JULY 2020

JULY   2020
Everything Old Is New Again!


Saturday, November 17, 2018


Mrs. Stella  Crater grew worried when her husband, Judge Joseph Force Crater, did not return from New York City on her birthday -  Saturday,  9 August, 1930 -  as promised. But she had been married to Joe since 1917,  when he had handled her divorce from her first husband, And over that decade Stella had learned to tolerate Joe's womanizing, his gambling and his drinking. And she had learned not to ask too many questions. She only knew of Joe's appointment to the trial court when she read of the swearing in ceremony in the newspapers. She had no income of her own, but Joe's approximately $75,000 a year allowed her to live a  life of comfort.     
 But with the Stock Market Crash 9 months earlier , lawyers like Joe had seen their incomes cut by 40%.  It explained why Joe had been eager to move to the judiciary since it meant at least a regular salary, which could be easily supplemented by bribes and kickbacks.  But on Monday, 11 August, Stella decided she could wait no longer.  She walked into Belgrade where she would have access to a telephone, and called Maria, the  maid for their 40 Fifth Avenue apartment. Maria was surprised to learn that the Judge had not returned to Maine the previous Thursday. 
Next Stella called Frederick Johnson, the Judge's law secretary at the Manhattan Court  House (above).  Fred assured Stella that the Judge was fine, although he could offer no evidence to support that claim.  In fact the last time Frederick had spoken to his boss was that previous Wednesday.
Crater had arrived at the Court House about 11:00am.  After sending his attendant Joseph L.Mara out to a brokerage house to collect $5,100 cash from 2 investments, , the Judge went into his office and locked the door.  Half an hour later, he stepped out to borrow Fred's brief case, and returned behind the locked door again.  A little after noon Judge Crater  asked  Joseph Mara to help him carry two briefcases and six full stuffed cardboard folders out to a taxi. On his way out the door, Crater had said, "Don't forget to turn off the lights, Johnson." 
Joseph Mara had ridden uptown in the taxi with the Judge, and lugged the six cardboard briefcases up to the Crater's five room condominium at 40 Fifth Avenue (above left, awning) . The Judge had said to Mara, "You may go now, Joe.  I'm going up to Westchester way for a swim. I'll see you tomorrow." 
While Fredrick had not gone into the details of the Judge's Court House activities,  he did take the time to warn Stella against pressing the issue of the Judge's whereabouts, by saying it might make things professionally unpleasant for her husband.  The unstated hint was that there might be women or gangsters involved. And this hint proved enough to convince Stella to return to the cabin. For the time being, Judge Crater had a great deal in common with  Doctor Schrodinger's  cat. He might be missing, but only if somebody couldn't find him. So it was better if nobody went looking. 
Joe Crater had been a surprising appointment to the New York Supreme Court because he was not openly affiliated with New York Mayor Jimmy Walker (above), or his friends at the Democratic Club at Tammany Hall (below) -  the center of graft and corruption in New York government since the 1840’s.
But Crater was connected to the hall (above).  The proof was that in April of 1930, just after Governor Franklin Roosevelt had announced Crater’s surprise appointment, Joe had withdrawn $23,000 (about $250,000 today) from his bank. 
The standard and unspoken rule in New York state was that any appointment required the payment of one year’s salary to the lions of Tammy Hall. Lowly trial court - Supreme Court - judges were paid $23,000 a year. No record was ever found of where Joe's $23,000 went.
But Governor Roosevelt (above) was already positioning himself for a possible run for the White House and he could not afford to be connected to anyone connected to Tammany Hall, because of the murder two years earlier of Arnold Rothstein.
It was 13 minutes before midnight, Sunday, 4 November 1928, when elevator operator Vince Kelly (above, re-enacting for the newspapers), just coming to work, discovered a well dressed man lying on the concrete floor of a service corridor of the Park Central Hotel on West 56th Street. Vince bent down and asked, “Are you sick?” The man held out a dollar bill. “Get me a taxi”, he said. “I've been shot.”
