Ellie S. Thomas
© Copyright 2011 by Ellie S. Thomas
When Arthur Flegenheimer was born there was no earthquake, no darkening of the sky; it was merely recorded that a Bronx saloonkeeper and his wife had become parents of a blue-eyed boy on the sixth of August., Maybe there should have been some foreshadowing of evil because in the next two decades their boy would join forces with the underworld to rock the nation.
His early days were unremarkable enough. They said his mother, a good and pious woman, had to take in laundry when her husband deserted them and some felt those sad events during his formative years turned the boy bad. He formed unfortunate associations and at fourteen, was picked up for petty holdups and thievery. When he was nineteen, he was arrested for burglary and convicted and this time he went to jail.
Times were unsettled, and the Volstead Act, (which many hoped would keep servicemen away from alcohol,) had created an economy that many felt contributed to the Great Depression because it caused the Government to lose tax revenues on legal alcohol. It also created an instant market between people determined to drink and others equally determined to supply them. When Arthur got out of 'stir' he was happy to help satisfy the demand.
It didn't take him long to get himself organized. He began bootlegging, ( a name born when people hid bottles in the legs of their boots,) and he kept the Bronx and Manhattan supplied with booze. Soon he controlled the policy game in Harlem, the slot machines throughout New York City, and the restaurant rackets fell under his control next. His name was made, but not as Arthur; he became the notorious 'Dutch Schultz', a name stolen from a feared thug of earlier years. It was estimated that he made $481,000 from 1923 to 1931 in bootlegged beer alone.
It was easy because around the country, people saw Prohibition as a nuisance, an infrigement on their personal freedom. Having a drink, or getting drunk, were parts of the individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Such people blamed the government for causing hard times and they began making moonshine, hard cider and wines until the government set a limit of two hundred gallons per year on wine products for home use. Farmers turned to growing hops and corn, both used in the manufacture of 'booze' although hops showed the greater profit. Northern New York State was particularly adapted to hop growing with its light sandy soil and certainly there was an abundance of workers available. And if local people didn't want to work in the hopyards, the owners could, and would, bring in crews of Native Americans from the nearby reservations to help with the harvest.
In 1919 hops brought $486 an acre as opposed to $21 an acre for corn. Picking hops was a dirty, difficult job; the fields were dirty, dusty, uncomfortable places in the blazing sun, the bugs bit fiercely, and the sulphurs with which the vines had been sprayed caused skin problems. Still, hopfields proliferated over the north while in private homes small kegs of home brew bubbled away.
Smuggling continued on a large scale despite the efforts of lawmen to curtail the activity and with a three thousand mile border on the north, officials were hard put to make a dent in the flow of illegal spirits. In the winter many waterways along the borders froze and that made it easy for the bootleggers to cross with sleds, cars, or iceboats. The boats were almost silent and could outrun the skidding cars of police which were few enough before 1925. Any state that shared a border with Canada was a target for smugglers but New York State was particularly vulnerable because of its direct routes to some of Canada's major cities and their proximity, also.
Montreal to New York was know as the 'Rum Trail' and it mostly followed U.S. Highway 9 from Rouses Point to Albany, N.Y. And Saranac Lake with its monied people, brought north by the tuberculosis baccili, was a hotbed of smugglers and friends of smugglers. There were known garages where gangsters could make a fast getaway, leave their cars for a fast paint job, have the plates switched, or pick up a decoy, (someone to go ahead and see if the coast was clear.) There were border crossings handy at Rouses Point, Chazy, and Champlain and at many, the guards were conveniently near-sighted.
People showed a lot of sympathy for the smugglers despite vicious murders like the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago and the kidnapping and torture of a farmer in the Catskills because he refused to tell the location of his still, and 'Legs' Diamond bragging that upstate New York was 'his territory.'
Few realized the danger of being caught on the roads as rival gangs fought for control of upstate highways that served as corridors for the transport of illegal liquor. Trucks loaded with spirits were stopped, drivers pulled out and savagely beaten or killed and it wasn't safe to witness these scenes. Decent people made it a point not to be abroad after dark when they might meet a careering, over-laden truck coming down a narrow road with its lights off.
