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

David Pietrusza

Part 7

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A. R. needed help. He casually asked the biggest gamblers at the track if he could borrow their betting commissioners. "I don't figure on betting today," he lied, "but I may change my mind. I gave Nat Evans and the boys a day off."

He ended up with forty men, instructing them: "If I do use you, don't tell anyone for whom you're betting; bookmakers know I'm playing a horse, they'll shave the odds on a five-dollar bet."

Sidereal was now 30-to-1. A. R.'s agents began placing fifty- and hundred-dollar wagers. He slipped to 25-to-1, then to 20-to-1. Still a good payout. A. R.'s scheme was working pretty much to plan.

Except for the matter of the horse.

Rothstein had no horse. Hirsch had no horse. Sidereal remained at Belmont, and no one there seemed interested in answering the phone to a.s.sist A. R.'s big plan. Hirsch gave Arnold the bad news. A. R. said little. He just led him to Carolyn. "Tell her what she has to do," he ordered. "Tom Farley's out in the car and he can run her over."

Hirsch lived near Belmont. His wife was still at home. She would know how to get Sidereal to Aqueduct-but the Hirsches had no phone. "Pick her up and go to the stables with her," Hirsch told Carolyn. "Tell her to have the horse's plates changed and then put him into a van and get him over here. Tell her and the foreman we don't have any time to waste."

Carolyn and Tom Farley found Mrs. Hirsch at home. They raced to Belmont, had a stable boy locate the track foreman, and told him Sidereal must reach Aqueduct for the sixth race. He said that was impossible-but he'd see what he could do.

They rushed the colt into a van and raced across Queens. Time was running out fast. If Sidereal failed to appear before saddling time, he'd be automatically scratched. Paddock judge Jimmy McLaughlin demanded to know where Sidereal was. Max Hirsch rea.s.sured him that the horse would be there any moment now. He didn't really believe it, but he had to say it.

With less than a minute before saddling time, Max saw a car in the distance, kicking up dust along the road. He couldn't see who it was, but it drew closer and closer ...

It was Sidereal. But it wasn't enough for a horse to be near the track throwing up dust, he had to be on the paddock. Hirsch rushed his horse down the ramp and on to the paddock. Jimmy McLaughlin looked at the animal. He looked at his watch. "You sure drew it fine ..." he told Hirsch. "You beat the gun by six seconds."

Carolyn rushed to the clubhouse. She exchanged glances with A. R.-and he knew she'd come through. He summoned his betting commissioners. "Take any price," he ordered. They plunged every dollar on Sidereal, crashing the odds. A. R. didn't care. As Sidereal and veteran jockey Bill Kelsay reached the starting gate, the true beauty of Rothstein's plan kicked in. When bookies feared potential ruin on a certain horse, they turned to A. R. as their insurance agent. They could "lay off" bets with him to avoid possible disaster. He would be their insurance company.

The moment he'd waited for now arrived. Bookmakers swarmed A. R., begging to lay off their clients' wagers on him. He'd help outbut only on terms guaranteeing him big money no matter the outcome. Huge money-$850,000-if Sidereal won. Decent money-$40,000 coming from the bookies whose bets he's covered-if Sidereal lost.

A. R. displayed complete calm, almost a lack of interest, as the race began at 4:48 P.M. Just before the gate went up an a.s.sociate named Jimmy Rowe, Jr., approached Rothstein's box. "I've put a bet down for you, Jimmy," he commented casually.

Ultimo seized the early lead, with Northcliffe second, and the favorite, Slieveconard, unable to get going. Sidereal hung back, fourth in the thirteen-horse field-and A. R. couldn't be bothered to look up his calculations. "How is he running?" Rothstein asked Rowe.

"Under wraps," Jimmy responded. "He'll win with plenty to spare."

That was all Arnold needed. He stood up and headed for the track restaurant-ready to collect.

With a quarter-mile left, jockey Kelsay put the whip to Sidereal. The colt moved past Brainstorm, past Northcliffe. Only Ultimo stood between Sidereal and the finish line. Ultimo's jockey, a lad named Miller, rallied his horse, whipping the animal furiously. But Ultimo had nothing left, and Sidereal slid ahead, first by a length-and-a-half.

Sidereal took 58 2/5 seconds to earn A. R. $850,000.

Outwardly, A. R. displayed extraordinary calm. Listen carefully and one might pick up a slight quiver in his voice, as he admitted he had "a good day," but one really had to listen for it. Inwardly ... well ... G.o.d only knew. After collecting his winnings, he returned to Carolyn and said, "Sweet, if you don't mind I won't have dinner with you tonight, I have some business to look after."