Before the ambulance had even pulled up to the service entrance on 7th Avenue, word of the shooting was being whispered into the mayor's ear. Recently elected dapper Irish pixie, 40 year old James John “Jimmy” Walker was drinking and dancing at the hotel's Park Lounge. Clearly the management thought it would be better for the hotel and the mayor if he was not discovered without his wife in the vicinity of a shooting. While Walker waited for his girlfriend, Ziegfeld Follies girl Betty Compton (above), to get her coat, Big Band Leader Vincent Lopez asked the ashen faced mayor if he was alright. “Not Exactly”, Jimmy replied. “Rothstein's been shot, Vince. And that means trouble from here on in.”
At 46 years of age Arnold Rothstein was a living legend.  The son of a banker, A.R. applied his natural talent for math to making a lot of money, quickly.  In his twenties he opened an underground gambling club in Manhattan's Tenderloin district, then a horse track in Maryland, and made a million dollars by the age of thirty.  He was, rumor said, the man who rigged the 1919 World Series. It was Rothstein who used prohibition profits to organize crime, and train the next generation of mobsters -  people like Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Arnold's own body guard and partner, Jack “Legs” Diamond.  
Rumor had it that Jack had either pulled the trigger on Arnold, or helped lure him into the hotel without other body guards.  But the murder of Arnold Rothstein was to shake New York City's hidden financial infrastructure until it almost fell apart, in part because Tammany Hall District Attorney Joab Banton was thin skinned.   During the 1928 campaign for mayor, 40 year old Republican Fiorello LaGuardia had charged that Arnold Rothstien was still running the city from beyond the grave.  In response Banton dared the Republican to name a single city official who had any ties to the late A.R., and back came the booming response – Bronx Superior Court Judge  Albert Vitale. According to LaGuardia, Rothstein had loaned Vitale $20,000. 
LaGuardia's charge had no impact on the Tuesday, 6 November 1928 election. Walker won in a landslide. But shortly thereafter United States Attorney Charles Tuttle revealed the source of the accusation – a little black notebook, seized from a known Rothstien heroin dealer, containing the phone number of Albert Vitale. That revelation opened up an investigation by the N.Y. City Bar Association. Their January 1930 report noted that on his $48,000 a year salary, Vitale had $165,000 in the bank. From the witness stand the bombastic Albert Vitale (above) declared "I have absolutely nothing to fear or conceal." But on 14 March, 1930,  the New York Bar Association ordered Vitale removed from office,
Immediately Tuttle opened an investigation into the cases Vitale had passed judgment on, and the unexpected collapse of the $400,000 Columbia Finance Corporation stood out. The cause of the fund's failure was their financing the purchase of a series of lots used for piers along the Brooklyn waterfront, leased by United American Lines, a steamship company. The owner of record of one of the lots was Miss Anne McVicker. But the check she used to buy the lot was drawn from the account of Joseph F. Boyle, a political buddy of....guess who? Yes, Albert Vitale. This lease, along with others, had been used by United American Lines to transfer a $250,000 payoff  to Tammany Hall, through Vitale. But once the payoff had been made, the lots returned to the original owners and the leases had to be renegotiated, and Columbia went bankrupt. 
Joseph Crater (above) had decided only two cases during his brief tenure on the Manhattan bench, a liability case against the Park Central Motors Service garage over a wrecked stolen car, and a civil case demanding restitution over the fraudulent transfer of money in a mortgage foreclosure fraud,  Good Time Joe began his written decision of that case this way,  "The evidence presented upon the hearing of this cause points so conclusively to judgment in favor of defendants that we may, without prejudice....overlook some of the technical issues raised...".   But there were other cases on the Judge's docket he had not yet decided.  And with State and Federal investigators already sniffing around, looking for an opening, it suddenly looked like Joe had picked a bad time to transfer to the other side of the bench.
Finally, on Friday, 16 August 1930 -  10, ten days after her husband was last seen -  Stella sent her chauffeur to the city to look for him. He reported that the Judge had left their apartment in perfect order - Maria the maid had already cleaned up of course -  but  none of his clothes were missing and his luggage was still in the closet, hinting he had not left town again.  The driver checked Joe's usual hangouts, places he had driven the judge to and from in the city, places he may not have mentioned to Stella. But no one recalled seeing the Judge all summer. Stella then called Simon Rifkind, another lawyer friend of Joe's. He assured her again that everything was fine, and that Joe would soon turn up.  
