Mickey Cohen – Running the Hollywood Underworld

Mickey Cohen was the mob king of Los Angeles, the Jewish gangster who once ran the Hollywood underworld. Renowned for his violent temper and tabloid exploits, he was one of the premier gangsters on the West Coast, and worked with such high-profile names as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Al Capone.

Meyer Harris Cohen was born in a Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn on September 4, 1913. His father died when he was a year old and his mother, a Ukrainian Orthodox Jew, raised him. They lived in the Brownsville neighborhood for a few years, then moved to Los Angeles.

It was in the Boyle Heights neighborhood that Cohen got his start in petty crime. His brothers ran a drug store during Prohibition, and they showed him how to make bootleg liquor there. At the age of nine, Cohen robbed the box office of the Columbia Theatre with a cudgel and wound up in reform school. By the time he was 10, he’d been there twice.

 

Cohen was a tough guy, and he spent much of his youth in the boxing ring, dueling in illegal prizefights. At 15 he ran away to Cleveland to train as a boxer. He fought several times as a featherweight between 1930 and 1933, with a mixed record. During one fight, he tried to bite an ear off his opponent.

Cohen made his first Mafia ties in Cleveland, where he hired on with Lou Rothkopf, associate of Cleveland gang leader Moe Dalitz. He then moved to New York and worked with mobsters such as Tommy Dioguardi and Owney Madden.

From there he went to Chicago, where he was hired by Al Capone’s Outfit at the height of Prohibition. It’s possible the two met, but not certain. In either even, Cohen was an enforcer for Capone and ran a gambling ring for him. And he worked with Capone’s brother Mattie.

Cohen had several scrapes while he was in Chicago, spending a short time in prison for the deaths of several mobsters during a card game. And a dispute with another gambler forced him to leave the city in 1937.

 

Back in Cleveland, there wasn’t much for Cohen to do. So he was sent west to work with Bugsy Siegel in Los Angeles. Together they muscled control of the West Coast for their East Coast Mafia bosses.

Siegel and Cohen had a lot in common. They were both flashy Jewish climbers from Brooklyn with violent mean streaks. But Siegel ranked higher than Cohen in the eyes of the Italian Mafia they both depended upon for income.

Bugsy was involved in numerous rackets in Los Angeles and Las Vegas – gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking – and he was looking to expand into legal casinos. With Cohen’s help, he secured a majority stake for the mob in the Flamingo Hotel & Casino, a project underway on the Strip just outside Las Vegas.

Cohen took over bookmaking at the casino and set up a race wire, an operation that delivered instant horse race results to bookies. He was a major player on the West Coast, working with Siegel in Nevada and Los Angeles boss Jack Dragna in California. Siegel was in charge.

 

But things began to sour in Las Vegas. Siegel’s pet project, the Flamingo, lost money before it even opened. The premier was a flop.

Bugsy Siegel

After the 1949 assassination of Bugsy Siegel in his Beverly Hills living room, Cohen became a leading figure in L.A. organized crime, competing with Mafia leader Jack Dragna. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Eventually the place started bringing in a profit for its mob owners, but they already suspected Bugsy was skimming cash from the tables.

Siegel was shot to death through the window of his girlfriend’s Beverly Hills home in 1947. Cohen, a close friend, allegedly stormed into the hotel where he believed the assassins were staying and fired two guns into the ceiling. When they didn’t answer his challenge, he fled before the police could arrive.

Siegel’s bosses in Chicago and New York promptly assumed control of the Flamingo, and Cohen was put in charge of Mafia operations in L.A. Over the years he earned a name for himself in the city and a place as a Hollywood celebrity.

 

Cohen’s criminal operations in L.A. brought him into contact with the city’s major players. Almost the entire Rat Pack kissed his ring, as did Robert Mitchum, Jerry Lewis and other performers. Cohen hired enforcer Johnny Stompanato as his bodyguard while Stompanato was having an affair with actress Lana Turner; the star’s daughter eventually killed Stampanato in an act of justifiable homicide.

The limelight brought attention from unwelcome corners as well. Investigators looking into Dragna’s operations also dug into Cohen’s activities. In the early 1950s, he became a focus of the U.S. Senate’s Kefauver Committee on organized crime.

Dragna refused to accept Cohen’s placement atop the underworld hierarchy in L.A., and open gang warfare erupted in the city. Attempts on Cohen’s life became increasingly common. His enemies bombed his home, so he armed it to the teeth with guns, floodlights and alarms.

