Organized crime continued: The case of a respected lawmaker caught up in the grasp of Cosa Nostra
A chiller right out of a Hitchcock film
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.