Police with rakes and spotlights are sifting through years of winos' leavings in a rank railroad tunnel under West Manhattan, hoping to find mobsters' bones.
Sgt. Joseph Coffey said police have information that at least two victims of gang slayings were dumped along the seldom-used Conrail tracks and covered with some of the trash that abundantly litters the area.
The police department opened up the site under 50th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues to reporters this morning because word of their digging leaked to the New York Daily News. In a story that Coffey called "totally exaggerated," the News reported that police hoped to find a mob burial ground with the remains of as many as 60 victims of "contract killings, kidnapings and barroom brawls."
Unfortunately, Coffey said, a week's digging by nine men, 10 hours a day, has produced no gangland remains at all. Some bones were sent to the morgue from the site, but experts there quickly delcared them not human.
The dark tunnels, where the three parallel railroad tracks run under the streets, have long been used by winos and others seeking a scheduled, if somewhat perilous shelter.
The neighborhood, Hell's Kitchen, was once heavily Irish and in the 1920s gave birth to the Arsenal Mob, an Irish gang that dominated the area. Coffey said the investigation he heads is into Irish-American gang activities by the latest generation of the Arsenal Gang.
"The Italian end of organized crime has been romanticised by the press. The Irish have been neglected," Coffey replied when asked why Irish organized crime gangs weren't household words.
The Arsenal Gang, Coffey said, is involved in homicide, gambling and loan sharking. He said the search under West 50th Street was linked to investigations being carried out by the U.S. attorney's office and the Manhattan district attorney.
Directly above the railroad tunnel, where the police search teams were seeking human remains in the rubble, other police officers were clearing a route for President Carter's motorcade, which passed by in the late morning.