 

Dragna’s assassination attempts never worked, and the criminal charges against Cohen never seemed to stick. But he was finally snared when we was sentenced to four years in prison in 1951 for tax evasion, a consequence of the Kevfauver hearings. He was released in 1955 and went right back to his old ways.

Mickey Cohen

Mike Wallace sent Cohen this cigarette box after the mobster appeared with Wallace on his ABC news program. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, USC Libraries.

From that point on, however, he was a bona fide mob celebrity. He wore flashy custom-tailored suits, ran scores of legitimate businesses and casinos, and appeared on television in 1957 with Mike Wallace. He also extorted some of the stars who helped make him famous, blackmailing them with proof of their affairs and other secrets.

But his luck didn’t last as long this time. In 1961 he was convicted of tax evasion again, this time with the personal weight of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy behind the prosecution. The sentence was serious: 15 years, breaking the record for a tax conviction set by Capone three decades earlier. And Cohen served most of it, 11 years, including time on Alcatraz.

Cohen was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in 1972, suffering from stomach cancer and partial paralysis caused by an assault in prison. He underwent surgery and resumed his public appearances. He died four years later, on July 29, 1976, and is buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, Cal.

Meyer Lansky – Money Man to the Mob

Meyer Lansky, one of the great Jewish mobsters, ran gambling in much of the United States and helped build the National Crime Syndicate that ran organized crime in the 1930s and ‘40s. He was known as the “Mob’s accountant,” and he ranks as one of the most powerful gangsters in history.

Lansky, a Jewish immigrant, was by birth excluded from the Italian-American Mafia. But he worked closely with its members for much of his life, especially key early figures such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Meyer Suchowljansky, as he was originally named, was born in the Belarussian city of Grodno, then part of Russia, on the fourth of July, 1902. His family was the victim of violent pogroms and anti-Semitism, and in 1911 Lansky, his mother and his brother immigrated to New York, where they settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with his father.

Lansky made important underworld connections early. He became close friends with Benjamin Siegel as a teenager. Benjamin, known as “Bugsy,” would go on to join Lansky as

Bugsy Siegel

Famous Jewish-American Mobster, Bugsy Siegel

one of the premier Jewish gangsters of the 20th century. Siegel saved Lansky’s life more than once, and Lansky never forgot it.

It was also during this formative period that Lansky met Luciano, a member of the Broadway Mob bootlegging gang. These three men allegedly joined with a number of other prominent mobsters to create a National Crime Syndicate.

The Syndicate, as it was known, was essentially a partnership between Italian and Jewish gangsters in the bootlegging trade. Founding members included Al Capone, Frank Costello, Dutch Schultz and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, among others.

 

During this time, Luciano’s new boss, Joe Masseria, was trying to consolidate power over every underworld organization in New York. His actions led to a major Mafia war. In part to stop the bloodshed, Luciano and Siegel turned against Masseria.

In April 1931, Masseria was assassinated, allegedly with the help of Siegel, Luciano and Lansky. They then joined the crew of their old boss’ rival, Salvatore Maranzano.

But that partnership soon soured. Luciano, Siegel and Lansky were new-fashioned mobsters. They were comfortable crossing ethnic lines if it meant greater profits and more successful crimes. Maranzano and his older generation believed in excluding all non-Italians, even all non-Sicilians.

Maranzano expected trouble from his new underlings, so he set a trap to kill them. But they figured out his plans ahead of time and sprung a trap of their own, sending four men provided by Lansky to murder Maranzano. Lansky’s crucial role in organizing the hit resulted in Luciano’s rise to the head of the family – and, soon after, to the head of the Commission that governs Italian organized crime in America.

 

Lansky got his real criminal start in bootlegging, along with Siegel. Together they ran the Bugs and Meyer Mob, an extremely violent street gang, during Prohibition. Their primary crimes were bootlegging, extortion, murder, hijacking and gambling.

Lansky handled the thinking work while Siegel, known for his sadism and bizarre behavior (which earned him the nickname he hated), took care of the muscle. The Bugs and Meyer Mob eventually morphed into the enforcement arm of the Syndicate, known famously as Murder Inc.

But by the time Maranzano was dead and Prohibition had ended in the early 1930s, the shape of the underworld had changed and focus had shifted from booze to other illicit activities. Lansky now turned his attention to gambling.

He set up operations first primarily in the South and in Cuba. His joints were high-class establishments: Gamblers could rest assured the games weren’t rigged, while police were bought off and competition was kept away. These operations were highly lucrative for Lansky and his partners.

