Wednesday, November 4, 2015


11/4/1928 - As the Roaring Twenties wind down, the era loses one of its largest figures, a racketeer, businessman, and gambler so big that that is his nickname, Mr. Big (others prefer calling him The Brain or The Fixer) ... gunned down by persons unknown to this day (though its easy to guess culprits), 46-year-old Jewish mobster Arnold Rothstein shuffles off the scene in Manhattan.
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Born into a comfortable life in Manhattan in 1882 (his father, Abraham, is a successful local businessman known to the neighborhood as "Abe the Just"), Rothstein at an early age becomes a savant in mathematics ... a talent that soon morphs into a love of odds and gambling.  In his own words, "I think I gambled because I loved the excitement.  When I gambled, nothing else mattered." By the time Rothstein is in his 20s, he has gambled his way into a half ownership in a high class combination gambling parlor and whore house of plush carpets, chandeliers, cold champagne, and loose women that puts $10,000 a week in the mobster's pockets ... $10,000 a week that is not enough for the greedy, power hungry gangster.

Young Arnold

Continuing to invest his assorted "winnings," Rothstein becomes an owner of Havre de Crace horse race track in Maryland (where many races are "fixed" in the gambler's favor) and becomes a millionaire by the age of 30.

Havre de Grace Racetrack

Though never formally charged or put behind bars, in 1919 Rothstein pulls off the gambling coup for which he is most infamous ... using "friends" Abe Atell and Joseph "Sport" Sullivan for the negotiations, the gambler is able to fix the outcome of the World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds by bribing and threatening eight members of the Chicago team (although found innocent in a court trial, pitcher Eddie Cicotte, center fielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil, star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, utility infielder Fred McMullin, shortstop Charles "Swede" Risberg, third baseman George "Buck" Weaver, and pitcher Claude "Lefty" Williams will be banned from the sport for life for their participation in scheme).  For the Reds winning, Rothstein pockets a cool $350,000.
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Sullivan & Atell

The 1919 White Sox Squad

Risberg & Weaver At Their 1921 Trial

A winner again in 1921, Rothstein orchestrates events at that year's Travers Stakes into a victory for the horse he owns, Sporting Blood, to win bets the gambler has placed, and to take the large purse that comes to the race's winner ... picking up $500,000 for his efforts.

Headlines After The Race

Operating out of his table office in Lindy's deli and restaurant on Broadway and 49th Street in Manhattan (the establishment will be renamed Mindy's in the famous musical, Guys and Dolls), always on the lookout for a new score and more money, in 1920, Rothstein becomes one of the first criminals in the country to realize the immense profits that can be made by selling booze to a drink crazed country (and narcotics too!) ... banking support and lots of high-powered political connections soon have the mobster smuggling liquor into the country from the Hudson River and over the Great Lakes, speakeasy distribution sites are purchased and individuals are hired to oversee operations, budding crooks that include Meyer Lansky, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and Dutch Schultz (Mr. Big will become so big that for a hefty fee, he mediates arguments between various criminal gangs ... along with legitimate New York businesses).

Luciano & Lansky
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Diamond & Schultz

The good life, at his pinnacle in the 20s, protected by his bodyguard Diamond, nightly Rothstein is dropped off at the curb of Broadway and 49th, then walks to 42nd Street and back dressed in suits that cost over $400 and highly polished shoes that cost over $50, taking bets and placing bets, collecting money and paying debts from the $100,000 roll of bills he carries on his person every day (in thousand dollar bills) ... then its decision time, take a seat in Lindy's for more business or a meal, explore the city's nightclub scene, hit one of his whorehouses for a free roll, visit his mistress in one of over a dozen apartments he keeps in the city, or go home to his wife Carolyn and their luxurious abode on West 46th Street (a residence outfitted with all the latest conveniences ... including roulette wheels, and faro and poker tables).  It is estimated that Rothstein's net worth is somewhere in the realm of $50,000,000.

Carolyn Rothstein

Top of the world, but then in 1928, Rothstein starts to lose with his gambles, and also suffers major financial losses when the stock market crashes in September.  Rothstein's solution is to recoup his losses by playing in the biggest poker game of the decade (hundreds of thousands of dollars are wagered in the game that lasts three days) ... a decision which will cost the gambler his life.


Playing in the expensive Park Central apartment of gambler George "Hump" McManus, Rothstein's luck does not change, and he loses hand after hand to two high rollers from California, Alvin Clarence Thomas, who goes by the moniker of Titanic Thompson, and one "Nigger Nate" Raymond.  Upset immensely at his fortunes, Rothstein accuses the pair of cheating ... to which they laugh in the criminal kingpin's face.  Frustrated and seeking a quick fix to recoup some of his losses, after 48 hours of playing cards, Rothstein challenges Raymond to a $50,000 hand of high-card draw ... drawing first, Rothstein pulls a Queen and begins grinning ... until Raymond pulls an Ace.  Cursing, Rothstein tells the men he will pay his losses of $320,000 the following day, claiming he doesn't have that kind of money at hand ("I don't carry that sort of dough under my fingernails," the gambler exclaims, though he has $500,000 on his person at the time) ... then away from the game, tells everybody he meets over the course of the next few weeks that he was cheated and isn't going to pay the Californians.
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McManus (R)
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On Sunday, 11/4, after betting $500,000 that Herbert Hoover will beat Al Smith for the presidency (he also bets FDR will become governor of New York), Rothstein is at his Lindy table taking bets when he receives a phone call that soon has him grabbing his coat and leaving the restaurant, telling friends he is going to see Hump McManus at the Park Central.  Roughly 30 minutes later (the shooting is called in at 10:30 in the evening), a Park Central bellboy finds Rothstein holding his stomach in the service entrance of the building, gushing blood from a single bullet wound in his abdomen.  Rushed to Polyclinic Hospital, police ask Rothstein who shot him, and in the finest tradition of wounded mobsters, the kingpin criminal smiles, raises a silencing finger to his lips, and then slumps forward and dies (he dies on 11/6, not knowing Hoover and FDR have won their elections and he is over $500,000 richer).

To the Funeral Home

Too many enemies to know who fired the killing bullet, despite a trail of blood leading to McManus' apartment, the poker game host is found not guilty at his trial (the legend that Rothstein pulls a Royal Flush in his last hand of poker are untrue, when police search the McManus apartment they find five hands on a poker table ... the losing hand with not even an ace high, bears the blood fingerprints of the criminal kingpin), Raymond isn't charged when a beautiful blonde provides the Californian with a sex romp alibi, and Thompson is never charged (also thought to be involved at the time is Dutch Schultz, killing the gambler in revenge for Legs Diamond killing one of Schultz's men).  What is known is what happens afterwards ... his criminal empire is broken up into pieces that are claimed by his former employees, Lansky, Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Erickson, and others, and ten years after the murder, Rothstein's estate is declared bankrupt ... all the riches are gone.


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