Raymond Chandler on the Albert Anastasia Murder
Dick Dedrick’s excellent audio documentary Private Eyes: Chandler & Marlowe ends with a recording of Raymond Chandler’s July 1958 interview with Ian Fleming. At this late stage of his life, Chandler was widowed, depressed and drunk, but consented to the interview out of his respect for Fleming who held him in equally high regard. It is a sometimes difficult interview to listen to, with Chandler slurring his words and Fleming struggling to keep him focused. However, there are several moments when he shines, such as when Fleming asks Chandler about the recent murder in New York of Albert Anastasia, Boss of the Gambino Crime Family. Anastasia was sitting in the barber chair in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel when two men rushed in and shot him to death. The motive, it is believed, was an internal power struggle and tensions with the other New York Crime Families. The case was never solved. The photo of Anastasia dead on the barber shop floor became one of the most iconic images in Mafia history.
Below is a transcription of Chandler and Fleming discussing how a Mob murder would be arranged:
Fleming: I see they had another killing last week in New York, one of these men connected with that dock union man, what was his name…
Chandler: Albert Anastasia
Fleming: Anastasia yes. How is a killing like that arranged?
Chandler: Very simply. Do you want me to describe how it’s done?
Fleming: Yes, yes.
Chandler: Well, first of all the Syndicate decides it– has to decide– he must be killed. They don’t want to kill people, it’s bad business nowadays. Then when they make the decision, they telephone to a couple of chaps, say in Minneapolis, who own hardware stores or something or other and have a respectable business front. And these chaps come along to New York, and they’re given their instructions. They are told– they are given a photograph of the man and told what’s known about him, and when they get on a plane, if they have to get on a plane…
Fleming: In Minneapolis?
Chandler: …they’re given guns. No, not in Minneapolis. After they get their instructions they’re given guns. Now these guns are not defaced in any way, but they are guns which have passed through so many hands that the present owners could never be traced. The company could say the first purchaser. So they go to where the man lives, they get an apartment across the street from him or a room, and they study him for days and days and days until they know just exactly when he goes out, when he comes home, what he does, and when they’re ready they simply walk up to him and shoot him. They have to have a crash car: Bugsy Siegel was a great man for a crash car. The crash car is in case a police car should come down the street and accidentally on purpose smashes the police car so the other fellows get away, get back to the plane, go home that’s all there is to it.
Fleming: So they drop their guns at the spot do they?
Chandler: They always drop the guns yes.
Fleming: And wear gloves?
Chandler: How many fingerprints have ever been taken off guns?
Fleming: Yes quite.
Chandler: They hold them by the butt.
Fleming: Yes, quite true. Of course they always appear to take them off in books, but I suspect that because by filing the material on the butt and scratching it well of course you make a rough surface that won’t take any prints at all.
Chandler: No, butts aren’t made that way. They’re made to be rough.
Fleming: How much would they get paid for that each?
Chandler: Ten thousand.
Fleming: Ten thousand each?
Chandler: If it’s an important man. It’s small money to the Syndicate.
Fleming: And then they go back to their jobs in hardware stores in Minneapolis.
Chandler: Yes, it’s quite impersonal. They don’t care anything about the man; they don’t care about his general life. It’s just a job to them. Of course they have to be a certain sort of people or they wouldn’t do it. I mean they’re not like us; we wouldn’t do it.
Fleming: No, it’s a difficult thing to imagine doing.
Chandler: Well, I’ve known people I’d like to shoot.
Fleming: For instance? Anybody in England?
Chandler: No, not in England.
Fleming: What did you want to shoot them for?
Chandler: I just thought they were better dead.
Sadly, Chandler died less than a year after giving this interview. It is apparently the only audio recording that exists of his voice, and although his poor health is all too obvious, I particularly like this part of the interview as showing Chandler at his best. His comments seem insightful yet playful, easily commanding the listener’s attention and ending with a piece of wickedly dry humour.
I have also found the entire interview on YouTube. It will appeal to Chandler and Fleming fans alike. Here’s the link.