Monday, June 16, 2008

Getta outta here!



A brief overview of the life of Jacob 'Gurrah' Shapiro. The final book text will go into more details. Hey, I can't giveaway everything here!

Jacob 'Gurrah' Shapiro
1899 - 1947

In much of the annals of Jewish criminal history put to paper, much has been made of Jacob Shapiro’s sobriquet. The nickname of ‘Gurrah’ conjures up images of a rough and tumble fellow, and the word closely resembles ‘gorilla’ as well if spoken quickly. That would have been appropriate as well, as Shapiro filled out the gangster mold rather well with his thick frame, long arms, hunched composure and mandatory broken nose that sat between two, almost gentle pale blue eyes. Sidewalk stories and street legend has it that more than likely, he earned it from his incomprehensible mumbling in his attempt at saying "getta outta here" through a thick tongue that first spoke Russian upon his family’s arrival from Minsk in the early 1900s.

He began his criminal career as a teen like most, robbing pushcarts, which were an easy target before growing to being one of the most feared labor racketeers not only on the Lower East Side, but also throughout most of New York. His partner was Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter, whom Shapiro first encountered during their teenage years when they both tried to rob the same pushcart. With a little nudge and wink from Mr. Arnold Rothstein, the two came up through the ranks and learned the slippery ropes working for number one labor boss Jacob ‘Little Augie’ Orgen. Orgen, a former member of Benjamin ‘Dopey Benny’ Fein’s gang, had won the longstanding labor slugging wars with his ‘Little Augies’ against Nathan Kaplan aka Kid Dropper and Johnny Spanish. Kaplan met his end in front of the Essex Market Court House in 1923 by a friendly little torpedo that went by the name Little Louis Cohen, despite the numerous detectives and policemen in the vicinity. Little Augie kept his guard up from that point on, with one inquisitive eye especially on the salient Lepke Buchalter, by hiring the notorious Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond as his personal bodyguard.

Buchalter was the dangerous and scary type of hoodlum, whose clear eyed, methodical forward thinking was combined and laced with cold-blooded cunning and greed. Shapiro was the brawn to Lepke's brains, and the two made quite the duo. It wasn’t long before Buchalter was convinced he and Shapiro could run Little Augie’s business better than he ever would.
On the 16th of October, 1927, Shapiro and Buchalter went into business for themselves after leaving on the corner of Norfolk and Delancey the bullet riddled body that once belonged to 26 year old Jacob Orgen. Legs Diamond earned his nickname due to his quick long legged running stride, which failed him that day and left him severely wounded but alive.

The old days were gone. Shapiro and Buchalter’s new order put fresh standards and practices to work, expanding their racketeering empire to bakery trucking, the clothing trade, narcotics and much more. The results shot Lepke to the top of the New York City crime world, aligning himself with the Bug and Meyer mob, Brooklyn chief Albert Anastasia, Lucky Luciano, and brought forth the birth of ‘the Combination’ which the press colorfully termed ‘Murder Inc.’ They acquired the dubious tag of ‘The Gold Dust Twins’, pulling in millions, but ‘Gurrah Jake’ Shapiro's aspirations stayed at street level and he remained out of the office chair while Buchlater ran his operations like a Wall Street CEO.

Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey had been a thorn in the side of much of New York’s underworld ever since he chased after Dutch Schultz in the mid 1930s. With sights set on the Governor’s chair, and eventually the White House, he had Mayor LaGuardia’s blessing to take on the rackets. New York’s round table of knights of disorder had decided against assassinating Dewey when the Dutchman had first put the idea on the table. Shapiro and Buchalter had been the minority in voting yes, and that loss of vote and the crime boss committee’s decision against hitting Dewey would soon haunt most of them.

Dewey focused on the duo’s labor practices, and soon had them busted and convicted of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and they suddenly faced two years behind bars. Even with this sedentary period for the two while they were off the streets, Dewey worked up more evidence up his sleeve on a variety of different charges to have them sent right back into the clink after serving their present term. Word reached Shapiro and he immediately went into hiding, while Lepke, well, his was another long story altogether of almost two years of incognito and games of hide and seek.

Wanted posters had appeared by the thousands across the country with a $5000 reward for information on his whereabouts. ‘Gurrah’ Shapiro first went to Newark, perhaps hidden under the wide umbrella of New Jersey boss Abner ‘Longy’ Zwillman, before heading to the Midwest. The isolation of underground life proved to be too much for him after a couple of months and he started showing up in nightclubs, bars, and making phone calls. He wanted his old life back, and to see his old friends. His health was deteriorating as well. The good life capped by two years of sitting in jail had rounded out Shapiro’s features considerably, and he suffered from chest pains and shortness of breath. Finally, on April 14, 1938, tired of running and too sick to go on, he turned himself in to the FBI.
Charges against Jacob Shapiro included extortion and conspiracy, and he was handed 15 years to life to be spent at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. He only served nine of those years, during which he’d witness life long partner Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter take a seat in the electric chair, before a heart attack took his life in 1947.

