30 September 2021

Another JFK files deadline approaches

Biden decision expected October 26

About one month remains before President Joe Biden is due to decide if the remaining redactions will be lifted from federal Kennedy Assassination records.

During the Trump Administration, a number of CIA records were released and redactions were removed from many National Archives documents. These contained no "blockbuster" revelations about the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John Kennedy but some interesting details. President Donald Trump decided at that time that other records should continue to be withheld from public scrutiny for three years past the October 26, 2017, expected release date.

U.S. Chief Archivist David Ferriero was scheduled to make a recommendation on the remaining records to President Biden this past Sunday (September 26, 2021). The following day, the Public Interest Declassification Board wrote to the President:

"We understand that agencies are asking you to extend the postponement of public disclosure... The Board unanimously recommends that you limit any further postponements of public disclosures of the Kennedy assassination records to the absolute minimum."

A 1992 law (the JFK Act) related to Kennedy assassination records called for all records to be released after twenty-five years unless the President decided that postponement was necessary on the grounds of "identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or foreign relations... [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure."

According to the National Archives and Records Administration, there are remaining redactions in 15,834 documents - most of these created by the CIA. NARA states that 520 full documents, still withheld and not identified by the agency, are not subject to the JFK Act.

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27 September 2021

Polly Adler as Al Capone's guest at the "Battle of the Long Count", September 22, 1927

 

Debby Applegate

Excerpt from Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age

Forthcoming from Doubleday, November 2, 2021

 


 Polly Adler as the grand madam in Chicago for the Dempsey-Tunney heavyweight championship, September 22, 1927.  Photo from the Polly Adler Collection courtesy of Eleanor Vera. 

 By the fall of 1927, Polly Adler was not merely Manhattan’s most notorious madam. She had earned a national reputation as the underworld’s preferred hostess and party-planner. The gambler Arnold Rothstein and his proteges had been her first major patrons in the flesh trade, and they introduced her to the rising crème of the criminal classes. The gaudy mob-backed nightclubs had their charms, but for more delicate negotiations – and less inhibited parties – the Broadway mob needed someplace out of public view.  A deluxe bordello was more private and more indulgent than a public watering hole, so when visiting dignitaries came to New York, Polly’s parlor became a favorite spot to entertain in style.

Her stellar reputation won her a warm welcome anywhere bootleggers, grifters and gamblers thrived, from Hot Springs to Miami, from Detroit to Los Angeles.  In September of 1927 Polly made a whirlwind trip to Chicago, to attend what was considered by many to be the last great prize fight of the decade.  Jack Dempsey, fresh from his comeback victory over Jack Sharkey in July, was challenging the Shakespeare-quoting Gene Tunney to regain the heavyweight championship in Soldiers Field in Chicago on September 22, 1927.

Alphonse “Scarface” Capone had come up in the world since his early days as bouncer in Frankie Yale’s Coney Island saloon.  Over the last few years, he’d parlayed his interest in a handful of Chicago brothels into a multimillion-dollar criminal operation.  In 1926, he catapulted to national notoriety as he battled rival Irish gangs for control of the city’s rackets, terrorizing his foes with a gruesome new weapon, the Thompson submachine gun.  Capone’s “Outfit” was now a crucial hub in the movement of liquor among Canada, the Eastern rum runners, and the distilleries and breweries of the Midwest. 

New York’s racketeers and their friends in the press congratulated themselves on their discretion compared to their western colleagues, but Capone’s ambitions worried them. Big Al reveled in the limelight, and between the bloody street battles and his personal appearances in the press, he was drawing unwelcome attention to the bootlegging business. 

Like a lot of women of the night, Polly rather enjoyed “Bighearted Al,” as he liked to be called; “I make a habit of judging people only in their relationship to me and such times as I happened to run into Al he was always very pleasant.” [1]  Frank Costello had introduced Polly to Capone early in the 20s, and she often entertained the Chicago boys when they were in town on business. 

Increasingly, the business at hand was assassination, or as the New York Times called it, the “intercity murder trade.” [2]  As competition for the New York markets became more violent, the Broadway Mob and their syndicate partners began importing killers from out of town to seize the element of surprise. It was a sort of mutual exchange program for killers that evolved into the murder-for-hire outfit dubbed “Murder Inc.” by the tabloids.