"He was," she would have to admit, as she pondered this incident years later, "a strange man."

CHAPTER 9 * "Chicken Feed"

HE AGE OF THE MANHATTAN GAMBLING HOUSE was over. But other locales remained wide open for the industry: Hot Springs, Long Island-and Saratoga.

More than the races, Saratoga was the gathering place of the rich and powerful, where they whiled away the August heat, taking restorative baths, dining at elegant restaurants, enjoying the best entertainments. Saratoga was also the land of casinos.

After the last horse crossed the finish line each day, the action continued. Richard Canfield's opulent casino shut its doors in 1907, but other sporting establishments, such as the lake houses, Newman's and Moon's, remained. Newman's attracted Presidents Chester Alan Arthur and Grover Cleveland and New York Governors Horatio Seymour, Alonzo B. Cornell, and Roswell P. Flower. Moon's lured its own celebrities, from Commodore Vanderbilt and Jay Gould in the nineteenth century to Franklin Roosevelt, Al Smith, Jack Dempsey, and Clark Gable in the twentieth.

During Prohibition, Saratoga's nightlife grew gayer still. Two new gambling clubs, Piping Rock and Arrowhead, opened. Both maintained opulent but remarkably affordable restaurants-designed to lure patrons to their gambling tables. For five dollars, patrons enjoyed complete meals with drinks and first-cla.s.s entertainment. (Joe E. Lewis and Sophie Tucker were regulars.) By 1919 A. R. was no longer struggling, no longer even merely prosperous. His Manhattan and Long Island operations had made him fabulously rich, and he could afford his own Saratoga house. He set his sights on converting one of Saratoga's grandest estates into the town's premier casino.

It had to be grand to lure clients. Neither downtown nor on the lake, the property lay some distance from town, a mile past the golf course, on Mr. and Mrs. George A. Saportas's Bonnie Brook Farm. It was a fabulous place, not just a mansion but also a working farm and racing stable. A local historian described it: The entrance faced the west, opening into a large and commodious hall, furnished with heavy mission furniture, and a famous old fireplace, built out of rock found on the site.... Great heavy beams denoted ma.s.siveness.

In the bas.e.m.e.nt was the billiard [room] furnished in leather. On the main floor the "Dutch room" attracted greatest interest and was used as a breakfast room. Tiled in terra cotta, it had a large fireplace with heavy bra.s.s and irons. The walls were covered with antique steins gathered from many countries.

The dining room was hung with heavy tapestry, the furniture mahogany, ma.s.sive and of odd design. The sideboard, complete in detail, was built into the house....

A sun parlor facing south was part of the house. Water was supplied by windmills and was of adequate amount and pressure. Bonnie Brook ... was set in surroundings of indescribable beauty and loveliness, stretching out in every direction.

It was where high society would want to be. Men not formally attired were refused entrance. Free limousine service was provided. "The cuisine," noted one observer, "compared favorably to the food served in New York City's finest dining rooms and there were no prices on the menu."

It may have been the nation's most exclusive nightspot. No day in Saratoga was complete, wrote the National Turf Digest, without breakfast at the paddock, an afternoon in the clubhouse, and a visit to "the United States or the Grand Union Hotel to exchange pleas antries with one's acquaintances and then perchance take a drive to The Brook, to while away an hour or two.... After a month of this kind of living one returns to the city absolutely unconscious of nerves."

A. R. did not operate The Brook by himself. At his side was New York gambler Nat Evans, soon to help A. R. in a far more notorious venture. Rothstein and Evans controlled 56 percent of the place. Another 28 percent went to local gambler Henry Tobin and his henchmen. The remainder was earmarked for well-placed payoffs, for while Saratoga was wide-open, it did not mean its primary attraction, gambling, was-at any given time-legal. A. R. disposed of such obstacles in time-honored fashion, in cash, in large unmarked bills.

From the start, Rothstein paid for protection, giving Saratoga Springs Democratic boss Dr. Arthur J. Leonard with $10,000 and a faction of the local Republicans $60,000 to keep The Brook operating. Veteran local gambler Jules Formel, an old hand at such things, said that wouldn't do. A. R. was paying off the wrong crowd. The man to see was District Attorney Charles B. Andrus. Rothstein agreed.

Formel approached Andrus, who barked he "had taken an oath not to let that Jew [Rothstein] open." But Andrus was merely being coy. "He was only stalling," Formel later recalled. "He would have taken a red hot stove."

