By Nate Hendley
Dutch Schultz (real-name Arthur Flegenheimer) was a highly eccentric, highly successful Jewish-American gangster. He rose to prominence peddling awful bootleg beer during Prohibition in the 1920s. His product was lousy but his sales methods were persuasive (when faced with a stubborn speakeasy manager, Schultz had the man kidnapped, hung by his thumbs from a meat-hook and tortured).
If beer made Schultz rich and powerful, it was ‘numbers’ that pushed him into the criminal stratosphere. The numbers racket was simply an illegal lottery. People bet on a three-digit combination, from 000 to 999. The gangsters who ran the racket selected winning digits on the basis of objective statistics, such as sports scores. Anyone who had bet on the winning numbers received a small cash payment.
The numbers racket was hugely popular in New York City, particularly with African-Americans. It was cheap (most bets were for pennies), easy to play and offered a low-risk way to gamble.
In the early 1930s, the highly profitable Harlem numbers racket was controlled by African-American mobsters. Established Italian and Jewish gangs of the era turned their noses up at numbers, treating the racket with racist contempt.
Schultz had better business sense. Through intimidation and violence, he soon took control of the Harlem numbers scene. To the astonishment of his peers, Schultz was soon pulling down millions of dollars in profit on numbers.
Schultz was not popular with his fellow gangsters. He dressed like a slob (which offended more sartorial-minded mobsters) and wasn’t much of a team-player.
Despite this, Schultz maintained an incredible winning streak—for a while. He managed to beat two income tax raps, of the variety that had brought down mighty Al Capone in Chicago. His luck ran out, however, when Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey set his sights on the Dutchman (as he was called, colloquially).
Unnerved by Dewey’s aggressive investigation into his business affairs, Schultz announced that the Special Prosecutor had to be killed. This alarmed his gangster peers, who had no compunctions about murder but avoided killing cops, judges and prosecutors for fear of massive retaliation.
A “hit” was ordered on Schultz, to stop him from assassinating Dewey. On October 23, 1935, a pair of professional killers burst into a New Jersey restaurant where Schultz was meeting with some cronies. The killers shot each man in Schultz’s party, including the Dutchman. A photographer who arrived on the scene captured the classic picture shown above, of Schultz splayed over a table.
Schultz survived the shooting–for a time. He lingered in hospital in a high-fever delirium, babbling insanely.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, available at Amazon.ca (for Canadians) Amazon.com (for Americans), Chapter’s and Barnes and Noble:
October 24, 1935 The Dutchman was dying. The bullet in his gut had caused massive internal injuries and sent his temperature soaring. Staring fixedly at the ceiling from his hospital bed, Arthur Flegenheimer – aka Dutch Schultz – cried and babbled. In his delirium, he began weaving a weird tapestry of unconnected phrases, names, and oaths. A police stenographer sat by the gangster’s side, taking down every word. The authorities hoped Schultz might reveal Mob secrets in his final monologue. But Dutch proved as elusive in his dying hours as he had been in life. “No, no. There are only 10 of us and there are 10 million fighting somewhere in front of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag,” he raved. “Oh, please let me up. Please shift me. Police are here. Communistic … strike … baloney … honestly, this is a habit I get; sometimes I give it and sometimes I don’t. Oh, I am all in. That settles it. Are you sure? Please let me get in and eat. Let him harass himself to you and then bother you.” None of it made any sense to the police. They kept listening, however, as Schultz rambled on, his mind journeying back and forth over the course of his brief, but spectacular, criminal life.
(Nate Hendley is a crime writer based in Toronto, Ontario. You can find out more about his books and background at www.natehendley.com)