 

By the time World War II arrived in 1941, Luciano was behind bars on a prostitution beef and the hands of his crime family had changed. But he and Lansky saw an opportunity to get him out of jail and back in power, and to help the Mafia in the process.

With Lansky’s help, Luciano arranged a deal with the government that allowed him to leave prison early. In return, the New York Mafia, which controlled the docks and shipyards along the waterfront, agreed to report and prevent sabotage by feared Nazi infiltrators.

Whether the arrangement helped the United States is highly debatable – Luciano himself later claimed it was a sham. But it drew heat off organized crime for several years and made it easier for them to operate.

 

As his gambling empire spread across the country, Lansky joined Siegel in a grand venture: the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. In late 1945, Siegel, Lansky and other mobsters bought a two-thirds stake in a lavish property under planning just outside of town.

But Siegel, who was responsible for the project, was in over his head. Construction costs skyrocketed, and once the hotel and casino opened, it started losing its Mafia owners’ money.

Lansky, like other gangsters, suspected his friend Siegel was skimming money from the casino. It was either Bugsy, Lansky charged, or his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, who had run

Virginia Hill

Bugsy Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill

off to Switzerland with $2.5 million.

After a rocky road, the Flamingo finally started to pull a profit. But it was too late: Soon after the money started flowing, Siegel was shot to death in his Hollywood home. Lansky held off the hit as long as he could, but in the end, it’s believed he was the one who ordered it on his longtime friend.

Twenty minutes after Siegel’s death, Lansky’s associates took over the Flamingo. Lansky himself held onto a large interest in the property for many years.

 

Lansky next moved his sights to Cuba, where he developed close ties to President Fulgencio Batista. Batista allowed the gangsters to run gambling in Cuba in exchange for kickbacks. Lansky even secured a position as an unofficial minister of gaming on the island.

But the Cuban revolution of 1959 soured paradise for the mob, and drove Lansky out. When incoming President Fidel Castro outlawed gambling, Lansky lost an estimated $7 million.

For many years afterward, Lansky lived a life of quiet disguise, running his operations in the United States from Miami Beach while presenting himself as an everyday old man. But in 1970, the government decided to prosecute him for income tax evasion and he fled to Israel.

He didn’t stay long. Two years after his arrival, the Israeli government deported him on the grounds that the Law of Return doesn’t apply to Jews with criminal histories. Nonetheless, Lansky was acquitted at trial after the government’s main witness turned out to have no credibility.

Meyer Lansky died on January 15, 1983, of lung cancer in Miami Beach. Some investigators believed he left hundreds of millions of dollars hidden away. But as far as anyone could prove, the Mob’s accountant died almost penniless.

Joe Valachi – The First Rat

Joseph M. “Joe Cargo” Valachi ranks as one of the most notorious Mafia informants, the first mobster to acknowledge, in public, on television, under oath, that Cosa Nostra is real. Long before Sammy “The Bull” ratted out John Gotti, Valachi’s turncoat testimony gave a face to a Mafia the public knew nothing about.

Joseph Valachi, who also used the aliases Charles Charbano and Anthony Sorge, was born September 22, 1903, in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan. His parents were Italian immigrants and his father was a mean drunk.

Valachi got started as a criminal by joining a gang known as the “Minutemen” because its members could execute burglaries within a minute. He drove the getaway car, and he was prized for his fast escapes.

 

Valachi earned a few early beefs. He was charged with grand larceny in 1921 and in 1923 he served nine months in jail for attempted burglary after a robbery went bad. When he got out, the gang had moved on, so he started a new one.

During the final years of Prohibition, Valachi found work with the Reina crime family, one of the five families of New York City (it’s now the Lucchese family). He became a soldier and was there during the Castellammarese War, one of the bloodiest periods in U.S. Mafia history.

The war started when Salvatore Maranzano, head of one New York family, resisted attempts by another boss, Joe Masseria, to consolidate all families under his control.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano

Charles “Lucky” Luciano

Valachi picked the winning side, fighting for Maranzano. Masseria was murdered at a Coney Island restaurant in 1931, likely at the decision of Charles “Lucky” Luciano and his associates.

Maranzano appointed Valachi one of his bodyguards, but the job didn’t last. Maranzano was also killed, again on the word of Luciano, who immediately took his place as head of the new Luciano crime family.

