That Sinking Feeling Were "concrete shoes" a favored technique of mob hitmen?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term “concrete shoes,” mobsters’ choice of swimwear for fellas with rodent traits and other individuals that ran afoul of them. Is there any truth to it? —Ale, Bangkok

When your question came in, Ale, I thought: At last, a chance to have it out with E.L. Doctorow.

You remember the opening of Doctorow’s award-winning 1989 novel Billy Bathgate, right? (Play along here, slackers.) Evil crime lord Dutch Schultz motors across New York harbor in a tugboat while a henchman sticks the feet of doomed underling Bo Weinberg into a tub of concrete in preparation for shoving him overboard. Billy, the narrator, watches this and thinks: “I had of course seen…how the tubbed cement made a slow-witted diagram of the sea outside, the slab of it shifting to and fro as the boat rose and fell on the waves.” Cool line, but a little voice in the back of your head, or anyway in the back of mine, is saying: Right, like some mob boss bent on murder is going to wait two hours for the concrete to dry.

However, that was before I assigned the case to my assistant Gfactor, Straight Dope gumshoe par excellence. Having seen the results of his investigation, I realize I’m going to have to cut Doctorow some slack. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying the cement shoes thing actually happened. But it’s solidly grounded in rumor.

As evidence I present an Associated Press clipping from June 3, 1935, on the fate of Danny Walsh, a bootlegging kingpin from Providence, R.I. Danny had disappeared in 1933. The AP now offered an explanation: Walsh “was stood in a tub of cement until it hardened about his feet, and then thrown alive into the sea.” But the body hadn’t been recovered, nor had witnesses to the crime come forward. Rather, the story was a “grisly underworld tale” that authorities were trying to confirm.

They didn’t, at least not exactly. The following month the Sunday-paper supplement American Weekly ran a sensational spread about a police raid on a Rhode Island “murder mansion” owned by a wealthy Walsh associate named Carl Rettich. The money detail was the cops’ discovery of a secret dungeon below the basement, accessible only via a hidden stairway revealed by cranking a phonograph handle in a concealed socket. According to unnamed “stool pigeons,” Walsh had been taken down there and clubbed on the head; his body (maybe dead, maybe not) was laid in a coffinlike box that was then filled with concrete and dumped in the ocean. When Walsh’s girlfriend later got too vocal with suspicions regarding her man’s disappearance, informants said, she was herself hustled down to the dungeon and given the feet-in-wet-cement treatment, the thugs having learned from experience with Walsh that head-to-toe encasement produced a needlessly heavy burden. But no bodies were found.

After that, stories about underworld cementwear became common, and terms like “cement shoes,” “cement boots,” and “cement overcoat” took their place in the crime writer’s lexicon. A news story from later in 1935 cited “underworld report” to the effect that the body of Bo Weinberg (he and Dutch Schultz, I should clarify, were real people fictionalized in Doctorow’s book) had been sealed in a barrel of concrete; in another article police speculated that he’d been given concrete shoes and dumped in the East River. Weinberg’s corpse was never found either.The body of gambler Charles Morris was found encased in concrete beside the Connecticut River in 1938—but the guy that killed him wasn’t, it happens, a gangland type. A 1940 AP story about Murder, Inc., the famed mob hit squad, claimed gangster Harry Westone had been tossed into a cement mixer; his unrecovered remains allegedly lay somewhere beneath an upstate New York highway. In cases where bodies did emerge, concrete has functioned more as accessory than garment: The corpse of Philadelphia racketeer Johnnie “Chink” Goodman was discovered in a New Jersey creek in 1941, weighted down with a 40-pound block of concrete; hit man Ernest “the Hawk” Rupolo was fished out of Jamaica Bay in New York in 1964, also weighted down with concrete blocks.

