Showing posts with label Hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hollywood. Show all posts

19 July 2017

Robbing Zukor's Wife



After having been reported missing about a week earlier, the bodies of Chicago hoodlums Paul “Needle Nose”  Labriola, 37, and his partner James Weinberg, 53, were found in the trunk of a gold Pontiac on March 15, 1954. The two men had been selling protection insurance to tavern owners. Police felt that they had the Syndicate backing in their venture but then something went awry. Both men had been strangled inside somewhere and then their bodies crammed in the trunk. Both corpses were frozen so the police had a bit of trouble removing them from rear of the car.


Police find Labriola and Weinberg


It shouldn’t have been a surprise that either man ended up in that trunk. Both were lifelong criminals. Labriola’s father was killed in a 19th Ward political feud back in 1921. His step father, Capone hoodlum, Lawrence (Dago Lawrence) Mangano was also bumped off, in 1944.


Needle Nose and Weinberg


So, what does this have to do with the Golden Age of Hollywood? Glad you asked. For that answer we must go back another twenty years and return to 1934 when the  great American Crime Wave was in effect and the exploits of desperadoes like John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson filled the headlines. Though the Depression years are synonymous with bank robberies and kidnappings, Hollywood elites were also targeted by hoodlums looking to make a quick buck.

Of the two men pried out of the Pontiac, we are interested in James Weinberg. Back in ’34, he was running a small café in the Windy City but was already enmeshed in the Chicago underworld. On June 9, Lottie Zukor, wife of Paramount Pictures president Adolph Zukor, arrived in Chicago by train and checked into the Blackstone Hotel. She and her maid were going to spend a week in the city before being joined by her husband and son and heading out to Hollywood. They took a four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Not wanting to use the room adjoining her bedroom as an entrance, Mrs. Zukor left the key in the inside lock so that nobody could enter from the hallway. On June 11, the maid noticed the key was missing but failed to report it.


Lottie and Adolph Zukor


The evening of June 13, found Mrs. Zukor attending a dinner party which would be followed by a trip to the World’s Fair. For the occasion Mrs. Zukor-who, as a young girl employed by a department store, worked at the World’s Fair in 1893 and would now be returning a millionaire-adorned herself with numerous articles of jewelry valued at about a million and half bucks in today’s dollars.

At around midnight, Mrs. Zukor called for her limousine. She returned to the Blackstone and, after stopping at the front desk to retrieve her key, headed up to her four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Once in her room she removed her jewelry and, too tired to return to the lobby to place her gems in the hotel safe as she did each previous evening, she simply placed them on the spare bed across from her own and went to sleep. [Most likely it was Mrs. Zukor’s maid who ran the jewels down each night, but on this occasion, the maid had the night off and Mrs. Zukor did not want to wake her.]

At about four-thirty that morning Mrs. Zukor awoke sensing something wasn’t right. She noticed the light on in the next room and called out to her maid but received no answer. She reached for her watch to check the time but couldn’t find it. Glancing to the bed across from her, she saw that her jewelry was gone.

The police dusted the room for fingerprints but found nothing. In fact no clue of any sort was uncovered. All Blackstone employees on duty were questioned but nobody admitted to seeing anything out of the ordinary. Afraid that the publicity might hurt attendance for the World’s Fair, the case was given high priority. Sergeant Thomas Alcock, a fifteen year veteran, was put in charge and was assigned a team of five detectives. Three of the men were assigned to the hotel lobby, each taking an eight hour shift with orders to pick up any suspicious characters or known hoodlums who might pass through. The other two detectives were sent to the World’s Fair to mingle with crowds and look for known jewel thieves. Alcock, in the meantime, visited the local pawn shops giving the proprietors both a description of the jewelry and a warning against trying to sell the stuff.

As the days passed, hundreds of local underworld sorts were brought in for questioning but nothing was learned. The Zukors had had the gems insured for $65,000 and, through the Chicago police, the insurance company offered a large reward for the return of the items. Descriptions of the pieces and mention of the reward were circulated throughout the nation. Still nothing happened.

