Rothstein_ The Life, Times, And Murder Of The Criminal Genius

David Pietrusza

Part 10

Report Chapter

The clerk made a mistake. The telegram had, in fact, been sent from New York. But Burns, Maharg, and Gandil didn't know that, and suspicion became panic.

Some say the telegram had not been sent by A. R.-that it was a hoax, sent on Attell's orders by David Zelser to fool Burns, Maharg, and the players into thinking they would be paid. This scenario is more likely: A. R. actually did send the telegram himself-or he may not have. It really didn't matter. After all A. R. was too busy and too important to bother sending telegrams. The Big Bankroll could order any number of flunkies to run to a telegraph office for him. More importantly, why a.s.sume the telegram referred to bribe money? It meant what it said: A. R. was sending Abe twenty grand-twenty grand for bets on the Reds.

White Sox management also had a bad night. After Game One, Chicago manager Kid Gleason found himself in the Sinton lobby along with Cicotte and Risberg. The Sox had just been humiliated, but Cicotte and Risberg grinned and laughed as if they hadn't a care. Gleason already harbored suspicions. This scene pushed him over the edge. "You two think you can kid me?" he screamed. "You busher, Risberg! You think I don't know what you're doing out there? Cicotte, you sonavab.i.t.c.h. Anybody who says he can't see what you're doing out there is either blind, stupid, or a G.o.ddam[n] liar."

Gleason realized the horrible truth of what he'd blurted out. He froze. Chicago Herald and Examiner sportswriter Hugh Fullerton came up from behind and quietly led him away. But Gleason wasn't through. He told Chicago owner Charles Comiskey. What he said wasn't news to The n.o.ble Roman. Comiskey already knew plenty. Mont Tennes had not only warned club secretary Harry Grabiner of suspicious frenzied, pro-Red betting, but informed Comiskey that Gandil, Risberg, and Felsch had also thrown late regular-season games for St. Louis gambler Joe Pesch. At three that morning, Gleason and Comiskey rapped on the door of American League President Byron "Ban" Johnson's hotel room. It wasn't easy for Comiskey. He and Johnson had founded the league together, had once been the closest of friends. But that was years ago. Now they hated each other.

Comiskey stood in the hotel corridor. He needed Johnson's help. His team had turned rotten, betraying him, selling out the league and jeopardizing baseball itself. Johnson was too big a fool, too small a man, to listen. "That is the whelp of a beaten cur!" he sneered as he dismissed his enemy.

By now rumors were sweeping the country. The World Series was fixed. Even before the Series started, Risberg had received a call from Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle, demanding to know what was up. In the Sinton lobby, United News Wire sportswriter Westbrook Pegler accosted George M. Cohan. Pegler wanted Cohan to compose a song about the Series for his syndicate. Pegler flattered Cohan that anyone writing "Over There" in forty-five minutes wouldn't need more than fifteen minutes for a song chronicling the Fall Cla.s.sic. "Cohan laughed," Pegler recounted, "and said the series was beneath his artistic notice. After all the war had not been a frame-up."

Cohan had very good information. Abe Attell had spied him dining with Nat Evans and surmised George M. was "about to be taken." After Evans left, Attell warned Cohan about the fix. Cohan refrained from more wagering on the Series-and the word spread even faster.

The Herald and Examiner's Hugh Fullerton wired every paper in his syndicate: ADVISE ALL NOT TO BET ON THIS SERIES. UGLY RUMORS FLOAT. In New York veteran gambler Honest John Kelly refused any bets on the Series. "Everyone knows Arnold Rothstein has fixed it," Kelly commented matter-of-factly. Covering his tracks, A. R. now did what he often did: he bet against himself, bet against the Reds. After all, it propped up odds on the White Sox, and his public wagering on Cincinnati might prove very handy if events really went sour.

Attell and his gang were clearly not helping matters, but neither was Nat Evans. On the morning of the Series opener, Nat was in his room at the Sinton. Next door, local bookmaker Johnny Fay could clearly hear him on the phone, excitedly arguing with a man named "Arnold"arguing how to split their winnings, about holding out on bets.

Fay hadn't been born yesterday. He handled some of the biggest bettors in the business-and he knew who Arnold had to be. Nonetheless, he went downstairs to ask the hotel operator.

It was indeed Arnold Rothstein.

Fay called New York bookmaker Maxie Blumenthal and told him the news. Now, not only did the smart money know that the Series was being fixed, they knew who was doing the fixing.

