Before the Italian-American community (much to the chagrin of many) was branded as the face of organized crime, Irish Americans had their share of gangs. And Danny Walsh was the biggest Irish gangster who ever came out of tiny Rhode Island.
Rhode Island voters never approved the constitutional amendment that gave the country Prohibition. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t profit from it — and Danny Walsh profited mightily.
Walsh was just a working guy, earning $5 a day in the mill town of Pawtucket when prohibition started. But he soon figured he could make better money to supplying liquor to the thirsty masses. With liquor selling for 65 cents a gallon in Canada and $7 a gallon in the cities of America, it’s easy to see why it was more appealing than clerking in a hardware store.
Danny Walsh joined the legions of young men who earned a healthy paycheck bringing booze in from Canada and seeing it on its way, to local speakeasies as well as down to the tip of Long Island, where it could be driven to New York City. But Walsh had a gift for the political side of the business, as well.
He ingratiated himself with bankers and politicians. With the state firmly opposed to Prohibition, maintaining a stash of booze carried little risk. Walsh readily supplied Rhode Island business and political elites. But he also made sure he stayed friendly with the New England criminal leadership, as well. He worked closely with the acknowledged chief of New England organized crime, “King” Charles Solomon in Boston.
By 1925, Walsh had amassed a fortune. He maintained two luxurious residences in Providence and a large farm in Charlestown, where he bred horses. Meanwhile, Walsh’s airplanes and boats regularly made trips to Canada to fund his lifestyle.
Walsh did have one serious scrape with the law, in 1928. Federal authorities charged him with tax evasion, arguing he owed the government $350,000 in unpaid income taxes. Walsh bargained the figure down and paid his tab.
In 1929 the stock market crashed. Danny Walsh, with his well-established liquor business and legion of friends, continued to prosper. He belonged to the group dubbed the Big Seven, which controlled alcohol sales around the country. The group also included Joseph Kennedy, father of the future president.
Also among Walsh’s many friends and associates was an enterprising bootlegger named Carl Rettich. Rettich was a New York gangster with ties to Chicago’s Al Capone, among others.
But the liquor business seemed to be changing right under Walsh’s nose, growing more and more violent. In January of 1933, Walsh’s friend King Charles Solomon was gunned down in Boston. In the aftermath a power struggle ensued to determine who would control what in the now leaderless crime world. Walsh now seemed to be on the outs, both in Boston and Rhode Island. Then he had a public argument with Carl Rettich.
On Jan. 31, 1933, Danny Walsh just disappeared. That night he had dinner with a group of associates in Bank Cafe in Pawtuxet. It would be dubbed his “death supper” by the press. It was the last known time that anyone saw Danny Walsh.
Walsh’s family soon received a ransom demand — for $40,000. Four of Walsh’s associates, including Carl Rettich, traveled to Boston in February to the Copley Plaza hotel. There they handed $40,000 to a man that none of them saw, they claimed, because he collected the ransom by slipping his hand through a hotel room door and then disappearing. Despite promises from the “kidnappers,” Walsh did not reappear that day. Nor the next day. Nor the next.
What ever happened to Danny Walsh? No one knows. But he is the inspiration for a mob legend — of cement shoes. One story holds that Walsh’s partner Carl Rettich took Walsh to his basement, encased his feet in cement and then dumped him at sea. Other rumors say he was simply put in a barrel and dumped. And still other stories hold that he was tortured for money.
Either way, from 1933 to today, when an unidentified body turns up in Rhode Island and appears to be of the right vintage, Danny Walsh’s dental records are still hauled out to see if his resting place has finally been discovered.
This story about Danny Walsh was updated in 2019.