It’s tough to believe that Boardwalk Empire is set to end its run this Sunday. For five seasons, HBO’s hit drama deeply connected its viewers to the gangsters and thugs who helped to shape America during the Prohibition Era. Many of the show’s characters will be missed. Hell, many of them have been missed for a long time, now.
Most gangsters don’t climb to the top without killing a man or five, and Boardwalk Empire capably presented a slew of different personalities related to those kills. There are the cold machines, capable of seeing humans only as targets. Then, there are those who relish in the killing, those who disdain the killing and those who are capable of bringing out a brute force from within themselves when needed. Boardwalk Empire wouldn’t be the same show without constant death and destruction, as old empires crumble and new ones are reformed from the entrails.
As a nod to the end of a great series, we’ve put together a list of the 10 most vicious killers the writers ever had the courage to muster, as well as the scenes that will forever commit their wrongdoings to our memories. These characters definitely won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
#10) Eli Thompson
Eli has changed a lot over the years, going from the Sheriff of Atlantic City to Nucky’s righthand man and finally a two-bit crook in Chicago. However, within each of those roles, he’s gotten up to a sneaky amount of killing, including the murder of Margaret Thompson’s husband in the pilot and his more recent dealings with Maranzano. He would describe himself as a family man, first, but he’s gotten his hands dirty enough times to land himself on this list.
Most Memorable Kill: During the Season 4 finale, Eli has been blackmailed by Agent Knox for quite a while. Nucky’s already been a bit suspicious of Eli’s motivations, and when Knox shows up at Eli’s home, he’s had enough. As Knox threatens him, Eli pulls out a sucker punch and proceeds to beat the federal agent to death. It isn’t pretty, but it is efficient and it sets up for the events in Season 5.
Beyond having the most badass name on the series (sorry Capone), Arquimedes is one vicious killer. We haven’t gotten to see him in action all that often on Boardwalk Empire. The character is Cuban and only became a part of the series during Season 5. He’s mostly served as a protector for Nucky during his run, which is a totally different role than Nucky’s last valet, Eddie, used to have in Nucky’s life. However, Nucky can definitely use the extra protection now that there is a gang war going down.
Most Memorable Kill: Remember early on in the season when Nucky is walking around in Cuba and is almost killed? Just to jog your memory, Meyer Lansky is looking to take Nucky down, so he hires a killer to do it. Arquimedes quickly takes down the hired gun and then cuts off his ear to keep as a trophy. The man’s got a killing routine that he adheres to, and I respect that.
#8) Nucky Thompson
Like a lot of bossmen, Nucky doesn’t relish the dirty work. He’s kind of a snob with expensive tastes. In many ways, he sees himself as a high-end gentleman and businessman, bringing the people what they want. While he mostly hands his dirty work off to a revolving lineup of henchmen, he’s also the man behind several of the most acutely horrifying kills the series has ever seen.
Most Memorable Kill: The writers set up the Season 2 finale to be a twisted tale concerning Nucky and Jimmy Darmody, his former protégé. Just when Nucky seems to be on his last legs, he decides to mercilessly kill Jimmy in one of the most surprising and memorable scenes of the entire scenes. As it turns out, Nucky’s turn with a gun is big enough to land him on this list, a little bit due to the epic line he utters directly after delivering the first wound, “I am not seeking forgiveness.”
#7) Nelson Van Alden
Nelson Van Alden may be most remembered for an attempted murder he didn’t commit (strangling Al Capone), but in his heyday, he claimed more than his share of victims. That’s a bit odd for a member of law enforcement working for the US Government, but then again, his entire life trajectory was pretty odd, seeing as how he became an enforcer for the mafia and an iron salesman. Van Alden often kept his emotions reined in, but occasionally he snapped, leading to a few horrifying moments on the show.
Most Memorable Kill: There are a ton of different choices here, but the clear winner is probably Nelson’s murder of his partner Eric Sebso during Season 1. After finding out his partner is a traitor, Nelson took him out into the water and drowned him in front of a religious congregation as what seemed like part of a Baptism ritual. It was brutal. It was unflinching, and was great proof of what a deranged monster Nelson Van Alden could turn into when he was pushed far enough.
#6) Jimmy Darmody
If Jimmy had had a longer shelf life, he would definitely have ranked higher on this list. During his run on the series, he often proclaimed killing was the only way to be a true gangster in the modern era. True to his word, he had a pretty happy trigger finger, likely helped along by his horrifying memories of serving during World War I. In the long run, it didn’t work out for Jimmy, but in the two seasons he appeared on the series, he certainly got in enough kills in to make this list.
