Early in the morning of April 30, 1948 longshoreman Thomas Collentine was gunned down near his Post Avenue apartment building in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan.
Collentine, shot three times with a .45, died at the nearby Jewish Memorial Hospital some eleven hours later.
The New York Sun assigned veteran reporter Malcolm Johnson to cover the seemingly routine shooting.
Johnson’s coverage of the uptown murder would morph into a Pulitzer Prize winning twenty-four part investigative series on which the film noir classic “On the Waterfront” was based.
On the Waterfront
Collentine, the thirty-year-old hiring boss of North River Pier 92, was known on the West Side waterfront as a “tough customer” with numerous rivals and enemies.
Collentine’s workplace, on the Hudson River at the west end of 52nd Street, was rife with violence, corruption, labor union racketeering and theft–so much so that newsmen often employed the catchphrase “cesspool of crime” in describing conditions on the waterfront.
Any number of persons might have wanted Collentine dead.
“Rival groups seeking to wrest his hiring power from him on the West Side waterfront, racketeers running gambling games there or other enemies could have done something about getting him out of the way,” speculated the New York Post. “Collentine himself, police disclosed, had been questioned in three murders, but released each time.“
From his deathbed Collentine balked at the notion of cooperating with police.
“I don’t know who shot me,” the mortally wounded Collentine told detectives, “and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
An Inwood Assassination
On the morning of the shooting Collentine was accompanied by two bodyguards, John White, 34, of 121 Vermilyea Avenue and George Courchesne, 23, of 156 Sherman Avenue.
As the three men walked toward Collentine’s car, parked outside his apartment building on 39 Post Avenue, they noticed the left front tire was flat. “Police,” reported the New York Evening Post, “discovered later that it had been slashed in two places, probably as a trap laid by the slayer.”
“Instead of changing the tire,” the Post continued, “the three men walked toward the corner to get a taxi. When they reached 23 Post Avenue, the slayer leaped from a passing car and fired four shots. All missed.”
Collentine and his three bodyguards, the account continued, then “flattened themselves on the sidewalk. Then the slayer came within two feet of Collentine and fired three shots into him.”
The gunman and two accomplices then jumped into a black Buick sedan and sped away from the scene.
A week later two hundred mourners gathered at Inwood’s Church of the Good Shepherd for Collentine’s funeral. The stevedore’s wife, Mary, was said to be in a “state of near collapse” during the service.
Despite an exhaustive investigation Collentine’s murder was never solved.
“On the Waterfront,” starring Marlon Brando, was released in 1954.