Vannie Higgins: Brooklyn's Last Irish Boss

Oct 14, 2009 - by Allan May - 0 Comments

Charles "Vannie" Higgins and William Bailey

Charles "Vannie" Higgins and William Bailey

Prohibition spawned greed, and greed in turn spawned mayhem and murder throughout the underworld. Bootlegger Vannie Higgins ran booze by seaplane, speedboat, a fleet of trucks and by taxi to his Brooklyn customers. When he muscled his way into Manhattan, he paid the price for his greed.

by Allan May

Charles "Vannie" Higgins had all the right connections and built a thriving bootleg empire in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn during the 1920s. However, like most successful gangsters of that era, he wanted more. It was this greed that would cause him, and many like him, to perish before Prohibition had run its course.

Higgins was born in 1897 in the Bay Ridge neighborhood where he would enjoy his greatest success. Never looked upon as a mob big shot, Higgins was considered a "cut above the average gangster," and he had a knack of escaping imprisonment despite his many arrests.

His criminal career began in 1915 when he was arrested for assault and placed on one year's probation. The following year, ditto: assault and another year on probation. It would be another 10 years though before Higgins was arrested again.

Between 1920 and 1927, Higgins built a profitable rum-running and bootlegging business in Bay Ridge. He served at times as a lieutenant to fellow Irishman, Big Bill Dwyer, New York's most notorious rumrunner, who was in partnership with Frank Costello. Higgins owned the Cigarette, a speed boat described as "the fleetest rum-runner in New York waters." He also owned a seaplane and a fleet of trucks and taxicabs to help him move the liquor to his club in Brooklyn as well as to other customers.

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