VIOLENCE STALKED Arnold Rothstein's world. It had visited Beansy Rosenthal and Jack Zelig, and it trailed A. R., as he walked Manhattan's dark streets carrying tens of thousands of dollars-or as he participated in a high-stakes floating dice and poker game. Any number of people wanted what Arnold Rothstein had-and would employ force to take it from him.
He employed bodyguards-Abe Attell, Fats Walsh, and Legs Diamond among them. He carried a revolver-legally, of course. Never convicted of any crime, and with solid connections downtown, he had no difficulty in securing a permit.
Numerous attempts were made to rob Rothstein. Several succeeded; several didn't. Not all were by professionals. Early in his career-just after establishing his gambling house on West 46th Street in 1909-Arnold entered the Metropole's dining room. An armed man snarled, "Now, you Blankity-Blank, give me that five thousand dollars you owe me or I'll kill you."
Arnold realized the man wasn't a criminal or even a sore loser; he was, in the parlance of the times, simply a lunatic. Arnold spoke calmly. "Of course, I'll pay you the money. But right now you look tired and hungry, and I haven't the money with me anyway. I tell you what. You come with me, and I'll fix you up with something to eat, and a good Turkish bath, and then I'll get the money I owe you, and give it to you." They went off together to the baths. From there A. R. called Bellevue Hospital and had his assailant put under observation.
The most notable use of force to relieve A. R. of his bankroll happened on Wednesday night, May 16, 1917. Rothstein had organized a high-stakes card game at a second-floor suite of West 47th Street's Hotel St. Francis. The game's thirty-odd participants included several well-heeled professionals, including Herbert Bayard Swope. A. R. employed the unusual precautions, but took one chance. In recent weeks gunmen had robbed several big games, relieving players of cash, jewelry, and sundry valuables. One individual had attended a high percentage of them. Rothstein invited him to attend the night's festivities.
The game started at 10:00 P.M. Four hours later, four masked men entered the hotel. One pointed his gun at the desk clerk; the others took the elevator upstairs, ordering the night bellboy to lead them to Rothstein's rooms. When the bellboy rapped on the door, they burst in. One ordered: "Now, all of you stand up against the wall, hold your hands up in the air, and don't make a peep."
Arnold knew who had betrayed him. He also knew what to do to minimize losses, kicking his bankroll (somewhere between $20,000 and $60,000) under the carpet. All the while he maintained eye contact with his Judas. "Rothstein always reacted faster than any other man I ever knew," Swope recalled. "This was as good an example of his reaction time as you could want. There were only a few seconds for him to figure out what was happening. He didn't need more than one or two. But hiding the roll was only part of what he had to do. He had to make certain the tipster didn't tell the holdup men where the bankroll was.
"His eyes were on that man from the moment the door swung open. He kept him under constant watch all the time the holdup was going on."
A. R. saved the bulk of his bankroll, but lost $2,600 in cash, his gold pocket watch, and pearl stickpin.
While one intruder kept his weapon trained on his victims, his two partners collected their loot, becoming increasingly relaxed. One even removed his mask. Approaching Cleveland gambler Eddie Katz, he asked. "Haven't I seen you in Cleveland?" Eddie mumbled he might have, and his interrogator responded, "Well, when you get back give my best regards to your friends, and tell 'em how well I'm making out."
That was as far as his sentimentality extended as he grabbed Katz's jeweled stickpin. "Hey," wailed Katz, "won't you leave me that. I'd rather give you twice as much money as it's worth, and keep it."
"Don't worry, I'll send you the pawn ticket. What's your address?"
The other robber examined A. R.'s stickpin, asking its worth. "Thirty-five hundred," Rothstein said.
"I'll take it," said the gunman, adding, "I'll send you the pawn ticket, A. R."
Arnold didn't like being mocked. Nor did he like losing the stickpin-the only item of jewelry the sartorially conservative gambler wore. It meant a great deal to him. "Don't bother," A. R. responded. "I'll have it back before the mail arrives tomorrow morning."
When the robbers left, there wasn't much for everyone to do. No one called the police. Rothstein lifted the carpet and retrieved his bankroll. He had Abe Attell-and his suspected betrayer-join him for coffee. He didn't particularly want to see his "friend" again, but brought him along out of caution. "I thought the bastards might be waiting for me outside," he later told Swope, "and, if they were, I was going to make sure that fellow got what was coming to him."
