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

David Pietrusza

Part 16

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"Isn't it a fact," Chadbourne demanded to know, "that at that conference the question of fixing the White Sox was discussed?

"I don't remember," A. R. perjured himself. "I wouldn't discuss such a thing. There wasn't any such conference, so how could I discuss it?"

"Then I understand you never had such a conference?"

"I'm not accountable for what you understand."

"Did you have a conference anywhere else in New York?"

"I don't want to discuss that," said Rothstein, truthfully for once, before lying again. "There never was such a conference."

A. R. wouldn't even admit if he met Attell "at any time in New York in 1919."

"I'll answer all of these questions at the proper time," he responded, knowing there never would be a proper time. Referee Coffin again demanded Rothstein answer. A. R. still refused.

He also refused to answer repeated queries as to whether he had known the 1919 Series was fixed and whether he had fixed bets with Fuller. Then Chadbourne returned to the topic of Sport Sullivan, asking, "Did you ever have a conference with 'Sport' Sullivan after the series for a division of the winnings?"

A. R. retreated behind the stock response: "I refuse to answer."

Chadbourne, who seemed to have very good inside information, then asked, "Didn't 'Sport' Sullivan accuse you of welshing?"

"I never welshed in my life," Rothstein answered. He hated to be called a welsher. It was the worst thing you could call him. The sparring continued: Q-Don't you know the White Sox players were to get $100,000 bribes?

A-No, I don't know that.

Q-Don't you know the White Sox players made the charge they'd been double-crossed, and didn't get the money after they had thrown the first game?

A-I never promised them any money. I don't even talk to ballplayers.

Q-Did you have any connection with William J. Fallon as to getting the Chicago Grand jury minutes?


Q-Don't you know that Fallon got those minutes?

A-No, did he?

Finally, the testimony got around to how Rothstein and Fallon engineered Sammy Pa.s.s's perjury, clearing Abe Attell: Q-Do you know a lawyer in Chicago named Leo Spitz?

A-Yes, very well.

Q-Did you have Spitz send a man named Sammy Pa.s.s here about the extradition of Abe Attell?

A-No, I don't remember.

Q-Are you prepared to testify you didn't ask Sammy Pa.s.s to come here to testify in the proceedings against Attell?

A-Yes. Did he?

Q-Didn't you pay Pa.s.s $1,000 to come here?


Q-Did you make him a loan?

A-Yes, if it's any of your business. I loaned him $1,000, and he paid me back $500. He'll return the other $500. He's a nice little boy.

Q-Did he ever say he didn't consider that a loan?

A-No, he's a nice boy and wouldn't say such a thing.

Not if he knew what was good for him.

Chadbourne had made a valiant attempt to get to the bottom of the Black Sox scandal, acting with far greater diligence than any Chicago grand jury or trial court, but he never got A. R. to admit a thing. Rothstein relied not on his own wits and nerve, but also on excellent counsel. In bankruptcy court, he didn't employ a William J. Kelly, Leo Spitz, or even a Bill Fallon. His counsel was far more respectable: influential Manhattan Republican George Z. Medalie, a former a.s.sistant district attorney under Charles Whitman. Whenever federal authorities pursued Rothstein, A. R. turned to Republican attorneys. Medalie argued it was "the most remarkable situation in the history of gambling" that Fuller would have made only sixty bets with Rothstein (the number of checks found by Ferber) and lost each and every one. He also contended his client may have pa.s.sed Fuller's payments on to other betting "commissioners." Regarding one $30,000 check, Medalie claimed it had merely been cashed at Rothstein's gambling house. Whether Fuller then lost all or part of that $30,000 to Rothstein, A. R. couldn't possibly know. "His client kept no books, Mr. Medalie said," the New York Times reported, "because his business was illegal."

Only for Arnold Rothstein could such a defense succeed.

