Photo of Joey and Arlene seated on runningboard of 1940s car

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About Arlene

Scenes from My Life On Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir by Arlene Mandell

Murder, Inc.

One rainy spring day, I noticed a black Ford parked at the end of Hemlock Street by the vacant lot. The next day it was still there. I thought this was strange, because if people were visiting, they would park in front the house they were visiting.

On the third day, my father went to talk to our neighbor, Mr. Rossi, who was a mailman and therefore a government official. Together they walked down the block to look at the car. Since I was a brave girl reporter in training that spring, like Brenda Starr from the comic strip, I followed close behind.

When they got a few feet from the car, my father put his hand over his nose and waved me away. Later that night I tried to see what was going on by pressing my head against the front window, but my father pulled down the shade. So I can’t provide an eyewitness account, but I overheard enough to tell you this:

  • A man was shot in the back of the head, “execution style.”
  • He was into his bookie for a lot of money.
  • They stuffed him in the trunk.

This was a warning to anyone who “played the ponies” and didn’t pay up. I overheard other scraps of information about gangsters who hung out at the “social club” on Crescent Street and sometimes used our neighborhood as a “dumping ground.”

Of course I knew what a bookie was. We had our own neighborhood bookie who used the telephone booth in the back of the candy store. I was warned not to look at him, even when I was sitting a few feet away at the counter having my favorite black and white sundae with wet walnuts.

Our bookie had a nervous twitch and smoked a lot. I thought about calling the FBI, but we didn’t have a phone and I would have had to use the bookie’s phone booth, which didn’t seem like a wise move. So my imagined stellar career as Arlene the Undercover Agent soon faded.

A few years later, when I got to Franklin K. Lane High School, I would occasionally catch sight of a good-looking Italian guy who hung out with a tough crowd. His name was John Gotti, and he would go on to great fame, fortune and, ultimately, life in prison. As I had no desire to “sleep with the fishes,” I never pursued the relationship.

© Arlene Mandell, 2009

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Welcome to Hemlock StreetBlock PartyBuilding the Ferris WheelCrossing Pitkin AvenueThe KissInvisible BabyAunt Minnie's Second Wedding • Murder Inc. • A Real Italian DinnerSleeping with Nettie SachsDuke Snider Breaks Our HeartsCherries in the SnowMy Thirteenth SpringNo Room of My OwnDeeply in LoveHangin' Out and Makin' OutResolutions Made and Broken