Rewind: February 1, 2022 –
Banned from Glens Falls:
The Infamous Gangster Joey Green
By Dave Waite
It is not every day that someone is banned from an entire city, though if there ever was a person or reason, it was Joey Green and his lifelong devotion to lawlessness.
Joey was born in 1901 in New York’s capital, Albany, the son of Jacob & Elizabeth Green. Joseph’s parents had emigrated from Austria in 1893 and married a year after coming to this country. Elizabeth Green passed away around 1905, and by 1910, Jacob had married a woman named Margaret who had emigrated from Poland earlier that year. Jacob Green was employed as a laborer on the railroad and by 1910 owned a house on Livingston St. in Albany, a place that would be the family home for many years.
As the second decade of the century opened, the now 19-year-old Joseph began a downward spiral deeper and deeper into a life of crime. First, it was assisting others in stealing cigars from an Albany store in August of 1920, but by December of that year he was well-known enough in the community to warrant a headline on page 10 of the Albany Argus, “Green Lodged in Jail Again.” While out on parole for his earlier crime, he had been arrested for an attempted robbery of a chauffeur in Dutchess County, New York. He was returned to Albany and with bail refused, remanded to the Albany Jail. It was in January of the following year that Albany Judge Brady sentenced him to the penitentiary for six months, where he was told he would have an opportunity to “consider and see the error of your ways,” and hopefully improve his conduct.
His time in prison seemed to influence the course of his life, unfortunately not by any means for the good. There was one other change as well, after his release he began to go at times by the name of Joseph Zielonka, a family name whose origins are never clearly explained. It was in 1925, that he had his first encounter with authorities using this new name. The crime was the robbery and beating of a man who was transporting bootleg alcohol from Whitehall. Joseph and three other men blocked a road outside of Gansevoort, Saratoga County and when the man came into sight they fired rifles, forcing him to stop. Attempting to resist, the victim was beaten, two hundred dollars taken, with the thieves driving away with his liquor-filled automobile as well. Now in two automobiles, the robbers got as far as Mechanicville where they encountered a roadblock by police warned of their approach. The car carrying Zielonka, and one other man was stopped in a hail of gunfire by the police. When the police took the two into custody, Joseph was in the passenger seat with a rifle across his knees.
While the newspapers did not list charges or tell of convictions for the carjacking, they did report Joseph’s next arrest in August of that same year. This time he and his partner Robert Parr were taken by state troopers for transporting illegal liquor after a chase through Rensselaer County and into Albany. The bootleg liquor business must have been very profitable as Zielonka, and Parr was quickly released on $3,300 bail each.
By 1929 Zielonka was back using the name Green, now going by Joey, the moniker that he would carry during the rest of his years as a North Country gangster. By this time, he was making his headquarters in Fort Edward, Washington County. It is not surprising that he made this move as in March of the previous year he had been taken from a street in Albany at gunpoint, taken outside of the city limits, shoved out of the car, and shot seven times at point-blank range. With his body “riddled with bullets,” he somehow found the strength to drag himself to a nearby home and get aid. After his recovery, he made his way north to continue his life of crime.
With all of this behind him, the cause of his being banned from Glens Falls was something as simple as a Thanksgiving Eve celebration. Only months after being released from the hospital after the failed attempt on his life, Green and some friends decided to visit a “soft drink fountain” that was a cover for an illegal speakeasy in Glens Falls. Whatever was being served must have made them playful, as soon the group were competing to see who the best shot was, pictures on the wall being the targets. Having left before the police arrived, Green was not picked up by the Glens Falls police until the following March when he was next spotted in that city. Released on $200 bail, when he finally appeared before a grand jury, he convinced them that was thought to have been gunshots were “merely the sound of corks being drawn from bottles.” With no witnesses willing to testify against him, the charges were dropped. It was soon after that the authorities took what they saw as their only course of action, ordering him to stay out of the city, with the police ready to arrest him on sight.
Joseph “Joey Green” Zielonka’s reign of lawlessness ended when he was killed during a shootout between rival gangs at a South Street bar in Glens Falls on February 19, 1933. After the viewing at the family home on Albany’s Livingston Street, he was buried as Joseph P. Zielonka in Albany Rural Cemetery. His grave is marked by a simple headstone adorned with a diagonal Cross. The only ceremony for Joseph was a prayer at his graveside by the undertaker, no church official being willing to officiate.
Research material from the newspaper archives at nyhistoricnewspapers.org and fultonsearch.org. Photograph of Joseph P. “Joey Green” Zielonka from deadgangster.blogspot.com.
Column prepared by David Waite for the Warren County Historical Society. We are in awe of where he finds these stories!