Polly remembered distinctly the night that Lucky Luciano brought Capone’s trusted hit-man, “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn, and some of the boys to the house.  She recalled, with gratitude, Lucky’s restraining hand when McGurn and Bugsy Siegel, as a practical joke, decided to rearrange the furniture. They’d carried the sofa into the kitchen and were in the process of hauling the stove into the living room, “when they noticed Charlie Lucky looking at them – not saying anything, just looking. In two seconds flat the furniture was back in place and there was no more horseplay for the balance of the evening.” [3] 

“I’ll not forget the fight in Chicago, that was really something,” Polly later wrote.[4]  Every sports fan who could hitch a ride was heading to Soldier’s Field for the fight, and wagering was reported to be the heaviest anyone had seen in years.  “I bet a Big Five on Dempsey to win,” she remembered. “I followed the smart money.” [5] 

Capone, who counted himself Jack Dempsey’s most ardent fan, had offered to fix the rematch in the former champ’s favor. Jack graciously refused. Nonetheless, the gangland czar intended to make this the social event of the season, snapping up one hundred top-price seats and inviting every major mobster in the country to fill them.  “I remember thinking in 1927 that I was more afraid of who sat at ringside than of who was waiting for me inside the ring,” confessed Dempsey. [6]

 


"The Battle of the Long Count" - Jack Dempsey's final attempt to reclaim the heavyweight boxing title from Gene Tunney in Solders Field, Chicago, September 22, 1927.  Photo from the author's collection.

 The Dempsey-Tunney rematch would go down as one of the most controversial bouts in boxing history. In round seven, Dempsey let loose a cascade of punches that sent Tunney tumbling to the mat. But instead of retreating to a neutral corner while the referee counted to ten as the rules required, Dempsey just stood there, delaying the referee’s count, and giving the champion several seconds to catch his breath before popping up just as the ref reached nine.  When Tunney won, depriving the once-great Dempsey of his last chance to be champ, those crucial seconds – “the Long Count” it was dubbed – became a national scandal and the wellspring of a million barroom arguments.[7]  

 “Funny how I remembered the Dempsey Tunney fight, perhaps it’s because I got a big lump on my head attending the fight,” mused Polly. “When hot shot Dempsey put Tunney to sleep on that historical long count I screamed my head off, you would think I bet a million.” [8]

“Then when Tunney kicked the hell out of Dempsey, which made him a winner, I was still screaming, this time for Tunney.  Who in the hell cared who won as long as there was a winner.  Suddenly I felt something on my noodle, probably a rock.  The guy in back said, Hey lady, you must be Nuts – your man is Dempsey.” [9]

Well, concluded Polly, “for my money the guy was welcome to Dempsey, I knew him way back and never liked him and still don’t.” [10]

The real fun came after the fight was over, in her opinion. “Al Capone ran a party for one solid week at the Metropole hotel, all the big politicians from everywhere attended the party, Judges, Mobsters, yours truly included,” Polly recalled with pleasure. “Capone was a grand host.” [11]  Senators, congressmen, show people, journalists, society sportsmen, and gorgeous women, all downing top-shelf booze and dancing to the city’s scalding-hot jazz bands. Capone himself took up the conductor’s baton to direct a swinging version of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

To commemorate the historic occasion, Polly posed for a formal photograph, looking every inch the grande dame in her diamond sparklers and fashionable fox stole. 

 




[1] “Very pleasant”: HNH, 102.

[2] “Murder trade”: NYT, July 8, 1928, 111.

[3] “Of the evening”: HNH, 295.

[4] “Really something”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

[5] “Smart money”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

[6] “Inside the ring”: Dempsey, Dempsey, 136.

[7] “Long Count”: Heimer, The Long Count.

[8] “Bet a million”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

[9] “Your man is Dempsey”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

[10] “Still don’t”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

[11] “Grand host”: PA to VF, Oct. 13, 1941, VF notebook, 14, VF-HNH.

 

 

DEBBY APPLEGATE is a historian based in New Haven, CT. Her first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. She is a graduate of Amherst College and was a Sterling Fellow in American Studies at Yale University where she received her Ph.D.  She lives with her husband the workplace writer Bruce Tulgan in New Haven, Connecticut.

https://debby-applegate.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Polly-Adler-Madam-The-Biography-of-Polly-Adler-Icon-of-the-Jazz-Age-105313019559817

Labels: Al Capone, Chicago, Broadway mob, Debby Applegate, Polly Adler, prostitution, Jack Dempsey, boxing, Metropole Hotel

 

October 2021 issue of Informer

Mafiosi of the West Coast

Our look at mobsters who set up shop on America's West Coast begins with excerpts from a fact-based crime noir by J. Michael Niotta PhD. These excerpts relate to the escape to California of New York gangsters - a young Jack Dragna and his cousin Ben Rizzotto - implicated in the 1914 murder of wealthy Manhattan poultryman Barnett Baff (PREVIEW). This is Dr. Niotta's first article in Informer. A brief biography of Baff is provided as a sidebar.

Dragna and Rizzotto also make appearances in Justin Cascio's study of the legendary “San Pedro Gang” and Corleone Mafia transplant Sam Streva (PREVIEW).