Swope wanted Rothstein to talk to the police, goading him that he was simply afraid to bring the law into the case, and conveyed Police Commissioner Arthur Woods's comments: A. R. was "yellow."
"People know better," Arnold responded. "I never take my troubles to the cops. Why do I need them? The fence got this back to me [he pointed to his stickpin] before breakfast."
Swope bore in: "They're laughing at you, Arnold. The word is out that you're buffaloed." That got to him. Never before, and never again, would Arnold formally go to the police for justice. This time he did.
Police responded with surprising-or, perhaps, not so surprisingalacrity. Within a few days, they arrested two suspects: a thirty-fiveyear-old small-time hoodlum named Eugene F. Price and twenty eight-year-old drug addict Albert "Killer" Johnson. Johnson was more dangerous, twice having been charged with murder.
Above left • Lower East Side Tammany chieftain, State Senator "Big Tim" Sullivan (center) helped give Rothstein his start. Above right • Times Square gambler, Herman "Beansy" Rosenthal's inability to keep his mouth shut got him killed in July 1912. Below • Beansy Rosenthal's funeral-his casket was carried from his 104 West 45th Street gambling house.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Above left • Lower East Side gang leader Big Jack Zelig-was he killed because he knew the truth about Herman Rosenthal's murder?
Above right • Manhattan District Attorney Charles S. Whitman rode the Rosenthal murder case all the way to the New York governor's mansion.
Above • Former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell was A.R.'s gambling buddy and bodyguard-as well as his indiscreet henchman in fixing the 1919 World Series.
Right • Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Eddie Cicotte was a key member of the 1919 World Series fix.
Police Lieutenant Charles Becker (shown with his wife Helen) went to the chair for Herman Rosenthal's murder. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Above right • Byron "Ban" Johnson. The most powerful man in baseball thought he had a deal with the man who fixed the World Series.
Above left • New York Governor Alfred E. Smith was the prized protege of Big Tom Foley, a key Rothstein contact at Tammany Hall.
Left • New York Giants owner Charles Stoneham (left) depended on A.R. to protect his crooked Wall Street operations from the law. His manager, John McGraw (right), was Rothstein's partner in a popular Herald Square pool hall.
Above left • Saloonkeeper Charles Francis Murphy was Tammany's smartest boss.
Above right • Jules "Nicky" Arnstein. Debonair international con man. Multimilliondollar bond thief. Wandering husband of Fanny Brice. Arnold Rothstein's admirer, partner, and fall guy.
Right • Broadway star Fannie Brice married Nicky Arnstein in 1918.
Above • Jack "Legs" Diamond was Rothstein's bodyguard and henchman in rumrunning and labor racketeering.
Left • Broadway actress Lillian Lorraine steered rich suckers to Rothstein's gambling houses and card games. Courtesy of John Kenrick, The Musicals 101. com.
Above • Arnold Rothstein operated one of Saratoga Springs' most lavish gambling houses, The Brook, just outside of town. Inset • A gambling chip from The Brook.
Below left • Swarthy West Coast gambler Nate Raymond (left) took A. R. for $300,000 in a single card game, but never collected.
Above • Titanic Thompson, the country-boy cardsharp and legendary golf hustler who sat in on Rothstein's fatal card game at Jimmy Meehan's.
Top • Bill "The Great Mouthpiece" Fallon, the Roaring '20s' most flamboyant and successful criminal-defense attorney, did a lot of business with A. R., but that didn't keep the duo from profoundly despising one another.
Above • Marion Davies's relationship with William Randolph Hearst was key to Bill Fallon's defense on witness bribery charges.
Swope feared that A. R. would back out of testifying against Price and Johnson. He told A. R. of Police Commissioner Woods's new remarks: "Well, I guess your friend, Arnold Rothstein, is yellow after all. I thought he was going through against those thugs that held him up. If he doesn't identify them, the police won't have any case."
A. R. testified. Both criminals were convicted. As Killer Johnson's guilty verdict came in, he had to be restrained from attacking Arnold, threatening revenge if he ever got free. Two months later, Johnson escaped from Sing Sing.
A. R.'s friends advised him to leave town-or at least go into seclusion. Worried that his gamesmanship might now lead to his friend's death, Swope nervously advised Rothstein to leave town. Arnold wouldn't listen and phoned Carolyn.
"If I ran away people would know that I was buffaloed," he told her. "I'd be finished. I have to stay here."
"I'd rather you were buffaloed than dead," Carolyn said.
