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The Curious Case of the Man Who Wouldn’t Die

On paper the plan was actually quite simple. In June of 1932, Tony Marino, the owner of a total dive speakeasy bar in the Bronx, New York City, hatched a scheme to pull off a life insurance scam along with some associates, Joseph “Red” Murphy, Francis Pasqua, Hershey Green, and Daniel Kriesberg, who would go on to later be known as “The Murder Trust.” Marino wasn’t new to the life insurance scam business, as he had already pulled off a similar stunt the previous year by killing a homeless woman who no one would miss and then posing as a relative to collect the life insurance. In this case, the plan was to use a crooked insurance agent to con one of the many aimless drunks that frequented the bar into signing up for a bogus insurance plan and then collecting by posing as a next of kin when the mark drank himself to death. All they needed was a nobody who would not be missed and who had no known family, and they found that in a Michael Malloy. Unfortunately for the criminals, this seemingly hopeless drunk would turn out to be somewhat indestructible.

Malloy was a homeless Irish immigrant who had once been a firefighter but was at the time mostly a full time fixture at Marino’s bar, and was known as a completely unrepentant, degenerate drunkard, coming in nearly every day and drinking himself into a stupor. He mostly kept a mounting tab and whittled away at it when he had the cash, and by all accounts he had no family, no friends, no prospects, and was the perfect target for the team’s nefarious plan, someone they could easily forge a new identity for. The plan started with the corrupt insurance agent conning Malloy into signing several insurance plans, two with Prudential Life Insurance Company and one with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and the next step would be to make sure he wound up dead, after which one of the conspirators would pose as a fictitious next of kin and collect the insurance benefits. It would supposedly net each one of them the equivalent of around $65,000 in today’s money, so it was to be a major score. Of course, the key part of it all was that Malloy end up dead, and importantly that it look accidental, but unfortunately for them this was to prove to be easier said than done.

Tony Marino’s speakeasy

The original plan was simply for Malloy to drink himself to death. To this end, Marino made the generous offer of giving him unlimited credit at his speakeasy, allowing him to drink all of the bootlegged whiskey and grog he could dream of. Malloy predictably totally abused this free-for-all credit, coming in to drink nonstop pretty much all day. He was drinking beyond what a normal human should have been capable of, yet he always stumbled in to turn up for more, and decidedly not dead. After awhile of this, the impatient Marino began mixing antifreeze into his drinks, which was not on the menu but also failed to kill Malloy. In fact, despite the antifreeze he would drink at the same pace without showing any negative health issues at all beyond basic drunkenness. Marino tried other concoctions, using turpentine, horse liniment, and even rat poison in the drinks, all of which failed to do the trick, and which Malloy would drink up as if it was no big deal at all. He would get smashed, pass out, and then come back for more the next day as usual.

It got to the point where they were serving him straight shots of pure wood alcohol and the man would drink it as if it was nothing, just getting inebriated, even though pure wood alcohol should have certainly killed him and only 4% wood alcohol was known to make people go blind. Not Malloy though, and he would ask for shot after shot, not going blind and certainly not dying. The conspirators tried letting him wash down some oysters soaked in pure denatured alcohol, followed by the house special of a rotting sardine sandwich garnished with metal shavings, broken glass, carpet tacks, and rat poison, but none this killed him either, and he even asked for more. Through it all, the seemingly unstoppable Malloy kept coming in for his unlimited free drinks, and this was turning out to take longer and get more costly than anyone had involved had ever imagined.

Tony Marino

The whole poisoned food and drink angle was obviously having no effect at all, and so the Murder Trust decided one cold winter evening to drag the passed out Malloy into the snow, douse him with cold water, and leave him there to freeze to death, but he dutifully appeared the next day seemingly none the worse for wear and merely complaining of a “wee chill.” The frustrated team then arranged to have Malloy “accidentally” run over repeatedly by a taxi, and while they thought this would surely do it to their complete shock Malloy shambled in a few weeks later after being presumed dead, complete with broken bones and a concussion but mostly seemingly fine all things considered. By now rumors were circulating about what was going on, and Malloy was gaining a plethora of whispered nicknames, such as “Mike the Durable,” “Iron Mike,” “The Juggernaut,” “The Rasputin of the Bronx,” “The Irish Rasputin,” and others. The Murder Trust knew they had to make sure he died soon before they were made, and even considered having him shot by a hitman, but the important element to the whole scam was that it be an “accidental death,” and so on the evening of February 21, 1933, they resorted to letting him pass out drunk, after which a gas hose accidentally found its way up his nose, his mouth accidentally got taped up, and the gas jet accidentally got turned on full force. After an hour of this accidental feeding of gas, Malloy finally died of carbon monoxide poisoning. A corrupt doctor then was paid to sign the death off as pneumonia.

The Murder Trust just had to now make sure the body was quickly buried, after which they collect on the insurance money and hope no one was on to them. Unfortunately for them, Prudential Life Insurance was immediately suspicious when there was no body presented as proof because it had already been buried. This sent up red flags, the police were notified, and Malloy’s body was exhumed for examination. After an official autopsy was done it was easy to see that this was no pneumonia and that he had been murdered, and this led to them all ratting each other out and bringing to light the homeless woman Marino had also had killed for her life insurance money. In the end, all of the members of the Murder Trust would be either executed by electric chair or sent to prison, and it certainly seems that Malloy had had the last laugh in the end. What was with this guy? How could any human being ingest that much pure straight alcohol and poison and just shrug it off? By all estimates he should have died way before that tube found its way into his nose, so what was going on here? The case of Michael Malloy remains a curious historical oddity, and a strange tale of people tenacious beyond reasoning.