Charlie “The Bug” Workman was the strong silent type, who killed as many as 20 people for Louie “Lepke” Buchalter’s Murder Incorporated. But Workman’s claim to fame was being the man who shot Dutch Schultz to death.
Charles Workman was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1908, the second of six children born to Samuel and Anna Workman. Workman quit school in the 9th grade, and began roaming the streets of the Lower East Side, looking for trouble. When he was 18, Workman was arrested for the first time, for stealing a $12 bundle of cotton thread from a truck parked on Broadway. Since it was his first offense, Workman got of with simple probation. The following year Workman was arrested for shooting a man behind the ear over who-owed-who $20. By this time, Workman’s reputation on the streets was such, the man he shot refused to testify against him, and even said he couldn’t truthfully identify Workman as the shooter. Miffed, the cops pulled up his file and decided Workman had violated his parole on the cotton theft. As a result, Workman was sent to the New York State Reformatory. For the next few years, Workman was in and out of prison, for such parole violations as associating with “questionable characters” and failure to get a job.
In 1926, Workman hooked on as a freelance leg breaker, or schlammer, for Lepke’s union strike breaking activities. Workman did such a good job, Lepke put him on his permanent payroll at $125 a week, as a killer for Lepke’s Murder Incorporated. Lepke liked Workman’s cool demeanor, and after Workman performed a few exceptional “hits” for Lepke, Lepke gave him the nickname “The Bug,” because a person had to be crazy to kill with the calm detachment Workman displayed when performing his gruesome duties. Workman’s other nickname “Handsome Charlie,” was given to him by members of the opposite sex.
For the next few years Workman was in and out of trouble with the law. In 1932, he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. In 1933, he was arrested again for decking an off-duty police officer after a minor traffic dust-up. All the while, his specialty was killing whomever Lepke said needed to be killed. After a hit was done, Workman enjoyed the fringe benefit of “sweeping out the pockets” of his victims. Most of the times, Workman earned himself an extra thousand dollars or so for his efforts, and one time he even found a ten thousand dollar bonus in the pants pocket of some poor sucker he had just whacked.
In 1935, orders came down from up top that maniac gangster Dutch Schultz had to go. Lepke decided that Workman was the man for the job. On Oct. 23, 1935, Lepke sent Workman and Lepke’s second-in-charge Mendy Weiss to the Palace Chophouse in Newark, New Jersey, in a car driven by a man known as “Piggy.” While Weiss stood near the bar, Workman walked into the men’s room to make sure there would be no witnesses. Standing in the men’s room was a startled Dutch Schultz. Workman plugged Schultz once in the torso, piercing his stomach, large intestine, gall badder and liver. Workman then exited the bathroom, and he and Weiss entered the back room of the restaurant, where three of Schultz’ henchmen, Lulu Rosencrantz, Abe Landau and Abbadabba Berman, were enjoying their last supper together. Weiss and Workmen kept shooting until their guns were empty, and their prey were dead on the floor.
Weiss headed for the front door, but Workman turned and headed back to the bathroom, expecting to find a big bundle of cash in Schultz’ pockets. The first surprise for Workman was when he found not a dime in Schultz’ possession. The second surprise was when he walked outside expecting to find Weiss and Piggy in a waiting getaway car, and found nothing, except the sound of police sirens hurrying to the scene.
Workman sprinted into a swamp behind the chophouse, where he dumped his blood-stained overcoat, and started hiking in the direction of Manhattan, his shoes and pants wet, and smoke coming out of his ears, at the thought of being left for dead after an important hit. Workman found a set of railroad tracks and followed them all night long. The tracks led to a tunnel that went under the Hudson River, and Workman emerged at the break of dawn in downtown Manhattan. He went to a Lower East Side coffee shop, favored by thugs like him, and was mortified when he discovered the Scultz killing was all over the newspapers, and the word on the street, was that Weiss was the lone shooter.
Workman went to a friend’s house in Chelsea for a few hours of sleep, and when he woke up, he phoned Lepke and said he wanted to kill Weiss, for ditching him after the Scultz hit. Lepke called for a sit-down a few days later at Weiss’ home at 400 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. Workman told his tale first. When it was Weiss turn to defend himself he said, “I claim hitting the Dutchman was mob business. And I stayed until hitting the Dutch was over. But then the Bug went back in the toilet to give the Dutchman a heist. I claim that was not mob business anymore. It was personal business.”
Lepke ruled in favor of Weiss and told Workman, if he were smart, he’d drop the matter completely and never mention it again, under the treat of maybe getting hit himself. Lepke sent Workman to Miami to cool off, and there Workman met Lucky Luciano, who was part of a nine-man National Crime Syndicate, along with Lepke. Workman need to borrow some cash to lay low, and when he started to mention Weiss’ actions on the night of the Schultz hit, Luciano cut him off, saying, “Here’s the money. Now stop talking about that other thing.”
In 1940, Workman was arrested in Brighton Beach on a change of “vagrancy.” Workman’s pinch was orchestrated by Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, who was on a mission to arrest, try, convict and execute every member of Murder Incorporated he could get his hands on. By this time Murder Incorporated killer Abe “Kid Twist” Reles had already turned rat, and had told Dewey that Workman had done the Schultz job. This was confirmed by Allie Tannenbaum, maybe Workman’s closest friend in the mob, who had also turned canary.
In 1941, Workman was tried for the Scultz murder. During the trail, when Workman realized he had little chance of acquittal, he changed his plea to “no defense.” Judge Daniel Brennan accepted the plea and sentenced Workman to life in prison.
As Workman was being led from the courtroom, the guards let him speak with his brother Abe. Workman told Abe, “Whatever you do, live honestly. If you make 20 cents a day, make it do for you. If you can’t make an honest living, make the government support you. Keep away from the gangs and don’t be a wise guy. Take care of Mama and Papa and watch ‘Itchy’( his younger brother). He needs watching.”
Workman was sent to Trenton State Prison. In 1942, Workman offered his services to the United States Navy to go on a suicide mission to hit Japan and avenge Pearl Harbor. His request was denied. In 1952, Workman was transferred to Rahway State Prison Farm and he worked there at hard labor until he was paroled in 1964, after almost 23 years in prison. After his release, Workman went straight, getting a job as a salesman in the Garment Center, which was once ruled by his boss Lepke.