A DETECTIVE FROM CHINATOWN
Detective Ray Taylor, 5th Precinct Detective Squad
, was a rookie detective on January 8, 1960. It was a cold night in Chinatown. The patrol sergeant, Sergeant Edward J. Johnson Jr., phoned him about a routine crime report. The
sergeant had just been transferred to the 5th Precinct as part of the annual shakeup prior to the Christmas holidays. The Police Commissioner at the time felt that
such transfers would prevent corruption. It was not meant to be a reflection on the individual cops transferred, but that was no comfort for the cops that
were moved. Detective Taylor was alone in the 5th Squad room when the call came in. The same Sergeant Johnson had been stabbed to death. They needed the detectives
to respond to the scene of the homicide of a member of the service. Detective Taylor drove the few blocks to the scene and made a mental note of the sign outside the
building at 227 Bowery that read: "A Friend of the Friendless". The domelights of the radio cars flashed against the building and blinded him as the street cops
directed him to the entrance to the Mission. He almost gagged as the stench of a hundred derelicts wafted up the staircase. The room was packed with cowering men who had
witnessed the homicide. The body of the Sergeant lay on the floor alongside the body of the suspect frozen in what had been a death struggle. The white-tiled walls of the basement
room and the glaring lights created an eerie scene for the young detective.
The 5th precinct cops on the scene were in shock as they conferred with Detective Taylor.
They spoke in hushed whispers and told him how they and the Sergeant had rushed downstairs into the cellar of the building at 227 Bowery on a report of a man with a knife.
Sergeant Johnson and three other cops had just handled a fight next door in the Salvation Army Mission when the Bowery Mission watchman ran up to them for help. The watchman
excitedly told the cops that a derelict armed with a large knife was threatening the other men in the basement. There were over 100 men being sheltered there that night due to the
extreme cold. It was simply a large brightly-lighted room measuring 100 feet long by 20 feet wide. There were no beds or facilities. The men were charged a token twenty-five cents to
spend the night. It was an act of charity to prevent them from the cold and possible frostbite.
Perhaps most of the men in the basement preferred the makeshift shelter to being picked up
by the "roundup paddywagon". "Roundup" was the practice of placing the homeless under arrest during extremely cold weather. They were charged with Disorderly Conduct- "Vagrancy". The paddywagon was loaded with as many as it could hold and the men would be arrested and arraigned in Night Court. They
would be sentenced to a short jail term during which time they would be deloused and fed. Hopefully, when the weather got milder, they would be back out on the streets. The practice was an old one and was
designed to prevent the homeless from freezing to death in the streets. In later years, well-meaning civil libertarians opposed the practice and the Vagrancy Law was ruled unconstitutional by case law in the
courts. Many of those in law enforcement felt that was a bad decision and would come back to haunt the City of New York.
When the cops responded into the basement, a
berserk homeless man stepped from behind a corner and confronted the Sergeant. He was armed with what looked like a boning knife. Sergeant Johnson ordered the man to drop the knife at gunpoint. The
assailant screamed and lunged at the Sergeant. Johnson emptied his revolver into the body of the vagrant as the crowd of derelicts cowered in terror.
In the confined area, the other cops fired three shots. Although he was shot multiple times, the forward momentum of the attacker enabled the killer to drive the knife deep into the chest
of the Sergeant. The long thin blade of the knife acted like an icepick and penetrated Johnson's heavy woolen winter blouse. The Sergeant died almost instantly. Johnson was
an eleven-year veteran of the NYPD.
The Police Commissioner, Stephen P. Kennedy responded to the scene. It was a cold night in Chinatown and young Detective Ray Taylor got a rude introduction to homicide investigations as a detective with
the New York City Police Department. It was also a fact that the PC was only a few blocks away from the 5th Precinct. Police Headquarters was located at 240 Centre Street. To be
a detective in the 5th Squad was to be working under the direct glare of the NYPD brass. The rookie Detective Ray Taylor would have to learn to work and perform under those conditions.
Cops were shocked by the facts surrounding the death of Sergeant Johnson. Rumors circulated that the killer wasn't stopped by a fusillade of bullets fired by the two cops. Was
the .38 Caliber revolver inadequate for police service? As shooting incidents became more frequent in New York, that question would dog the NYPD for many years.
