James Coonan was born December 21, 1946 in Manhattan, New York. The son of an accountant for famous mobsters, Coonan was no stranger to the criminal lifestyle. When Coonan was 18 his father was kidnapped by local mobster Mickey Spillane. Spillane was the mob boss who ran Hell’s Kitchen and was said to have pistol whipped Coonan’s father before kidnapping and beating him. Coonan wanted to restore his father’s pride so he went to a tenement ran by Hell’s Kitchen and purchased a fully automatic machine gun before firing an entire clip at Spillane and his crew. Although Coonan failed to hit anyone he shot upon he was now well known amongst the Hell’s Kitchen crew.
Coonan soon continued his criminal career by creating the Westies gang. He formed an alliance with a man named Mickey Featherstone and a few former members of Hell’s Kitchen who were afraid of Coonan. The Westies went on to kidnap, torture, and murder members of Hell’s Kitchen until Spillane had to go into hiding and turn over power of Hell’s Kitchen to Coonan. Coonan established ties to the Gambino family when he took control of Hell’s Kitchen. Roy DeMeo was a close friend of James Coonan and as a favor to Coonan he found Spillane and murdered him.
Coonan and a number of the Westies gang owed money to a popular Jewish loan shark named Ruby Stein. Coonan decided to remove his gang’s debt by murdering Stein. The Westies murdered Stein, dismembered him, and threw the remains in the Hudson River. A member of the Westies forgot to deflate the lungs before throwing the torso in and Stein’s torso washed up on shore and was found a few days later.
In 1979 both Featherstone and Coonan were arrested but acquitted for the murder of a bartender named Harold Whitehead. Coonan now was getting national attention. John Gotti began running the Gambino Crime Family after Roy DeMeo had died and he used Coonan’s Westies as a killer squad for the family. Featherstone became upset with the direction the Westies were headed and confronted Coonan about his problems. With the bad blood between Coonan and Featherstone, Coonan decided to set Featherstone up for murder. Coonan authorized the hit of Michael Holly while Billy Bokun was dressed as Mickey Featherstone. This led to the arrest of Featherstone on a murder charge. In order to clear his name Featherstone recorded conversations between the Westies and Coonan so that he would be cleared of the murder charge and he could use the evidence he had to put Coonan behind bars.
After four weeks of testimony Coonan was found guilty of racketeering and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Among other members of the Westies arrested were Jimmy McElroy, a top enforcer, who was sentenced to 60 years and Richard Ritter, a loan shark and drug dealer, who was sentenced to 40 years. James Coonan is currently serving his 60 year sentence in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
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