Organized crime continued: The case of a respected lawmaker caught up in the grasp of Cosa Nostra

The Congressman and the Hoodlum

Originally appeared in Life on August 9, 1968
This article was prepared by a LIFE investigative team consisting of Russell Sackett, Sandy Smith and William Lambert.

More on Congressman Cornelius Gallagher

A mobster has told police he lugged the corpse of a loan shark from Gallagher's ample old frame house in Bayonne. Gallagher's car, bearing the distinctive plate number CEG1, is seen in the driveway.

A chiller right out of a Hitchcock film

The most intriguing link of all between Zicarelli and Gallagher involves an incident so garish as to strain belief were it not for the evidence. It concerns a return favora big one-allegedly sanctioned by Zicarelli for the congressman. The story, told in detail here for the first time, could be right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Bernard ("Barney") O'Brien was a smalltime loan shark and exbookie whose legitimate business was a Dairy Treat ice cream stand on Highway 440 in Bayonne. Most nights he was home at 6 o'clock for dinner with his brother Mike and his sister Shirley in the flat they shared on the shore of Newark Bay. Barney never married. His escapades with women gave him what passes for playboy status in Bayonne. The folks in Bayonne, when they talk about him now, agree that Barney was a "character," and in this view Neil Gallagher concurs. In his interview with LIFE reporters on July 3 the congressman was asked, "When did you meet Bernard O'Brien?" There was a hesitation. "Bernard O'Brien? . . . Oh, Barney O'Brien," Gallagher replied. "Barney's been a local character in Bayonne for years and years. I knew Barney when . . . I was a kid."

Q: Did you know him well?

A: Not intimately. I knew him to say hello, to kid with. Once in a while I'd stop off and buy ice cream and things for my children. And what Barney did or didn't do I had no idea. Except I did know that he ran that Dairy Treat.

Whatever recognition Barney acquired during his life in or out of the rackets was confined to Bayonne. Here he harvested bets and did a bit of shylocking on a franchise from the big shot, Joe Zicarelli. Then Barney simply vanished from his grubby little world.

"I remember that night as if it were last night," says Shirley O'Brien, talking about the evening of Saturday, Oct. 13, 1962 when her brother Barney walked out of their apartment for the last time.

She said she had fixed their supper but Barney pushed it away untouched. He went back to the living room to slouch in the chair while Shirley did the dishes.

"A little after 8 o'clock he got up and said he was going out to watch the fights on TV. He walked out the door without saying another word. And I never saw him again."

Barney, said Shirley, was a "good, good man" with many friends.

"Barney was a good friend of Neil Gallagher," she adds.

After leaving his home that night, Barney stopped at the Colony Diner on Communipaw Avenue and then drove to the Dairy Treat to watch the boxing matches on TV. His partner, Michael Oshust, operated the shop on the night shift. Oshust died in 1964. After Barney disappeared, Oshust told police that O'Brien looked at the fights until 10:45 p.m., when there were three rounds left in one match. Oshust said O'Brien then announced, "I'm going to get the papers and go home." He never got there. Investigators have been unable to find anyone who saw him alive after he wheeled his auto out of the driveway of the Dairy Treat.

A little after midnight, Oshust closed the Dairy Treat and drove to his home in East Orange. He told authorities that he went to bed about 2 o'clock on Sunday morning, Oct. 14.
Drive-in manager and minor shylock Barney O'Brien smiled for the camera during a coffee break. Soon after, Barney was dead and his body had been disposed of by mob muscleman Kayo Konigsberg who said he removed it from Gallagher's house.
At about 3 a.m., Oshust said, he was awakened by the bedside phone. It had an unlisted number.

As he picked up the phone, Oshust said, a man's voice came over the wire, saying, "Remember this call. You'll hear from us in a couple of days."

"What did you say?" asked Oshust.

A click sounded in Oshust's ear as the caller hung up. Oshust turned over and went back to sleep.

Over the next five years, law enforcement agencies were unable to turn up any solid information about Barney's fate. The possibility of mob vengeance was discounted. Authorities determined that relations between Barney and Zicarelli had been amicable up to the time Barney disappeared. It was considered certain that Barney was too smart to cross Zicarelli.

The Case of Barney O'Brien remained dormant in missing persons files until February 1967, when FBI agents got the first hint of what had happened to him. The information came from, of all people, Harold ("Kayo") Konigsberg, a man who possessed terrifying credentials as a gangster.

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