Chapter 3 -The Wrong Man – Who Ordered the Murder of Gambler Herman Rosenthal and Why



In 1911, Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo appointed Becker to head an elite group of police strongmen which Waldo proudly called “The Special Squad,” but christened in the press as “The Strong Arm Squad.”

  In a New York Times article dated Aug. 13, 1911, the headline read:




“Lieut. Charles Becker was picked to be in command of the Strong Arm Squad. He looks the part, standing over six feet in his socks, tipping the scale over 200 pounds, broad-shouldered, with eyes, jaw, and fists of a fighter.”


The Strong Arm Squad was right up Becker’s alley, because it gave him and his boys carte blanche to crack heads whenever they deemed it necessary, and that was often. The Strong Arm Squad was comprised of, according to the Times, “twenty huskies whose sole duty is to travel around the city and hand out generous doses of strong-arm medicine to any and all who showed unmistakable signs of being in need of it.”

The Strong Arm Squad wore no police uniforms, nor did they dress like police detectives. The Strong Arm Squad wore the attire of the times associated with ruffians, longshoremen, and the rabble in the streets who were committing mayhem on the general public. In other words, the Strong Arm Squad dressed to blend in with the crowd they were looking to beat up, then arrest; in either order, as they saw fit. These 20 men were plucked from various precincts because “they had earned the reputation for their fighting capacity, for their judgment in making arrests, and for their ability to back up their arrests.”

In fact, the last two criteria had nothing to do with the selection of the Strong Arm Squad. The first criteria was all that was required to be given the opportunity to legally crack heads.

According to the Times article,


“The Strong Arm Squad consisted of such thugs as Alex Whitman, the ‘strong man’ of the Police Department, and his brother Nathan Whitman, who has been dubbed the ‘Yiddish Irishman.’ Then there was Conlon, the ‘strong arm dude.’  ‘Old Sleuth’ Faubel, Joe McLaughlin, known as ‘Eat ‘Em Up Alive,’ and finally ‘Boots Trojan,’ who knows all the gangs and whom Becker described as ‘good as four ordinary men to go into a muss with.’”


Becker’s squad of thugs knew what Waldo wanted and they provided it in spades. Waldo was interested in arrests all right, but that was secondary to beating the crap out of whomever Becker deemed worthy of such actions. Waldo’s thinking was: strike fear in the hearts of the underworld element and they will stop doing whatever they are doing. Of course, this tactic never works and only makes the hard men harder when they finally get released from prison.

Whenever arrests were made, the New York City’s Magistrates were regaled by the prisoner’s tales of  “cruel and abusive” treatment by Becker and his gang. However, Becker always denied these claims, and thanks to the interference of Police Commissioner Waldo, no charges were ever brought against Becker and his thugs.

With his ruthless reputation flaunted frequently in the press, Becker was in an even better position than he was before to do what he did best: shake down prostitutes and known New York City gamblers; especially in the Tenderloin. In fact, Becker was such a commanding presence in the Tenderloin – he was christened “The Czar of the Tenderloin.”

With his squad of goons behind him, Becker went on a rampage, closing down 100 gambling joints in the period of nine months. Of course, Becker took care of those who took care of him. If the proprietor of a gambling house came across with the proper amount of cash, Becker would ignore the gambling house’s existence. And if that were not possible – if Waldo came down with a direct order to close down that particular dive – Becker would tip off the gambling house owner in advance, so that when Becker finally did axe down the front door of the gambling den, all of the establishment’s best gambling paraphernalia had been secreted away, and only decrepit tables and gambling wheels would be axed, or confiscated.  Big-shot gamblers were also tipped off, so when Becker’s men made their arrests in their favored gambling houses, the arrestees were nonentities, with no bucks to back up their play with Becker.

According to Mike Dash’s fine tome Satan’s Circus, Becker was raking in so much cash that he personally banked, between Oct. 1911 and July 1912, an average of $10,000 a month. Becker had 15 bank accounts dotted throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Some were solely in his name; some in joint accounts with his wife, and others under fictitious names. Becker also had safety deposit boxes in several banks filed with cold, hard cash; sometimes as much as $2,000 in one such box.

This brings us back to Herman Rosenthal.


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