So let’s review what we know: (1) Underworld gossips have repeatedly insisted that mob hit men sometimes encase a victim partially or completely in concrete. (2) However, the one confirmed instance of a concretized corpse we’ve been able to turn up wasn’t a mob hit. (3) In cases of mob hits definitively known to involve concrete, we’re not talking concrete shoes so much as concrete anchors, in the form of blocks used to keep the body submerged. We have no evidence of a mob hit in which the killer mixed up concrete, planted a victim in it, and (not to fixate on this, but one has to consider the practical aspects) waited for the stuff to dry. Conclusion: Either custom concretewear is 100 percent effective, and the victim invariably vanishes forever from the ken of man, or the whole thing’s a myth. —Cecil Adams

Is there something you need to get straight? Take it up with Cecil on the Straight Dope message board, straightdope.com.

Our Readers Say

just loved the article anything that pertain's to the mafia is one of my favorite topic's
Hi, That was very interesting, what can you tell me about the Purple Gang? My Grandmother told me that she knew them. We never hear anything about this gang. My Grandma died before she got to finish the story. I had the feeling that she was a Moll in hiding.
You might look into the drying time of hydraulic cement. Also, (as a forner bricky)..it's common practice to use a masonry saw to cut out the center web of 8" masonry blocks (a nice shoe ?).. and having lived in New Jersey by Philly....the Italians used to joke that their heads are starting to show when the Delaware River got really low.
JoAnn, Author Paul Kavieff has some great books on the Purple Gang. I'd love for you to contact me, my great uncle was, I believe involved with the gang. I would like to swap stories. harris.m4@gmail.com
i like the stories of the mafia, but lets be real. That could be you, if you snitch!!!!
When I was kid living in Manhattan's lower East Side, the terms thrown around were: concrete socks, concrete suit, cement mixe, etc. What you had to watch out for were small business men who were in the ice delivery business. The business was owned by the mob and you get the point. An ice pick was a favorite weopon, On a Sunday while walking with my father thru a particular neighborhood, we witnessed an ice pick duel and those who were watching were wagering on who was going to win. Also, the old white carnation being pinned on a prospective victim was a tale thrown around that evoked fear.There are many stories some true and some not. Those that were not were believed by everyone and consequently were used in the everyday lexicon of the mobster or petty "wannabees" It was amazing to me at how many young kids of my day who wanted to grow up to be a "Big G" ( if you were from Manhattan) and a "Big Wheel" if you were from Brookllyn. In James Cagney lore a "GAT" was a gun. However, I heard the term "heater" in my youth to mean a hand gun. "Hit" was kill and still used.
Ciao
I like your artical.. What is your take on Jinny Hoffa??

I was regular at that restaurant . I was there the night befor.

Thanks Chuck
As recent as this season's '24' we see a scene where a body is disposed of via putting in the just poured cement foundation of a building being constructed.

My question is this: could disposing a body in this way cause such an air-tight encasement around the body that the body would be totally preserved ( since no new air, no new bacteria)?
Italians are Iranians with tomatoes. Dago dirt bag terrorists.
Stories about the Mafia always intrigue me. The classic "Godfather" was my favorite movie about the mafia. What makes it more interesting is that the stories about the vendettas were more than likely true.
Having been reared in a true and strong Italian Family, it came along with questionable and dubious ancestry including "Many" unanswered questions concerning my Father and his business dealings in the mid/late 40's and continuing into early / mid 60's.
Shortly after my Father's death, I came into posession of a certain notebook
containing names, phone numbers, personal contacts and a great deal of lets say questionable information. This "Notebook" has since been destroyed, as I felt my life would far less complicated without it. Although, I continue to read books about that era, my desire to be involved with it is "NON" existent
I grew up in the LIFE. so I speak from knowledge 1st hand.
If a guy is gonna be wacked, it is mostly planed out so every angle is forseen. A low level associate would follow the hit around for a time to get his comings & goings known to who the killers were gonna be. The best spot to either wack hit or bring him someplace he feels comfortable. if he was gonna have to disappear. he would be kidnapped, put into a van, blind folded and tied up. then brought to the place to kill and dismember him. while that was taken place, so one would be getting the room ready. coverd in plastic ,so not to have a big mess to clean up. a nice hard table to hold him with arm & leg restraints. so as he is put on the table, he would be shot in the head, or stabbed in the heart & then he would be cut into pieces. every part put into a different bucket or barrel of cement. after all that is done, the tools to cut and dismember him along with the gun which would be taken apart into it's seperate parts and put into different buckets of body parts and cement. then all the buckets and barrels would be brought far away from the site, & either put on a boat and dumped in many areas off the coast or into dumpsters that went to commercial landfuls after pick-up.
that would be the end of that and all the cloths worn would be brought to homeless people living on the streets and never be found again.
there are liots of ways to kill & make joe blow disappear, but this is the most effective one for using cement.sincerly DA FAT MAN.
Hey ,

