Coll is born in Gweedore, County Donegal, on July 20, 1908. When he is not quite one year old, the Coll family emigrates to New York in search of a better life. At age 12, he is sent to a reform school. After being expelled from multiple Catholic reform schools, he joins The Gophers street gang. He joins up with Dutch Schultz‘s gang and quickly rises through the ranks. By the late 1920s he is working as an armed guard for the illegal beer delivery trucks of Schultz’s mob.
Coll is a loose cannon, and Schultz soon grows tired of his reckless behavior. In 1929, Coll robs a dairy in the Bronx of $17,000 without Schultz’s permission. When Schultz confronts him about the robbery, rather than being apologetic, Coll demands he be made an equal partner.
By January 1930 Coll has formed his own gang and is engaged in a shooting war with Schultz. One of the earliest victims is Peter Coll, shot dead on May 30, 1931, while driving down a Harlem street. Coll goes into a rage of grief and vengeance. Over the next three weeks he guns down four of Schultz’s men. In all, around 20 men are killed in the bloodletting. The exact figure is hard to pin down as New York is also in the midst of the vicious Castellammarese War at the same time. It is mayhem on the streets of Manhattan and the police often have difficulty in deciding which corpse belongs to which war.
On July 28, 1931, Coll allegedly participates in a kidnapping attempt that results in the shooting death of a child. His target is bootlegger Joseph Rao, a Schultz underling who is lounging in front of a social club. Several children are playing outside a nearby apartment house. A large touring car pulls up to the curb, and several men point shotguns and submachine guns towards Rao and start shooting. Rao throws himself to the sidewalk, however, and four young children are wounded in the attack. One of them, five-year-old Michael Vengalli, later dies at Beth David Hospital. After the Vengalli killing, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker dubs Coll a “Mad Dog”.
On October 4, 1931, after an extensive manhunt, New York police arrest Coll at a hotel in the Bronx. He surrenders peacefully. On October 5, a grand jury in New York city indicts Coll in the Vengalli murder. The trial begins in December 1931. He retains famed defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. The prosecution case soon falls apart. At the end of December, the judge issues a directed verdict of not guilty.
It was said that both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden put a $50,000 bounty on Coll’s head. On February 1, 1932, four or five gunmen invade a Bronx apartment which Coll is rumored to frequent and open fire with pistols and submachine guns. Three people, Coll gangsters Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile and bystander Emily Tanzillo, are killed. Three others are wounded. Coll himself does not show up until 30 minutes after the shooting.
At 12:30 AM on February 8, one week after the Bronx shootings, Coll is using a phone booth at a drug store at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. He is reportedly talking to Madden, demanding $50,000 from the gangster under the threat of kidnapping his brother-in-law. Madden keeps Coll on the line while it is traced. Three men in a dark limousine soon arrive at the drug store. While one waits in the car, two others step out. One man waits outside while the other walks inside the store. The gunman tells the cashier to stay calm, draws a Thompson submachine gun from under his overcoat and opens fire on Coll in the glass phone booth. He dies instantly. The killers take off in their car and are chased unsuccessfully up Eighth Avenue.
A total of 15 bullets are removed from Coll’s body at the morgue and even more may have passed through him. He is buried next to his brother Peter at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. Dutch Schultz sends a floral wreath bearing a banner with the message, “From the boys.”