When visiting the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. you will see the name of Sergeant Edward J. Johnson Jr., New York City Police Department on the
marble walls of the "pathways of remembrance" at panel 40 E, line 1. His name is enshrined with the names of thousands of law enforcement officers who have shed their blood for this Nation.
Years later, Detective Taylor found himself assigned to the Crimes Vs Persons Squad working out of the 122nd Precinct on Staten Island. In May of l973, Ray, and Detective Al
Cutler responded on a report of a homicide inside "Snoopy's Bar" on Castleton Avenue in the New Brighton section of the 120th Precinct. The Squad Commander, Lieutenant Tom
Quinn and Detective Jerry Capuano also responded. The area had seen better days. Old shops on Castleton Avenue such as Fred Muche's sports store still held on, but the new
shopping malls being built in New Jersey and Staten Island had drawn most of the customers away.
The uniformed cops had done a good job of isolating the crime scene and had detained the
witnesses that still remained after the shooting. Bystanders usually would bail out of a bar whenever a shooting or violent fight occurred. In the spirit of those times, nobody wanted to "get involved".
Taylor and the other squad members arrived to see the victim lying face up on the barroom floor. He had gunshot wounds to the head. As witnesses were separated and interviewed,
the detectives examined the body and checked the identity papers of the victim. They found a car registration and auto keys. They made a quick check of the vicinity of the bar and
found the victim's car. They opened the vehicle and after checking the interior of the car, found a machine gun in the trunk. This was not a "garden variety homicide".
As the interviews of the witnesses progressed, the crime was reconstructed. Taylor had become very familiar with the structure of the organized crime families of New York. Little
Italy was a favorite haunt of many of the leaders of those families. Questioning of witnesses indicated an organized crime hit. The witnesses related how three males had entered the bar
and that as they approached the victim, they pretended to be police officers. They tried to take him "into custody" at which time he resisted and was shot in the head a number of
times. The men fled from the bar into the night. The detectives subsequently learned that the victim may have been playing a dangerous game. He allegedly kidnapped the nephew of
an organized crime figure and $100,000 in ransom had been paid for his return.
The witnesses were interviewed and the neighborhood canvassed, but as in many homicide cases, the big break came from information provided by a patrol cop. Detective Taylor
received a call from Police Officer Terry Hayes, 68th Precinct. Hayes had received a tip about the murder on Staten Island. Taylor and Hayes set up a meet with the informant at
which time the names of the suspects were revealed. The informant recognized the mugshots of the suspects and Taylor and the squad made arrangements to obtain arrest and
search warrants for the three men. One of the suspects was named John Gotti.
Two of the suspects were arrested. Ray and the Crimes Vs Persons Squad went to the home
of the first suspect who was called Ralphie "the Wig" and collared him outside as he came home. The second suspect identified as "Fat" Angelo was arrested in his bed at gunpoint.
The third suspect, John Gotti was on the lam. The two suspects arrested were arraigned in court and subsequently released on bail. A short time later, Ralphie "the Wig" was
murdered. No one has ever been charged with that murder.
Taylor prepared a Wanted Card with a description of
the third suspect, John Gotti. That information went to all law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) eventually learned of the whereabouts of Gotti and notified the NYPD that they
were about to effect his arrest. Detective Taylor met with the FBI agents and accompanied them to Gotti's location. When they placed him under arrest, Gotti
greeted Ray with "Hey, Taylor! What is this shit?" Apparently, Gotti knew the name of the NYPD detective that was assigned to his case. The FBI took Gotti to Federal Court where he was remanded into the
custody of Detective Taylor and the NYPD. Gotti would face charges in Staten Island Criminal Court.
The famous attorney Roy Cohn represented Gotti. He
plea-bargained to a lesser offense and served a few years. What made this arrest unique was the fact that it was the future "Teflon Don's" first official hit. He
was to rise to notorious fame in the years ahead.
File Photo by Tony Carannante
Courtesy of Staten Island Advance
is retired now and we play golf together. As we walk the fairways and putt out on the greens, we talk of our days on the NYPD. He is the proud proprietor of The Claddagh Gift Shop
on Staten Island. His Irish ancestry serves him well as he lives in honored retirement among the citizens of the community that he
served. The stories that were recounted above are just a few of the incidents of his life as a police detective with the greatest police department in the world.
Ray Taylor at his shoppe
©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss
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