Youze guys got it all wrong. We use quick-crete - no waitin'
I AIN'T GOT NUTHIN WRONG.!! I NEVER SAID WE DIDN'T USE QUICK DRY. WHERE IN NYC ARE YOU FROM? I WAS PART OF GONZO'S CREW OUT IN BATH AVE. & NOT SO JERK WHO'S BEEN RUNNING AROUND CLAIMING TO BE GONZO.
OK I'll bite, so you own the ready mix company and the trucks right! so load the mixer, tie what needs to dissapear to the chute,drive to the contractor needing the slab or pylon,(usually a city contract) drive thru the middle of the city in broad daylight, backup,drop the chute and pour.Bada Bing Bada Boom!
Most Gangsters other business is Construction. I thought I heard stories about victims being buried at work sites. Do you think this is a possibility?
Aren 't most gangsters in the construction business anyway? I thought I heard stories about victims bing buried in construction sites. Could this be a possibility?
does anybody know about Joe Aielo. He was supose to be in the mob either in NYC or Chicago,Ill.
anybody know anything about the gustin gang from south boston in the 40 and 50s
The bodies are disposed by cutting into small pieces and turning them into meatballs for spaghetti or some other pasta dish. Ever wonder why the mobsters are so fat and have deep voices? Well, they eat their victims (there's alot of killings) that is why the corpses are rarely ever found. Well, Here's to your next Ilatian meal. Mafiosi style. Ciao
..IT'S TO RISKY TO HAVE A BODY COME DOWN DA SHOOT OF CONCRETE. IT'S EASIER TO CUT UP DA BODY INTA SMALLER PARTS & MAKE EM GO AWAY.THEN SPREAD RUMORS HE WEMT INTA DA PROGRAM BECAUSE YHE GOV. GPT HIM TA FLIP FOR DEALING H OR WHATEVER HIS THING WAS.EITHER WAY, HE'S DAED & COULDA DIED A 1,000 DIFFERENT DEATHS. ANY WAY IS A POSSIBILITY.THATS LIFE IN DA MOB. AND WHAT IS LEFT OF IT WITH ALL THESE COKED UP WANNA BEES. IT JUST THE SAME ANY MORE. EVERY ONE THINKS THEIR A FRIGGIN COWBOY, BUT THE SEC. THEY GET PINCHED. THEY START RATTING ON EVERYONE. THEY ARE FRIGGIN SCARED TO DO THE TIME FOR THE CRIMES THEY DID.MAY DA OLD TIMERS REST IN PEACE & MAY THIS THING OF OURS DIE WITH DIGNITY.. AMEN
I believe Aielo was in the "The Outfit" meaning Chicago.
One of the better articles I've read! Well done!
okay Paulie....so, let me understand this......you are a (current/former) Mafia hitman, completely unconcerned and bragging on an open forum and unafraid of the governments obvious ability to track you down based upon your fingerprint of computer use. I believe that. don't you all kids? stfu
which, btw kids, is why his name highlights the "U-LIE" portion. please don't believe this wanna be, fake lingo using RAT boy.
I was raised and educated in and about the Howard Beach section of Queens back in the 70's. I was there when Mr. "G" (John Gotti) sponsored many 4th of July block parties in the City Line section of Queens where he was a member of the Ravenite social club. He was like the incarnation of Robin Hood in those days. The F.B.I was always going around trying to fit in the crowd, just so they could gather intelligence on the contemparary members of organized crime. There was no way that you can put an anglo from middle america in the midst of a melting pot neighborhood, and expect them to pull it off. Here's a liittle trivia for you. The neighbor that John Gotti was "ALLEGED" to have rubbed out was snatched from the Castro Convertibles furniture store parking lot in the New Hyde Park section of Long Island. Funny how there where so many witnesses, yet nobody saw "NUTIN". And for your information..."THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE MAFIA". Later boys and girls.
Easy Paulie! Calm youze self down and go eata youa some aspegatti or somtins.
I waited outside across the street from a train station in Bethesda Maryland. A girl was sitting on a bench. A gent came out of the railway and dropped a shoebox in her lap. He went catacorner across the street and then suddenly made a long stare at me. i didn't know; but my Maryland beer drinking hat had an insignia that looked a bit like Police of Princes George County. I had to wait for somebody;so i didn't move. The young Lady on the bench was very attractive;but at that point i thought i had better remain a slient observer. She later left. Then a man in khaki with a large screw driver in his back pocket went to the railway. It didn't look right and i thought he's paranoid and or he's up to no good. His type of khaki was not working maintainence khaki. Things happen to people and there are a million ways they can happen. Its best to stay the hell away from everyone and never think the trash will ever really be your friend. If things go down; they will scapegoat you to shift the blame of what went wrong onto you. " People would never leave their home;if they knew what was out there hunting them." CSI Las Vegas, the television series.
youze all got too much time on yer hands
REply to Jo Ann L>S> 01/13/2009/Purple Gange
My grandmother had a hotel/boarding house (Park View Hotel) Middlebury, IN, 6 miles south of the Michigan line.

