Episode 39 - Revenging the Nazi Tap-Dance Troupe (Badass Week)
Updated: Apr 17
Sam's Episode Notes: A pair of very different badasses: Franceska Mann the stripteasing concentration camp rebel, and Iron Mike Malloy - the man who refused to be murdered.
So today I've decided to cheat a little teeny bit, because I've found two separate stories which are completely unrelated except for the fact that the badasses both eventually die. So I'm going to say one of these is an honourable mention, but it's an honourable mention which might take up ten minutes of the podcast.
I've gone early 20th century again this week, which I need to stop doing because this is the third week in a row, so I promise I'll go old school again next time. But anyway, no more apologising because these are definitely two badasses, if for very different reasons.
My first badass is Franceska Mann. And she's a badass for being The sexy holocaust victim who wouldn't go down without a fight. Which is as inappropriate as it sounds.
She was a Jewish and Polish and so was having a very bad time in the 1940s. But life hadn't always been that way. She was one of Poland's most celebrated ballet dancers, and had been ranked highly in competitions as well as performing professionally in nightclubs and theatres around Warsaw.
When the war came, she found herself imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, and when the that was destroyed in 1943 following the Ghetto uprising, she fled along with hundreds of other escaped Jewish prisoners into the rest of Warsaw. It's rumoured and believed by some that she was actually captured and released by the SS as a collaborator. At any rate, her name was attached to the Hotel Polski affair.
Now the Hotel Polski was a grand old hotel essentially used as a a trap to lure Jewish escapees. Neutral countries, largely in South America, had been smuggling passports and visas into Poland to try and help people escape, knowing that the Germans were likely to allow people with dual nationalities to emigrate rather than be imprisoned or executed. However, most of these documents were intercepted by the Gestapo before ever reaching their intended individual, who had often already been transported or died of disease or starvation anyway. So collaborators began to spread rumours that these passports were being held for storage at the Hotel Polski where corrupt staff were forging and selling them off black market for incredibly high prices – often the equivalent of a million dollars or more today.
Despite warnings from the resistance, upwards of 2,500 Jews came out of hiding and went to the hotel where they either bought passports or stayed, believing further rumours that it was being treated as something of a safe haven for dual nationality Jews by the Nazi authorities. Who, of course, dutifully turned up with trains to take the holders of these passports to Switzerland or France for prisoner swaps or emigration boats. In fact, they were just taken to concentration or death camps, and the ones who hadn't managed to get hold of passports were rounded up and shot in a nearby prison. It's estimated 2,500 people fell for the plan, of which only a few hundred actually managed to emigrate to Palestine in a genuine prisoner swap.
So it's rumoured that as a dancer who was familiar with Polish high society, Franceska Mann was used as a collaborator to spread the story among wealthy escapees with the means to buy a forged passport, presumably with promises of better treatment or deportation rather than death. Either way, she wasn't spared and when the hotel guests were rounded up she found herself on a train she believed was headed for Switzerland, but was actually headed for Auschwitz.
When they got to the camp, the guards ordered them to undress for a 'disinfectant wash', obviously the gas chambers. Which is when Mann, realising what was happening, went badass.
Rather than just submit, the 26 year old dancer decided to do a sexy striptease, until she was wearing nothing but her high heels. As one of the most beautiful women in Warsaw, this was obviously very distracting to the SS guards. Then finally, she took one one high heel, then the other, at which point she went full Kill Bill, and stabbed the commanding officer in the face with the stilletto heel. As he fell backwards, she grabbed his pistol and shot him twice in the stomach, killing him.
She then opened fire on another guard, wounding him in the leg and leaving him with a permanent limp, and shooting a third as well. What happens next varies from story to story, but the best version is that the other women in the group then joined the fray, launching themselves at the SS.
One officer had his nose bitten off, another was scalped before German reinforcements arrived and opened fire with machine guns and grenades, killing the entire group. It's believed Mann's final act was to shoot herself with the stolen pistol.
Pretty damn badass.
So, my next story is right at the other end of a spectrum. Rather than fighting to the death, this guy went full rasputin. He refused to die despite repeated murder attempts. It's not so much that he was a badass, but his liver and stomach certainly were. This is the story of Michael Malloy, or Iron Mike.
Now, Michael was a retired fireman and alcoholic, born in Ireland but living in New York in the 1920s and 30s.
And in 1933, Mike found himself in a very bad way. Homeless and completely dependent on alcohol to get through the day. And a group of five of his acquaintances saw a way to make a bit of money out of a friend they thought of as an otherwise worthless bum. Using a corrupt insurance broker, they took out a series of life insurance policies on one 'Nicholas Mellory', a fictional version of Mike, which would pay out $1750 if he died, or $3,500 - around $70,000 today - if he died of accidental causes, the so-called Double Indemnity clause. The idea was that then all they had to do was make sure that Mike AKA Nicholas died, and was found with some fake ID in his pocket.