The Supreme Court's fall session opened on 25 August, and Justice Louis Valente telephoned from New York to ask Stella if Joe was still in Maine. Stella became hysterical, and Judge Valente assured her that he would find her wayward husband.  He then set New York Police Detective Leo Lowenthal unofficially on to the case.
Back at the Court House, Lowenthal learned of the two brief cases stuffed with money and the six cardboard file folders Crater had removed from the office.  From the Court House, the detective went to the 40 Fifth Avenue apartment.  Not only were the brief cases not there, neither were the cardboard folders. But hanging in the bedroom closet, Detective Lowenthal found the vest Judge Crater had been wearing when he left the courthouse, validating Joseph Mara's story.  But what had happened to all those files, and those two briefcases? There were no ashes in the fire place, and Maria insisted there had been none. So the files had not been burned. When the Judge left the apartment, the files, the briefcases and the money had all gone with him.   But neither Bill Klein nor Sally Ritz reported seeing them at the Chop House.  It seemed somebody was lying, And that is what he told the judges of the Supreme Court. 
So finally,  on 3 September, 1930, the dam broke. Judge Louis Valenti called the Commissioner of Police,  At last, four weeks after Judge Joseph Force Crater had seen alive and well on West 45th Street, the public alarm was raised.  Mayor Walker and the city council immediately posted a $5,000 reward. It was never claimed.
- 30 -

Friday, November 16, 2018


It was about 7:45pm, on Wednesday 26 February, 1930 - 6 months before Judge Crater took “a Crater” on West 45th Street in Manhattan.   A middle aged blond woman and a tall, slightly balding man casually walked out of the 8 story apartment building at 1521 Sheridan Avenue in the Bronx (above). They were lightly dressed, and the sidewalks were crowded with people enjoying the unseasonable warmth of 75 degrees.  The pair sauntered north for a block to a small coup parked on the west side of the street. As the man opened the passenger side door for the woman, a solitary figure appeared out of the shadows and spoke. The man started to smile a greeting. As he did the figure lifted a sawed-off double barreled shotgun. For an instant the surprise on the man's face was lit by the flash of the discharge, followed by the hollow ugly thud.
The man dropped to the pavement (above). The woman screamed. The assassin tossed the weapon under the car and disappeared up a passage way between buildings. Residents recognized the screaming woman as four year tenant Maria Ennis. 
A good Samaritan cab driver drove Maria (below, left) across the Harlem River to the Montefiore Hospital, at West 138th Street (above), where they eventually brought the body of the man murdered in front of her.
While Maria (above, left)  was treated for shock, police emptied the dead man's pockets. They found a loaded revolver and $804 in cash, at a time when a yearly middle class income was a little over $1,000.  But this was explained by the corpse's driver's license. The dead man's name had been Gaetano “Tommy” Reina (above, right),  also known as the Bronx Ice King.  
Tommy was the 3rd ice distributor murdered in the last few months. The press was calling it the “Cut Rate Feud”, fought over territories for delivery of the once ubiquitous 5 pound slabs of ice required every 4 to 6 days for every ice box in a city of over 3 million residents.
But the refrigerator revolution had already begun. At 2393 Grand Concourse and Fordham Road, within blocks of The Ice King's assassination, his usurper, engineer and salesman Rex Cole, was selling General Electric home refrigerators - from this and a half dozen other sites across New York City - for a little as $215.00 apiece. In 1930, out of the 12,000 retail stores in NYC, only 63 sold kitchen appliances. But that year refrigerators made up 6% of all home appliance sales. And those numbers were rapidly growing.
The introduction of electricity to New York City tenements was supported by reformers because home refrigerators allowed working class families to improve their diets and health. Delivering electricity was also cheaper than ice delivery, and bypassed the multi- layered corruption that insulated gangs from reformers. And by regulating utilities as public/private combinations, the gangs could be completely shut out of the new market. So the rate cut ice war the newspapers were obsessed with was a battle over the past, and the Bronx Ice King had supposedly died for a vanishing kingdom.
