Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

War on Sunset Strip

Before Bugsy's bones were cold in the ground, Dragna began plotting against Mickey Cohen. It was now or never, Jack reasoned, and he pulled out all the stops to get Mickey out of the way. A combination of uncanny luck on Mickey's part and incompetence on the part of the Dragna crew made the War of the Sunset Strip look like a Hollywood comedy.

One of the first salvos was fired as Mickey was heading home to Brentwood and was ambushed. Under fire from shotguns and Tommy guns, the hit looked like one of those unbelievable scenes in a movie where the bad guys open up on the star with a platoon of heavy weapons, yet the star manages to avoid every shot. In Mick's case, it was really happening. As the glass exploded from his Cadillac, he lay on his side and managed to steer his car up Wilshire Boulevard without hitting anything.

"I'm probably at my coolest in an emergency," he said. "The minute I sensed what was happening, I fell to the floor and drove that goddamn car all the way down Wilshire with one hand. I probably couldn't do it again in a thousand times."

He escaped with just a little damage from flying glass.

Twice Dragna tried to get Mickey in his home, the first time using a bangalore a long, tube-like explosive device used by the military to clear barbed wire and beachheads but the TNT failed to detonate. The next time, a dynamite bomb exploded beneath the Cohen house, but the blast was directed away from the living space by a concrete floor vault that shielded Mickey and his family.

"Actually, the neighbors got it worse than I did from the concussion," he recalled.

Sharpshooting hit men were only slightly luckier. Once as Mickey and several friends were sitting in a crowded after-hours diner, a Dragna shooter opened up with a .30-06 rifle and hit Mickey in the arm, tearing away much of the flesh. Buckshot from another gunman ripped through the diner, striking a couple of innocent patrons, injuring them slightly. Unfortunately, Neddy Herbert, a longtime friend of Mickey's, was killed in the shootout.

Another shooter was even less fortunate. Mick was coming out of a joint and was walking toward his new Caddy. He bent down to examine a scratch on the fender and as he did so, felt a bullet whiz past his head and ricochet off the car. The gunman didn't stick around for another shot.

Senator Charles W. Tobey
Senator Charles W.
In 1950, the war attracted the attention of the Senate Select Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, better known as the Kefauver Committee. Mickey was subpoenaed to testify before the commission and was lambasted by New Hampshire Senator Charles Tobey.

"I remember the old senator kept calling me a 'hoodlum.' He really used some terms that were uncalled for, from a senator in that type of thing," Cohen said.

"Is it not a fact that you live extravagantly, surrounded by violence?" the New Hampshire senator asked Mickey.

"Whaddya mean 'surrounded by violence,'" Mickey replied, indignant. "People are shooting at me!"

The exchange and appearance did little for Mickey and based on the findings of the Kefauver Commission, he was indicted, tried and convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to four years in federal prison.



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