Officials checking borders often recognized the sounds of on-coming vehicles but turned over and went back to sleep, reckoning they weren't paid enough to risk their lives asking questions. When householders saw officers dumping smuggled beer and liquor, they brazenly ran outside with pots and pans to catch what they could. Sometimes it was hard to tell friend from foe.
During the first year of Prohibition, $10,000,000 worth of liquor, 800 automobiles and 3000 stills were seized in New England and New York alone and 10,000 persons were arrested.They seized a freight car near Malone, N.Y. containing a load of alcohol worth $7,500 American. It would have been taken over the border and made into cheap liquor. Sometimes poisonous industrial alcohol was substituted, causing death, or blindness.
There were 50 known trails in the Lake Champlain district, most without customs stations, and by the mid-20s, the smugglers had learned not to go in either direction empty-handed. They began carrying silks or raw alcohol into Canada and returning with liquor. They could buy beer in Canada for $4.00-5.50 a case and sell it for $25 in the US, while there was an $8.00 profit on a bottle of rye and $12.00 on Scotch. it was said that 'anybody who had the $14.00 and his train fare to Montreal' could go across the river and buy a case of whiskey. Temptation was great when a lazy man could easily make $600,000 a week profit just by doing a little smuggling.
Federal forces were handicapped by the lack of manpower and equipment. There were no uniforms, little support, and vey low pay. At the beginning of Prohibition, the State Police paid their men $900.00 a year and maintainance. The Border Patrol ws a bit more lavish paying their men $1680.00 a year but they had to provide their own uniforms.
In 1923 Troop B of the State Police in Malone patrolled the entire northern New York State border with sixteen men. Called the 'Black Horse Troop, they were a crack group 21-40 years old, all six feet tall or better, and they worked out of the Smith House in Malone. They were mounted on handsome black Morgans and they worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week under the command of Captain C.J. Broadfield. The horses were sleek and their trappings gleamed and the men looked 'nine feet tall.'
Officers wore tall, Stetson-type hats and Sam Brown belts crossed over their chests. During the winter they had fur lined helmet-like hats with ear pieces that could be tied over the top or worn to protect the ears. In the cold weather, summer tunics were exchanged for sheepskin-lined coats.
The seventy eight man orgaization patrolled the borders in pairs, reporting in to the small hamlets to pick up their orders at postoffices. They carried Winchester 30-30 carbines, a big wooden nightstick, and a .45 caliber Colt. They were always on duty, probably one reason why they were not encouraged to marry. They wouldn't get motorized vehicles until 1935 and then only Model Ts costing $275 each.
Bootleggers had all the advantage with souped-up sixteen cylinder Packards, Marmons, or Chandlers.. These cars had powerful motors and many were capable of laying down smoke screens, had air compressors that could raise dust storms in the dirt roads, or had tin cans of roofing nails and broken glass to scatter on the road.
In 1922 there were 7000 indictments in the courts of northern New York State. Court was held several times a year, usually downstate; rarely was it held in Malone. It had been held once in Plattsburgh but the difficulty of impanelling a jury anywhere along the border usually caused it to be seated elsewhere.
This, then, was young Arthur's world where he had proclaimed himself king and which caused President Calvin Coolidge, vacationing at Paul Smiths', to conclude weakly, "Prohibition was here to stay," 'whatever its merits.'
Arthur, now Dutch Schultz, was a persoally brutal, "mad dog killer" but also a brilliant man. He was in fierce competition with other hoodlums who specialized in the rackets and when Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll tried to muscle in on his business, Schultz put out a $50,000 contract on the man's head. In 1928 Schultz' partner, Joey Noe was found murdered and Wineberg, the head of Dutch's disciplinary forces was ordered killed. When US Attorney Thomas E. Dewey concentrated on the hiding Dutch Schultz, Weinberg tried to move in and take over some of the business for himself. Schultz wouldn't stand for such insubordination and later it came to light that Weinberg had been treated to a pair of 'concrete shoes' and dumped into the Harlem River.
Over the next few years, Dutch lost money to 'Legs' Diamond who controlled several upstate highways.. Diamond often visited his brother who was a patient at the Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranc Lake and we are told that Dr. Trudeau was visited by the gangster.
"I hear the kids going under the knife," he heard the man say.
