How to be a Gangster

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”

Al Capone

“Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.”

Charles Lucky’ Luciano

Twenty years as a policeman is bound to blur the edges of your sociological sensibilities a little bit. Particularly when it comes to defining a criminal or more particularly an individual’ criminal. You learn, usually the hard way that you simply don’t have that right unless you are prepared to analyse that individuality within a very complex philosophy from which you cannot extricate yourself without defining or at least examining the moral foundations on which we base our laws. Individuals commit crime for as many reasons as people dodge taxes commit adultery or drink alcohol. Individual criminality is subjective.

Unlike organised criminality, so here is a quick guide on the common or garden gangster.


Let’s face it; there is nothing particularly clever about putting a hole in somebody’s face with a gun, or sticking a knife into somebody or, for that matter doing any of the twisted things that gangsters’ seem to be renowned for.

You don’t even have to have any experience or qualifications. To be a gangster you just need to be extremely violent and very probably mentally deranged.

It’s strange how we constantly romanticise them. These are the figures of folklore that scriptwriters never get tired of using to rehash the legend of Robin Hood using bullets and grenades instead of arrows. The fictional mob boss is drama’s ultimate dichotomy, evil and humanity living in the same skin. Power and vulnerability, greed and generosity I could go on The Sopranos is indeed a sensational piece of TV drama.

Trouble is it’s all nonsense and no matter how much I enjoy seeing the underdog stick one on the nose of our screwed-up system (and believe me I do), I can never applaud the real life versions of these murdering bullying thugs.

The trick to becoming a gangster is a fairly straightforward one so long as you really do lack a conscience, (having even a trace of one will only impede your progress). John Pearson understood this in his Profession of Violence, an excellent book on the rise and fall of the Kray Twins, (famous London mobsters) as did director Brian de Palma in his film portrayal of The Untouchables, most notably in Sean Connery’s famous lines “How far are you prepared to go? He sends one of yours to the hopital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

You see it really is as simple as that, this Profession of Violence is the reason why a handful of people are able to terrorize an entire city. To be a successful gangster you just have to leave people in no doubt that you don’t make empty threats and that you really are a screwed-up unhinged psychotic. That you really will seek out the mother of your enemy and burn her house down or stick a knife into your rival’s eye or pour petrol over him and set him alight or any other method you can dream up. Of course the sicker, the more sadistic and depraved your idea – the better it will be for your reputation.

Leaving people in no doubt does of course mean that at some point you will actually have to do one of the aforementioned sick things. This separates the men from the boys and is the reason why every gangster to ensure his credibility as an incredibly evil man of whom we should all be very afraid has at least one legendary torture/murder/mayhem story under his belt. The Krays had (among others) the one about Ronnie fashioning a permanent smile’ across an adversary’s lips with a samurai sword. Ireland’s Martin (The General) Cahill had his crucifixion, Al Capone his St Valentine’s Day Massacre you get the idea. You are only as bad as your last twisted deed and so you will need to pull off a new one every so often, just to ensure that people don’t think you’ve gone soft’ and if you happen to become one of those very busy gangsters remember that you don’t necessarily have to be there when it happens, indeed not actually being there could make you look even more ferocious because people will worry that you might actually be smart as well as sick Capone was on holiday in Florida when his infamous massacre was carried out.

At the same time you need to put out some positive propaganda it’s the Robin Hood thing again look after a few elders, feed a few of the poor, take care of the wife whose husband has been caged, get the odd bit of stolen property back or better still steal it first and then return it for a fee. Your objective is to make sure that people show you respect’, which in this context means that you must see to it that they believe you to be so psychopathic and sadistic that you would stop at nothing to get them to do what you say. In other words they need to be terrified of you and preferably of any of your associates stupid enough to allow you to control them.

All this stuff has a very positive effect if you are a criminal. People will indeed tend to do as they are told, will not report you the police, or even if they do, will not give evidence against you in court. It means that you can threaten them with all manner of bizarre torture and although one or two may threaten you right back, the reality is that much as it looks like great fun on TV, most decent people don’t really want to get involved in all that burning and shooting or torturing people in disused warehouses or putting charred corpses into the trunk of their cars. “How far are you prepared to go?” for the average person it’s probably not that far really.

Perfectly understandable it’s a brave man, maybe even a fool who would put the safety of his home and family at risk for the sake of what often boils down to a moral principle even if the failure of that moral principle is the very thing that is destroying his whole community.

Policemen often become incandescent with rage about this. Their rage is not directed against the public but at the fact that it is possible for a life form little higher than a sewer rat to manipulate the public into becoming (albeit reluctantly) complicit in drug dealing, robbery, extortion, murder etc simply because it (the public) is too afraid to hang the animal out to dry when it gets the opportunity. It’s frustrating because the public are infinitely greater in number than they are, but can neither rob the gangs of their guns or (at least in Britain’s case) equip themselves with weapons to fight back, and since the police haven’t the numbers to protect every witness the law inevitably becomes impotent. The ultimate frustration is that we all know deep down inside that we helped to create a world that allows this scum to breed.

On the other hand if you are a marginalized, disenfranchised no-hoper sprung from one of the squalid stink pits of our land, then becoming a gangster is a good way of becoming a somebody in this world. You can get rich, become powerful, even go legitimate if you manage to avoid imprisonment for long enough, though you are more likely to die or spend your years behind bars.

Still, if you are ruthless enough and have even a smattering of intelligence you most certainly have nothing to lose which just about sums it up.