Francis Crowley

American criminal

Francis Crowley (October 31, 1912 – January 21, 1932) was an American murderer. His crime spree lasted nearly three months, ending in a two-hour shootout with the New York City Police Department on May 7, 1931, that was witnessed by 15,000 bystanders and received national attention. In 1932 he was executed in New York's electric chair.[1]

Early life

Francis Crowley was born in New York City on October 31, 1912, the second son of an unwed German mother who gave him up for adoption.[2] He had a hatred for police, with some speculating that his absent father was a police officer.[citation needed]

This hatred for the police was compounded by police killing his brother John when Crowley was 12 years old. John was alleged to be involved in the killing of NYPD Officer Maurice Harlow on February 22, 1925. Shortly thereafter John Crowley was killed in a confrontation with police officers while resisting arrest on a charge of disorderly conduct.[3] By his late teens, Francis Crowley had a reputation as a troubled youth with a criminal history.[1]

Crime spree

On February 21, 1931, Crowley and two other young men crashed a dance hosted by the American Legion in the Bronx. Several Legionnaires tried to remove them from the venue, so Crowley drew a gun and wounded two men before fleeing. He was charged with attempted murder and went into hiding. He was confronted by police on March 13. He escaped into an office building on Lexington Avenue after shooting Detective Ferdinand Schaedel. Two days later, Crowley and four others robbed a bank in New Rochelle, New York.[1][2]

A month later, Crowley and two friends broke into the West 90th Street apartment of real estate broker Rudolph Adler. Adler attempted to resist them, and Crowley shot him five times using two pistols, which earned him the nickname "Two Gun".[4] Adler's dog Trixie attacked the robbers and drove them from the house, saving her owner's life, before being shot by one of Crowley's accomplices as the gang exited the apartment.[citation needed]

On April 27, Crowley was out joyriding in a stolen vehicle with his partner Rudolph "Fats" Durringer and dance hall hostess Virginia Brannen. Brannen resisted Durringer's advances, so Durringer shot and killed her while still in the car. Crowley then helped him dump her body at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.[1][4] New York City police found Brannen's body and escalated their efforts to find Crowley.[citation needed].

On April 29, he was spotted in the Bronx driving a green Chrysler Imperial sedan along 138th Street near the Morris Avenue Bridge. Police pursued him, but he escaped after a running gun battle. Detectives found that the bullets extracted from a police car matched those that killed Virginia Brannen and those from other unsolved shootings. The following day, Crowley's car was found abandoned with bullet holes and bloodstains on the inside. On May 6, Crowley was sitting in a parked car with his 16-year-old girlfriend Helen Walsh on Morris Lane in North Merrick, Long Island when he was approached by police officers Frederick Hirsch and Peter Yodice, who asked for identification. Crowley fired at them, killing Hirsch and wounding Yodice. He then sped off.[1][4]


The following day, Crowley, Walsh, and Durringer were tracked down to a fifth-floor apartment in a rooming house on West 91st Street. The residence belonged to a former lover of Crowley's, who notified the police upon seeing Crowley with another woman. Outside the building, a force of 300 police officers armed with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas assembled. The events attracted 15,000 bystanders.[4][5]

Crowley and the police exchanged gunfire for nearly two hours, with the police firing an estimated 700 rounds into the building.[5] While Walsh and Durringer reloaded Crowley's pistols, Crowley threw back several tear gas grenades that the police had thrown into the apartment through a hole cut into the roof.[2] After suffering four gunshot wounds and bleeding heavily, he finally surrendered. Arresting officers found two pistols strapped to his legs.[1][4]

Trial and execution

On May 29, less than three weeks after his arrest, Crowley was tried and convicted of the murder of police officer Frederick Hirsch.[2][5] His partner, Fats Durringer, was found guilty of the murder of Virginia Brannen. Both men were sentenced to death on June 1. Crowley was sentenced to death by electric chair.[citation needed]

Crowley spent his last year on death row at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. He remained a disciplinary problem — stuffing his prison uniform down a toilet, setting fire to his bed, and frequently crafting homemade weapons. His attitude became somewhat more serene as his execution neared: He reportedly adopted a starling that frequently flew into his cell.[4]

On January 21, 1932, Crowley's last words to Warden Lewis Lawes were to ask for a rag. Referring to Durringer's death in the same electric chair, Crowley said, "I want to wipe off the chair after this rat sat in it." It is not clear if the request was granted.[1][a]

Crowley was 19 when he was executed.

Notes and references


  1. ^ However, in his book, Dale Carnegie claims Crowley said that his last words were that "This is what I get for defending myself."[6][7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Newton, Michael (2002). The Encyclopedia of Robberies, Heists, and Capers. New York: Facts On File Inc. pp. 67–68. ISBN 0-8160-4488-0.
  2. ^ a b c d English, T. J. (2005). Paddy whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. HarperCollins. p. 468. ISBN 978-0-06-059002-4. Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  3. ^ "Patrolman Maurice F. Harlow".
  4. ^ a b c d e f Blumenthal, Ralph (2004). Miracle at Sing Sing: How One Man Transformed the Lives of America's Most Dangerous Prisoners. Macmillan. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-312-30891-9. Retrieved August 22, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Goodman, Jonathan (1996). The Passing of Starr Faithfull. Kent State University Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-87338-541-1. Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  6. ^ Carnegie, Dale (October 12, 2020). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Sristhi Publishers & Distributors. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-947908-9-1.
  7. ^ Aylward, Jerry (October 5, 2020). Francis "Two Gun" Crowley's Killings in New York City & Long Island. Arcadia Publishing. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-4671-4435-3.

Further reading

  • Downey, Patrick (2008) Bad Seeds in the Big Apple: Bandits, Killers & Chaos in New York City 1920–1940, Cumberland House Publishing

Search stories