So with $3,500 on the line, they set out to make sure that accidents happened, with a series of increasingly brutal murder attempts. At first, it started out as innocently as any murder attempt can – one of the gang, Tony Marino, owned a speakeasy bar and gave Mike unlimited credit. The idea was that the crippling alcoholic would just drink himself to death. He did not. He drank, and drank, and drank, and came back for more. So Marino helped him along with a few cocktails of his own invention, and started mixing in antifreeze. And then just serving him pure antifreeze. Which Malloy came back day after day for more of. Eventually, Marino replaced the antifreeze with Turpentine and even rat poison. But Malloy just kept ordering more.
They then fed him raw oysters soaked in methanol – believing that would kill him, before giving him a sandwich of, get this, rotten sardines, rat poison, ground up glass, carpet nails, and even the shredded tin the sardines had come in. Malloy, obviously very, VERY drunk, wolfed it down and asked for another without blinking. I don't know why they were so convinced rotten fish was the way to go when he could quite happily drink meths, but there we go. Murder conspirators tend not to be the brightest.
Realising that this just wasn't going to work and he was going to drink both the bar and the local DIY shop dry, the gang changed strategy. One extremely cold winter night, after Mike passed out drunk, they carried him to Crotona Park near the Bronx Zoo, and stripped him, before pouring a five gallon bucket of water over him, hoping to kill him with hypothermia. Presumably because of all the antifreeze in his system, that didn't work either and he turned up bright and breezy the next morning to cash in his free bar credit.
I get the feeling that at this point the insurance company would probably not have paid out on his accidental death, given he was naked in a park with an empty bucket of water next to him and a stomach full of nail sandwiches and floor polish, but hey.
Next, another of the conspirators, Hershey Green, ran him over with his taxi, hitting Mike at 45mph as he left the bar one night. Mike was hospitalised and the group presumed he was dead, waiting to see the obituary in the papers.
Mike suffered several broken bones, but didn't die. Three weeks later he discharged himself and hobbled straight back to the bar for a celebratory drink.
At this point, they actually gave up momentarily and just tried running over another unemployed and homeless Irishman, Joseph Patrick Murray, stuffing a fake ID into the unconscious victim's coat – but he too survived.
And at this point they also just tried hiring someone to machine gun him down, and tried just beating him over the head, but that didn't work either.
Finally, on February 23rd 1933, the gang took him to a rented room after he'd passed out drunk and forced a gas pipe down Malloy's throat, finally suffocating and murdering him.
The next morning, they bribed a doctor to write a fake death certificate for pneumonia with a note that said Malloy had visited him twice recently with breathing problems.
Now, with their victim finally and definitely not accidentally dead, they cashed in the life insurance policies. In all, they had spent over $1,800 trying to kill Malloy with booze, hired accomplices, and bribes. So one of the gang, an undertaker called Frank Pasqua, decided to cheap out on the funeral. Despite supposedly throwing a lavish $400 send-off for his friend, he actually buried him, unembalmed, in a $10 coffin in a shallow grave.
Now, here's the thing. A guy surviving several murder attempts and being given free booze for life for no reason whatsoever tends to raise suspicion and rumour, and Mike Malloy's story spread like wildfire through New York. The police were, therefore, more than a little suspicious when he actually died, and exhumed the body. Since it hadn't been embalmed, they were able to work out exactly what had actually happened pretty quickly, and the gang were arrested.
Hershey Green, the taxi driver, was jailed for 10 years having turned witness for the state and shopped the rest of the gang early, and despite immediately turning against each other, claiming insanity and various other defences, the other four conspirators were sentenced to death by the electric chair and executed in the following years.
Major-General William George Keith Elphinstone
I wanted to discuss a bad badass, i.e. someone who is revered but who was actually a bit shit.
· A good example of this is Earl Douglas Haig; someone memorialised in statues in London and Edinburgh but who’s reputation through the 20th century has swung wildly from the status of war hero to a ‘butcher’ who’s tactics cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of British troops.
Instead I opted for a less well known British military commander.
· Last week we mentioned in passing that Afghanistan isn’t an easy place to invade. We also discussed the Napoleonic Wars. I’m going to discuss both again today when I talk about the career of Major-General William George Keith Elphinstone.
Elphinstone was a posh Scottish chap born in 1782.
· He joined the British army in 1804 and served throughout the Napoleonic Wars, becoming a lieutenant-colonel in 1813.