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22 comments:

Anonymous said...

My Grandfather was Jacob's oldest brother...Just a small correction, the family was from Minsk, Russia not Odessa

Pat Hamou said...

thanks for the correction on the origins of the Shapiro family - its always appreciated. may i ask how you came across this blog?

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was also a brother of Jacob. If anonymous is reading this, please email me at nurse6@earthlink.net.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Another interesting point...my grandfather also had a gruff voice and some of the grandchildren have the same voice.

bt said...

I see some people have said they were the grandchildren of Gurrah Shapiro's brothers. I was wondering about his brother Carl. He spent a year and a day in prison for helping Gurrah when Gurrah was on the lam. I thought of him recently because of a name in the news, Carl Shapiro, a philanthropist who made his money in the garment industry. Gurrah died in prison but his family was left wealthy because he was allowed to keep his garment industry holdings. Perhaps it was a deal he made with the DA in order to bring Lepke in; perhaps he'd put them in his wife's name and they were untouchable by the law. I do know for a fact that Gurrah's daughter inherited a fortune from Rollicks clothing company. Anyway, the name in the news and his connection to the garment industry reminded me of Gurrah and his brother Carl. My spouse's mother was related to Gurrah through marriage (she was terrified of him).

Anonymous said...

I am Carl's great granddaughter. Never knew he went to jail.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather and Jacob were cousins. An older cousin of mine remembers him coming to their apartment for dinners. Its very intresting looking at Jacob's pictures because he looks just like my grandfather.

Anonymous said...

My father heard the name Gurrah Shapiro mentioned when he was a child. He thinks somehow he was a relative. My grandfather’s given name Isadore, which he apparently changed to Irving, last name Cure. If anyone has any information please contact me alc979@gmail.com

chicamama said...

My grandfather was Benjamin, who I believe is the youngest of all the brothers. A lot of my family including my grandfather passed along time ago. Unfortunately my father took after my unlce Gurrah more than his own father and ended up dying in prison quite some times ago, as I think Gurrah did as well. I would love to connect with some Shapiro's out there.

chicamama said...

I'm the granddaughter of Benjamin Shapiro, the youngest of the brothers. A lot of my family passed a long time ago including my Poppy Ben and my own father as well (Ben's son), who emulated the life Gurrah had. My father passed away in prison years ago same I believe as Gurrah.

I'd love to connect to any family members out there. Let me know. I"ll check back frequently.

Admdr5 said...

I am Jacob's grandson. I knew Barry Shapiro. I thought Izzy was youngest brother.

Terri said...

I am the grandaughter of Israel Shapiro, Jacob's brother. Have heard many stories over the years.

jeff said...

i am izzys oldest son jeff, my father was the youngest of the family the baby born in sept 1917.
barry son of my uncle bennie my dads older brother was a printer. i met him as a youth many times he was always seeming to be getting his life in order after getting out of the slammer. he always would ask my dad for advice last time i saw barry was after he got married to a very pretty girl and i believe my dad said they were soon the new parents of a baby girl. that was in 1963 and dad passed in nov 1964. i saw barry at dads funeral then never again. jeff shapiro

Admdr5 said...

Jeff, Andy Richman. Jacob was my grandfather. My mom was Rhoda. I knew your father. Ida used to call us all the time.

Anonymous said...

Where is Lewis and Alice?

Jo Ann said...

For descendants of Harry and Anna Shapiro, Gurrah's parents, we are having a family reunion this summer in Baltimore. Contact me at joannklein@gmail.com for more information. I am Carl's granddaughter.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was Gurrah's first cousin. Gurrah's father's nickname (I've been told) was Professor Tush. Really. His other first cousin was David Sarnoff. Does this sound familiar? Is Carl the Boston Philanthropist (still alive at 102 according to Wikipedia)? I didn't think he was related, although I was told that Gurrah put relatives into the garment business.

Anonymous said...

He is my great grandfather. Saddening to read this.

Anonymous said...

We need to find the treasure for the school !!!! Msnsnsnnsmaksimms

Steven wolfe said...

My grandmother, Bessie wolf, had a sister Gussie who married a man named Morris Shapiro. I was led to believe that they were Jacob's parents. My name is Steven Wolfe and my father was a lawyer, Charles Wolfe.

Secret said...

To "gurrahs"relatives,its not sad it's the way the world works,always has always will.for all the bad how much good??fathering,establishing family and friends in business,i bet he never ask for anything in return.he would have known he was a criminal,but this was a corrupt time,him and lepkes,Racketeering will have put food on the tables of good and bad people for generations,pioneering bad boys.

Anonymous said...

I was told by my parents that I am related to gurrah shapiro and david Sarnoff. My great grandparents were jacob (not the same jacob as gurrah) and Pearl (Henrietta) Shapiro.