Game Two saw the Sox-and Lefty Williams-lose 4-2. Burns and Maharg again visited the Little Champ, now fully expecting $40,000. "I never saw so much money in my life," Maharg recalled. "Stacks of bills were being counted on dressers and tables." Burns thought the stacks were "four to five inches thick."

Novelist Wilfred Sheed once wrote of the Little Champ, that he "was one those sublimely crooked characters ... who wouldn't take a quart of milk home to his mother without selling the cream first." Neither Burns nor Maharg was Abe's mother, so he had no hesitancy in stiffing them yet again. Egging him on was David Zelser, still posing as Curley Bennett. "To h.e.l.l with them," Zelser said contemptuously of Burns and Maharg. "What do we need them for!"

Bill Burns couldn't believe Attell's sheer effrontery and stupidity. He grabbed Attell, demanding to know how long the players would cooperate without seeing some cash.

The Little Champ conferred with Zelser and the Levi brothers. They knew the players would be getting money from Evans and Sullivan, so they weren't too worried. But, why take chances? Attell reached under a mattress, took out a wad of currency, and counted out $10,000.

"That's not enough!" Burns snorted.

"That's it," Attell responded. "That's all they can have."

"They won't accept it Abe," Burns pleaded. "For Chrissakes, there's eight of them."

"They'll take it," Attell responded coldly, adding A. R. had $300,000 down on the Reds. Then he a.s.sumed a conciliatory stance, promising that when the Series ended the players would "all get their money." Burns and Maharg started to leave. They knew they weren't going to win this one. "Wait a minute," Attell called out. "Tell the ball players that they should win the third game. Much better for the odds, that way."

When Burns and Maharg saw Gandil, the first baseman took the ten grand. He wasn't happy, but he took it-and kept it for himself.

Game Three was in Chicago. By now everyone was doublecrossing everyone else. Gandil informed Burns and Maharg that the Sox would play to lose. The duo sc.r.a.ped together $12,000 to bet on the Reds. The enraged players then played Game Three to win-and did, defeating the Reds 3-0 behind Little d.i.c.key Kerr.

Attell had not studied at the feet of the Great Brain for nothing. He sensed trouble-perhaps he had even heard something from Sullivan and Evans-and began betting on Chicago to win. After the game, gambler Harry Redmon saw Abe carrying a big metal box, about two feet long and a foot high through the sw.a.n.k Hotel Sherman. It was filled with cash. "If you see Zork," he shouted, "tell him they haven't left little Abe broke."

But Burns and Maharg were wiped out. Attell lied, telling them he, too, suffered heavy losses. Then he added that Burns should order the Sox to lose Game Four. If they did, Attell would give them $20,000 of his own bankroll. "And they will get it too," he emphasized. "If they lose the next game."

Burns wanted to know why the players couldn't be paid before Game Four-that might, after all, make them more cooperative. "I don't trust them ballplayers anymore," Attell responded.

By now Burns had no cash and less dignity. He brought Attell's proposition to the Sox. They greeted it with the ridicule it deserved. "All right," Sleepy Bill parried. "We'll drop the whole business. But I want my share of the ten thousand I got you."

By now Gandil knew that Burns was powerless. "Sorry, Bill," he grinned. "It's all out on bets."

His teammates exploded in laughter. A humiliated Burns threatened to expose the whole rotten deal. "I'll get my share or I'll tell everything," he sputtered. The Sox wouldn't budge. He and Maharg got good and drunk and slunk away from what began as the opportunity of a lifetime. "I had to hock my diamond pin to get back to Philadelphia," Maharg remembered bitterly.

The Black Sox were ready to walk away from the fix. The double crossers were tired of being double-crossed and would now play to win.

What Burns and Maharg didn't know is how nervous Chicago's Game Three win made their fellow conspirators. Attell and Zelser may have seemed unflappable, but even before Game Three they still had parted with ten grand more than they ever intended to. After Game Three, their underlings, Carl Zork and Ben Franklin, were panic-stricken. They met with two friends from St. Louis, gamblers Joe Redmon and Joe Pesch, at Chicago's Morrison Hotel, begging for $5,000 toward a $20,000 payment to the players. Redmon and Pesch turned them down.