Federal authorities pursuing Fuller's a.s.sets indicted A. R. for a single minor transgression. As E. M. Fuller collapsed in 1922, Eddie Fuller asked Rothstein to hide an a.s.set from the bankruptcy court, his lavish Pierce-Arrow. Accordingly, A. R. and Fuller backdated a $6,000 mortgage for the vehicle. In April 1924, a federal grand jury indicted Rothstein for the crime. The case never went to trial.

While A. R. testified one day at the John Street offices of bankruptcy referee Terrence Farley, Watson and Ferber were present to watch. Ferber peered out a window, and saw the street literally lined with gunmen-twenty-two Chicago mobsters led by hoodlum Joe Maroni. Watson and Ferber feared revenge from A. R. and Tammany for having stirred everything up. In those days, major newspapers employed private armies to battle each other in vicious and b.l.o.o.d.y circulation wars. Watson wanted his circulation manager Ben Bloom to dispatch the American's own goons to scare off these hoodlums, but Ferber argued that if gunfire erupted every other paper would enjoy a field day blasting the Hearst papers and their hired gunmen.

Ferber agreed that reinforcements were necessary-but not gunmen. By phone he summoned every photographer on staff, each equipped with his largest camera. They would indeed shoot Maroni's men, but with something more feared than guns: cameras. Within a few minutes, Maroni's mob slipped away quietly.

While Rothstein fought to retain his gambling earnings, Bill Fallon-acting at the behest of Tom Foley-defended Eddie Fuller and Bill McGee valiantly against charges of stock fraud. Through two hung juries and a mistrial, Fuller and McGee remained free. With Fallon already possessing a reputation as New York's premier jury-fixer, the New York American's suspicions were naturally aroused.

Nat Ferber remained busy investigating the bucket shops (eventually bringing down eighty-one crooked operations), so Victor Watson a.s.signed Carl Helm, another top reporter, to snare Fallon. Charles W. Rendigs was one of four jurors holding out for acquittal in the third Fuller trial. Helm discovered that Rendigs had also served jury duty during Fallon's November 1922 defense of the Durrell-Gregory bucket shop. In the Durrell-Gregory case, six of twenty-three defendants presented no defense and seven of their former a.s.sociates actually pleaded guilty to mail fraud, but Charles W. Rendigs held out for acquittal and hung the jury.

A remarkable coincidence. The fates had conspired to favor Mr. Fallon. However, fate also played a cruel trick. In most criminal or civil cases, jurors are asked if they know the attorneys involved-but usually not under oath. In the third Fuller trial, they were, and Charles W. Rendigs swore he'd never seen Fallon before in his life.

Rendigs now faced prison for perjury. To save himself, he swore that in the Durrell-Gregory case, Fallon paid him $2,500, laundering the bribe through Joe Pani, proprietor of the Woodmansten Inn. Before long, Helm had others who were willing to testify against the Great Mouthpiece.

The American's staff cajoled bankruptcy referee Coffin to subpoena certain E. M. Fuller records, doc.u.ments Nat Ferber conveniently misfiled while riffling through firm archives. When Fuller and McGee failed to produce the evidence, Coffin jailed them for contempt of court, ordering them held in the city's worst and hottest lockup, the Lower East's Side Ludlow Street Jail, until they surrendered the missing doc.u.ments.

Fuller and McGee would now testify against Bill Fallon. They never were close friends with the attorney. Were it not for Tom Foley, Fallon would never have taken their case. In addition, when Coffin first demanded the missing E. M. Fuller papers, Fallon compounded his clients' problems by announcing arrogantly that he had no obligation to turn over any doc.u.ments, making their failure appear willful.

Also turning against Fallon was his 300-pound factotum Ernie Eidlitz, an all-around scoundrel with whom Bill shared all his business secrets. Fallon overlooked Eidlitz's numerous faults until Ernie forged The Great Mouthpiece's signature to one check too many. At Billy LaHiff's Tavern, Fallon fired Eidlitz. The American quickly secured Eidlitz's testimony against his former boss.

