Chapter Four – The Wrong Man – Who Ordered the Murder of Gambler Herman Rosentha and Why




In November of 1911, after Inspector Cornelius Hayes led his raid on Rosenthal’s West Forty-Fifth Street gambling house, Rosenthal was basically broke and needed a partner to reopen his gambling house. Since Becker was in the newspapers so often, and was such a big shot when it came to destroying, or allowing gambling houses to prosper, Rosenthal thought Becker would be a perfect mate to partner with.

Rosenthal said in the July 14, 1912 edition of the New York World, “The first time I met Charles Becker was at a ball given by the Order of the Elks on Forty-Third Street near Sixth Avenue, and we had a very good evening, and drank freely, and became very good friends. Our next meeting was by appointment on New Year’s Eve, 1912, at the Elks Club.

“We drank a lot of champagne that night and later in the morning we were all pretty under the weather. Becker put his arms around me and kissed me. He said, ‘Anything in the world for you Herman. I’ll get up at three o’clock in the morning to do you a favor. You can have anything I’ve got.’”

Knowing Becker’s reputation as a cad, it’s hard to believe Becker used exactly those words. But

Rosenthal was a well-known bull-thrower, so it’s safe to presume they probably met for the first time at the Elks Club and at their second meeting at the Elks Club’s New Year’s Eve celebration, they most likely came to an agreement as to how much Rosenthal needed to cough up not to have his joint raided on a regular basis (Rosenthal said he had to give 20 percent of his profits to Becker).

Rosenthal later also claimed, as one of the conditions for taking in Becker as a partner, Becker had to loan Rosenthal $1,500 for operating expenses and to spruce up the gambling hall. Rosenthal also said that to receive the $1,500, Rosenthal had to sign legal papers putting up Rosenthal’s house furniture, or chattel, as collateral, in case Rosenthal reneged on the loan.

However, Becker denied he had any financial arrangement at all with Rosenthal. On July 13, 1912, Becker told the New York Times, “I have never been connected with him in any way, either in business, or friendship. He tried hard to make it seem I was by inviting me to dinner in public places, but I always declined.”

So it’s clear, one of them was lying; or they both were lying. The latter seems most likely.

What we do know is this: Becker and Rosenthal came to some sort of agreement that either Rosenthal would pay Becker a flat sum per week to keep his joint open, or a percentage of the profits (most likely a flat sum, since Becker could not prevent Rosenthal from cooking the books). That was all well and good for Becker; he was shaking down so many gambling establishments in town, one more trophy in his case could do him no harm.

 Or could it?

The problem was that Police Commissioner Waldo was getting letters complaining about Rosenthal’s establishment being allowed to operate. The rumor was that old archenemy Bridgey Webber, whose gambling joint was just down the block from Rosenthal’s, was the author of these letters. As a result, Waldo put the pressure on Becker to raid Rosenthal’s place, and Becker told his “partner” Rosenthal that he had no choice but to follow the police commissioner’s commands.

Becker told Rosenthal something like, “What’s the big deal? I’ll give you advance notice of the raid so that you can hide all your valuable equipment. Plus, you can make yourself scarce on the night of the raid so you won’t have to spend the night in jail. Then in a few days, you’ll put your best stuff back in the joint and we’ll be back in business like before.”

Rosenthal told Becker something like, “Go spit in your hat! You’re my partner and if my joint gets axed, I’ll make your life miserable!”

It was not such a great idea for a little nobody like Rosenthal to dictate to big, bad Lieut. Becker what he could do and what he could not do. So at around 10 p.m., April 17, 1912, Becker with his Special (Strong Arm) Squad plus a battalion of policemen, raided Rosenthal’s Forty-Fifth street “sporting club.” As a favor, Becker did warn Rosenthal in advance, so little Herman hid in a hallway down the block and waited for the raid to reach its conclusion.

            Rosenthal said Becker contacted him the next day and told him not to worry; that Becker himself would fork over the money caused by his men’s action.

“Five hundred bucks should do the trick,” Becker allegedly told Rosenthal.

There is no proof this money actually changed hands, but what is known is that Rosenthal’s club remained closed for weeks, and that one of the people arrested in the raid was Rosenthal’s favorite nephew, Herbert Hull, a 17-year-old with no criminal record. When Rosenthal’s nephew was indicted a few weeks later, Rosenthal demanded and received a private summit with Becker. The two men, acting like Russian spies, held a clandestine meeting; reportedly in a New York City taxi cab. Nothing was accomplished at this meeting, and according to Rosenthal, the two men left on very bad terms.



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