Unlike Burns and Maharg, Rothstein and Sport Sullivan weren't betting on individual games, but rather on the Series as a whole. Just after midnight on the morning of, October 4, A. R. and Sullivan conferred at Rothstein's offices. They weren't worried about Chicago's Game Three victory. But when Sullivan reached the lobby at the Ansonia Hotel, around 1:00 A.M., gambler Pete Manlis, yet another a.s.sociate of Rothstein, greeted him. Manlis wanted to bet on the Sox. Suddenly Sullivan was worried. Did Manlis know something he didn't?

Just after 9:00 A.M., Sullivan phoned Chick Gandil. Gandil and his teammates were fed up. They'd received a measly $10,000 from Sullivan-and not a dime since the Series began. Now they'd play to win. Sullivan knew this could result not only in his financial ruin, but in death at the hands of A. R.'s henchmen. He promised Gandil $20,000 immediately and another $20,000 before Game Five. He had no intention of making the second payment, but Gandil needn't know that.

Before Game Four a messenger delivered twenty one-thousanddollar notes to Gandil. Five thousand each would go to Jackson, Felsch, Williams, and Risberg. Ed Cicotte already had $10,000-so he could d.a.m.n well wait before receiving more. Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin wouldn't get anything. True, Buck had sat in on meetings to plan the fix, but he was doing nothing to further the plot. McMullin hadn't earned anything either, sitting on the bench. He might get something-but not now.

Even without more money, Cicotte lost Game Four 2-0. It was a good loss, fairly subtle, and more artistic than his first defeat. Rain washed out play on Sunday, October 5. There was no game-and no additional money. Play resumed on Monday-but the money deliveries didn't. Yet the now-trusting Black Sox still threw Game Five, as Lefty Williams and his teammates collapsed in the sixth inning, losing 5-0 to Reds righthander Hod Eller.

But still no more money came. The Black Sox realized they had been had once again. Well, if money can't be made dishonestly, one could always try earning it honestly-for the winner's share of the Series. The Sox won Game Six 5-4 in twelve innings behind d.i.c.kie Kerr. With Cicotte finally on the level, they captured Game Seven 4-1. Now Chicago trailed Cincinnati by a mere 4-3 margin. If the Sox took the next two games, they would not only be world champions, but how better to cover the tracks of throwing a World Series than by winning a World Series?

There was another factor. Mont Tennes was hearing rumors that a group of gamblers who had lost heavily on the Sox-and who stood to lose more if the Sox ultimately lost the Series-were about to take the law into their own hands: They'd bribe key Reds players to lose. Reds manager Pat "Whiskey Face" Moran heard the same stories and confronted pitcher Hod Eller: "Had any gamblers approached you, Hod?"

"Yep," Eller replied laconically. A gent on the elevator had offered him five one-thousand-dollar bills. Hod told him if he didn't get lost "real quick he wouldn't know what hit him." Moran told Eller he could still pitch-but he was keeping an eye on him.

A. R. now became nervous and summoned Sport Sullivan to his home. He didn't shout, didn't sweat, but made it clear that things were too close for comfort. The Series should not go nine games.

Sullivan realized two things. Despite Rothstein's pleasant demeanor, he had no choice. The Series had to end with Game Eight. And, Sport knew that merely offering the Sox more money might not necessarily work. Why should they trust him? Why should he trust them? Perhaps other gamblers were working to ensure a Cincinnati loss.

Finally it came to him. Money might not work-but force could. Lefty Williams would start Game Eight. A call went to Chicago, to man named "Harry E" who knew how to handle things.

For a mere $500 in advance, this gentleman would contact Lefty Williams and in no uncertain terms indicate that Lefty should notwould not-survive his first inning on the mound. If he did, he would not survive ... period.

Around 7:30 on the evening before Game Eight, Williams and his wife were returning from dinner when a man wearing a derby hat and smoking a cigar approached them. He desired a word with the lefthander-alone.

His message was straightforward. Pitch to lose, pitch to lose big in the first inning, or bad things would happen. Bad things to Williams. Bad things to his wife.

Lefty Williams got the message. So did his teammates.

When Hugh Fullerton entered Comiskey Park for Game Eight, a gambler friend provided him with some friendly advice: Bet heavy on the Reds because they are going to have "the biggest first inning you ever saw."

In the press box itself, the gambling fraternity moved about at will, not bothering to keep their voices down. New York sportswriter Fred Leib overheard three men talking. They were worried the Sox might still pull the Series out. Then a fourth gambler entered and rea.s.sured his comrades cheerfully: "Everything is okay, boysnothing to worry about. It's all in the bag. Williams will pitch and it will be all over in the first inning."

