Most people are at least somewhat familiar with the famous gangsters of the Prohibition era: Al Capone. Lucky Luciano. Bugsy Siegel. Meyer Lansky.

But many have never heard of an Irish gangster named Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, whose life and crimes were just as fascinating as other, better-known organized crime figures of the 1920s and 1930s. To understand why Coll grew into one of the most feared criminals in New York, you have to study his upbringing.

Coll was born in 1908 in County Donegal, Ireland. When he was less than a year old, his parents decided to do what many Irish people did in those days: they emigrated to America to seek a better life. With 7 children in tow, the Colls settled in the Bronx, but found that their lives in New York were not much better than the ones they left behind in Ireland.

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They toiled in poverty, leading Coll’s father to eventually desert the family. Coll’s mother and all but one of his six siblings died before he turned 12 years old. Though an elderly neighbor took him in, Coll quickly began running the streets of New York with other like-minded youngsters who only had one thing on their mind: crime. He joined the Gophers street gang, quickly earning a reputation as a fearless criminal. Coll spent time at Catholic reform schools, but he was always eventually expelled.