Thursday, 6 November 2014

Charles Becker : The Downfall of New York`s Crookedest Cop PT1

The New York Police Department has had deep rooted corruption fight through it`s history; the blatant links to the political side of old New York, Tammany Hall, up to the Knapp Commission in the early seventies.  But it was way back in time that political office dictated how police operated and indeed, which criminals they allowed to flourish.  The time of Tammany Hall, and especially a cop named Charles Becker, a Lieutenant in the Manhattan Borough.  His beat was known at that time as Satan`s Circus, or nowadays as Times Square.  The area had plenty to recommend it, casinos, hotels, restaurants, theatres, etc but it also had a very ugly side.  Gangs, prostitutes, street gambling, all paid their dues to the local precinct house and to the politicians in charge.  Failure to toe the line resulted in police raids and pressure, or even intimidation, in order to bring the required fees.  

    Becker was a very powerfully built man who was born in Sullivan County, New York, and moved to the city in 1888.  He had various jobs, a barman in the Bowery area, a bouncer, in which his huge build and the fact that he was very tough, make him a man to avoid trouble with.  Naturally, this line of work brought him into contact with criminals, including political ones.  Monk Eastman, a vicious gangster and killer, and Tim Sullivan, a senator who controlled all corruption in Manhattan.  It was Sullivan who helped Becker join the NYPD in 1893.  For a few years, Becker`s violent nature led to complaints about brutality and arresting people for no reason.  He accidentally shot a bystander whilst in pursuit of a burglar, then tried to show that the victim was a criminal, which backfired on him and resulted in a short suspension.  Then in 1898, he was hailed as a hero for jumping into the Hudson River to save a man, but soon the man revealed that Becker paid him to do so.  The department decided to punish him by sending him to the worst district in the whole of the city, the 16th Precinct, The Tenderloin District, or Satan`s Circus.  Becker had arrived.

    In 1907, Becker was promoted to Sergeant by the Police Commissioner.  The effect this had was to make him the bagman for his boss, the Captain.  He collected all the graft payoffs, and was on a very nice cut, amounting to thousands of dollars a year.  Then a specialist squad was formed to take on gangs running rampant throughout Manhattan, with Becker running one team.  They met fire with fire, with considerable success, so it was decided that the squad could now concentrate on the illegal street gamblers and gambling dens.  But Becker decided otherwise.  Why crackdown on them when they could pay him for the privilege of operating.  He did not compromise.  You paid up or else.  There were allegations of resistant gamblers being killed.  His influence over the Tenderloin was now immense.  Becker was raking in so much cash that he needed help to collect it.  He brought in gangsters to help out.  Jack Zelig, a killer who was now running  the gang of Monk Eastman, after he was shot to death outside a bar.  Zelig was assisted by his men, with one of them having a terrifying reputation, resulting in no complaints or late payments.  He was a back breaker by the name of Harry Horowitz, or "Gyp the Blood" and he gave many demonstrations in bars, dens or clubs of what happened if you did not fall into line.

    But the downfall of Becker began in 1912, when a man named Hertman Rosenthal refused to play ball with Becker.  Rosenthal was the proprietor of a club called The Hesper, and it was opened with the express permission of Tammany Hall and Big Tim Sullivan, but later, events with Sullivan, led to Becker flexing his muscles, and to a murder, the consequences leading Becker to the electric chair.