"Finally," Formel recounted. "Andrus said that as long as Rothstein was paying so much money, he would have to get $60,000, so I went around to the side door of the United States Hotel and saw Rothstein and told him he could go for $60,000."

A. R. agreed, and Formel asked, "Do you want to open up tonight?" Arnold said no, that wasn't possible. His "tools"-the roulette and chemin de fer tables-were hidden away in the countryside of nearby Greenfield. He'd wait another day.

Formel returned to Andrus, who asked impatiently, "Did you get the dough?" Formel said Andrus would have his money tomorrow, but that wasn't good enough. "Never mind that," he snapped. "I will attend to it myself."

Andrus soon did. Meanwhile, Rothstein wanted to know what Formel thought his services were worth. Formel volunteered a figure of $4,000, which A. R. seemed to think fair. The next day at the track, he paid Formel $1,000. That was the last of Rothstein's money he ever saw.

Investments in the proper officials returned solid value. When authorities raided The Brook, their arrival would be announced well in advance. They would see nothing, as witnessed by these two items found in the local press: July 31, 1919-According to testimony given by Superintendent of Police Thomas J. Sullivan ... a raid was made by himself, Sheriff Austin J. Reynolds and Deputy Sheriff Hovey upon the alleged gambling establishment out on Church Street early last night and nothing was found to indicate that gambling was being conducted there. He said that there were but two men in the house at the time, that the officers were admitted without question and escorted about the entire house. . . . Sullivan stated that they had no warrant to enter the property, but that they were nevertheless freely admitted after the sheriff introduced the party as police officials.

August 5, 1920-Reports that open gambling is being conducted in various places about the outskirts of Saratoga Springs were branded as groundless by Sheriff Austin J. Reynolds ... his deputies are making nightly inspection of all suspicious places and that none, so far as they can find out, are open. A place near Greenfield center [The Brook] was visited last night but the house was dark and the piazzas covered with fresh paint.

Formel and one Charles White, better known as "Gold Tooth" Moore, reputedly earned between $7,000 to $38,000 nightly at their own establishment, downtown at 210 South Broadway. It had significant overhead. District Attorney Andrus received 10 percent of the net profits. In 1921 Formel and Moore were raided. Rothstein imported Bill Fallon to defend them. Twice Fallon produced hung juries. The third time, Formel faced time in Dannemora.

Pondering chances for revenge (as well as for a possible lesser sentence), Formel considered informing authorities of Rothstein's $60,000 bribe to Andrus. He thought of revealing Andrus's 10 percent cut at 201 Broadway. He knew of the graft-25 percent of the net-Andrus received from the posh Arrowhead Inn. Andrus begged him, with "tears in his eyes," to keep silent, promising $100 per week for Mrs. Formel while her husband served his sentence. Formel kept silent, but the cash never came.

In 1926 the reforming Saratoga Taxpayers' a.s.sociation pet.i.tioned Governor Al Smith to probe local corruption. Smith appointed Supreme Court Judge Christopher J. Heffernan to investigate, and Formel finally talked-about Andrus and about Rothstein. A subpoena went out for Nat Evans, but he couldn't be located. No subpoena went out for A. R. Andrus lost renomination, and Smith removed him from office. Not a thing happened to Arnold Rothstein.

The Brook attracted the highest rollers in town: oilmen Harry Sinclair and Joshua Cosden, professional gamblers like "Nick the Greek" Dandolos, millionaires like Subway Sam Rosoff and Charles Stoneham.

Among Arnold's prize pigeons-at The Brook or elsewhere-was "Nick the Greek" Dandolos. Like A. R., Nicholas Andrea Dandolos could easily have succeeded in more respectable fields. A friend once called Nick "a sensitive and courtly 6-footer with a cultivated, rather professional air, humanitarian instincts, a sharp, sometimes caustic wit, and a talent for conversational counter-punching."

Born on the isle of Crete, Dandolos was the son of a rug merchant and the G.o.dson of a wealthy shipowner. He developed a lifelong love of philosophy, particularly Plato and Aristotle, and at age eighteen earned a theological degree from the Greek Evangelical College in Smyrna. Supposedly headed for Oxford, he ended up in Chicago. There, Nick met a girl and fell in love. They quarreled. He drifted to Montreal and received word of her death. Heartbroken, and usually inebriated, he bet wildly and unsystematically on the horses at the local track. Befriending Phil Musgrave, one of the better jockeys of his time, his fortunes changed. With Musgrave's tips, he won $1.2 million within two years.

