Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Becker, Bridgey, and the number 30

By mere coincidence I’ve been working on completing an illustration of Louis ‘Bridgey’ Webber when I
noticed that Webber died on this day, 72 years ago in 1936.

Webber was another devious performer in the theatrics that the murder of Herman Rosenthal was to be. Webber had long, venomous history with Rosenthal, going back to the days when he ran the San Souci (French for ‘without worry’) Music Hall. After the finale of his undoubtedly perjured testimony in the first Charles Becker trial, and that of the four gunmen, Webber hightailed it to Havana, Cuba; when he returned in June of 1913, he was stabbed in the shoulder from behind while strolling along Elisabeth Street but escaped serious injury.
Seemingly, underworld reprisals were in the air.

The incident was enough to shake Webber out of the gambling life, realizing his good luck couldn't last. He headed across the Hudson to Passaic, New Jersey, where he worked his way up to vice president at the Garfield Paper Box Company.

Coincidental or criminal karma, Webber was 59 when he died on July 30 at Passaic's St. Mary’s Hospital of peritonitis while undergoing an appendectomy; the exact day, twenty-one years later after ex- Lieutenant Charles Becker shuffled his way to the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison.

Becker’s execution on July 30, 1915, became almost as mythical as his street reputation. It took three separate jolts, almost a full eight minutes, for two thousand volts to finally stop his large heart. His bonds had slipped three times, and the execution staff had underestimated his strength and tenacity.
The stoic, blindly loving Helen Becker, took it upon herself to have her husband’s tombstone temporarily and somberly
engraved with

Murdered July 30, 1915
By Governor Charles Whitman.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The Summer Issue of Heeb is now out on news stands and includes a nice full page on yours truly and this here blog and book project.

It's the appropriately themed 'Notorious' issue which is guest edited by director Brett Ratner, the man behind the Rush Hour films, X-Men 3, among many other achievements. Apparently Mr.Ratner was neighbors with Meyer Lansky as wee lad in his formative days in Miami so there is a nice connection to all this as well.

You can view the online version (which contains a couple more illustrations)

my many thanks to publisher Josh Neuman and managing editor Jessie Bodzin for including me in this latest issue.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bald Jack Rose

The morning, of July 16, at around 2.A.M. EST, will mark the 96th anniversary of the killing of gambler Herman Rosenthal in front of Metropole Hotel on Forty Third Street, which was located between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in 1912.

In a nod to a very important turning point in early Jewish crime, I thought I would post an illustration of Bald Jack Rose, a key player in the entire affair.
I had hoped to finish one up of Bridgey Webber, but a minor case of stomach flu got the better of me....

Jacob Rosensweig, known as Billiard Ball Jack in early newspaper reports, but better known as Bald Jack Rose, was a Times Square legend. A masterful poker player who suffered from a rare disorder which left him virtually hairless right down to eyebrows and eyelashes. His very pale complexion also led him to powdering his head to cut down on the bouncing glare of the summer sun.
There was no mistaking Bald Jack Rose when he strolled down Broadway.

Rose was also a bagman for Lt. Charles Becker, the notorious corrupt policeman who was the first (and possibly only) member of the NYPD to be executed at Sing Sing Prison in aftermath of the murder of Herman Rosenthal. Becker supposedly instructed Rose to conduct and see through the arrangements for Rosenthal's execution.

However, many believe to this day that Rose, along with partners Louis 'Bridgey' Webber and Harry Vallon, were the actual men behind the murder plot, and concocted an impressive and layered frame up that sent Becker (and four gunmen) to the electric chair.
Their court testimonies for the prosecution in exchange for immunity were more than likely a very tall pile of perjury, fables, and poppycock.

It's a complicated case, and Rose is just one, of an unbelievable cast of characters of criminals, politicians, city administrators, journalists, and shamed Jewish community members, that would do a Hollywood script proud. It continues to fascinate historians and writers alike as so many questions are left unanswered.

There are two really great books out there at the moment that cover all aspects in detail: Satan's Circus by Mike Dash, and Against The Evidence by Andy Logan. Logan's book, published in the '70s, is out of print, but still possibly found on used book sites.

Bald Jack Rose returned to a life as Jacob Rosensweig in the wake of the trials and executions. He cleansed himself of sins as a born again Christian, and was in high demand on the criminology lecture circuit.
And he probably had a good laugh to himself.

Riding his minor celebrity status, he was also credited with creating the ‘Jack Rose’, a very popular cocktail of its time.

2 ounces applejack
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine

Glass Type: cocktail glass
Instructions: Shake the applejack and other ingredients well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

and according to Esquire's The Wondrich Take, the resident cocktail historian:

"-- the drink is based on applejack, and it's rose-pink. Play on words. In any case, the Jack Rose is an effective testament to its namesake: It's smooth and sweetish and deeply deceptive."

I couldn't of said it better myself.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Motor City Machers

Time for just another quick book release worth plugging.

In a somewhat surprising move from Arcadia Publishing, comes Paul R. Kavieff's Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang.
Arcadia is generally know as a publisher of lost Americana, essayed through period photographs with a strong focus on communities, regions and towns in their 'Images Of America' series. While the series usually wax nostalgic of the good old days, it makes this recent release a (welcomed) surprise considering its subject matter

Paul R. Kavieff authored The Purple Gang: Organized Crime In Detroit 1910 - 1945 in 2000, and more recently the first biography on Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter (The Life And Times...) in 2006.

In Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang, Kavieff has gathered up his impressive collection of photographs that trace the violent times of this Jewish collective of prohibition misfits and machers. There's wide variety of great mugs and shlubs; gonifs and gangsters; as well as some artfully composed crime scene photos that await you within these pages. It's worth seeking out for anyone with interest in the Purple Ones' potent contribution to Prohibition-era's kosher crime wave.