When writing A Monster in Harlem, Calloo wanted to make the reading experience as authentic as possible which meant featuring real people including the notorious folk of organised crime.
Here are a few of the gangsters that are mentioned in A Monster of Harlem.
Al Capone, (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) sometimes known by the nickname “Scarface”, was an American gangster and businessman who attained notoriety during the Prohibition era as the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. His seven-year reign as crime boss ended when he was 33.
The federal authorities became intent on jailing Capone and prosecuted him in 1931 for tax evasion. During a highly publicized case, the judge admitted as evidence Capone’s admissions of his income and unpaid taxes during prior (and ultimately abortive) negotiations to pay the government taxes he owed.
He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
After conviction, he replaced his defense team with experts in tax law, and his grounds for appeal were strengthened by a Supreme Court ruling, but his appeal ultimately failed. Capone showed signs of neurosyphilis early in his sentence and became increasingly debilitated before being released after almost eight years of incarceration. On January 25, 1947, Capone died of cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke.
In ‘A Monster in Harlem’ Fats Waller is seen retelling a tale about the time when he was kidnapped by the mob and forced to play piano at Al Capone’s birthday party.
Ellsworth Raymond Johnson (October 31, 1905 – July 7, 1968)—known as “Bumpy” Johnson—was an American mob boss and bookmaker in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood.
Johnson was an associate of numbers queen Madame Stephanie St. Clair.
By the summer of 1952, Johnson’s activities were being reported in the celebrity people section of Jet,an American weekly aimed at African American readers. That same year, Johnson was indicted in New York for conspiracy to sell heroin and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
He served the majority of his prison time at Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, California as inmate No. 1117.
Johnson was arrested more than 40 times and eventually served two prison terms for narcotics-related charges.
In December 1965, Johnson staged a sit-down strike in a police station, refusing to leave, as a protest against their continued surveillance. He was charged with “refusal to leave a police station” but was acquitted by a judge.
Bumpy was the main Harlem associate of Charles “Lucky” Luciano and what would become later known as the Genovese crime family, Johnson’s criminal career has inspired films and television.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano (November 24, 1897 – January 26, 1962) was an influential Italian-born mobster, criminal mastermind, and crime lord who operated mainly in the United States. Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States for the establishment of the first Commission. He was also the first official boss of the modern Genovese crime family. He was, along with his associates, instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate.
Luciano was tried and successfully convicted for compulsory prostitution and running a prostitution racket in 1936 after years of investigation by District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey.
He was given a thirty-year prison sentence, but during World War II an agreement was struck with the Department of the Navy through his associate Meyer Lansky in order to protect New York’s harbors from Axis U-boats. Dewey almost failed to keep his end of the bargain, and it took months to finally come up with a solution to release Luciano. He was deported to live his life freely outside the U.S.
A Monster in Harlem is set to be released in November 2019.