Members of the Purple Gang stayed there at different times. My father had a speak easy & who knows where he got his booze from. His back bar had a large mirrow with large open colums with shelves,\. The Sheriff was a good friend of my dads and he waould call him that they were going to raid dad. Dad would take a small tool and turn the shelves around to hid the booze and there would be sarsaparilla. After the raid the sheriff and dad would go fishing.
Chuck Mather cjmather35@yahoo.com
for all you people talking about the life, stop it. you dont know shit. and if you did you should know better. stop pretending. paulie you pussy, come on up to boston.
what the hell does boston have to offer? all the good bands left years ago.
bunch of illiterate dirtbags, you give all italians a bad name. too pussy to think for yourselves, you tie yourselves to a cheesy bureaucracy and ridiculous heirarchy. hey, paulie, if that IS your real name, you're a bigger dumbass than even your illiteracy makes you out to be. what a douche.
Jo ann,
The purple gang was around toledo, ohio and detroit mich, there are some books at the toledo lucas co. library,
I have heard rumors that if you really made them mad they would tie you to a chair put your feet in a wash tub and let you watch it dry then take you for a boat ride alive to go feed the fishs
looks like paulie watches a bit too much sporanoes...stupid greaseball bastard ha...
some feckin eejits leavin comments here...its priceless haha
i have done research on danny walsh, and they do say thats what happened to him. his girlfriend was called betty white, and she dissapeared after the ransom payment, and police believe she knew what had happened to dan, so she was killed. informants told police dan and betty had been taken to the rettich mansion, there they had there feet put in a tub of cement, then they were both dumped in narragaset bay. R.I.P DANIEL WALSH,1893-1933.
i know a lot more about the walsh case, and you can see it on my new website.

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