"It's the same thing," he answered her. "A man who backs down is finished. Well, I won't be finished that way. I'll just have to take the chance that they'll catch Johnson before he shoots or, if they don't, that he'll miss when he does shoot."
"Then you are afraid?"
"I'm afraid, all right. There are only two people who know that, though. You and me. We're the only two people in the world I trust enough to let them know it."
Johnson came close to finding Rothstein several times. One night he tailed A. R. to Reisenweber's, on Columbus Circle. Johnson waited outside in a cab, sending word to Arnold that someone wanted to see him. A. R. didn't take the bait. He sent private detective Val O'Farrell outside to investigate. Johnson fled and shortly thereafter left New York for the Midwest.
There Johnson tried robbing a particularly vulnerable-looking small-town bank. He had not, however, counted on its unusual alarm system. Instead of merely alerting the local police, it rang in dozens of local homes. The citizenry grabbed their rifles and shotguns and headed in the direction of their deposits. Arnold Rothstein never had to worry about the late Albert "Killer" Johnson again.
Armed robbery was thus an occupational hazard. Before 1918 ended, robbers again victimized a Rothstein floating crap game, this time in Harlem. He lost $28,000.
Both that robbery and the St. Francis robbery were mere prologues to a far more significant event. On January 19, 1919, A. R. staged a high-stakes dice game at a fourth-floor apartment at 301 West 57th Street. It ignited a controversial sequence of events that saw Rothstein shoot three police officers, escape unindicted, and obtain the prosecution of the police inspector who dared to question these circumstances. "I don't think," said Carolyn Rothstein, "there is a better instance than this ... of the very genuine influence which my husband exerted at the height of his career."
Nineteen other gamblers were present, including Arnold's sometime bodyguard, Abe Attell. Arnold held the dice and announced, "Four is my point." Up came a four. "Little Joe," he said softly but appreciatively.
Suddenly he heard heavy rapping. A gambler gingerly opened the thick wooden door, secured partly by a chain. A gruff voice barked: "Open up, there!"
Rothstein immediately fired three times through the door's upper half. The invaders pushed hard upon the door, caving it in. A hand unfastened the chain. Eight men poured in-not robbers, but police detectives led by Inspector Dominic Henry. Detective John McLaughlin shouted that they were police.
Rothstein's shots had hit McLaughlin and detectives John J. Walsh and Dick Oliver. McLaughlin took a bullet in the shoulder. It wasn't serious. Walsh suffered a very minor flesh wound to his right arm, hardly more than a crease. Rothstein's third shot tore through Oliver's left sleeve and singed his arm, a wound hardly worth mentioning. Still, A. R. had shot a trio of cops.
"Where's Rothstein?" barked one detective, clearly tipped off as to who ran this game.
A. R. had vanished. For a man of no athletic skill or interest, Rothstein possessed remarkable dexterity. Once, he was dining at a Manhattan restaurant. The room momentarily went black, but when the lights returned, A. R. no longer sat where he'd been. He had bolted from his chair, maneuvered silently through total darkness and a crowded midtown restaurant, and serenely ensconced himself at another table. If anyone wanted to shoot Arnold Rothstein in any darkened room, he wouldn't make it easy.
And so A. R., after wounding three policemen, had similarly disappeared. Rothstein's companions denied that he'd been in the room. The police didn't believe them, searching the flat but finding no trace of the man. While they packed the gamblers into a paddy wagon, a bystander informed them that a man was hiding on the second-floor fire escape.
Police arrested the elusive but still nonplussed Mr. Rothstein. He proved extremely gracious. Were detectives Walsh and McLaughlin injured? No need to travel by ambulance, boys-take my limousine.
Magistrate Francis X. Mancuso ordered $1,000 bail for each defendant. Arnold paid it all, with a neat stack of $1,000 gold notes. It seemed nothing of consequence would result from the shooting of three cops. Police graciously excused the action, noting apologetically that they should have been more specific in demanding entry. It was only reasonable for gamblers to fear robbery and act accordingly. Of the daily press, only William Randolph Hearst's American bothered to report that Rothstein was suspected of the shooting.
Rothstein engaged Bill Fallon and former Magistrate Emil E. Fuchs as counsel. Fallon was a master of delay, his theory being that the first reports of a crime tend to inflame public imagination. Let the furor die down, and chances for acquittal increase dramatically.