He was right. The Reds scored five times in the first inning, coasting to a 10-5 win. The Series was over, and Arnold Rothstein was even richer than before it had begun.

CHAPTER I2 * "I Wasn't In On It"

THE WHISPERS ABOUT A FIX grew into shouts.

*** You are reading on ***

The day after the Series ended, former Cubs owner Charles Weeghman walked into the barbershop at Chicago's LaSalle Hotel. There was gambler Mont Tennes, who asked if Wheeghman remembered what Tennes predicted in Saratoga that August:-The Series would be fixed. Weeghman did, and Tennes inquired what he now thought. Weeghman didn't know what to say, which didn't faze Tennes. He had more information: Seven players were involved- Cicotte, Williams, Felsch, Jackson, Gandil, Risberg, and McMullin.

I have done many things for Rothstein, and when he didn't have a cent I fed him and boarded him and even suffered a broken nose in defending him from a bootblack in Saratoga. We have not been on the best of terms for the last year, but I didn't think he would open up this way.

At Boston's Fenway Park, that busy September 29, 1920, Sport Sullivan watched the Sox trounce the A's 10-0, and learned that Lefty Williams had implicated him before the grand jury. He fled the park and headed for New York. Perhaps Rothstein could find a way out of this madness. On the train he bought a paper and learned Attell was squealing on A. R. Where would all this stop?

It wasn't about to stop with Sullivan. At Lindy's, Sport promised a reporter to reveal "the whole inside story of the frameup.... They have made ... made me a goat and I'm not going to stand for it.... I know the big man whose money it was that paid off the Sox playersand I'm going to name him."

He couldn't warn A. R. more clearly.

Rothstein grew edgier. From the beginning, he'd taken steps to protect himself. They hadn't worked. Now he would have to buy politicians. Investigating the New York side of the matter was Manhattan District Attorney Edward Swann, who quickly declared Rothstein off limits. A. R., revealed a.s.sistant District Attorney James E. Smith, wouldn't be testifying before any grand jury "because of orders I have received from District Attorney Swann."

It didn't take much to control Swann. A. R.'s Tammany friends were always helpful. Controlling the press was entirely different. A. R. wanted his operations to proceed quietly, anonymously. All this clamor only hurt business. Controlling the Chicago grand jury was equally difficult. Tammany didn't rule Chicago, and A. R. had no desire to summer at Joliet.

Rothstein turned to thirty-four-year-old New York attorney William "The Great Mouthpiece" Fallon. Fallon had already established himself as not only the best-but the most spectaculardefense attorney in Manhattan. Relying on spellbinding oratorical skills and an uncanny ability to establish empathy with jurymen, he rarely lost a case. When these weapons proved insufficient, Bill Fallon employed obfuscation, demagoguery, judge baiting, concealment of evidence, bribery of witnesses, and jury tampering. With an entire nation outraged by the corruption of its national pastime, Fallon would have to employ virtually everything in his a.r.s.enal to save his client.

Recently Fallon had represented John McGraw, at the behest of Giants owner Charles Stoneham. After drinking and brawling one night at the Lambs Club with actor William Boyd, McGraw boarded a taxi to his West 109th Street apartment with two other men-one of whom, actor John Slavin, mysteriously fractured his skull. McGraw admitted purchasing four pints of whiskey at the Lambs Club-"I never fight unless I am drunk." A grand jury indicted him for illegal possession of alcohol. By the time Fallon took the case to court, McGraw had changed his story, denying purchasing any liquor that evening, and claiming he couldn't have, as he had generously given away all his cash to a needy Lambs Club cleaning woman. It was the sort of preposterous story Fallon's clients told with regularity, and which regularly won them acquittal. The jury freed McGraw in five minutes.

As the Black Sox case broke, Rothstein engaged Fallon to represent Attell and Sullivan. Attell had implicated Rothstein by name on September 29. Fallon publicly advised The Little Champ to keep a discreet silence. He didn't. A day after Fallon's warning-Attell vowed to reveal the "master mind" behind the "whole scheme." Broadway had only one "master mind": Arnold Rothstein.

Fallon tried changing the subject, advancing a curious theory of his new client's innocence: The men [the Black Sox and the gamblers] undoubtedly are morally reprehensible, but it is my opinion that no crime has been committed. I consider the conspiracy indictment invalid as 'conspiracy to commit an illegal act' means nothing unless you can prove that throwing a ball game is an illegal act. This I am prepared to doubt. If the gamblers who are said to have fixed this series are not profiting by an illegal act, they cannot be prosecuted as such. Profiting as such is not an indictable offense.