Fallon fled. While on the lam, he brooded about one client he never possessed much respect for: Arnold Rothstein. In the course of Fallon's troubles, he and A. R. had split. Now they despised one another so fiercely that they plotted the other's destruction.

"I wonder what Rothstein is saying?" Fallon announced to his most faithful girlfriend, Broadway showgirl Gertrude Vanderbilt. "He'll be glad to see me on this spot."

This puzzled her-shouldn't Fallon worry about more important matters?

"Rothstein is peculiar," Fallon retorted. "His whole aim in life is to school himself against fear. That's why he goes up to the toughest characters on Broadway and browbeats them. His system is to take the play away from people. Well, he never could get away with it when I was around."

Vanderbilt remained mystified, but Fallon continued: "He's a contradiction in terms. A lot of us are that way. He actually loves his wife, no matter how much he has neglected her. I have it figured out; he thinks he is not worthy to touch her."

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Gertrude still didn't want to hear anything about A. R., but Fallon's rage built. He wanted revenge against The Big Bankroll and all his other supposed friends: "I have half a mind to drive into Broadway, challenge the whole gang of back-biters. The squealers!"

WATSON: No, I said there were various rumors at different times reaching my ears about threats against my life, and among others I said I understood that Rothstein had made some foolish talk about shooting me.

Fallon scoffed at Watson's fears and asked if he recalled Fallon saying "sweet things" ("one of the sweetest characters in the world") about A. R. Watson didn't-no doubt, because Fallon never uttered them. Fallon was toying both with Watson and with Rothstein.

Watson did, however, remember Rothstein's attempt to bribe him. A. R. had requested American sports editor William S. Farnsworth to approach his editor-in-chief, Watson, with a proposition: "Would you ask Watson if he had a price." Farnsworth returned with a terse-but coy-"yes" from his boss. At first that sounded positive. Then Rothstein correctly discerned its real meaning. "I don't trust that fellow Watson," he told Farnsworth. "He's a devil. He wouldn't take any money. What he means is that he wants me to squeal, and I can't do that."

Throughout his trial, Fallon had been excitable, argumentative, cutting. In summation, he became white hot, but with a pa.s.sion that was controlled, brilliant, calculating, and when he concluded with the words, "All that the world means to me, I now leave in your hands," he had done all he could. The trial concluded at 5:08 P.M. on August 8, 1924. Five hours later, the jury found him not guilty. The courtroom went wild, with Fallon's friends rushing toward him to carry him from the courtroom. The Great Mouthpiece leaned over the press table. He had something to say to Nat Ferber: "Nat, I promise you I'll never bribe another juror!"

But trouble still stalked Fallon. He resumed drinking-heavily. Few cases came his way. Some said potential clients feared Hearst's influence, but the denizens of Fallon's world had far more to fear from a far closer source: Arnold Rothstein. They took their business elsewhere.

But not even Arnold Rothstein could tell John McGraw what to do. When, in 1924, Giants coach Cozy Dolan was implicated in a late-season game-fixing scandal, McGraw hired Fallon to defend him. Fallon threatened to sue Baseball Commissioner Mountain Landis for defamation of character. Landis issued his own threat, this one for Charles Stoneham: Call off McGraw and Fallon or I'll run you out of baseball. Fallon backed down.

On a hot August evening in 1926, Fallon entertained a woman and another couple at his Hotel Belleclaire apartment. A former girlfriend burst in and attacked Fallon's companion with a dog whip. He tried pulling her off. She flung acid into his eyes, which he wiped from his face with a gin-soaked piece of cloth. Miraculously, he was neither blinded nor disfigured.

One day Fallon was in Supreme Court, defending McGraw in a minor civil suit, when he crumpled to the floor. They carried Bill to his wife's apartment at the Hotel Oxford, and there The Great Mouthpiece formulated his last defense-in the case of G.o.d v. Fallon. His old law partner, the now-disbarred Gene McGee, visited and heard Fallon's line of reasoning: You know, Gene, I never really sinned at all.... Everyone says I have sinned; that I'm paying the price of sin. That I tried to take life by a tour de force. Let's confine ourselves to the issue and let's not depart from the law. The law of sin is explicit and simple. To sin, one has to premeditate the sin. I never premeditated a sin. I acted spontaneously, always, and as the spirit moved me.

