lovett gravitated towards Brooklyn’s docks. In pre Prohibition Era Brooklyn, the docks held the best rackets in town for men like Bill Lovett. The Dock Wallopers or Stevedores had a headquarters at 25 Bridge Street, the boss of the docks at that time Dennis “Dinny” Meehan, no one worked on the docks without Meehan’s say so and everyone paid him a “tribute” for the pleasure.
Meehan was described a “big burly Irishman who fought with his fists until he was knocked out or won the fight”. Meehan was suspicious of Lovett and viewed him as trouble, Lovett spoke with authority and would look Meehan in the eye in a way that the other dock workers wouldn’t, they would clash once or twice.
World War 1 broke out and Lovett signed up and went to France, he signed up to what was called “The Suicide Squad” or the American Expeditionary force, a machine gun unit, which was no easy placement. His officer’s were impressed with him as soon as they seen him in action, with one officer recollecting:
“He was one of the coolest, most courageous men that-ever lived. He was callous in the face of danger and went about the business of killing the enemy as calculatingly as if he wore in a room all by himself with a job of work to do. I believe he enjoyed spraying lead into the German lines and certainly he did his work efficiently.”
For his efforts in the war, shrapnel in his hip and a lung full of poisonous gas from the front line, “Wild” Bill Lovett was honorably discharged with the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action. “Wild” Bill Lovett returned to Red Hook with a slight limp and aspirations to rule the docks. He went back to 25 Bridge Street to see Dinny Meehan.
Meehan: Whatdya Want
Lovett: I want a gang of loaders. Ive got them picked already.
Meehan: Ill see about it
Lovett: Ill be here in the morning.
Meehan knew that “Wild” Bill Lovett was trouble, as he knew before he left for the war. But now Meehan was a war hero and had a bit of a following, 10 – 15 men who were willing to fight for Lovett. Meehan had to give this consideration, if he said no to Lovett it would cause rumblings on the docks and dissatisfaction with his leadership, if he said yes he would lose a gang of men and knew that he would be out of pocket as Lovett and his men would leave him short every week.
“Wild” Bill Lovett didnt wait for an answer, the following morning he turned up at the docks with a gang of handpicked men and chose the job of loading freight, which Lovett did nothing except watch the others do the work. Meehan knew the men that “Wild” Bill had picked were scrappers and the best of the lot and had made no mistakes in picking his men. After about a month of this arrangement Meehan went to Lovett and said “I’m not getting anything out of this gang at all. Put me on the payroll for three or four days a week and it’ll be all right.” But when payday came around there was nothing for Meehan from Lovett’s crew. The following morning Meehan called Lovett over to a corner “How about my pay envelope for last week?” he asked. Lovett answered: “There ain’t any.” “You fucker,” said Meehan. “Think you can buck me, eh?” Show up on this dock tomorrow and I’ll kick you into the East River.”
That night Dinny Meehan was shot to death as he lay sleeping in his bed, his wife who was asleep beside him took a bullet in the arm. Although no one was ever charged for Meehan’s murder, some say that it was carried out on the orders of Frankie Yale, a rival mobster from Brooklyn. However more recently its been claimed that “Wild” Bill Lovett was behind it, Meehan’s wife would later identify Lovett as the killer.