On October 1 A. R. issued his own statement: he was selling his gambling houses and quitting all gambling for good. The slurs, the calumny he had been forced to endure, had finally proven too much. He told the World: My friends know that I have never been connected with a crooked deal in my life, but I am heartily sick and tired of having my name dragged in on the slightest provocation or without provocation whenever a scandal comes up.

I have been victimized more than once and have been forced to bear the burden as best I could, simply because of the business that I was in and the peculiar moral code which governs it. But that is all past.

The unwarranted use of my name in this unfortunate scandal was the last straw. I made up my mind to retire from the gambling business as long ago as last June, as plenty of witnesses will testify, but this has led me to make the announcement publicly, instead of dropping out quietly as was my original plan.

From now on, I will devote most of my time and attention to the real estate business and to my racing stable. It is not pleasant to be what some may call a "social outcast," and for the sake of my family and my friends I am glad that the chapter is closed.

A. R. went too far. Normally content to ignore his activities, the Times could not tolerate this drivel and unleashed a vitriolic editorial in his direction: He Goes, but Is Not Driven With patience at last exhausted, one Arnold Rothstein, who seems to be a man of commanding eminence in the circles in which he moves, has decided to give no more excuse to the censorious. It seems that in the past, whenever by any possibility his name could be linked with a current scandal, somebody has done it. Naturally this has worn upon the nerves of a man with a nature as sensitive as his. As he puts it in a printed interview of a length proportional to the importance of his determination, "it is not pleasant to be what some may call a 'social outcast.' " And so. "I am going to devote most of my time to the real estate business and to my racing stables. "

It is interesting to note-and especially our police and the District Attorney's office should be regardful-that Mr. Rothstein's decision to retire from what he calls "the gambling business" is entirely an outcome of his own present preferences and desires. For years and years he has lived and prospered on the profits of what "some may call" criminal activities, and the only penalty has been the linking of his name with all the current scandals!

One easily can imagine how annoying that would be to him, but more serious inconveniences not infrequently have been endured by persons who did not confess, even after conviction, their law-breaking as frankly as does Mr. Rothstein. Evidently he has no fear that his revelation now will have effects any more troublesome than did his continual conduct of a business which the law professes to hold criminal.

There is a mystery here, but presumably the police will regard it with "that baffled look" which has come to be their usual, if not habitual, expression.

And while Fallon defended Sullivan and Attell (what a remarkable coincidence if Attell actually had operated independently of A. R.), he nonetheless acted suspiciously like Rothstein's counsel. On October 4, he announced: "Rothstein turned the proposition [the fix] down hard, calling the man who made it all sorts of names."

"I am making this statement," he explained piously, if improbably, "in justice to Mr. Rothstein, and I am not his attorney."

Meanwhile A. R. was caught in a pincer move. Despite his claims of leaving the gambling trade, A. R. maintained his Long Beach casino. Na.s.sau County's District Attorney subpoenaed Attell, Nat Evans, and the real Curley Bennett to obtain information on Rothstein's Long Island operations. Enough was enough. A. R. would do whatever necessary to silence the Little Champ.

Fallon summoned Attell and Sullivan to A. R.'s home. Sullivan was in no position financially to disagree with Arnold, but Attell might have been. That September Abe had won $100,000 at dice. He put $20,000 to $25,000 of his winnings in a film-and not just any film. With amazing chutzpah, he invested in a baseball film called Headin' Home starring the game's greatest star: Babe Ruth.

Attell was solvent, but also practical. No need to antagonize so powerful and ruthless a figure as his old friend Arnold. No use taking chances serving time. Fallon ordered everyone to vanish: Attell to Montreal, Sullivan to Mexico, and Rothstein and his wife on a liner bound for Europe. A. R. would foot the bill. Attell and Sport Sullivan departed as planned. On October 9, Rothstein tested the idea of flying the coop, issuing this statement to the Morning Telegraph: I am in a position to prove conclusively that instead of profiting I lost heavily upon the outcomes of the games.

I am most reluctant to make any statement to the public press concerning the conditions affecting the playing of the world's baseball series of 1919, but circ.u.mstances have arisen which prompt me to speak.

*** You are reading on ***

Popular Novel