Most Memorable Kill: During Season 1, Nucky and Jimmy have plenty of problems with the D’Alessio brothers, who attempt to butt into the Atlantic City bootlegging business. Nucky and Jimmy eventually catch a couple of the D’Alessio brothers, who have a problem running their mouths. One of them, Lucien, challenges Jimmy, claiming he wouldn’t shoot him. Jimmy responds, “I wasn’t going to, but you kinda talked me into it.” He then pulls the trigger. There are moments in the series featuring Jimmy that are far more brutal, but this one stands out the most.
#5) Chalky White
Chalky White was not an educated man. However, he worked his way into a position of respect in Atlantic City, although he often still did his own dirty work. Prior to becoming a man of means and long after fortune stopped favoring him, Chalky had no problem killing people, using numerous weapons, including rifles and even hammers to take down those who stood in his way.
Most Memorable Kill: Early on in Atlantic City, Chalky and his crew are having trouble dealing with the Klu Klux Klan. During the ensuing episodes, Chalky is able to kill prominent Klan member Howard Dacus with a rifle. It is an important moment for the character, who is later jailed for his troubles. Honorable mention: The Masseria Massacre completed with Al Capone.
#4) Manny Horvitz
It’s a dog eat dog world and Manny Horvitz was one of the biggest dogs out there. The man was a butcher from Philadelphia who happened to work in Nucky’s circle. He had no beef with murdering women. He had no beef with murdering practically anyone he was told to murder, in fact. Amazingly, he was still a man who was very much into his family life. Eventually the murderer was murdered, but not before he got in a slew of Boardwalk Empire’s most unforgettable kills.
Most Memorable Kill: This one’s a tough one. Manny Horvitz kills a lot of people during his run on HBO’s drama. It is pretty shocking in Season 1 when he kills Jimmy Darmody’s wife and her mistress in the dead of night. However, the kill that gets me the most is when a hitman drops by to take out Mr. Horvitz and instead Manny pulls him into his shop and takes a butcher’s knife to his skull. He's a pro, that Manny.
#3) Gyp Rosetti
Was there ever a Boardwalk Empire character who was able to come in from the outside and wreak so much havoc? The hot-headed New York gangster popped down to Atlantic City during Season 3. He was only in 12 episodes of the series, but due to his penchant for killing people and making speeches, they were 12 memorable ones. Unfortunately, Atlantic City proved to be the man’s downfall not his rise to the top.
Most Memorable Kill: Early on, Rosetti is musing about how life is personal when he rolls in to Tabor Heights to meet the Sheriff. Soon after arriving, Gyp proceeds to throw gas on the Sheriff and light him on fire. To give Rosetti a little credit, the Sheriff practically asks for Rosetti's wrath, pointing out that Gyp shouldn’t be smoking around the pumps. There’s plenty of messed up killing we see from Rosetti during the season, but this one is the most spontaneous and resourceful.
#2) Al Capone
Al Capone is a mad man. In fact, there might be no one else on Boardwalk Empire that you could argue is more temperamental. Capone is a small man in a fierce package, and highly ambitious. At the start of the drama, he was a low level Chicago mobster who wanted to rise to the top. Due to his ambitions, his business occasionally intersected with Nucky’s. More recently, however, he’s been running an operation out of Chicago. Unlike a lot of powerful gangsters, Capone doesn’t shy away from killing in the least. In fact, he uses killing to get out pent-up aggression.
Most Memorable Kill: Capone is at his most formidable when he is whaling with his fists. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more terrified of the man than in Season 5 when he beats his own employee to death for one small, innocuous slight after Luciano drops by to take a shot at Capone's prominence in Chicago. That doesn’t sound all that memorable, but the way Capone plays it, telling his lackey he was just messing around and then sending everyone home so he could kill him still gives me the shudders. Honorable mention: The Masseria massacre, completed with Chalky White.
#1) Richard Harrow
Due to the prolific number of Richard’s kills and the coldhearted way he went about them, the character lands at the very top of this list. Harrow was a man scarred by the war who came back with a tin face and knew nothing could be the same, but who still yearned for a family to take care of. He was a man of contradictions, and it’s a credit that HBO was able to make the character a sympathetic one, despite the fact that he killed, when needed, when paid and occasionally for other reasons.
Most Memorable Kill: I don’t think we could get through this list without mentioning Richard accidentally killing Maybelle White, although it doesn't seem fair to claim that as Harrow's most memorable kill due to the nature of what happened. Therefore, Richard's most memorable moment has to be committing a slew of hits in a row at the end of Season 3. During the episode, Harrrow storms into Gillian’s place, taking out more than a dozen of Gyp Rosetti’s men before rescuing Tommy, asking him to close his eyes, and escaping from the hellhole that is the whorehouse.
Amazing Race & Top Chef superfan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.
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