Returning to Chicago in 1913, The Greek took up cards and dice. Without a Phil Musgrave to a.s.sist him, he lost everything. But he determined to learn and soon was among the best in the business. Nick didn't always win, but he was sanguine when he lost. Once t.i.tanic Thompson bet him $10,000 he could empty his revolver at a silver dollar across a room. Dandolos got to keep what was left of the coin as a souvenir.

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Despite his early success with the ponies, after Dandolos switched to poker and dice, he had little interest in racing. At Saratoga, he established headquarters at hotels such as the Grand Union, taking on all comers. On one occasion, he nonchalantly played a series of $10,00 freeze-outs of single-handed stud.

A. R.'s hunch (or worse) proved correct. Sailing B won that day, and A. R. earned between $850,000 and $900,000. Still, the outcome enraged him: He might have won so much more. He learned that his own agent had placed the $1,500 bet. The reason: his $1 watch was running twenty minutes fast. A cheap watch deprived A. R. of over half-a-million dollars.

In August 1921 A. R. struck again. The occasion was the Travers Stakes, among the most prestigious of races at any track. A record crowd of 25,000 packed Saratoga. The New York Times described the atmosphere: The afternoon's a.s.semblage was worthy of the magnificent racing offered. Clouds had started coming up about noon, and it threatened for a time to rain, but the danger pa.s.sed, and the ominous look of the sky before the sport commenced had no effect whatever on the attendance. Many of the old-timers said it was the greatest ma.s.s of spectators which ever elbowed their way into the cla.s.sic course. Trains arriving yesterday and today had added their thousands to thousands already here. In addition, automobiles kept streaming into the town from every direction all through the morning, the array of glittering machines in the vast parking s.p.a.ces at the track running into the thousands.

There did not appear to be another available inch of s.p.a.ce when the first post bugle sounded. Women in brilliant gowns and hats met the eye everywhere. Many luncheon parties were given at the clubhouse, while it seemed as if every chair in every box was occupied.

Favored in the Travers was Harry Payne Whitney's filly Prudery, recently winner of the Alabama, a three-year-old so overpowering that but one other horse was entered: Arnold Rothstein's colt Sporting Blood.

In truth, A. R. had little faith in Sporting Blood's chances but the idea of sure-thing second-place money attracted him. Word reached Arnold that Prudery wasn't quite right-nothing you could put your finger on. But her temperament was off, and so were her workouts. Harry Payne Whitney might have scratched the horse, but even slightly weakened, Prudery still could defeat Sporting Blood, a horse yet to display anything special.

Besides Whitney and his staff-and Rothstein-no one knew Prudery was anything but perfect. And no one but Rothstein and his trainer Willie Booth knew that Sporting Blood was in the best form of his career, well above anything she had displayed before. For want of a better expression, Prudery was about to have a horse race on her hands.

But how to maximize profit? Here was the perennial question. Odds on Sporting Blood remained very favorable. Until recently, not even A. R. was about to lay down a penny on her. If he-directly or indirectly-now started betting big money, bookmakers would smell a rat, the odds would shift, and A. R. would be taking a still substantial risk for what would now be too proportionally small a reward.

A. R. decided a major distraction was in order. In town was another formidable three-year-old, Harry Sinclair's chestnut colt Grey Lag, who earlier in the year had beaten Sporting Blood in the Belmont by three lengths. Rothstein cajoled Grey Lag's trainer, Sam Hildreth, to enter the colt in the Travers.

A half-hour before post time, Hildreth scratched Grey Lag-again at A. R.'s bidding. The betting public a.s.sumed Hildreth, a future Hall of Fame trainer, simply had second thoughts and had conceded the race to Prudery. Thus when A. R.'s agents in the hinterlands increased betting on Sporting Blood, no one cared, thinking them "sucker bets." In fact, many out-of-town bookmakers taking these bets were so certain of their futility, they pocketed the money and failed to report anything back to their Saratoga counterparts. Odds on Sporting Blood remained unnaturally high.

By post time A. R. had $150,000 on Sporting Blood. He had played his hand with cunning. Now it was up to Sporting Blood. The Times correspondent wrote: The two got away to a perfect start, Sporting Blood showing in the front first. His lead was brief, however, for [Prudery jockey Laverne] Fator took the filly to the front at once, and rounding the clubhouse turn, the Whitney colors were to the fore. All the way down the back stretch the blue and brown silks were ahead, but the crimson and gold of the Redstone colors were never more than a length behind. It was an extremely pretty race to watch for Prudery failed to steal the lead which many had expected and Sporting Blood stuck right behind the speeding filly.

