Wednesday, July 11, 2007

HERMAN ROSENTHAL


Sunday, July 15 2007, marks the 95th Anniversary of the shooting of gambler Herman Rosenthal in front of the Metropole Cafe on 43rd St between Broadway and 6th Avenue. Rosenthal's murder was a crucial turning point not only for the burgeoning development of the Jewish criminal underworld, but for all of what was soon to be better known as Organized Crime. It also left a permanent blemish on the city of New York at the time, blowing the lid on police and municipal corruption. New York's Jewish community was deeply affected as well, encountering a new found moral and social crisis within itself. The Herman Rosenthal / Lieut. Charles Becker case was a vast and complex affair, with many dark layers of the city exposed. Here is a brief excerpt from that upcoming section of the book....

.... In the following days, word spread quickly on the street that Herman was looking to blow the whistle on police corruption and spill all he knew to anyone who would listen, and everyone agreed, this was bad for business. In order to avoid further trouble, Becker made his move, putting murderous wheels in motion. He entrusted Bald Jack Rose to make the arrangements, and to ensure the gunmen could not be connected to him in any way. Some accounts claim that Jack Rose visited Big Jack Zelig in the Tombs, offering him the job of setting things up in exchange for his release on a trumped up charge of violating the Sullivan Act. Suspicions also arise that Rose possibly had a hand in Zelig’s incarceration as a means of having negotiating leverage. Zelig apparently refused, and his true involvement remains a continuous debate for many. Rose linked up with Bridgey Webber to have him set up a meeting with some of Zelig’s crew whom he was familiar with. Webber, along with partner Harry Vallon met up with Lenox Avenue gang members Louis Rosenberg and Jacob Seidenschmer, known as Lefty Louie and Whitey Lewis, to make the arrangements. The men accepted the job under an assumption they had Boss Zelig’s blessing. With an offer of $1000 and complete police protection on a promise from Becker, Harry ‘Gyp The Blood’ Horowitz, and Frank ‘Dago Frank’ Cirofici rounded out the killing squad.

Rosenthal had a hard time getting anyone in municipal administration to hear out his accusations. Newspapers followed his story while he filed complaints with the city’s various departments, but reporters weren’t getting any real results from him. These were serious allegations, without any corroboration; it was one small time gambler’s word against a police department whose corruptible habits were not anything new, and Rosenthal’s initial claims and complaints were broad and vague. With no willing witnesses to come forward and back him up, Rosenthal was alone, having a hard time selling his story. It was a young reporter for Joseph Pulitizer’s The New York World, Herbert Bayard Swope, who finally heard him out after constant prodding from Rosenthal. He promised Swope exclusive details that he had yet to reveal to anyone else up to that point. Swope had his ear to the ground and knew Rosenthal from frequenting East Side gambling parlors himself, having a better understanding of that world than most journalists in the city. It was a sensational story that could also do wonders in advancing his career, and convinced his editor to take the risk. On Friday July 12, Rosenthal spilled an affidavit to Swope in full color, not holding back on details, and named Becker as his silent partner. Swope also helped arrange a meeting with District Attorney Charles Whitman on the following Monday, after Rosenthal’s own earlier attempts had failed. Word reached Becker quickly through his many municipal informants about Whitman’s interest in finally hearing Rosenthal’s case and it set off alarm bells. Newspapers stories were one thing, as slander and libel was manageable, and he was already preparing to come to his own defense. Whitman was another matter entirely. He was an ambitious Republican with an eye on the Governor’s chair in Albany and a strong distaste for Tammany Hall. The results could be very damaging to everyone and Becker knew Rosenthal needed to be silenced . He sent out word. “I want Rosenthal croaked without further delay!” Swope’s breaking story headlined the Sunday, July 14 edition of the New York World as a two-page spread, not only detailing Becker’s involvement, but also the police department’s long history of graft and corruption. Already in the middle of a brutal heat wave, the city heated up figuratively as well, buzzing with this scandalous story that hit the papers on that summer morning. The underworld meanwhile got hotter under the collar, and everyone agreed, Beansy Rosenthal was a dead man.