He paused. Maybe from exhaustion. Maybe for effect. With Fallon, even now, you never really knew. He grabbed McGee's hand.

"You see, Gene, I never really premeditated anything at all-not even death."

The next morning, Fallon felt better, stronger, cheerier. He wanted to go the Polo Grounds. Agnes Fallon tried dissuading him. He flashed a smile and responded firmly, "Do you think for a minute that I am going to lie here when I can go to see a ballgame."

She again tried stopping him. But no one ever told Bill Fallon what to do. He went to the bathroom to shave-just as he wanted to on the day of his arrest. He always wanted to look his best.

He didn't make it this time, either. Agnes Fallon heard a gasp. She found her husband on the floor, blood oozing from his mouth, dead from a heart attack.

William J. Fallon was forty-one.

Fallon's sendoff was from the Church of the Ascension, at West 107th Street and Broadway. Val O'Farrell, John McGraw, and Charles Stoneham attended. McGraw, always a soft touch, paid for Fallon's mahogany casket.

For Victor Watson, things had not progressed as planned. He had bagged Edward M. Fuller and Frank McGee-but who cared about them? Tom Foley had escaped. So had Rothstein and Charles Stoneham. The Fallon episode was not just a failure; it was a disaster. Seeing his name and, more to the point, Marion Davies's name, dragged through the mud outraged William Randolph Hearst. Immediately after Fallon's acquittal, Hearst transferred Watson to the Baltimore News, beginning a downward spiral for Watson, once one of the Hearst's rising stars. Marital and financial difficulties compounded his depression. In November 1938, Watson checked into New York's Abbey Hotel. On the back of a dirty envelope, he scribbled in pencil: "G.o.d forgive me for everything, I cannot ..."

He then jumped from an eleventh-story window. Hundreds had crowded Fallon's funeral. Only a handful attended Watson's.

CHAPTER 18 * "I Will Be Alone"


That was his complaint, not his actual problem. Arnold Rothstein was incapable of love-that is, of loving any human being. He loved money. He loved power. He loved the good life, the bright lights of Times Square, the thrill of fixing a World Series or a championship prizefight, the warm glow of knowing you were smarter than the next fellow-and his knowing it, too.

But people? Arnold Rothstein didn't have friends. He had acquaintances, business a.s.sociates, but not friends. Well, maybe one friend-Sidney Stajer. Yet, no one could fathom what bound the dapper millionaire gambler and the cheap little drug addict together. n.o.body comprehended why A. R. tolerated Sidney, let alone was fond of him. Arnold's marriage? A disaster, albeit one that took years to fully unravel and for Carolyn Rothstein to finally abandon.

A. R. retained but tatters of a family relationship. Marriage to a shiksa shattered what remained of a relationship with his father, but it had been irretrievably mutilated long before that. The son's gambling, his lying, his dishonesty, his greed saddened and disgusted Abraham Rothstein. It was not what being a Jew was about. It was not what being a mensch was about.

Abraham and Arnold seemed so different, yet they shared a common trait, one that only grew in years to come. Because of Abraham Rothstein's reputation as a just and holy man, many turned to him for guidance. Carolyn Rothstein wrote that her father-in-law "went out of his way to mediate difficulties between various groups in business." Ironically, this attribute would become apparent in A. R.

Perhaps Arnold was finally trying to meet Abraham's standards, though in his own way. "It has been interesting to me," Carolyn continued, "to observe that as time went on Arnold took on a manifestation of this side of his father's character. He would go about New York offering his services in delicate matters which required adjustment-perhaps between the law and a victim of it, perhaps between a criminal and a victim, perhaps between a man and his employer."

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