Jake Byrne and Mike Kelly entered the well-appointed offices of the Wolinski Brick and Tile Company. Both men were wearing impeccably tailored suits. Jake’s was a three-button dark gray suit with the new narrow lapel style. Mike’s suit was a black double-breasted style with the older wide lapels. Both men wore white shirts. Jake’s tie was a solid gray thin style while Mike wore a colorful hand painted wide silk tie favored in the 1940s.
The secretary saw them, took a job application from the desk drawer, and handed it to Jake. She looked at Mike and said,” I’m sorry, sir but the sales position is for a younger man.”
Mike glared at the secretary for a moment and said nothing. “We’re not here for a job, Miss. Is Wolinski in?” Jake asked and gently placed the application on the desk.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, sir. Do you have an appointment?” the secretary asked.
“No, but he’ll see us,” Jake said as he and Mike started walking to Wolinski’s office door.
The secretary stood up and said, “Sir you can’t just…” Mike interrupted her by looking at her and putting his finger to his lips, suggesting that she be quiet. The secretary, sensing Mike was not a man to disobey, quickly sat down.
Wolinski, seeing the men enter his office got up from his chair, put his hand out across the desk and said, “Jake, how are you? I didn’t know we had a meeting today.”
Jake brought his hand up, leaned across the desk and punched Wolinski in the face. Woliniski fell back into his chair and grabbed his nose. Blood ran from between his fingers dripping onto the desk.
Mike pulled out a fine linen handkerchief and tossed on the desk. Wolinski picked it up, held it to his nose and looked wide-eyed at the two men.
“I told you. Did I not tell you? If another single brick was stolen from a Byrne Construction site I would visit you. And I believe I warned you that it would not be a pleasant visit,” Jake said in a low deliberate voice.
“Jake…” Wolinski tried to plead.
“Shut the fuck up.” Mike yelled.
“Yesterday your men delivered forty pallets of red bricks to the Byrne’s Knights Road project. This morning fifteen of those pallets were missing,” Jake said.
“I did…” Wolinski started to say but was interrupted by Mike.
“I told you to shut up,” Mike said as he moved around the desk and put the point of a ten-inch stiletto switchblade to Wolinski’s neck.
“We know it’s you. Doesn’t matter. You’re responsible to deliver the bricks. You’re also responsible make sure they stay where they are supposed to stay. Now listen closely, Wolinski. If one more brick is missing from any Byrne’s Construction site, we’ll hold you personally responsible for the loss. My associate and I will visit again and we won’t be so nice,” Jake explained.
“Should I cut the tip of his nose off so he remembers next time,” Mike said as he moved the knife to Wolinski’s nose. Wolinski tensed. “Nah, that’s a bit much. How about you take off an ear?” Jake said. Mike moved the knife to Wolinski’s ear. Wolinksi’s eyes widened and he started breathing hard.
“Nah, too much blood. You got your good suit on. Don’t want you to ruin it. How about we just give him a good beating?” Jake suggested.
“Okay. Good. You do it. I got arthritis in my hands. It hurts when I punch someone,” Mike said.
“Shit, I hurt my hand when I hit him. I can’t do it either,” Jake said, paused, thought for a minute and continued, “Say, I saw a movie where these Jap gangsters cut off the pinky finger of a guy who screwed up. Why don’t we do that?”
Wolinski began to say something so Mike moved the knife back to his throat and he stopped.
“Okay, that’s good with me,” Mike said and handed the knife to Jake, then wrapped the already-bloody handkerchief around the tip of Wolinski’s pinky finger. Mike then put his hand over Wolinski’s month and said, “It’ll be a lot worse if you make any noise.”
Jake placed the knife on Wolinski’s finger and quickly cut just above the first joint. Tears ran out of Wolinski’s eyes and mixed with the blood from his nose. He remained silent.
Jake wrapped Wolinski’s finger with the handkerchief, then wiped the blood from the knife on Wolinski’s white shirt. He took Wolinski by the chin, pulled his head up so he was looking into his eyes and said, “Next time I’ll cut off your pecker.”
