Sunday, 19 October 2014

Stephanie St. Clair - "Queen of Harlem"

There has not been many true "Queens of The Underworld" but this lady was certainly one.  She withstood threats & intimidation from Dutch Schultz, even avoiding a hit team he sent to eliminate her.  She also battled against corrupt cops who were used by their Italian paymasters to put rivals out of business.  One way or another.  In the end, Stephanie St. Clair died an old and very rich woman.  How many Italian mobsters could boast that?  Stephanie also had another angle that has never been widely acknowledged.  Not only was she a woman, but she was black!  She arrived in this world in 1886, though it is disputed where she was actually born.  Some say Martinique in the East Caribbean, others say an island off Mexico.  What is not in dispute was that she entered the USA from that great city of European crime, Marseilles.

    Stephanie arrived in the States in 1912, settling in Harlem, where ten years later, she invested $10,000 she had into a numbers racket, or Policy, as it became known as.  By the following year, 1923, she was one of the biggest policy operators.  She had previously been associated with an Irish gang known as the Forty Thieves, but decided to branch out on her own.  What made it safer for her was a man she brought in as enforcer, bodyguard and trusted number two, was the formidable Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson. He was later the mentor to Frank Lucas and was portrayed by Moses Gunn in the Shaft films.  The only problems Stephanie encountered throughout the twenties, was not from the Italians - they had the upper hand on Prohibition - but from cops.  She did pay out regular bribes, but some of the Mob, in particular Dutch Schultz, resented the fact that a woman and that she was black, was making a great deal of money.  Some names applied to her obviously did not go down well.  "Madame Queen of Harlem" was one, another was "The Tiger From Marseilles".  She was arrested by cops on a trumped up charge, and went to prison for eight months.  She had made many complaints to authorities about police harassment, but was ignored.  She responded by putting articles in local newspapers about payoffs she was forced to make to senior cops.  She later gave evidence to a commission investigating corruption.

    Prohibition ended in 1933, which saw a substantial drop in turnover for the Mob, so Schultz decided that the numbers racket in Harlem was now his.  Schultz his men dishing out violence and intimidation to those who refused to pay to him, and of course, a good few murders to make his point.  Stephanie and Johnson withstood violence and intimidation from corrupt cops sent out by Schultz.  He sent an assassination team to kill her but she managed to avoid them by hiding under a huge pile of coal.  Bumpy Johnson approached Lucky Luciano, and a deal was struck.  He took over Schultz`s policy rackets and cut Bumpy in.  If the Mob had any problems in Harlem, the Mob had to go to Bumpy.  Then Luciano had Schultz taken care of.  Whilst he lay dying in hospital, Stephanie sent him a message "As ye sow, so shall ye reap".  Now Bumpy was gaining huge power and influence so Stephanie started slowly moving away from the numbers game, and she died in Harlem in 1969, a very rich woman.