Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arnold Rothstein, Dark Genius of the Mob

'Beansy' and Becker

Captain Charles Becker (Corbis)
Captain Charles Becker

By 1910 the unholy alliance of police, politicians and the underworld had been going on in New York City for half a century — at least. The political leaders were supplied by the unscrupulous national embarrassment known as Tammany Hall. The underworld leadership had passed from Monk Eastman, who was imprisoned in 1904, to William Alberts, better known as "Big Jack" Zelig. The main figure in the police corruption was Captain Charles Becker.

This combination began to self-destruct around 1912 based on two factors — the deteriorating mental state of "Big Tim" Sullivan, and the greedy single-mindedness of Becker. Sullivan had been institutionalized before being placed in a home in Williamsburg. On occasion Sullivan would slip past his attendants and return to his old stomping grounds in the Bowery or along Broadway. In September 1913 Sullivan disappeared after an all night card game with his guards. A few days later his body was found on the railroad tracks near the Westchester freight yards. An engineer stated that Sullivan was dead before the train ran over his body. "Big Tim's" funeral was attended by more than 25,000 mourners.

Long before Sullivan met his maker, two men were trying to muscle in on his control of local gambling. One was Tammany Hall politician Thomas Foley, the other was Captain Becker. The rise and fall of Charles Becker would be a short, but spectacular one. However, his brief time in the limelight would be the subject matter of no less than three books.

Herman "Beansy" Rosenthal got involved in gambling around the same time Rothstein did. Despite the backing of Sullivan, Rosenthal's operations were always a failure. He was not a particularly bright individual. With "Big Tim" in fading health, Becker decided to make his move on Rosenthal's latest operation — the Hesper Club. Becker ordered Jack Zelig to collect protection payments. Rosenthal refused to pay and went to Florrie Sullivan, Tim's brother, for advice. When Florrie suggested that Rosenthal hire some muscle of his own, "Beansy" sought out an ex-lieutenant of Monk Eastman, Bridgie Webber. No sooner had the alliance formed than word got back to Becker. Zelig and his gang invaded Webber's clubhouse and destroyed it, nearly beating Bridgie to death in the process.

Florrie Sullivan's next piece of advice was for Rosenthal to give in, which he did by making Becker a partner in the Hesper Club. The partnership was not an amicable one and Rosenthal let it be known — to almost everyone — that when "Big Tim" regained his health the matter would be straightened out. When Becker's order for Rosenthal to keep his mouth shut went unheeded, the captain had the Hesper Club raided and "Beansy" was arrested and fined.

Shortly thereafter a Becker associate was charged with murder. Becker sent word to all the gamblers under his protection to fork over $500 for the defense fund. When Rosenthal refused, Becker ordered his thugs to administer a vicious beating to him. Rosenthal went to Tom Foley for help only to be rebuffed. Turning to Rothstein, Rosenthal was advised that he was fighting a losing battle. Rosenthal then turned to alcohol. With his tongue loosened by the liquor he told his story to Rothstein's friend, newspaper reporter Herbert Bayard Swope.

This information soon got to the district attorney and eventually back to Becker. It was Rosenthal's plan to just scare Becker; he didn't plan to testify against him. He told Rothstein, "They can't make me say what I don't want to say."

Rothstein responded by offering Rosenthal $500 to get out of town. The stubborn gambler refused.

Becker then got word to Zelig, who at the time was in jail, to put together a hit squad to kill Rosenthal. Zelig got out of jail and was given $2,000 to hire a team of killers to silence "Beansy." After being threatened in a restaurant in front of his wife, Rosenthal finally realized the grave situation he was in. He went back to Rothstein to take him up on his offer.

"You waited too long," Rothstein informed him. "You're not worth $500 to anyone anymore, Beansy."

On July 15, 1912 the four assassins hired by Zelig shot Rosenthal to death outside the Metropole Hotel. In just two weeks time all four gunmen were behind bars. They quickly ratted out Zelig as the man who hired them. Zelig was apprehended and turned government witness implicating Captain Becker, who was arrested on July 29. The trial of the four assassins was scheduled to begin on October 6, 1912. The day before, Zelig was murdered as he boarded a streetcar. Despite the loss of the state's star witness the four men were convicted of first degree murder and died in the Sing Sing electric chair on April 13, 1914.

Becker was then tried in a highly publicized trial and found guilty. While his appeals were pending, Becker was desperately seeking help from Tammany Hall. Katcher informs us:

"Other forces, even more powerful, and other men, however, were no longer interested in Becker. His usefulness to them was over. They knew that changing times had caught up with The System, that it was now necessary to divorce the police department from direct control of vice and graft.

"It was not that The System was obsolete, but that this one part of it was. It was an essential part, so a substitute had to be found for it. A new kind of bag man, a new 'man between,' was necessary."

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