The San Francisco gangland murder of Nick DeJohn, found stuffed into the trunk of his car in 1947, and that killing's possible relationship with Chicago's so-called “Cheese War” are considered by Thomas Hunt (PREVIEW). The article is accompanied by a sidebar story on early Chicago shootings linked with the DeJohn family and by a collection of other car-involved murders of crime figures who settled in California.

Michael O'Haire reveals that San Francisco crime boss Francesco Lanza played important roles in the development of the Mafia in Colorado (PREVIEW). Lennert van 't Riet explores connections between the early San Francisco and New Orleans Mafia organizations, focusing on 1898 murder victim Francesco DiFranchi (PREVIEW).

In addition to the California-related material, we look into reports of another, “other Gentile family” (PREVIEW) and Jeffery King describes the career of Reinhold Engel, who led “one of the cleverest and most efficient” bank robbery gangs (PREVIEW).

In our “Just One More Thing” column, Thomas Hunt considers the rare appearance of law enforcement officers on United States postage stamps (PREVIEW). This issue also includes “Hundred Years Ago” notes on a crime boss desperate to leave the country and the murder of a St. Louis political boss, as well as a new book announcement for Rogues' Gallery about the Gilded Age revolution of policing in New York City. 

This issue is available in five formats: Print magazine, electronic PDF magazine, paperback book, EPUB-compatible e-book and Kindle-compatible e-book. Kindle e-books can be "preordered" immediately, but Kindle downloads will not be available until Sept. 29. The e-books and the electronic magazine are priced at $9.49 (USD). The print paperback retails for $14.95 (USD). The color-printed magazine retails for $25.50 (USD).

01 September 2021

NYC revolutions in policing and in crime

Press release:

Chilling and thought-provoking, John Oller's Rogues' Gallery (available September 21, 2021, in hardcover and ebook formats) is an epic saga of two revolutions playing out on the streets of New York City during the Gilded Age, each one dependent on the other.

For centuries, New York had been a haven of crime. A thief or murderer not caught in the act nearly always got away. But in the early 1870s, an Irish cop by the name of Thomas Byrnes developed new ways to catch criminals. Mug shots and daily line-ups helped witnesses point out culprits; the fames rogues' gallery allowed police to track repeat offenders; and the third-degree interrogation method induced recalcitrant cooks to confess. Byrnes worked cases methodically, interviewing witnesses, analyzing crime scenes, and developing theories that helped close the books on previously unsolvable crimes.

Yet as policing became ever more specialized and efficient, criminals found new ways to ply their trade. Robberies became bolder and more elaborate, murders grew more ruthless and macabre, and the street gangs of old transformed into hierarchical criminal enterprises, giving birth to organized crime, including the Mafia. As the decades unfolded, corrupt cops and clever criminals at times blurred together, giving way to waves of police reform at the hands of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt.

Rogues Gallery encompasses unforgettable characters such as:

  • Marm Mendelbaum, a matronly German-immigrant woman who paid off cops and politicians to protect her empire of fencing stolen goods.
  • "Clubber" Williams, a sadistic policeman who wielded a twenty-six-inch club against suspects, whether they were guilty or not.
  • Danny Driscoll, the murderous leader of the Irish Whyos Gang and perhaps the first crime boss of New York.
  • Big Tim Sullivan, the corrupt Tammany Hall politician who shielded the Whyos from the law.
  • The suave Italian Paul Kelly and the thuggish Jewish gang leader Monk Eastman, whose rival crews engaged in brawls and gunfights all over the Lower East Side.
  • Joe Petrosino, a Sicilian-born detective who brilliantly pursued early Mafioso and Black Hand extortionists until a fateful trup back to his native Italy.

With impeccable research that leaves no stone unturned, Oller dispels the many myths that have survived with these stories, while proving that truth is often stranger than fiction. Rogues Gallery is a colorful and captivating history in the bustling streets of Old New York, from the beginnings of big-city police work to the rise of the Mafia. With its extremes of plutocratic wealth, tenement property, and rising social unrest, the story of crime and punishment in New York's Gilded Age echoes for our own time.

John Oller is a retired Wall Street attorney, and author of critically acclaimed biographies of figures such as Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, Hollywood actress Jean Arthur, and Civil War socialite Kate Chase Sprague. He lives on New York's Upper West Side.

The principle text, maps and images of Rogue's Gallery consume about 400 pages. An additional 80-plus pages is used for endnotes and bibliography. The index runs 19 more pages. The book is being released through the Dutton imprint of Penguin Random House. As of this writing, preorder price on Amazon.com is $27.99 for hardcover and $16.99 for Kindle-compatible ebook.