Coming around the far turn, the backers of Prudery began for the first time to sense danger, while the feeling, intangible, but there, seemed to sweep the stands that something unexpected was about to be witnessed. It was. [Jockey Lawrence] Lyke, giving Sporting Blood masterful handling, brought his mount right up to the withers of the filly. There the colt hung for a moment, then he began to go by her, and the race was over.

As the two turned into the stretch, the Crimson and Gold was leading the Blue and Brown by a short neck. Fator sat down to give one of those stirring finishes which he knows so well how to make. He cut the filly with the whip. Her lack of response told the story. Instead of bounding forward, Prudery frankly pinned back her ears, began to sulk, and announced, as plainly as if she had spoken, that she was through racing for the afternoon.

Sporting Blood romped home by two lengths, earning his owner a purse of $10,275, plus $450,000 in winning bets. Sam Hildreth received a cut.

Rothstein grew tired of Saratoga. He hated the six-hour auto trip from New York, and once there was no happier. It just wasn't New York. It wasn't Broadway. "I don't like Saratoga. It's too hot," he'd complain to Carolyn, but that was nonsense. Manhattan was no cooler or less humid. One afternoon he won nearly $50,000 on a 3-1 shot in a two-horse race. By the fourth race, he sent Carolyn word that they were catching the 6:00 P.M. train to Grand Central. "Sweet," he told her. "I wouldn't stay here if I was sure I could make a million."

Sometime around 1925, Rothstein sold his share of The Brook to Nat Evans. Yet he still retained a place in the town's gaming industry. While running The Brook, he imported such up-and-coming hoodlums as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano to operate its roulette wheels and chemin-de-fer tables. Before long they were on their own-with A. R.'s backing-obtaining a percentage of the Chicago Club, a backstreet joint not far from the train station. Despite its shabby brick exterior, the establishment was among the nation's most profitable gambling houses.

The Brook barely outlasted Rothstein. Evans sold the place to Max "Kid Rags" Kalik, "a widely known sportsman," in June 1934, but regained the t.i.tle following the racing season. On November 1, 1934, Evans insured the establishment and its contents for $117,000-a providential move. In the early morning of December 31, 1934, with Evans seriously ill in a New York City hospital, Arnold Rothstein's once-grand Brook burned to the ground.

CHAPTER I0 * "I Never Take My Troubles to the Cops"

VIOLENCE STALKED Arnold Rothstein's world. It had visited Beansy Rosenthal and Jack Zelig, and it trailed A. R., as he walked Manhattan's dark streets carrying tens of thousands of dollars-or as he partic.i.p.ated in a high-stakes floating dice and poker game. Any number of people wanted what Arnold Rothstein had-and would employ force to take it from him.

He employed bodyguards-Abe Attell, Fats Walsh, and Legs Diamond among them. He carried a revolver-legally, of course. Never convicted of any crime, and with solid connections downtown, he had no difficulty in securing a permit.

Numerous attempts were made to rob Rothstein. Several succeeded; several didn't. Not all were by professionals. Early in his career-just after establishing his gambling house on West 46th Street in 1909-Arnold entered the Metropole's dining room. An armed man snarled, "Now, you Blankity-Blank, give me that five thousand dollars you owe me or I'll kill you."

Arnold realized the man wasn't a criminal or even a sore loser; he was, in the parlance of the times, simply a lunatic. Arnold spoke calmly. "Of course, I'll pay you the money. But right now you look tired and hungry, and I haven't the money with me anyway. I tell you what. You come with me, and I'll fix you up with something to eat, and a good Turkish bath, and then I'll get the money I owe you, and give it to you." They went off together to the baths. From there A. R. called Bellevue Hospital and had his a.s.sailant put under observation.

The most notable use of force to relieve A. R. of his bankroll happened on Wednesday night, May 16, 1917. Rothstein had organized a high-stakes card game at a second-floor suite of West 47th Street's Hotel St. Francis. The game's thirty-odd partic.i.p.ants included several well-heeled professionals, including Herbert Bayard Swope. A. R. employed the unusual precautions, but took one chance. In recent weeks gunmen had robbed several big games, relieving players of cash, jewelry, and sundry valuables. One individual had attended a high percentage of them. Rothstein invited him to attend the night's festivities.

The game started at 10:00 P.M. Four hours later, four masked men entered the hotel. One pointed his gun at the desk clerk; the others took the elevator upstairs, ordering the night bellboy to lead them to Rothstein's rooms. When the bellboy rapped on the door, they burst in. One ordered: "Now, all of you stand up against the wall, hold your hands up in the air, and don't make a peep."

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