 

Valachi stuck around. Unlike other famous names in organized crime history, he was never much of a climber. He remained a soldier in the Luciano family (now known as the Genovese family) for almost 30 years after his boss’ rise.

In 1959, that streak ended and Valachi was sented to 15 to 20 years in prison on a narcotics conviction. He was sent to the same prison where fellow mobster Vito Genovese was incarcerated. In 1962, while they were serving there together, Genovese supposedly gave Valachi the “kiss of death” because he suspected Valachi of informing.

Most notorious Mafia figures make headlines and live in memory because of what they do while they’re in the mob. Valachi won his fame for what he did outside Cosa Nostra.

No one knows for sure why he decided to turn on his Mafioso friends. Valachi claimed he did it because he wanted to help the public and because the mob had ruined his life. But he may have had ulterior motives based on his own criminal history.

 

According to Valachi, he panicked when Genovese kissed him and murdered a fellow inmate he mistakenly believed had been sent to kill him. Now, facing the death penalty, Valachi may have agreed to testify in order to secure a life sentence and protection instead.

In any event, he squealed to everyone: the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Justice Department, the FBI and, in testimony broadcast on radio and television, to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The information was moderately useful in investigations and prosecutions of Mafia figures, and it helped solve several murders. More significantly, it painted a detailed picture of the mob in America and revealed far more than anyone else had ever dared to share about organized crime, including its Italian name, Cosa Nostra (translated: “Our Thing”).

Valachi described the history of the mob, its membership, its inner workings and its language. He also described its organization, from soldiers on the bottom to caporegimes (lieutenants) in the middle to bosses at the top, with the so-called Commission moderating disputes between the nation’s major crime families.

Above all, he served as vivid evidence to a skeptical public that the Mafia is a very real thing. Robert Kennedy cited Valachi’s testimony as “the biggest single intelligence breakthrough yet in combating organized crime and racketeering in the United States.”

 

Valachi spent the rest of his life in prison, fearing for the $100,000 contract Genovese put out on his life. He wrote his memoirs, initially with the encouragement of the U.S. attorney general. But the Justice Department changed course and ultimately blocked publication of the book, in part because of protests by Italian-American groups.

Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson played Joe Valachi, in the 1972 film The Valachi Papers

Another writer, who had interviewed Valachi in prison, used much of the same information as the basis for a biography, The Valachi Papers, published in 1968. That was later made into a movie starring Charles Bronson.

Prison life was difficult for Valachi, who tried to hang himself with an extension cord three years after his testimony. But no one ever carried out the anticipated hit: He died of a heart attack at the Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna in Anthony, Texas on April 3, 1971.

The name “Valachi” still evokes images of his blunt testimony and revelations. Mafia rats became more common after his appearance, though it took many years before the feds were regularly able to turn mob informants.

Joseph Valachi’s remains are buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Lewiston, N.Y.

Louis “Lepke” Buchalter- CEO of Murder

Louis “Lepke” Buchalter was one of the great Jewish gangsters of the 20th century, a violent goon who led the Mafia’s own private hit squad. He worked with key bosses of his day, helped build the mob we know today, and became the only major Mafia figure sent to the death chamber.
Louis Buchalter was born February 6, 1897, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an area with large Jewish and Italian-American populations. He got his nickname, Lepke, because his mother called him “Lepkeleh,” which means “Little Louis” in Yiddish.
Of five children in the family, only Louis went on to a life of crime. When he was a young teenager, his father died, his mother moved to Arizona, and he was left with his sister in New York, where he frequently broke the law.

Buchalter was first arrested in the fall of 1915 on burglary charges, but they were dismissed. He moved in with his uncle in Connecticut but was soon arrested again and sent to a boy’s reformatory in Cheshire, Conn.
He did his first prison stint at age 20. In 1917 he was sentenced to 18 months at Sing state penitentiary in New York for larceny. He finished his term and was back two years later on a two-and-a-half year sentence for attempted burglary.
Buchalter’s criminal jobs and his trips in and out of the Castle paired him up with the mobsters who would make his career. Among them were Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, a friend from childhood.
Together these two infiltrated the unions that represented New York’s garment-industry workers. It was the start of a labor racketeering scheme that would last Buchalter’s entire career: The mob-run unions would threaten strikes unless management paid the union bosses, and the bosses would rob the unions blind.
Buchalter eventually built his labor scam into a small empire, partnering with future Italian Mafia boss Tommy Lucchese to run the garment district. It made him wealthy enough that he was able to set his family up in a luxurious penthouse on Central Park West.

