Authors: Paul R. Kavieff
Tags: #True Crime, #Organized Crime
crime in detroit
2000 by Paul R. Kavieff All Rights Reserved.
No part of
this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical,
electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior
written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes
to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for
inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.
Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gang : organized crime in Detroit, 1910-1945/Paul R. Kavieff p. cm.
Gangs--Michigan--Detroit--History?-20m century. 2. Organized
crime--Michigan--Detroit--History--20th century. 3. Purple Gang
(Organized Crime Group : Detroit, Mich.) I. Purple Gang (Organized
Crime Group : Detroit, Mich.) II. Title
D475 2000 364.1'06'6077434--dc21
in the United States of America.
1 Origins of the Purple Gang
2 The Birth of the Oakland Sugar House Gang
3 The Murder of Johnny Reid
4 The Milaflores Apartment Massacre
5 The Murder of Vivian Welch
6 The Cleaners and Dyers War
7 The St. Valentine's Day Massacre
8 Bloody July 1930
9 Collingwood Manor Massacre—The Era of Decline 1931
10 The Self-Destruction 1932-1935
11 The Brothers Fleisher
12 Harry Millman: Last of the Purple Gang Cowboys
13 The Murder of Warren Hooper
14 The Prison Years
would like to dedicate this book to my wife, Deborah A. Carson.
book would not have become a reality without the help and support of
many people. I would like to thank Pat Zacharias and her staff at the
Detroit News Reference Library for their valuable help over a period
of years; Thomas Featherstone of the Reuther Library, Wayne State
University; Dave Poremba of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit
Public Library; Sharon Brown of the Michigan State Police, Central
Records Division; John Currie and Mary Zumeth of the Michigan State
Archives; the late Max Silk, who spent many hours with me sharing his
memories about the Prohibition era; Penelope A. Morris, owner of the
P. A. Morris Co., for her help in editing and creating a hard copy of
the work; Stephen Rosman; Heidi Christein; Pat Henahan; Richard J.
Smith and his family; my colleagues and friends in the Engineering
Unit at Wayne State University; Dave Rosen; Harry "Harry the
Hat" Stone, a former Purple; Richard Bak; Patterson Smith; Mike
Webb; Bill Helmer; and Loren D. Estleman. A special thanks to my
editor, Allan J. Wilson, for his valuable advice, and to the
publishers, Carole and Lyle Stuart, for making the Purple Gang story
Purple Gang was one of the most ruthless organized crime groups in
U.S. History. From the chaotic streets of Detroit's lower east side,
this group of predominately Jewish gangsters would muscle their way
into the underworld by 1927, where they would remain through a five
year reign of terror. It left an estimated five hundred unsolved
murders in its wake.
fear embraced the citizens of early 20th century Detroit. Nobody
would testify against anyone suspected of being a Purple. Jurors in
Purple Gang cases were bribed or threatened with death. Courts could
not get a conviction of significance on a Purple until the early
success of the Purples had more to do with their high profile methods
and their strong arm tactics than with cunning. The gang flourished
during Prohibition before the advent of scientific detection
techniques like DNA testing. Bribery of Federal and local officials
controlled the law, but in the end it was neither science nor the law
that brought the gang down. It was their own greed and jealousy.
for the first time is the story of the rise and fall of one of
America's most notorious organized crime
The Purple Gang was an eerie, spectacular part of an American era in
which a post-World War I nation groped for its place in the modern
of the Purple Gang
boys are not like other boys of their age, they're tainted, off
replied the other shopkeeper. "The whole bunch of them are
Purple, they're a Purple Gang."
Street Shopkeepers circa 1918
all began in 1902 when
shoemaker named Harry Bernstein arrived in Detroit with his wife and
children. The family established a small shoe repair shop located at
401 Gratiot Avenue on the city's Lower East Side, not far from
Detroit's Jewish ghetto district. Making a living was a challenging
task for immigrants in those years. Bernstein, a Polish Jew, moved
with his family from Russia to the tenement section of Manhattan's
Lower East Side. The first years in America were the most difficult,
one had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture.
eldest son Abe was the second of seven children. Young Abe spent his
childhood years growing up fast on the streets of New York City.
scratching out a living in New York, Harry finally saved enough money
to open a small shop of his own. The competition in New York City was
tough. The country-like atmosphere of turn of the century Detroit was
more welcoming, and so became the site of Bernstein's first shop.
the Bernstein family moved to Detroit the city was on the verge of an
enormous population and industrial explosion which brought on
disease, overcrowded housing, poverty and an increase in crime.
elder Bernstein and his wife spent long hours in their small shop
struggling to support their growing family. During their first years
in Detroit they lived in a small apartment above their shop. A second
son, Joseph, came after Abe, followed by Jennie, Raymond, Ida and
Bernstein's eldest son Abe was a bright child with obvious potential,
he showed little interest in school. He was a streetwise 9-year-old
by the time the family moved to Detroit. He dropped out to hawk
newspapers in the Detroit business district, and then worked for Ford
Motor Company to help support the family.
the time Abe married he'd started working in the thriving Detroit
area gambling houses. Gambling, technically illegal, had developed
into a racket nourished by payoffs to politicians and police
became a skilled card dealer and stickman. He also met the most
important politicians, police officials, and underworld figures of
younger brothers Joe, Raymond, and Isadore
fended for themselves on the streets. Theirs was a Jewish ghetto that
stretched from Jefferson Avenue to East Grand Boulevard. Its outer
boundaries extended a little more than two blocks east and west of
future Purple gangsters came from this neighborhood. Their parents
were for the most part working class, non-Orthodox Jews. Hastings
Street, known as "Paradise Valley," was bustling with
activity during the teens and early twenties. It was a heavily
industrial area where children played on soot-covered streets.
peddled their wares from pushcarts and replenished them at the nearby
Eastern Market. Saloons and disorderly houses catered to the needs of
factory workers at all hours of the day or night as shifts let out at
the manufacturing plants.
children of these immigrants saw their parents work long hours, yet
earn only enough to provide bare necessities. They also saw men who
seemed to live the good life without working.
other men drove luxury sedans, wore the best clothes and carried
thick wads in their pockets. Most of
spent lounging around pool halls, gambling joints and neighborhood
saloons. They were accorded a disproportionate amount of courtesy by
local policeman, who ignored cars parked in front of fire hydrants or
even on the sidewalk. They were gangsters.
gambled on everything from crap games to race horses. They even made
large wagers on the sandlot baseball and football games between
Bernstein was destined to become one of these men. Known as "Little
Joey" because of his
physical stature, he developed a reputation as a
Yiddish term meaning tough guy. His younger brothers Ray and Izzy
could hold their own in any brawl but Joey was the roughest of them
all. By adolescence the Bernstein Brothers were beyond their parent's
control. They were sent to the Bishop ungraded school. The Old Bishop
School was divided into two sections: regular students and problem
children, for whom the ungraded section was a trade school. It was
there that the Bernstein Brothers met other tough kids from the