No, the murder of the Ice King was about something more. Every teamster who left the Colonial Ice and Coal Company, on Eighth Avenue and 151st Street, and the other "ice houses" across the city, carried pass keys for every apartment building, speakeasy, market and restaurant across the Bronx and around Times Square. Their daily meanderings were camouflage for bootleg liquor distribution, numbers running and extortion rings, as well as a hidden in plain sight laundry for the prohibition profits from all of those and prostitution, which filled the pockets of the Lucchese's crime family, of which Gaetano Reina was a major player.
In the early morning hours of Thursday, 28 February 1930, the police brought Tommy's 40 year old wife, Angelina (above, left) , to identify her husband (above right) in the morgue. Somehow the grieving widow spotted the mistress in a treatment room. Angelina pounced on Maria like a hungry puma on sleeping chipmunk. 
Angelina used Maria's throat as a handle to toss her around the room, all the while screaming that the mistress was a tramp who had stolen the father of her nine children. Eventually the police were able to restrain Angelina. To the newspaper writers the two devastated women provided comic relief in an otherwise unpleasant assignment.
The real background to the murder was that Tommy Reina had aligned himself with Joe “The Boss” Masseria (above) . But Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who cultivated allies on all sides, warned Joe that Tommy had been talking to opposition gang leader, Salvatore “Little Caesar” Maranzano. The hot headed Joe hit the roof, and ordered the “hit” on The Ice King, his own man.  
Luciano gave the job to his trusted soldier, Vito Genovese (above).  After gunning down Reina, Vito escaped by running between buildings to the Grand Concourse where Joseph Micheal “Cargo Joe” Valachi, was waiting with a get away car.  Two years later, Tommy Reina's daughter Carmela, would marry Joe Valachi.
The “hit” was actually the first shot in a war between the old guard “Mustache Pete's” who wanted the American Mafia to remain strictly Italian and Sicilian, and the young Turks, like Luciano, who were willing to do business with anybody, even Jews like Arthur Simon Flegenheimer (above). Young Arthur had first worked for the Schultz Trucking Company, smuggling beer and liquor across the Canadian border. He quickly established a reputation as smart and violent, and became known as the German who worked for Schultz – or, Dutch Schultz.
It was Luciano who introduced Schultz to a little pug nosed Russian firecracker named Pearl “Polly” Adler (above, left). Having decided to become a madam at age 20, Polly Adler never looked back. “My feeling is,” she wrote years later, “that by the time there are such choices to be made, your life already has made the decision for you”. 
By 1928, the “Jewish Jezebel” had been running brothels for a decade, and was earning $1,100 a week. But despite the hundred dollar bills she passed in every handshake to politicians and cops, she had still been forced to change her houses 11 times in 10 years. Luciano thought Dutch and Polly (above, right) might be able to help each other.
So, bankrolled by Dutch - in exchange for 50% of her profits - Polly opened her most famous house in the brand new Majestic Hotel (above)  at 215 West 75th street.  She turned down 40 women for every one she hired, and then treated them the same way she treated the customers – with respect. As one writer put it, “She strove to cultivate an atmosphere that was more clubhouse than cat house...” Her wealthy clientele also provided a layer of protection. 
On almost any night you might discover politicians like Mayor Jimmy Walker, or high priced lawyers like William Klein or even a judge Like Joe Crater. The only thing that worried Polly was that Dutch often stopped to visit, and the territory surrounding Polly's nest was controlled by the competing Irish gangster and loose cannon, John Thomas Diamond. But that was why Dutch had invested in the property. Polly's house was a wedge to pry apart Diamond's little Manhattan territory.
Nobody trusted Diamond. By 1930 the 5 foot 9 inch tall, 140 pound sociopath had earned the nickname of “Legs” because of the three assassination attempts he already walked away from. 