On the evening of July 15, Rosenthal was sitting in D.A. Charles Whitman's office legally delivering his affidavit detailing all the aspects he had covered with Herbert Swope. After the very lengthy meeting ended around midnight, Whitman, fearing Rosenthal was probably a marked man, warned him to go straight home afterwards, but Rosenthal callously shrugged off the suggestion. He strolled down to the Metropole Café on 43rd Street below Broadway, a favorite late night haunt for gamblers in the Tenderloin. Even though it was late in the evening, the heat wave was still burning away and Herman was in need of a celebratory late night supper. The Metropole was quiet that night with just a few customers milling about, and no one seemed to be able to look Herman in the eye. In fact, all of 43rd Street below Broadway and 6th Avenue seemed eerily somber. With a bellyful of steak, Herman cooled himself with a Horse’s Neck, consisting of ginger ale with a twist of lemon, and spread out the late editions in front of him. Every paper in town had now picked up yesterday’s breaking story, his name in tall black and white headlines on every front page. Patrons in the Metropole ignored Herman’s smug, prideful boastings of his newfound fame, and kept to themselves. Bridgey Webber dropped by around 1:30AM and the two exchanged a few innocuous words, perhaps to put Rosenthal at ease, before Webber turned on his heel and left again. Twenty minutes later, a man never properly identified, approached Rosenthal to tell him that someone was waiting for him outside and if he could come out for a few minutes. Rosenthal gathered his newspapers under one arm, adjusted his tie and left a hefty tip for his dinner on the table. “Finally” perhaps thought Herman, they had come to their senses and it was time for a payoff. Heading out into the hot night air, Herman’s messenger disappeared quickly to the left ahead of him as he made his way down the steps of the café. The approaching sound of shoes clicking and shuffling against the pavement came from his right, as four shadowy figures silhouetted by streetlight, called out his name and quickly approached. It was the last thing Herman Rosenthal ever saw. In a moment of macabre choreography, Rosenthal had hit the pavement face down and deceased as newspapers with headlines baring his name were strewn all around him. Four bullets, one to the chest, three to his head, had put an end to the life of Beansy...

10 comments:

mort said...

Do you know if Herman Beansy Rosenthal had a wife or a child???

path said...

Rosenthal had a wife, but no children. His nephew was arrested in the police raid that finally sent him over the edge in which he decided to go to the press and eventually District Attorney Charles Whitman, about his partnership with Charles Becker, leading to his demise. I would be very curious to know where Rosenthal's extended family may be these days....

mort said...

Do you know the wife's name?

path said...

Her name was Lillian, she was Rosenthal's second wife. His first wife was named Dora....

David Bellel said...

your work is incredible. I can't wait for the book to come out. I just finished reading "Bummy Davis vs Murder Inc" and have been building a google map page of
Brownsville, Brooklyn and now one of the East Village

urls
brooklyn
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?mapprev=1&ie=UTF8&om=1&msa=0&msid=103606528309191868443.000435948ea81495aa1a2&ll=40.627454,-73.979015&spn=0.008029,0.014699&z=16

east village
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?mapprev=1&ie=UTF8&hl=en&om=1&msa=0&msid=103606528309191868443.000436cfaef519fc0ccc9&ll=40.731086,-73.982502&spn=0.032,0.058365&z=14

I also did this on youtube. let me know if it meets with your approval- if noit I will remove

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-tO_c-SboA

path said...

Hi David
Thanks for the compliments - the youtube thing is fine and a fun surprise, all i ask is if you can, credit me with the artwork.
Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc is a good read - I've been planning to post a and share a summer reading guide of Jewish mobster novels that blur fiction and historical facts, and will do very soon.

path said...

David - I also notice you called Herman Rosenthal - 'Henry', and that should be corrected...

Clark said...

While I am no expert, I have read several accounts of New York in this period, and I believe you may be lumping together two Jewish gangsters from the early Satan's Circus days: Herman Rosenthal and Beansey Rosenfeld, a gambling club partner of Herman's who shared his table at the Metropole on the day Herman was executed.

Pat Hamou said...

Clark - I'm not mistaking the two 'Beanseys', though with last names as close as Rosenthal and Rosenfeld are, I can see where the confusion may arise. Rosenthal was known as Beansey as well on occasion, seemingly a popular nickname of the time, derived I believe from 'bean counter', ie: a money man. Sigmund Rosenfeld was reportedly in the vicinity of the Metropole when Rosenthal was shot, but historical texts vary as to who was actually at his table, if anyone, prior to being asked to come outside (and meet his fate). Most Metropole patrons that night kept their distance from Rosenthal for obvious reasons.

Stanley said...

My great great uncle Billy Considine and his brothers owned the Hotel Metropole at the time. Would love to know more of the history and goings at that spot during that time period. Great story.