Jake and Mike walked out of the office leaving Wolinski sobbing and holding the handkerchief to his finger to stop the bleeding. Jake seeing the secretary’s wide-eyed expression, pulled out a business card and dropped it on the desk. Then he said, “I think you’re going to get fired. If you do, come to this address and we’ll get you a new job. Better go find a towel for your boss. He had a small accident.”
In the mid 1950s Jake’s father Jacob Byrne and Franklin Garrett decided to reorganize the Irish K&A Gang they had started back in the 1920s during Prohibition. In the 1930s they created separate crews of ten men each. Now these crews were operating autonomously. The idea was similar to creating franchise owners, but instead of hamburger joints these franchisees would head their own criminal organizations. The crews managed themselves and were responsible to kick up a fee based on the amount of money they made to Jacob and Franklin. In return, the criminal franchisees received protection in terms of political connections and heavy work if needed. Jake Byrne and Mike Kelly provided the heavy work.
The crews were also supplied quantities of pot from Jacob’s grandson, Gerry Amato’s smuggling racket. They sold it on the street, nightclubs and bars. Jake Byrne was also in charge of marijuana distribution. Many of the K&A Gang crews also did second story work. Their main targets were the northern Philadelphia suburbs, the Main Line and sometimes cities in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. A rule established many years before, forbade crews from stealing from anyone in North Philadelphia or in the territory held by the Italian Mob, mostly in South Philadelphia.
The second story work netted jewelry, art and antiques. These were fenced through a small group of experts managed by Mercy Byrne Amato who is CEO of the Mercy Row Foundation. All profits derived from the sale of the fenced goods are funneled into her foundation and then used for charitable work.
Jacob Byrne, Mercy’s father, created the Mercy Row Foundation in the 1930s when as a child, Mercy suggested they make some empty homes they owned available to the homeless. While Mercy recovered from a gunshot wound she received in an attack on her father by the Chicago Mob, Byrne remodeled the homes and placed his then housekeeper Rose Reilly Graham in charge. In later years, Rose retired and Mercy took over the management of the foundation. The family also received money from a network of bookies spread throughout North, Northeast Philadelphia and suburban towns. The bookmaking locations ran numbers, horse race betting and sports gambling. Charlie Byrne, Jacob’s son, was in charge of the gambling business.
Jacob Byrne turned over control of the legitimate family business, Byrne Construction, to his adopted son Jimmy Byrne. The construction business, originally founded by Jacob’s father Charles Byrne in 1905, was responsible for building many of the homes, churches and factories in North Philadelphia. After World War II the firm was contracted to build several projects to house the families of returning soldiers. Byrne Construction located an office on the northeast corner of a housing project they built near Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard. They moved their headquarters to Northeast Philly when Byrne Construction began building row homes in and around Woodhaven Road.
As Mike Kelly and Jake Byrne were leaving the Wolinski Brick and Tile building, Mike asked, “What time’s the party?”
“Six,” Jake answered.
“Why so early,” Mike asked.
“Rose likes to eat early, so Mercy is taking her to church at four and then Rose thinks she’s having a small family dinner to celebrate her birthday at my Mom and Dad’s place. They want the guests there before Rose gets there so they can surprise her,” Jake said.
“You think it’s okay to surprise an 87- year-old woman,” Mike said.
Rose Riley Graham started her association with the Byrne family in the 1920s when she took a position as housekeeper for Jacob Byrne and Franklin Garrett. Through the years, she became a surrogate mother to Jacob and Molly Byrne, a grandmother to Jimmy, Mercy, Charlie, Jake and Georgie Byrne and a great grandmother to Gerry Amato and Jimmy, Charlie and Jake’s children. They loved her as if she was from their own blood, and she loved them.
“Nobody’s going to jump out and yell surprise. We’ll just be there for her when she arrives. Molly invited a couple of her old friends who are still kicking. Frank, Catherine, Grady, Jerome, you and your family will be there. Everyone will be there. Should be a fun time,” Jake said.