Finally, on June 29, Alcock received a call from a lawyer stating that a man had contacted him regarding the reward for the jewels. It was decided to tap the lawyer’s found in hopes that the man called back. As this was happening, a U.S. Treasury Agent, working on different case, informed Alcock that he overheard a discussion regarding the Zukor jewelry during a tapped phone call with a notorious Chicago fence he was investigating. During the conversation the fence told the caller that the jewelry was too hot and that he should settle with the insurance company. After this, the lawyer received another call but when it was suggested that they meet in person the caller hung up. The caller was James Weinberg who was already under indictment in the case that the Treasury agent was working on.

Detectives began to shadow Weinberg and a tap was placed on his phone. On July 16, two squad cars pulled up in front of Weinberg’s apartment and Alcock lead the raiding party inside. Within a few minutes they retrieved the jewelry. Weinberg, his wife and another couple were arrested.  Though his wife actually had a record in St. Louis and Kansas City for hotel burglary, in the end Weinberg was the only one that would go to prison for the theft. He said that two young women left the jewelry in his café and he held it for a few days to see if they would return for it. When they didn’t he tried to claim the reward from the insurance company. No one believed him and he was shipped off to prison. If Weinberg told the truth about how the jewelry was stolen, it never made it to the press.


Detective Alcock, left, inspects Mrs. Zukor's jewelry


Weinberg was released in 1940 and headed back to the Chicago underworld. As was mentioned his career culminated with his being garroted and shoved in a car trunk like a spare tire. Lottie Zukor fared much better. After Weinberg’s trial, she got her jewelry back and continued with her life as the wife of a Hollywood mogul; traveling with her husband both in America and abroad. As a member of over thirty philanthropic organizations, she dedicated a lot of her time to charity work. She died on April 7, 1956 at the age of eighty leaving behind her husband, two kids, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

08 February 2017

Coming soon...ish!

The Joe Petrosino story is coming to the big screen. To have your book sold to Hollywood before it is even released must be a very cool thing.

18 January 2017

Hollywood Homicide


Was back on this date in 1933 that Tinsel Town lost one of their, if not thee, top bootlegger. Booze baron Harry Meagher, said to have a number of Hollywood stars as both friends and customers,was pulling up to his home when neighbors heard a series of pops and then a crash.

See, what happened was somebody gave Harry the works while Harry was pulling up to his abode, then this somebody, who was in the passenger seat at the time, turned his gun and killed James North who was in the back seat. Or did he give North the works first and then kill Meagher? Either way the result was the same. The car jumped the curbed and crashed into a light post. The killer got away while Meagher and North stayed put.

Why did Harry get dead? Three reasons were offered so you can pick one:
1) Gangsters from Chicago (or other eastern parts) were muscling in on the lucrative L.A. scene and it was just to bad for the local boys.
2) Harry himself was expanding into Arizona and Utah and them local fellas there weren't to keen on the idea.
3) It was an attempted robbery gone wrong.

PS
That third guy in the headline? He was an ex-boxer named Mickey Arno. He was killed about the same time and his body was found under a bridge near Long Beach. Police thought he may have been an associate of Meagher, then, after awhile, they thought that maybe he wasn't an associate of Meagher's.  Could of just been one of the coincidences.

05 January 2017

Hooray for Hollywood!



On this date in 1933 movie star Betty Compson was playing cards with producer E.D. Leshin in her Los Angeles home. The doorbell rang, and when Compson answered it, a gunman forced his way in. The actress and producer were forced upstairs into Betty’s bedroom where both were bound with piano wire and had tape placed over their mouths. 
The bandit helped himself to over $40,000 worth of jewelry and escaped. Fifteen minutes later Compson wriggled free and untied Leshin. The police were called and she filed a report. The following day, detectives came to question her further, but she told them that she had changed her mind and didn’t want the police to pursue the case. Detectives stated that she received a phone call from the robber threatening her during their visit. She denied it, stating only that she feared for her safety.  In the end, the bandit reached out to her lawyer and the jewelry was returned to the actress.  Although she denied it, the police felt that the robber had ransomed back the jewelry.
Being a star during Hollywood’s golden-years wasn’t always sunshine and champagne.