And so they did. Not until February 13 did District Attorney Edward Swann summon a grand jury to investigate. "We want everyone present at the raid to tell the Grand jury who shot the detectives," Swann informed reporters. "We want to know what happened after the detectives were shot. They were taken to a hospital. You gentlemen know whose car took them there I suppose?"
Of course they did.
"Gambling will be inquired into in general. We are particularly anxious to know about the Rothstein matter. Men who witnessed the shooting will be given ample opportunity to refresh their memories. Those who elect to testify falsely before the Grand jury will have to stand the consequences. The penalty for perjury, if I am not mistaken, is still seven years in State prison."
Swann assigned the investigation to Assistant District Attorney James E. Smith, but he failed to refresh any memories. No one feared perjury. In fact, no one remembered much of anything-about Rothstein, about any shots, about anything at all. A gambler named Dubin testified he saw a shot fired-but couldn't tell who fired it. Nobody else went even that far.
Already the case smelled suspicious. As Smith took the case to the grand jury, the New York Times reported "rumors that several thousand dollars were spent by a wealthy gambler to keep the facts hidden and prevent prosecution."
In March 1919, New York City Mayor John E "Red Mike" Hylan wrote privately to Police Commissioner Richard E. Enright. Hylan was a former Brooklyn Elevated Railroad motorman, fired after almost running down a company superintendent. He worked his way through New York Law School and boss John H. McCooey's Brooklyn Democratic machine into a series of judgeships. He was honest but uninspiring, all in all, not much better as judge than as motorman. In 1917 he became mayor, entirely on the strength of backing from McCooey and the Hearst papers.
Hylan demanded that Enright investigate the accusations, fleshing them out in detail:
There seems to be a common report around town that Rothstein, the gambler gave $20,000 [sic] to a lawyer who was formerly a Magistrate [Fuchs], which, so the report goes, was divided up equally between an Assistant District Attorney [Smith] and a Magistrate [McQuaid]. However, the case against Rothstein was dismissed.
Nothing happened until June 5, 1919. Arnold's old associate (and treasurer of the New York Giants), Judge Francis Xavier McQuade, dismissed charges against everyone save Rothstein. Swann and Smith could have assembled a case against Rothstein only with cooperation from his fellow gamblers, because police hadn't seen who fired the shots that came whizzing through the door. Only those on the other side could testify against A. R.-and now Magistrate McQuade had removed any reason for their cooperation.
Nonetheless, Swann's grand jury dutifully delivered two indictments against Rothstein: for first- and second-degree felonious assault: the first count for shooting Detective McLaughlin, the second for wounding Detective Walsh. There were no consequences for winging Detective Oliver and, as Rothstein possessed a valid pistol permit, no weapons charges. Judge Thomas C. T. Crain ordered Rothstein's arrest, but before police laid a hand on him, A. R. presented himself to judge William H. Wadhams in General Sessions. Wadhams released A. R. on $5,000 bail.
With no one testifying against A. R., only one possible outcome existed: dismissal. On June 25, Swann's office brought the case before Judge John E McIntyre. Jim Smith was conveniently out of town on vacation. Rothstein attorney Emil Fuchs sprang to his feet, moving for dismissal:
The record is barren of any evidence tending directly or indirectly [sic] to connect the defendant with the commission of any crime. Much time was spent and, doubtless, much public money expended, in an effort to fasten the crime on the defendant, and, I might add, that in the Court's judgment, the time was uselessly spent. Not a word of evidence appears in the Grand jury minutes showing that the defendant committed an assault upon anybody. All that is disclosed is as follows:
Q-Do you know who did the shooting?
Q-Did you see Rothstein have a gun, or did you see him do the shooting?
Q-Well, who in your opinion did the shooting? Give us your best opinion.
Q-From reading the papers, my opinion is that it was Rothstein.
Judge McIntyre agreed:
This appears to be the only evidence that in any way relates to Rothstein.
Under our system of jurisprudence, fortunately, a surmise, a conjecture, or a guess can have no place as evidentiary of the commission of a crime. Why the Grand jury ordered an indictment in this case is incomprehensible. It should not have been voted. It was idle to do so. The motion to dismiss is granted.
Rothstein was free. A gambler shoots three cops in front of nineteen witnesses and walks. The failure of the system can be interpreted in one of two ways. One: The underworld wall of silence had once again thwarted justice-an unfortunate but understandable situation. Two: The system had gone into the tank.