Jack had started in 1919 as a body guard for Arnold Rothstein (above), also known as “the Brain”, “The Big Bankroll”, “The Man Uptown”, “The Fixer”, and simply “Mister Big” - the man who rigged the 1919 World Series. The rumor was A.R. liked Jack so much, he set him up in the heroin business – for a cut of course. But in November of 1928, rumor also had it that “Gentleman Jack” was involved in the assassination of his own boss at the Park Central Hotel.
After the death of Rothsein, Jack became known as “Big Boy”, a flashy dresser, a big spender, seen every weekend at high end “speaks” like “21” and “The Stork Club,”, with showgirls like Constance “Connie” Markus...
 ...or more regularly the red haired Ziegfield chorus girl, Marion “Kiki Roberts” Strasmick (above)...
...or his own wife, Alice Schiffer (above)  - and lately with Kiki and Alice at the same time. 
In early 1929 Jack joined with his muscle man, Charles Entratta, and front man Hymie Cohen, in opening their own speakeasy, a dark dive on the second floor of 1721 Broadway between 54th and 55th Streets, called “The Hotsy-Totsy Club” (above,single door next to "used cars" shop). It was a significant investment.
About 3:00am on Friday, 13 July, 1929 – just about a year before Judge Crater took a cab - 3 strangers saunter into the “Hotsy-Totsy Club”. About an hour later they picked a fight with the bouncer, ex-boxer Ruby Goldstein. Jack recognized one of the men as Simon Walker, a thug working for Dutch Schultz and assumed the Dutchman had sent the trio to “break up the joint”, maybe enough to keep the club from opening for that weekend. So Jack decided to meet the threat head on, as only Jack Diamond would.
While the band played loudly, Jack (above) told the three men, “I’m Jack Diamond and I run this place. If you don’t calm down, I’ll blow your fucking heads off.” The trio's response was unsatisfactory, and the band's rendition of “Alexander's Rag Time Band” failed to drown out the barrage of gunshots.
By the time the police arrived, Simon Walker and a second thug were dead on the floor. Later that morning, the third would be delivered to a hospital, where he was pronounced D.O.A. The only people still breathing in the club were the Manager Hymie Cohen, the bartender, a cashier, the hat check girl, a chorus girl and a waiter named Walter Volgast. They all swore they had not seen or heard anything. 
But Jack had gotten his picture in the newspapers too many times. The press identified the Hotsy-Totsy as “his” club. Worse, rather than use the back room usually reserved for such purposes, Jack had killed three men in full view of  witnesses. The cops closed the Hotsy-Totsy, cutting the spend thrift Jack off from a significant source of bribe money. Jack was forced to use another approach to protect himself.
On 19 July Walter Volgast's bullet ridden body was found in Bordentown, New Jersey.  Shortly thereafter, Hyme Cohen was also found dead. The other 4 witnesses simply vanished. And only then did Jack turn himself in to answer questions. In the end, nobody was ever charged with the death of the three thugs, nor the supposed deaths of the 4 witnesses. But Jack Diamond was now not only a hot head, he was just “hot”. He now carried a the new nickname, “The Clay Pigeon”.
Over the next year, Jack started selling his legitimate investments in Manhattan, so he could invest in new bootlegging operations upstate, around Albany. He wouldn't be making as much money, but he would likely live a lot longer. And at some point he found he needed some pull with a civil court trial judge. In particular, a new judge, just appointed to the New York City Supreme Court by Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That judge was Joseph Force Crater.
Since 1923, “Connie Markus” (above, right)  had been an occasional mistress of “Good Time Joe Crater”, and more recently, Jack Diamond. Rumor said that Connie asked Judge Crater to decide a civil case in Jack's favor. According to the account by writer Stephen Ellis, it was papers related to that case which Judge Crater went through in his office on Wednesday, 6 August, 1930. Those papers had gone into the two locked brief cases Joe Crater had left the office with that afternoon. And the $5,100 in cash he took with him was meant as a payoff to Diamond, because the Judge had to tell Jack no. With the feds and reformers sniffing around, Judge Crater felt he could not decide the case the way Diamond wanted, not without drawing attention and raising suspicions.
And that, said the rumors, was what led to Judge Crater's mysterious disappearance on West 45th Street, that muggy August evening, just after 9:15pm.
- 30 -

Blog Archive