Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Arnold Rothstein, Dark Genius of the Mob

In His Brother's Shadow

Arnold Rothstein, unlike many of the underworld figures who would make a name for themselves in America during the 1920s, was actually born in the United States. In a brownstone on East 47th Street in Manhattan, Arnold was born in 1882, the second of five children. Shortly after his birth the family moved to a larger home on East 79th Street.

Arnold, whose parents Abraham and Esther were brought together in an arranged marriage, was considered different from his siblings at an early age. He was not a happy child or outgoing like the others. Arnold spent many hours alone in cellars and closets choosing dark places in which to play. At the age of three he had already taken a disliking to his older brother Harry. One night Abraham entered the boy's bedroom to find Arnold standing over Harry with a knife in his hand. When the father pleaded for an explanation. Arnold simply replied, "I hate Harry."

Years later Rothstein told a psychologist that when he was six years old his mother took Harry and his younger sister, Ethel, on an extended trip to San Francisco to visit her relatives. The first night she was gone Abraham found Arnold hidden away in a closet weeping uncontrollably.

"You hate me," cried Arnold. "She hates me and you hate me, but you all love Harry. Nobody loves me."

It was the only time Rothstein had shown any deep emotion during his childhood.

Arnold continued to live in Harry's shadow lacking an identity of his own. He fell two years behind in grade school and found himself a classmate of his younger brother Edgar. This didn't seem to bother Arnold who from this point kept up with his classes. Edgar would later recall, "I'd do all the homework and Arnold would copy it and remember it. Except in arithmetic. Arnold did all the arithmetic. He loved to play with numbers."

When Harry Rothstein was thirteen he informed his parents that he wanted to study to become a rabbi. This decision delighted Abraham. Arnold, who had shunned his religious studies even more than his regular schooling, was chided by his father, "You should be proud of being a Jew."

A defiant Arnold responded, "Who cares about that stuff? This is America, not Jerusalem. I'm an American. Let Harry be a Jew."

After completion of two years at Boy's High School, Arnold quit school for good in 1898 at the age of sixteen. He had found his calling in the streets. He began shooting dice for nickels and pennies and kept a record of his winnings. Arnold frequented pool halls, which in the early days of their existence were places where bets were placed and lotteries played. As gamblers waited around for the results there was usually a billiards table to occupy their time. Rothstein earned a reputation at the billiards table and his pocket money began to grow.

Rothstein became a regular at Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre where a craps game was always in action every Monday. The popular game drew the likes of Monk Eastman and Herman "Beansie" Rosenthal. Rothstein's success at the game and his growing bankroll made him a popular figure at the game and at other gambling spots. He soon began lending money to several of the players. For every four dollars he lent he collected five in return. If any problems arose in collecting the loans, Rothstein would turn to his newly found friend Monk Eastman. The bullet-headed thug, with a broken nose and cauliflower ears, met little resistance when trying to retrieve payments due Rothstein.

While building a reputation as a gambler and money loaner, while still only sixteen, Rothstein began to cultivate a friendship with Timothy D. Sullivan, Tammany Hall's East Side political boss. Sullivan, known as "Big Tim," gained his powerful political standing by delivering the democratic vote on Election Day. In return, Sullivan looked out for the people in his district, delivering coal and food for the needy, and helping others get jobs or legal assistance when necessary.

Rothstein became a regular at Sullivan's headquarters. He ran errands for "Big Tim" and served as a translator for Sullivan's Jewish constituents. Sullivan soon realized that Rothstein was a young man with a future. Meanwhile, Rothstein found in Sullivan the father figure he was desperately searching for.

As conflict continued in the Rothstein household, Arnold, now 17, took a job as a travelling salesman peddling headwear. He informed his not-too-disappointed father that he would be moving out. Rothstein's work took him to upstate New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Two years into the job he received a telegram while he was in Erie, Pennsylvania informing him that Harry had died of pneumonia.

Years later Rothstein would tell his wife Carolyn, "Somehow, I had the feeling that I was responsible for Harry being dead. I remembered all the times that I wished he were dead, all the times I had dreamed of killing him. I got to thinking that maybe my wishing had finally killed him."

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