In 1920 many believed the latter, particularly in cases involving the Manhattan District Attorney's office or Arnold Rothstein. In cases involving both, cynicism increased exponentially.
William Randolph Hearst's American had little personal interest in Rothstein, but great curiosity about "Big Tom" Foley-A. R.'s primary contact at Tammany Hall since Big Tim Sullivan's unfortunate demise. Foley began as a blacksmith, moved to saloon keeping and thence to politics, serving as alderman and county sheriff, but primarily deriving his power from leadership of a downtown assembly district.
He had repeatedly helped derail Hearst's political ambitions, and Hearst hated him for it. Out of professional courtesy, Hearst's staff also hated Herbert Bayard Swope, who had made the World into the city's most respected paper. By striking against Rothstein, the American hit both Foley and Swope.
The American hinted broadly that Rothstein bribed his way to freedom. "It is believed," they wrote, "that Rothstein's bankroll is now some $32,000 lighter than it was when he was placed under arrest."
Police Commissioner Richard E. Enright now demanded that Dominick Henry tell him what he knew. Henry responded with a number of accusatory affidavits against Assistant District Attorney Smith, alleging both graft and anti-Semitism. (Smith, Henry claimed, had told him he "was going after the Jew gamblers, but would not touch a hair of the head of any Christian who was running a place.") Smith in turn called Henry a grafter who allowed vice to overrun his precinct, fattening his bank and brokerage accounts in the process.
Mayor Hylan hinted broadly that Herbert Bayard Swope had acted as a bagman for Rothstein, writing Commissioner Enright, "it is common knowledge that Swope knows Rothstein and has long been friendly with him."
District Attorney Swann convened two new grand juries: the first investigating Rothstein, McQuade, Fuchs, and Swope, the second investigating Inspector Henry. The case against Swope collapsed immediately and spectacularly: Swope had been abroad during the whole imbroglio, from December 1918 through September 1919, covering the Versailles peace conference. "I ask to go before the grand jury to scotch this lie and to brand the liars, whoever they may be, and to ask satisfaction for this criminal libel," Swope blustered.
"The mayor," jibed Emil Fuchs, "ought to be man enough to come out and say he was mistaken." Fuchs, McQuade, and Rothstein appeared before the grand jury. All denied wrongdoing.
Swann cleared Smith and indicted Henry for failure to shutter his precinct's "disorderly houses." Henry won quick acquittal, but Swann and Smith indicted him once more, this time for perjury regarding his testimony to the grand jury. In June 1920, they convicted Henry, who faced expulsion from the force and four years in prison.
The Appellate Division reversed Henry's guilty verdict. He returned to active service, and should have received both back pay and reimbursement for his considerable legal fees. Authorities stubbornly refused to pay the latter. In 1922 the New York State Legislature passed an act mandating payment. Governor Nathan Miller vetoed it. In 1923 Alfred E. Smith, now returned to the governorship, signed it. Still, Henry was not paid. A local judge ruled the law unconstitutional. Not until 1924 would Henry receive his back pay.
Arnold Rothstein had wounded three police officers and retained not only his freedom-but his pistol permit. In 1926 newly elected Mayor Jimmy Walker appointed a tough new police commissioner, George V. ("George the Fifth") McLaughlin. McLaughlin cracked down on gambling wherever he found it-even in the numerous Tammany clubhouses that sheltered high-stakes games. McLaughlin also ordered A. R.'s pistol permit revoked. Rothstein and an attorney traveled downtown to the Police Department's ornate Centre Street headquarters, demanding to see McLaughlin. News of the visitors infuriated McLaughlin. "Tell the gentleman [except that McLaughlin did not use the word `gentleman']," he ordered his subordinates, "to get out of the office and out of the building and if he does not throw him out."
People didn't talk like that to Arnold Rothstein. By the time the message reached A. R., it became more polite: The commissioner is not available to see you now.
Arnold turned to a high-ranking friend in the department, who interceded with McLaughlin. "I have ordered this man put out of the building," the commissioner exploded. "After I have ordered him out of the building you have permitted him to come to your office, ask for your aid and have come to me to plead for him. Go back to your office and throw those people out of it. Have them thrown out on the street and see that they never get in again."
Commissioner McLaughlin's orders were finally implemented, but Tammany continued pressuring Mayor Walker to halt McLaughlin's embarrassing raids of their local clubhouses. McLaughlin finally had enough and resigned-and when he did, A. R.-shooter of three police officers, got his pistol permit back.