The Rise And Fall Of An NYC Extortion Ring

Jan 29, 2013

In July of 1965, New York City Detective James McDonnell was called to the Western Union Office at Grand Central. A man posing as a detective was there with a 14-year old runaway boy. The kid’s father suspected something fishy when asked to wire twice the amount necessary to fly the boy home and called the cops. McDonnell quickly figured that the sharply dressed man was impersonating a cop and called for back-up.

The panicked perp promised McDonnell a much bigger story if he’d go easy on him. That story revealed a nationwide extortion ring of men posing as vice-squad officers putting the squeeze on prominent gay men who had the money to buy their way out of a potentially public jam. The discovery unlocked a nationwide investigation by the FBI and the NYPD, the first known case of law enforcement working on behalf of gay men. Writer William McGowan wrote about the largely unknown story for The article's title was called “The Chickens and the Bulls,” also the name of the NYPD operation in 1965. McGowan explained those terms when we spoke to him last summer.