"Yes he is, but I don't see any problems," the doctor answered.
"Well, he'd better make it," the man snarled before he vanished.
Diamond would take his girlfriend downtown to shop and they were watched by some very jittery policemen until they left town. Legs disappeared soon after he'd shot Simon Walker. a parolee from Sing Sing and badly wounded Red Cassidy. When he appeared again, Dutch had taken over his territory. They fought it out and Diamond was shot three times and killed in a roominghouse in Albany, N.Y.
Schultz now had an army of 500 gunsels protecting his lucrative police and restaurant rackets in Manhattan but there was one thing he'd failed to take into consideration. On July 18th, 1931, the New York City police arrested him for income tax evasion. His lawyers secured a change of venue for Schultz, who'd already been tried once in Syracuse so he arrived In Malone July 17th for a second trial.
The thirty-one year old gangster was dressed quietly and he and his henchmen took over the fourth floor of the Flanagan Hotel. He went to local ball games and went horseback riding; why, he was 'just one of the boys!" Few realized that back in New York City the police had been offered a bribe of over $18,000 to let him go and the expectant wife of US Attorey Thomas E. Dewey received a brutal phone call to 'go down to the morgue and identify your husband!'
On the 23rd the trial began. It was covered by representatives from the AP, UP, INS, New York Herald Tribune, and The New York Daily New and Schultz' henchmen covered the streets glad-handing the locals and treating in bars. It was said that no one could pay for a drink all that week in Malone.
When the trial opened, Schultz squirmed on his hard wooden seat, dapper in a muted pin-strip, a six-button vest, and a tie with bright pinwheels. He perspired like everyone else in a week of prolonged heat but after twenty-eight hours and twenty minutes, the jury returned with their verdict of 'not guilty.' Rumors said that several farms were paid off that day.
The court was outraged. Federal Judge Frederick H. Bryant told the jury "your verdict shakes the confidence of law abiding people in the reliability of juries. You've rendered a blow to law enforcement." US Attorney-General Homer Cummings called the verdict a 'terrible miscarriage of justice."
The victorious criminals weren't bothered and they threw a party at the Elks Club with an open bar. When the verdict reached New York City, Mayor LaGuardia said, "He won't be a resident of New York City. There's no place for him here." Schultz fired back his reply, "I'll be home tonight." And he was.
Many have debated what happened in Malone that day. It was understandable that the Judge and DA were outraged because a loophole or technicality allowed this criminal to go free but Schutz wasn't beig tried for murder, for the rackets he was in, or even for smuggling. He was being tried for the wilful evasion of income tax. Harold Main, former country district attorney summed up the problem, saying that Schultz had been misinformed by his lawyer who told him that his beer buisness was illegal, but he wasn't being tried for selling beer!
Perhaps the hardest thing to swallow was the blatant public rejoicing in the verdict, the blaring of horns, the cheers, and cat-calls. Gullible people said 'ole Dutch had given to their hospital, entertained lavishly, why., he was a nice guy!'
So Schultz went free but justice would not be denied. Thomas E. Dewey began crowding the syndicate hard and their members were picked up repeatedly, harassed, and convicted. They held a top level meeting and Schultz wanted to kill Dewey but Louis Lepke Buchalter, head of the mob, knew it would simply call every law officer in the country. Buchalter was an important figure in the underworld and no one argued with him. When Dutch argued, then turned his back on him and walked out, he was a dead man. No one turned his back on the dons, so Schultz became a hunted man.
After the trial, Schultz gave to charities and hired an advertising agency to promote his new image but it was too late. Less than three months later, he was dead, shot down in a New Jersey tavern called the Palace Chop House. He was shot just two days before he'd planned to kill US Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, gunned down by Charlie 'the Bug' Workman who went on trial for the murder and received a life sentence. Workman was parolled after serving twenty-two years.
After the shooting, Schultz was rushed to the Newark City Hospital where he drifted in and out of a coma. His mother, sister, and wife were standing by his bedside when he died at 8:40 p.m. Oct. 23rd, he was just 33 years old. The king was dead and Prohibition was on its way out. The experiment that President Herbert Hover called 'noble in motive' was a failure. In 1933 Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment.
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