Gun Girl: The Mob Moll of West 207th Street

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Virginia Ornmark
Virginia Ornmark "Gun Girl and Gunman." Photograph by Weegee, Getty Images.

A 19-year-old girl with taffy–colored hair, arrested in the investigation of the murder of Paul Volchak in an attempted holdup, today implicated four men in 20 holdups and, police said, confessed that she was the gang’s gun moll.” (New York Post, July 18, 1944)

Virginia Ornmark "Gun Girl and Gunman." Photograph by Weegee, Getty Image
Virginia Ornmark “Gun Girl and Gunman.” Photograph by Weegee, Getty Images.

In July of 1944 homicide investigators burst into the northern Manhattan apartment of Virginia Ornmark—a seemingly sweet and naïve nineteen-year-old.

Photographed by Arthur Felig, the legendary street photographer better known as Weegee, this Mob Moll of West 207th Street would become the darling of the New York tabloids and their gangster obsessed readers.

Gangster Tales

The whole thing started as a gag,” Ornmark told the District Attorney’s office. “I said to my boyfriend, ‘I’d like to meet some real gangsters.’ So he arranged it and I met Schmidt and the three others.  Schmidt filled me up with stuff about the glory of the stickup racket and how I would get pretty clothes and jewelry and some money to take care of my mother, which is what I wanted the most.” (New York Post, July 18, 1944)

The boyfriend introduced Virginia to three men including 24-year-old Fred Schmidt—a Hell’s kitchen hoodlum who had been paroled from the adult reformatory in Elmira, New York just two months earlier.

Six weeks after the requested criminal introduction Virginia Ornmark and the rest of the gang were behind bars,  implicated in a citywide crime spree.

An American Dream

Virginia’s father, Oscar Wilhelm Ornmark, was born in Gefle, a port town in Sweden, in 1901.  He entered New York aboard the passenger liner Stockholm on April 12, 1922.

Oscar Ornmark Naturalization Petition
Oscar Ornmark Naturalization Petition.

A year he married Olga, a 19-year-old from Tampere—a city in southern Finland. Olga had made the Atlantic passage aboard the S.S. Aquitania in 1921.

Virginia Alice Ornmark, the couple’s only child, was born in 1925.

Virginia Ornmark's Inwood apartment building located on West 207th and Cooper Streets.
Virginia Ornmark’s Inwood apartment building located on West 207th and Cooper Streets.

The young family lived on West 184th Street, where Oscar worked as a building superintendent in the 1930’s, before migrating north to the Inwood section of Manhattan,  a half block from the newly constructed A train station.

The Ornmarks seemed to be living the American Dream.  Both husband and wife became naturalized U.S. citizens in the late 1930’s.

Virginia attended nearby George Washington High School and worked part time as a bookkeeper.

The Shirtsleeve Gang

Virginia Ornmark, Photo by Weegee, Getty Images.
Virginia Ornmark, Photo by Weegee, Getty Images.

That July, miles south of the Ornmark’s uptown apartment, police arrested Fred Schmidt for the murder of Paul Volchak, who was gunned down outside of his shop, Paradise Lingerie, on Broadway near West 103rd Street.

Under police interrogation the suspect casually mentioned the name Virginia Ornmark, a gal-pal of Schmidt and his cohorts, dubbed “The Shirtsleeve Gang” in the papers.

That,” wrote the New York Post, “was a serious mistake, for detectives promptly visited the Ornmark home and found in her crocheted bag a loaded .32 caliber revolver, ammunition and brass knuckles and discovered another gun in a trunk.” (New York Post, July 18, 1944)

After the raid Virginia admitted to possessing the pistols, fingered three other accomplices, admitted being present at three holdups and really, just couldn’t stop talking.

In thrilling testimony, covered breathlessly by the tabloids, the gun moll described some fifteen to twenty holdups over a-six week period:

There was the $1,600 robber of Ketchell’s Restaurant on 11th Avenue, not far from today’s High Line.

The $400 stickup of the Remo Tavern on West 23rd Street where, instead of asking for a check, the gang emerged from their booth with pistols drawn.

The bandits were in the planning stages of robbing a Federal Reserve Bank Liberty Street when a drinking problem got the best of Schmidt, the gang’s leader.  (Virginia had even applied for a job at the bank so the gang would have an insider on the job)

Things Fall Apart

On Saturday, July 16, 1944, the Shirtsleeve Gang rented separate rooms in the Sherman Square Hotel on Broadway and 70th Street.  The plan was to emerge from their rooms at midnight and rob the night manager of the evening’s receipts.  (New York Post, July 18, 1944)

Miss Ornmark,” according to statements to the police, “took three guns with her.  But when the three other men went to Schmidt’s room, they found him drunk and abandoned the job.”  (New York Post, July 18, 1944)

The following evening, in the grip of a full-blown bender, Schmidt was rolled in a bar for $500.

Furious, he stalked the streets in search of a victim.

The senseless shooting of Paul Volchak ensued.

Paul Volchak and Widow, New York Post, July 18, 1944.
Paul Volchak and Widow, New York Post, July 18, 1944.

Volchak was shot to death by his assailant when he defied the hold-up man,” wrote the New York Sun. “He was shot once in the store and again on the pavement in front of the store.”

The victim left behind two sons, both serving in the Army, and a widow.

Multiple witnesses identified the shooter as Schmidt, who was quickly brought in for questioning.

Postscript

New York Sun, 1944.
New York Sun, 1944.

Twenty-four year old gang leader Fred Schmidt was sentenced to sixty years to life for the murder for shopkeeper Paul Volchak.

Gang members James McLaughlin, 21, and William Bird, 24, were sentenced to twenty-forty years for robbery.

Virginia Ornmark, in exchange for her testimony, pleaded guilty to criminally possessing a gun.  For the misdemeanor conviction the Mob Moll of the Shirtsleeve Gang was sentenced to two years’ probation.

Virginia Ornmark did not survive this probationary period.  Little more than a year after trial the then twenty-year-old Ornmark was dead.

No cause of death was reported. The media had by then moved on.

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