Shapiro and Buchalter were charged with the attempted murder of a bootlegger in 1927. But the police lacked evidence, and the charges were dropped.
By the next decade, Buchalter was an associate of some of the biggest young stars in the mob world. He knew Lucchese, ” Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky.
Indeed, he joined them in 1929 as one of the founding members of the National Crime Syndicate, a loose group of Italian and Jewish mobsters that ran organized crime in the United States in the 1930s and ‘40s. And from the start, he played a key role in the Syndicate’s most gruesome duties.
Murder Inc. was a group of hit men who acted as the enforcement arm of the Mafia, acting under the Syndicate. Most of the assassins were Jewish. And they all answered to Lepke Buchalter.

This hit squad, known to gangsters as The Combination, was formed by Siegel and Lansky. But its killers included members of Buchalter’s labor racket and a gang from Brooklyn. Siegel and Lansky were nominally in charge. But as their own rackets grew, Buchalter became the operational chief of Murder Inc.
The group took its directives from the Syndicate itself or from the bosses of the various Mafia families around the country. Buchalter worked with future mob boss Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, and other key gangsters carried out their orders.
Murder Inc. was responsible for as many as 1,000 murders, including hundreds during Buchalter’s time at the helm. They used guns, knives, ice picks and countless other weapons to kill Mafia enemies, witnesses, informants and others who displeased Buchalter or the bosses.
Buchalter’s most famous hit came in 1935, when Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz plotted to kill New York Special

Thomas E Dewey

Thomas E Dewey

Prosecutor Thomas Dewey. The prosecutor had been called in by an anxious grand jury because the district attorney wasn’t doing enough to fight the mob.
Dewey declared war on Schultz, and Schultz wanted revenge, but the bosses said no. When they realized he planned to disobey them, they sent killers Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss and Charles Workman, both of Murder Inc., to assassinate him.

Ironically, Dewey turned his attention to Buchalter, the man who may have saved his life. Dewey wanted to prosecute Buchalter, like Schultz, for his racketeering ways and ties to the Syndicate.
The pressure mounted. Buchalter was tied to the 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen, a former truck driver who sold his union to Buchalter in exchange for a candy store. Buchalter believed Rosen was ratting him out.
That November, Buchalter and his old partner Shapiro were sentenced to two years in federal prison for violating antitrust laws. A year later, the feds charged Buchalter with conspiracy to smuggle heroin, and he faced serious hard time.
So he simply disappeared. In November 1937, a month before the indictment, a $5,000 reward was posted for information leading to his capture. That was raised to $25,000 two years later, following a massive manhunt that pursued leads in the United States and Europe.
Lepke Rides the Lightning
Finally, in August 1939, Buchalter surrendered to J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, in a deal supposedly arranged by radio personality Walter Winchell. Police later learned that he never left New York.
Buchalter was convicted on the heroin beef and sentenced to 14 years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Soon after, he was hit even harder: He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison for labor racketeering. But the worst was yet to come.

Sing Sing Death Chamber

Tony Curtis as Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter in the film ‘Lepke’, 1975. The set was designed to be an exact replica to the death chamber in Sing Sing prison.

In 1941, Buchalter was charged with a series of murders in New York, including the Rosen hit. Witnesses included two of his hit men, Albert Tannenbaum and Abe Reles. He was convicted at 2 a.m., after just four hours of deliberation.
In December 1941, Buchalter, along with Weiss and fellow Murder Inc. leader Louis Capone, was sentenced to death in the electric chair. His appeals reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard his case and voted unanimously to uphold his conviction.
On March 4, 1944, Lepke Buchalter became the only major Mafia figure to die by execution. He was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens.

Monk Eastman: Last of the Old-Time Gangsters

Edward “Monk” Eastman was a mobster who dominated street crime in New York City around the turn of the 20th century. By some measures he was the last of the old-school hoods who came before the Italian-American Mafia and truly organized crime.

Though often referred to as one of the city’s great Jewish gangsters, it’s unlikely he was a Jew. His ethnicity remains something of a mystery, though he wasn’t Italian either.

Edward Eastman was born in 1875, probably in the Corlear’s Hook neighborhood in lower Manhattan, an area bustling with streetwalkers and other petty crime. Only limited information remains about his family, but Eastman’s father apparently abandoned them by the time Eastman was five.

