In March 2014, I was breezing, buzzed, through a Cleveland beer festival when the sight of a Kelly green T-shirt stopped me. I recognized the face on it, a mug shot: “Danny Greene’s ‘Enforcer’ Imperial Stout." Naming a beer after a violent gangster? That seemed poised on the edge between bonkers nostalgia and poor taste. (The Market Garden Brewery beer was later renamed.)
And yet I recognized Greene’s mug shot because I’d told a version of Greene’s true-life outlaw legend in this magazine, on the occasion of Greene’s Hollywood-ization in the movie Kill the Irishman. My article stood upon a far greater body of work: Cleveland Magazine’s epic 1970s stories on organized crime. They included Greene and gangster Shondor Birns — who put out a hit on Greene, then died in a car bomb, probably set or planned by Greene, in 1975. Soon after, a bomb blew up Greene’s Collinwood home but failed to kill him.
The magazine’s stories also recounted the violent competition set off by the death of aged mob boss John Scalish — a war that saw Greene vie for control of the local rackets. When hit man Ray Ferritto staked out Greene on Mafioso orders before killing him with a car bomb in Lyndhurst on Oct. 6, 1977, he reportedly identified Greene from a photo in Cleveland Magazine’s April 1977 issue. Greene’s murder backfired. Prosecutors dismantled the Mayfield Road Mob.
Why does Greene’s legend last? Maybe it’s the chilly Mafioso codes — our Godfather story. Maybe it’s Greene’s love of Celtic symbolism, like the Irish flag he flew by the remains of his bombed house. Maybe it’s both: the bygone Irish-Italian blood feud and Greene’s reputation for Robin Hood-esque bravado. Either way, of all our many gangster stories, Greene’s is the one Clevelanders most love to tell.