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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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Johnny Dollar Meets Reality, or
"Iron Mike" meets "Indestructible Mike"

by John C. Abbott © 2014
(From Radio Recall, April 2014)

Those of us who are ardent Johnny Dollar fans are familiar with the five-part story called "The Indestructible Mike Matter" in which Johnny Dollar is sent to New York City to investigate a large policy on the life of a bowery wino, with a somewhat questionable beneficiary. The problem is that this is not the first such policy. The subject of the story, Michael Jeremiah Flynn is given the nickname "indestructible" because he lives thru several attempts to kill him, including being shot, hit with a truck and poisoning with wood alcohol. But Johnny uncovers the plot and justice is done - as usual.

While this is an interesting story, recent events seem to indicate that the story of "Indestructible Mike" is more than a good story, but is based on real events.

In January 2014, the PBS television program American Experience broadcast a program entitled "The Poisoner's Handbook" based on the book of the same title by Deborah Blum. The program goes into great detail to document how ordinary people were killed, sometimes intentionally but often accidently, by common, and sometimes not-so-common household products available in stores.

The program centers on the efforts of New York City's first scientifically-trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his chief toxicologist, Alexander Gettler. Together they toiled to turn forensic chemistry into a science that would take murder out of the dark and expose it to the examination of modern medical science.

Through their efforts, products containing arsenic, cyanide, lead, radium and other toxic products easily available in stores were proven to be the agents of death in many cases. Because of their efforts, medical science was improved and many products were taken out of reach of the consumer.

The program also tells an interesting story about an Irishman named Michael Malloy, and the efforts of five New Yorkers to kill him in order to collect on an insurance policy. Starting to sound familiar?

Here is the story of Michael Malloy:

In 1933 Mike Malloy was a homeless alcoholic who frequented the illegal speakeasies of New York. One of his favorite haunts was a speakeasy run by Tony Marino, but Tony was suffering from money problems. In mid 1932 Tony and three other men: Joseph "Red" Murphy, Francis Pasqua, and Daniel Kriesberg came up with a great idea. They figured that all they had to do was to take out life insurance policies on someone, say Mike Malloy, and then get him to drink himself to death and they could collect.

The first part of the plot was successful. The group managed to get several life insurance policies on Mike from several companies. The policies totaled about $1,800 ($3,600 if Malloy died an accidental death). That is over $64,000 in 2013 dollars.

Tony then gave Mike unlimited credit at the bar, thinking Malloy would abuse it and drink himself to death. Mike did drink for a most of his waking day, it did not kill him. Dismayed, Tony then added other substances, such as antifreeze, then turpentine, then horse liniment, and finally rat poison, but "Iron Mike" managed to soldier on.

The group then tried raw oysters soaked in wood alcohol and added a sandwich of spoiled sardines mixed with poison and glass. Yep, "Durable Mike" loved the sandwiches.

The group (which later was dubbed "The Murder Trust" by the press) had added several unsavory characters, and together they decided to freeze Mike to death. Marino knew it would work - he had done it once before! So on a frigid February night when the temperature reached -14 F, Mike drank until he passed out. Then the group carried him to a park, poured several gallons of cold water on his bare chest and left him to freeze to death.

However, Mike reappeared the following day for his daily drinks.

The group then paid a "friend" to run Mike down with his taxi. Although the cab hit Mike going 45 mph, Mike ended up spending three weeks in the hospital with several broken bones. It seems that the police had found Mike after the so-called accident and took him to the hospital. So after a couple of weeks, Mike showed up again ready for a drink.

Finally, in desperation (after all, the policy premiums were coming due) the group got Mike to drink himself to unconsciousness. Then they took him to a room in an old boarding house, put a hose connected to the gas-light jet into his mouth and turned it on. This finally killed Mike Malloy on February 22, 1933.

The cabal had a questionable doctor pronounce Mike dead of lobar pneumonia. Then Pasqua, who ran a funeral parlor, quickly buried Mike. However, the Murder Trust proved to be their own worst enemies. They talked too much and squabbled among themselves over division of the money. Eventually the police heard rumors of "Mike the Durable" in speak-easies all over town. They conducted an investigation, had the body exhumed and examined by the Medical Examiner's office. Ultimately the group's deed was undone, mainly because in their haste to bury Mike, they did not embalm him. So, even after Mike had been buried for several weeks, the Medical Examiners were able to find proof of carbon monoxide poisoning - the illuminating gas was a lethal mix of gas and carbon monoxide.

The men were put on trial. The four members of "The Murder Trust" were executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison, and it only took one attempt.

So was this story of greed and incompetence (or superior survival skills on Mike's part) really the basis for the Johnny Dollar story? Consider that Jack Johnstone, the writer of the Johnny Dollar story noted above lived in New York City during the time period of the events. Also, the court case made headlines all over the country, so Jack no doubt heard or read about the case. Jack was writing for the radio program Buck Rogers during this time period, so he probably was reading the news looking for story ideas - not a farfetched presumption.

In any event, the similarities between Mike Malloy and Mike Flynn are too great to be coincidental. Murders and insurance fraud were common enough, but to have a survivor such as Mike Malloy/Mike Flynn is too much to overlook. It is a story so compelling, that it had to be true - you could not make it up.

Sources:

  • "The Poisoner's Handbook", broadcast by PBS on American Experience
  • "The Man Who Wouldn't Die, The plot to kill Michael Malloy for life-insurance money seemed foolproof-until the conspirators actually tried it" by Karen Abbott in Smithsonian Magazine, February 2012
  • "A Toast to Mike The Durable"" Victim by Deborah Blum (www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/a-toast-to-mike-the-durable/)