October 23, 1935- Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as Dutch Schultz, is gunned down with two of his associates at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz was mortally wounded as he stood in front of a urinal in the men’s restroom. He survived for another day before dying on October 24, 1935 at the age of thirty-three. Today, the Palace Chop House is gone, having been demolished to make way for additional parking spots. Already a legend in the making, Schultz’s murder catapulted him to the top of the list of legendary crime figures during the era of prohibition.In the thirty-three years that he spent on earth, he gained fame, infamy and a legacy that remains in place to this day. But who was the real Dutch Schultz and why was it necessary to have him murdered?
Paul Sann (1914-1986), a former editor for the New York Post, examines the Dutchman’s life in this investigative report that is the definitive account of the death of Arthur Flegenheimer. Schultz never wrote an autobiography or kept a personal journal like the majority of crime figures from his era. His story is put together by court records, testimony of those who either knew Schultz or dealt with him [personally and various other sources of information. And the image that we come to see is of a life nothing short of complex and tragic. Known on the streets and in the media as the Beer Baron of the Bronx, he gained infamy as a suspect in the murder of several people, most notably Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, a former partner turned mortal enemy. The two waged an intense turf battle that ended with Coll being shot at least fifteen times inside a phone booth in front of 312 West 23rd Street on February 8, 1932. Although Coll was retired effective immediately, Schultz had another enemy, one that would bring his downfall and unknowingly play a part in his murder, former Governor of New York, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey, then former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, gained notoriety for his efforts at fighting organized crime and the conviction of Charles “Lucky” Luciano in 1936. The no-nonsense attorney became the Dutchman’s biggest obstacle and threatened to end his career permanently. The events that unfolded as these two titans clashed is stuff of underworld lore and critical to understanding Schultz’s tragic end in Newark.
In the aftermath of his murder, law enforcement had no positive identification of his murderer and it would be many years before the identity of his killer became known as Sann shows us. As we learn the true story of his murder, we also see the many enemies that surrounded Schultz with a vested interest in his elimination. The Dutchman was close friends with Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and other top members of what was called “The Syndicate”. And like many of those mobsters and other outlaws of the era such as John Dillinger and George “Babyface” Nelson, he found himself on J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list. When he muscled in on the Harlem number rackets he earned a lifelong nemesis in Stephanie St. Clair, the top female and African-American crime boss in New York City at the time. Never known to be afraid of violence, stories of the Dutchman’s short temper and eagerness to use a firearm helped to cement his legacy as one of the toughest Jewish gangsters in New York City history.
Today it’s hard to picture the lawlessness that once existed on the streets of New York City. But at a time not more than 100 years ago, the streets of New York ran red with blood as gangsters traded lead cutting each other down and waged gun battles with cops. Organized crime ran hundreds of rackets and corruption was rampant throughout the city. Mobsters, police and elected officials worked in tandem as everyone received their share of the proceeds. Crusaders such as Thomas E. Dewey, Fiorello La Guardia and Lewis J. Valentine, the former Police Commissioner, are a few of the colorful figures who joined in the effort to restore prestige to the City of New York and in the process bringing and end to the careers of those such as the Schultz. If you’re a fan of the old stories of the prohibition era gangsters, follow Sann as he steps back in time into the underworld full of characters such as Al Capone, Frankie Yale, Johnny Torrio, Salvatore Maranzano and the late Schultz. The book is an engaging account of a pivotal moment in the criminal underworld of New York City.