Thursday, March 2, 2023

A Look Back At The Real 'French Connection' Detectives

I watched The French Connection again last night. I love the classic crime film, which I've now seen a dozen or so times. The realistic, gritty, thrilling and suspenseful film still holds up.

The film is based on Robin Moore's true crime book. I read and enjoyed Robin Moore's The French Connection while I was a 19-year-old sailor serving on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in 1970.   

I saw the film in San Diego in 1971 when the Kitty Hawk returned home after serving on 'Yankee Station' off the coast of North Vietnam. As an aspiring writer who yearned to cover the cops and crime when I go out of the Navy, the great film was truly inspirational as well as thrilling.

I was pleased and thankful that I was able to interview one of the real New York City detectives who was involved in the case and later served as a technical advisor for the film. Randy Jurgensen, a legendary NYPD detective, also acted in the film alongside the two primary detectives in the case, Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. 

(The real detectives appear in the above photo to the left of actor Gene Hackman. Left to right are Randy Jurgenson, Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan. Randy Jurgensen also appears in the below photo on the left).

After the death of Sonny Grosso in 2020, I interviewed Randy Jurgensen for my On Crime column in the Washington Times.

You can read the column via the below link or the below text:

Legendary detectives Sonny Grosso and Randy Jurgensen went from Harlem to Hollywood - Washington Times

Harlem to Hollywood

Legendary NYPD detective and film and TV producer Salvatore “Sonny” Grosso (seen in the above photo) died last month. He was 89. He had come to fame as the detective who broke “The French Connection” case along with his partner, Eddie Egan, who died in 1995. 

In the early 1960s, the detectives uncovered a plot by American organized crime and Corsican criminals from Marseille, France, to import 112 pounds of nearly pure heroin into New York City. The heroin was worth more than $90 million on the street. 

Robin Moore, who wrote “The Green Berets,” interviewed the detectives and wrote “The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics and International Conspiracy” in 1969. The book led to the Academy Award-winning film, “The French Connection” in 1971. 

Grosso and Egan worked as technical advisers on the film, and they appeared on the screen in supporting roles. NYPD detective Randy Jurgensen, who was on the periphery of the famous case, also worked as a technical adviser and supporting actor on the film. Detective Jurgensen became Grosso’s partner after Egan retired.   

I contacted Randy Jurgensen and asked him about his former partner.    

“My childhood friend and partner Sonny Grosso passed over last month,” Mr. Jurgensen said. “He was the best man at my wedding, and he was the godfather to one of my children.” 

He said that he and Grosso grew up in West Harlem and although Grosso was five years older, they both served in the Korean War together. There were few jobs available after the war, so the two became police officers. 

“Sonny became a cop about 18 months before I did and when I graduated from the police academy, I was assigned to East Harlem. On the day I showed up at the 2-5 precinct, Sonny Grosso was there waiting for me,” Mr. Jurgensen said. “I spent about 18 months in uniform and then I worked undercover in narcotics. 

“I worked the streets buying narcotics and Sonny and Eddie worked on narcotics distributors. I worked on the outside of the French Connection case." 

After “The French Connection” film, Detectives Grosso and Jurgensen became technical advisers on “The Godfather.” Grosso portrayed the detective who advised Capt. McCloskey (Sterling Hayden) that Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was a war hero and not a mobster. The director also used Grosso’s service revolver in the scene where Michael Corleone murdered a rival mobster and McCloskey, dropping the .38 revolver on the floor as he walked out. Mr. Jurgensen portrayed one of the gunmen who brutally murdered Sonny Corleone (James Caan). 

The two also appeared together in “The Seven-Ups,” which was based on Grosso’s career, and they appeared with Al Pacino in “Cruising,” a film based on one of Mr. Jurgensen’s cases. They also worked together on other films and TV programs.  

The two former detectives also wrote books. Grosso wrote a crime novel called “Point Blank,” and a true-crime book called “Murder at the Harlem Mosque.” Mr. Jurgensen, along with Robert Cea, wrote “Circle of Six: The True Story of New York’s Most Notorious Cop Killer and The Cop Who Risked Everything to Catch Him.” Mr. Jurgensen was the lead investigator in the controversial murder of NYPD Officer Phil Cardillo. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, a sergeant during the time of the murder, reopened the case after reading the book. 

Mr. Jurgensen recalled a defining moment when he and Sonny Grosso were assigned to Harlem Homicide at a time when NYPD officers were being assassinated by the Black Liberation Army.

 “I saw one man walking towards us and another one got up from the stoop. I knew we were set up. Before we could get the guns out, Sonny was wrestling on the stoop, and I took on the other one,” Mr. Jurgensen said. “I was banging away on him and we wound up in the hallway. Sonny had this guy in a hold and was punching away, and here came a young woman with a gun.”

As he turned toward the woman, the man pulled a gun and Mr. Jurgensen was forced to shoot him. Then Grosso went over the bannister and landed on the stairwell with the man on top of him. Mr. Jurgensen hit the man on top of Grosso. 

The suspect on top of Grosso was Twyman Meyers, a cop killer who was number one on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Grosso’s injured his leg in the fall, and a few years later he left the force and entered the entertainment field, as did Randy Jurgensen.     

“I’m the last French Connection cop,” Mr. Jurgensen said sadly. 

• Paul Davis’ On Crime column covers true crime, crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers.

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