His parents were Samuel Eastman, a wallpaper hanger who fought in the Civil War, and Mary Parks. Samuel lived with his wife and children on the Lower East Side in 1870 but was gone by 1880, and Mary and the kids moved in with her father, George Parks, on the Upper East Side.

Monk Eastman had three sisters, two older and one younger, and an older brother who apparently died young. Few if any records remain to indicate what became of Monk’s father.

Eastman apparently waited until his grandfather died before beginning a life of crime. George Parks helped set Eastman up with a pet shop on Broome Street, which runs through Little Italy and the Lower East Side. For years afterward, Eastman claimed to be a legitimate bird seller as a front for his criminal activities.

But at some point, a young Eastman joined a street gang that focused most of its efforts on petty theft. That group, made up mostly of gentiles at the time, eventually became almost exclusively Jewish and came to be known as the Eastman Gang.

Eastman’s first known arrest occurred in his early 20s, in 1898, when he was convicted of larceny under the alias William Murray. He served three months in the penitentiary on Blackwell Island (now Roosevelt Island).

By this time Eastman’s gang was expanding its turf and moving into new crimes, especially prostitution. They ran a series of brothels along Allen Street, referring to themselves at the time as the Allen Street Cadets. They also dabbled in gambling, opium and enforcement.

Monk was small, but he developed a tough reputation, and it made him friends in the underground. He was appointed bouncer at the New Irving Hall, a popular club near his pet shop. He built his earliest ties with Tammany Hall politicians, who put his talents to political use. Gradually his gang became the Eastmans.

Crime in New York City at the turn of the 20th century was divvied up among a gaggle of street gangs, all competing for turf, some more powerful than others. Most powerful of them all was the Five Points Gang, a mob of immigrant criminals who dominated the Lower East Side.

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly, head of the Five Points Gang

But the Eastman Gang, as it came to be known, was a close rival. Eastman considered Paul Kelly, head of the Five Points Gang, his arch-enemy, and their enmity broke out into open mob warfare.   The battles between the Five Pointers and the Eastmans raged in the streets of New York, reminding many residents of the fierce gang battles of a generation earlier. At first Monk had the upper hand. He led his own men into battle, and his leadership style convinced many enemy gangsters to switch sides. But the war got out of control, even by the lax standards of Tammany Hall. Innocent civilians were being killed by gang gunfire on city streets in broad daylight.

So to avoid more bloodshed, Tammany Hall arranged a boxing match to settle the score between Eastman and Kelly. The two faced off in a ring inside an old barn in the Bronx. It was a bruiser, lasting two hours, and it was a draw.

Eastman’s reign as a leader in the gang wars of New York City came to an end on February 3, 1904, when he tried to mug a young man in Times Square. The man’s family had hired Pinkerton agents to follow him and keep him out of trouble, and the guards stopped the robbery.

Monk ran away shooting, but the cops caught him. His bloody wars with Kelly had burned up his good will with Tammany Hall, leaving him to face the consequences of his crime without protection. He was convicted that year and sentenced to 10 years at Sing Sing state prison.

He served five. While he was gone, the old Eastman Gang had begun to fall apart. Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach seized control by killing off his rival, Richie Fitzpatrick, as well as Fitzpatrick’s followers. Four years later, Kelly had Zwerbach murdered.

“Big” Jack Zelig, who took over next, divided the gang into three pieces and gave the other two to henchmen who promptly turned on him and started a new war within the gang. By the end, the Eastmans were all but disbanded.

Following his release in 1909, Eastman made a living primarily by petty theft. He got hooked on opium and was in and out of jail several times.

But in 1917, with the country headed to Europe, Eastman signed up for service in World War I. he was 42. His honorable service led the governor to restore his civil rights, which were stripped when he was convicted of the mugging.

Once out of uniform, though, Monk returned to his old ways. They quickly got him killed.

Monk Eastman Funeral

Monk Eastman Full Military Funeral

On December 26, 1920, Eastman got into an argument at a cafe with a crooked Prohibition agent over dirty money. When the agent left, Eastman followed him and called him a rat. The agent, who said he felt threatened, drew his pistol and shot Eastman dead. The agent later served three years in prison for the murder.

Monk Eastman is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Despite his connections to the Jewish mob, there is little evidence Eastman himself was Jewish. Neither his parents nor any of his siblings were married in Jewish weddings, and he was not buried in a Jewish cemetery. His grandfather George Parks died in a Protestant nursing home. And his brother-in-law told the medical examiner Eastman wasn’t a Jew.


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