Date: July 5, 1887
Location: New York, New York
Victim: Joseph Francis Quinn
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Daniel M Lyons
Date: August 18, 1887
Location: New York, New York
Victim: Daniel Lyons
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Daniel Murphy
The city police were under pressure to make an arrest, but Dan Lyons was a burglar, adept at eluding capture. The police first thought he had gone to Long Island, but they soon had reports that Lyons had been seen in several dives in Philadelphia. Detectives Malarkey and Duncan were dispatched to that city, but on arrival, they learned that Lyons had gone to Pittsburg. As the detectives traveled west, so did Lyons and he was next seen in Chicago. Hoping to fool the police, Lyons doubled back to Pittsburg, and there was arrested for burglary. He may have deliberately let himself be caught to hide from his pursuers. When the detectives found him in the Pittsburg jail, Lyons agreed to return with them without formal extradition.
When he returned to New York, Lyons told his version of the murder. The fight, he said, was not over a woman; the animosity between the men, which began with a petty disagreement, had been building for a year. The men had fought the day before the murder and Quinn had beaten Lyons badly. He did not want to be beaten again, so he made sure he was armed when he passed Quinn’s house. Quinn had not been sitting on his steps the day of the shooting, but had approached him on the street and threatened him with a “Chinese fan dagger.” Lyons told police, “I killed Quinn because if I hadn’t done so, he would have killed me.”
When the story broke that Joseph Quinn was killed by Dan Lyons, some speculated that the killer had to be Dan Lyons, the infamous leader of the Whyos, New York’s most dangerous criminal gang. Speculation ceased about a month later when Dan Lyons of the Whyos was murdered in a Five Points saloon while Dan Lyons, killer of Quinn, was safely behind bars in the Tombs prison.
The Whyos’ Dan Lyons, who was described as having a lantern jaw and a head shaped like a bullet, had served time in Sing Sing Prison and on August 18, 1887, was out on bail after assaulting a policeman. Early that morning he entered Daniel Murphy’s saloon on Worth Street, in the Five Points, with some friends. Lyons was already drunk and quickly became rowdy. When he threatened to kill everyone there, the bartender threw him out.
That afternoon Lyons went back to Murphy’s, still extremely drunk, and demanded to be served. Reportedly, some kittens were running about on Murphy’s floor; Lyons picked them up and bit off the ends of their tails. The bartender, Walter Butler, refused to serve him and told him to leave. Lyons got angry then and began throwing bottles of soda water at Butler. When the owner, Daniel Murphy, came in and saw what was happening he told Lyons to get out. Lyons threw a bottle of mineral water at Murphy, cutting a deep gash under his right eye. Murphy went behind the bar, grabbed his revolver from the shelf and pointed it at Lyons. “Come now, you’ve got to go out.” Murphy said.
Lyons reached for his revolver, but Murphy fired first, hitting him in the side of the head. Murphy, bleeding profusely, then ran from the saloon, straight to the Elizabeth Street Police Station and turned himself in. He feared the police less than he feared the Whyos. Dan Lyons died at the Chambers Street Hospital some time after midnight. His last words were, “I’m sorry, you can bet. I’d just like to have one more go at Murphy.”
There was no corroborating testimony to the Lyons’s assertion of self-defense. Mrs. Annie Bollinger testified that Lyons had not avoided the corner, she had often seen him loitering there. The jury found Daniel Lyons guilty of first-degree murder.
Coroner’s Hearing for the Murder of Daniel Lyons of the Whyos: August 17, 1887
Dan Lyons’s wake drew Whyos from across New York and Brooklyn, and while they mourned their lost leader, a coroner’s jury met to determine the fate of his killer. Daniel Murphy was represented by William Howe of the law firm Howe and Hummel, the city’s foremost criminal attorneys. In his statement to the jury, Howe gave the Whyos a good raking, citing their violence and criminal activities, and said that the city was well rid of Danny Lyons. This was a bit disingenuous on Howe’s part; Howe and Hummel were virtually on retainer with the Whyos, handling all of their major legal problems, and the previous year, Howe had defended Lyons’s partner, Whyo leader Dan Driscoll in his murder trial. The jury in Murphy’s case agreed with Howe, exonerating Murphy and calling the killing “entirely justifiable.”
Most modern accounts erroneously state that Dan Lyons of the Whyos was executed for the murder of Joseph Quinn. This error first appeared in Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book, The Gangs of New York. Asbury was a great storyteller and chronicler of nineteenth-century crime, but he was known to the embellish the facts for the sake of the story. In this case, he confused the two Dans, and in his version, Dan Lyons, the Whyo leader, shot Joseph Quinn in a gun battle across Paradise Square, over the affections of Pretty Kitty McGown. Asbury is so well respected that at least three serious authors retold Asbury’s version in their books with very little variation.
The Whyos never again had leadership as strong as Dan Driscoll and Dan Lyons. The police came down hard on the Whyos and their numbers dwindled as members were sent to prison. By the end of the nineteenth century, though the Whyo gang still existed, it was no longer a major factor in New York City crime.