· He became commander of the 33rd (First Yorkshire) Regiment on Foot (also known as the Duke of Wellington’s regiment) which he led at the battle of Waterloo (around 500 men).
· The Duke of Wellington was, famously, the commander of the Anglo-allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815
o Around 68,000 men supported by 50,000 Prussians under separate command
· In this famously tight battle, the Anglo-Allied forces and Prussians narrowly defeated Napoleon’s army thus ending the Napoleonic Wars
· As a result of his involvement in the Battle of Waterloo, Elphinstone was given numerous awards
o He was made a Companion of the Bath
§ An order of chivalry established in 1725 and inspired by the earlier Order of the Bath.
§ There was a strict one in, one out policy
· Because you can only fit so many pompous Brits in a bath tub
o “Henry, Henry! Pass the soap old boy”
o “William, you hound, stop using the flannel on your bottom, I haven’t wiped my face yet”
o “Marmaduke, do scrub my back will you!? Go easy on my dermitis”
o Knight of the Dutch Order of William
§ The most prestigious Dutch order of chivalry
§ Set up in 1815 after Waterloo
§ Over 1000 people joined
o Russian Order of Saint Anna
All going well so far for Elphinstone! A British hero
Alas, fast forward to 1837 when he is made a Major-General and 4 years later placed in command of a garrison in Kabul, Afghanistan during the First Anglo Afghan War.
· He was in charge of 4500 troops, mostly India, and 1200 civilians
The First Anglo-Afghan War
· Between 1839 and 1842 the British East India Company fought the Emirate of Afghanistan
o This war needs to be put in the context of the ‘Great Game’; a term used to describe the British and Russian Empires wrestling to maintain their areas of influence in Asia, suspicious of each other’s ambitions.
o Afghanistan sat between the British India and the Russian Empire
o As is so often the case, it was a case of an external force, the British, meddling in a succession dispute to ensure a favourable outcome.
§ In 1839 the British forces captured Kabul and installed their choice of leader
§ These British forces were confident in a victory
· Of the 30,000 camels taken, 2 were solely for cigarettes
· One regiment took all of their hunting hounds
· One senior officer had 60 camels just for his personal belonging
o Anyway, the British settled down in Kabul and made themselves comfortable
§ Playing cricket
§ Horse races etc
§ The British soldiers had great fun with the Afghan women, many of whom seemed to have been very happy to entertain the soldiers
· Here’s a little contemporary ditty: "A Kabul wife under burkha cover, Was never known without a lover”.
· Some of the women were just prostituting themselves because the solider were comparably very wealthy
· Afghanistan was very conservative and the Afghan men hated this behaviour
o Things soon became untenable for the British. In 1841 there was a popular revolt and a senior British military officer was murdered and strategic positions in Kabul were taken by the Afghans.
§ The British tried to negotiate with the Afghan leader, Akbar, but this party of envoys were captured, the main envoy was killed, mutilated and dragged through Kabul.
o Elphinstone was in command at this point and proved to be totally incompetent. He was described by General William Nott, a contemporary, as "the most incompetent soldier who ever became general".
§ A second envoy was sent to Akbar and managed to secure an agreement to let the British withdraw from Kabul
o So, on the 4th January 1842, the British forces and civilians (many women, children and elderly) began their march 90 miles through the snow covered Hindu Kush to Jalalabad
§ The very sick and infirm were left behind
§ The moment the British left, they were shot at from the walls and those left behind were killed
§ Akbar had promised supplies to complete the journey, these did not appear
§ Akbar reappeared, apologised, and promised to provide the supplies
· The British waited only to discover that this was a ruse to allow local tribes to find positions to attack the British column
§ Four days into the trip, many soldiers had lost fingers and toes from frostbite, a few hundred native soldiers had returned to Kabul seeking to be accepted but were killed, and the wives and children of the British officers had accepted promises of protection from Akbar and were murdered as soon as they returned to Kabul
§ By the 11th of January, only 200 of the 4500 troops remained with the British
§ Akbar once again offered to sit down and negotiate, again, Elphinstone agreed!
· They sat down to dinner with Akbar and were promptly made prisoners
§ On 13th January, one British officer, Assistant Surgeon William Brydon arrived in Jalalabad with half his head missing on a bloody knackered pony. He had fought his way through Afghan tribesmen and various traps that had been set in the mountain pass route to Jalalabad.
· The rest (although this might not be strictly true; a few stragglers may have made it back) attempted a chaotic retreat.
· As is often the case, a few officers showed leadership and bravery and managed to me a go of it but in the end they were prey to Afghan tribesmen.