01 December 2016

He Done Her Wrong

When one thinks of the Golden Age of Hollywood, one doesn’t normally think about crime but Hollywood’s top stars lived with a constant fear that they could become the victims of armed robbers, extortionist or kidnappers. One of the most preyed upon movie stars was Mae West. She was the victim of both extortionists and armed bandits. Regarding the latter, in 1932 Mae was set up by a man named Harry Voiler, whom she considered to be a friend. Voiler was the manager of famed speakeasy hostess Tex Guinan and had ties to Chicago’s underworld. He moved to Hollywood in 1932 along with Guinan in search of Hollywood riches.
A bad guy at heart, Voiler just couldn’t help himself when it came to easy dough. Because Mae’s limousine was in the garage Voiler took to chauffeuring the actress around. On one occasion Mae opened her purse and pulled out a wad of $3,400. This plus the thousands in jewelry that Mae was always draped in was too much for Voiler to ignore. Knowing that he would be driving her around that night he got in touch with a couple of Los Angeles hoodlums and set up a robbery.  That evening, September 28, Voiler picked up Mae at the Paramount Studios and drove her and her manager back to Mae’s house. As Mae’s manager ran up to her apartment to feed her pet monkey, a man stepped up to the car and jerked open Mae’s door. With a gun hidden under a handkerchief, he demanded Mae’s purse and her jewelry.  Once he got what he was after he he told Voiler to take off.
Mae wanted to go to the police but Voiler said that she should wait to see if the robbers try to ransom back her jewelry, he even volunteered to act as her go between,  so the star agreed to wait. In the following weeks Voiler said that the bandits were willing to negotiate and that he would have to fly to Arizona to meet with them, so Mae sent him. Once there he called Mae and said that they had all her jewelry and were demanding $3,200 for it and were not willing to negotiate. Mae refused. With his plan backfired, Voiler was forced to sell the stuff elsewhere.
After the incident with Voiler Mae went to the police and, although it took over a year, Voiler was finally uncovered as the master mind behind the crime. Unfortunately for Mae, by that time, he was back in Chicago and the police were unable to extradite him.
                        Mae West shows the underworld that they won't be able to mess with her.

12 November 2016

Seventy-five years ago: Abe Reles

On this date in 1941, informant Abe "Kid Twist" Reles fell to his death at the Half Moon Hotel, Coney Island. 

Reles
The thirty-five-year-old Reles, who had been cooperating with authorities in Murder, Inc., prosecutions since early in 1940, was expected to testify shortly against big shot Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Earlier court appearances had been in murder cases against Harry "Happy" Maione, Frank "the Dasher" Abbandando, Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein and Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss. Reles also aided California authorities in obtaining indictments against Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Frank "Pug" Carbo for the November 1939 Hollywood murder of Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg.

While Buchalter was on trial (along with Louis Capone and Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss for the September 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen), Reles was housed on the sixth floor of the Half Moon along with government witnesses Sholom Bernstein, Max Rubin and Al Tannenbaum.

According to the official story, Reles decided at about 7 a.m. to try to escape from government custody rather than testify. Authorities said he exited his sixth-floor window and used a rope of tied-together bedsheets to lower himself to the window below. The rope was fastened to a radiator pipe using a length of electrical cord. It reportedly was not fastened very well, and detectives said it detached as Reles attempted to open the screen and window on the fifth floor.

Reles's body was later discovered on an extension roof about 42 feet below his last estimated location. Noting that the body came to rest a good distance from the hotel wall, some investigators and journalists quickly decided that Reles had been thrown out of his hotel room window. Reles became known as the underworld canary who could "sing" but could not fly.

New York Post, Nov. 12, 1941.

New York Times, Nov. 13, 1941.

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 1941.