Joe Bruno on the Mob – Waxey Gordon (Irving Wexler) – He Lived Like a King — But He Died Like a Crumb

Waxey Gordon was one of the richest, most powerful gangsters in New York City in the 1920’s. But after he was set up by his enemies for a fall, he was reduced to selling junk on the streets, like a common two-bit criminal.

Waxey Gorden was born Irving Wexler in 1889, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Polish/Jewish parents. Not having great fondness for the New York City school system, he took to the streets and became the best pickpocket on the Lower East Side. Wexler was so good at his trade, he took the nickname “Waxey,” because he was so “light fingered,” he could pick someone’s wallet, like his fingers and the wallet were coated with wax. Waxey Gorden sounded better than Waxey Wexler, so Waxey Gordon it was, from that point on.

Gordon did what most tough Jewish criminals did in those days. He got involved in the labor rackets, with the Dopey Fein gang, and soon he was schlamming, or breaking heads, with the best of them. He also did a little burglary and minor dope dealing to supplement his income. One of the men he cracked heads for was the legendary gambler Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, who was known to do a little investing in illegal enterprises on the side. It was the beginning of Prohibition, and Gordon hooked up with small-time hood Max “Big Maxey” Greenberg, who had big ideas, but little money. Greenberg had left his home in St. Louis for the bright lights of Manhattan, because he heard there were certain people who might bankroll his dream of owning his own bootlegging business. Greenberg needed $175,000 to get started, and through Gordon’s connection to Rothstein, Maxey and Waxey approached “The Brain” (on a Central Park bench, no less), about loaning them the cash they needed, in return for a piece of the action.

At first, Rothstein turned then down flat. But then, he had a change of heart, as well as a change of plans. Rothstein saw tremendous potential in the bootlegging business, but what Greenberg and Gordon were planning was strictly small time. Rothstein said he would loan them the money, but with some very specific conditions.

First, Rothstein would run the operation, with Greenberg and Gordon as his main men, using their street contacts as the secondary employees, who were needed for such a big operation. Secondly, instead on smuggling cheap hootch in boats from Canada, Rothstein saw more monetary potential in shipping in top-notch booze from England. Rothstein purchased six speedboats, and when the cargo ship he hired, carrying 20,000 cases of Scotch, arrived in American waters from England, it would stop several miles off the coast of Montauk, Long Island. There it would be met by the six Rothstein speedboats, each of which would carry nearly a thousand cases of booze back to shore. After the speedboats made three, or four trips from ship to shore, trucks would take the booze to a warehouse in Manhattan, where it would be stored, then distributed to thousands of speakeasies throughout the city.

This continuing operation, brought Gordon much wealth. It was estimated he earned between one and two millions dollars a year, pure profit for himself, With this dough he bought several office buildings in Manhattan, a string of speakeasies and illegal gambling houses, and eventually, after Rothstein was killed over a bad gambling debt, his own fleet of motor boats to keep the illegal flow of booze coming from across the pond. Gordon also bought a townhouse in Manhattan on Central Park West, and his own castle in New Jersey, complete with its very own moat.

Gordon soon formed bootlegging partnerships with the Italian gangs, headed by Lucky Luciano, who was himself was partnered with Jewish kingpin Meyer Lansky. By this time, Luciano was in the process of organizing Italian gangs under one umbrella, and Lansky was doing the same thing with Jewish gangs throughout the country.

The only problem was, Lansky and Gordon, both Jews, couldn’t stand each other – wouldn’t even sit at the same table together. Both accused the other of hijacking their bootlegging trucks and both were right in their assumptions. What transpired next was, what was known in the press as “The War of the Jews.” Lansky killed Gordon’s men and Gordon gleefully returned the favor. Luciano tried to step it to settle the dispute, but to no avail.

Gordon had now been declared Public Enemy Number One by the FBI, which put him right in the cross hairs of Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. In 1930, It was Luciano’s idea to feed Gordon to Dewey on an income tax rap, with Lansky’s brother Jake leaking information to Dewey’s investigators about Gordon’s financial operations. Gordon was arrested and indited by Dewey. At Gordon’s trial, Dewey was able to show that Gorden lived high on the hog, while raking in two million bucks a year, and only reporting an annual salary of $8,125. One hundred and fifty witnesses testified against Gorden, minutely explaining his illegal money-making activities. As a result, the jury took only 51 minutes to come back with a guilty verdict, which sent Gordon to the slammer on a ten-year sentence.

When Gordon was released from Leavenworth in 1940, all his properties had been seized by the government and his millions had somehow disappeared. He told reporters, “Waxey Gordon is dead. From now on it’s Irving Wexler, salesman.”

Gorden became a salesman alright, but not in the conventional manner. He moved out to California and began peddling dope in the streets. In 1951, he was arrested while delivering $6,300 of heroin to a federal narcotics informer. One of the cops who arrested Gordon was Sgt. John Cottone. Gordon started crying, as Cottone was putting the cuffs on him, “Please Johnny, don’t arrest me. Don’t take me in for junk. Let me run, then shoot me.”

In December, 1951, Gordon, now 63 years old, was convicted of narcotics trafficking, and sentenced to 25 years in Alcatraz Prison. He died broke and a broken man, of a heart attack, six months later on June 24, 1952.


6 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob – Waxey Gordon (Irving Wexler) – He Lived Like a King — But He Died Like a Crumb”

  1. john solari Says:

    you a good writer

  2. john solari Says:

    you area good writer

  3. Reblogged this on charlesfroland1970 and commented:
    There is something intriguing about the ways of a criminal !!!

  4. This is amazing writing! As a writer myself, I am very impressed!

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