Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

BLACK GANGS OF HARLEM : 1920-1939

Takeovers and Syndication

Schatzberg and Kelly state that, Historically, African-American communities, especially Harlem, lacked political clout and could not easily neutralize the law enforcement apparatus of police, prosecutors, judges, and courts. More than removing law enforcement as an obstacle in criminal enterprises, Schultz mobilized police officers, bail bondsmen, lawyers, and court officials as active participants in his criminal enterprises and as appendages in his war for the numbers rackets in Harlem.

The gang war that broke out in Harlem was short-lived. Harlems numbers operators were not prepared for an extended turf war, or the ruthlessness and violence inflicted by the mob. Many of them were badly beaten and some were even murdered by the mobs musclemen. It has been estimated that more than 40 murders and six kidnappings came on the heels of this turf war. Harlems black numbers runners began to disappear off the streets and its policy bankers began to mysteriously retire. By late 1928, only a little more than 20 policy banks remained out of 40.  

Dutch Schultz
Dutch Schultz

According to longtime Harlem residents, it made sense to pay off Tammany Hall for protection and to not make waves over losing any business. Dutch Schultz was now King of Harlem Bankers and ruled with an iron fist. You worked for Schultz or you didnt work at all, said a black numbers runner employed during that time. All of the work was done by the remaining black bankers, with little recompense, while the white mobsters took most of the money. They utilized not only violence but their political power and police connections to achieve the goal of corralling the numbers racket. Bub Hewlett, the black gunman who had fought against Bumpy, was hired by Dutch Schultz to strong-arm the black bankers and their runners into joining his numbers syndicate. Hewlett proved to be very ruthless. Many who refused to join with Schultz were severely beaten, cut, and shot. All of the black bankers and runners who managed to survive this orchestrated onslaught ended up as middlemen for the mob. Bankers who could not cover large hits received loans from the Mob for extremely high interest rates and a share of their operations. 

One of the few surviving bankers was Casper Holstein. He stood up against all Mob offers and attempts to take over his numbers business. On September 23, 1928, while walking from his apartment to his waiting limousine, he was attacked, blindfolded and kidnapped by five white mobsters. Holstein claimed two women were also involved. He was held for a $50,000 ransom. Supposedly, Holstein made a phone call to Harlems Monarch Lodge of Negro Elks, where he served as the Exalted Ruler, and said, Tell the police to get out of this case. All they will get will be my dead body.

Only the week before, Holstein was seen betting more than $30,000 on the races at Belmont Park. It was the first time in America that an affluent black person was kidnapped. It made headlines across the nation. Three days later, The New York Times reported, Casper Holstein, wealthy overlord of the Negro sporting world, came home to Harlem early today. His return was as mysterious as his disappearance just after midnight on Thursday.

Holstein never admitted a ransom had been paid. He only said that the kidnappers felt he was getting a raw deal, and released him with three dollars for taxi fare. The experience shook-up Holstein and he was never quite the same. He cut back on his banking operations and began to keep a lower profile, eventually dropping out of the numbers business. Several years later, Holsteins life took another strange turn. He was arrested on a Federal warrant from the Samuel Seabury Commission for illegal gambling and policy violations. Repeatedly claiming that he was framed, Holstein was sentenced to prison, where he spent almost a year. When he returned to Harlem the Mob had taken over all of his business and he was broke. Casper Holstein never again operated in the numbers game.

Stephanie "Queenie" St. Clair
Stephanie "Queenie" St. Clair
 

Bumpy Johnson and Queenie St. Clair refused to accept any Mob offers and tried to fight off being taken over, but the intimidation and extreme violence began to take its toll on them. Queenie complained to authorities about the police harassing her, despite the fact she was paying them protection money. Dissatisfied with their unsympathetic response, she ran advertisements in Harlems newspapers, charging the police with corruption. The corrupt authorities retaliated by arresting her on framed charges and imprisoning her for eight months in a workhouse for women. When Queenie was released, she immediately retaliated by testifying before the Seabury Commission about her numbers operations and her payoffs to the police for the protection of her employees. This brought about the Commissions suspension of more than a dozen involved officers. To many, it only seemed that these officers were scapegoats in the war on organized crime.  

Realizing that he and Queenie were in a no win situation, Bumpy went to Schultz and Luciano and struck a deal. They gave him the highest-ranking position they could, for a black man. He became responsible for control of their black numbers runners and the enforcing of Mob policies in the Harlem community. Bumpy went to Queenie and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her to give in to the Mob. He continued to do all he could to protect her and her operations.

Queenie was determined to resist Mob takeover, despite knowing it was only a matter of time before the mob would get to her. She even tried to get other black bankers and runners to join her in the fight against mob takeovers. But they were either too afraid or worn down by the effects of violence and believed they could not fight the Mobs political and legal powers. None of them agreed to stand with Queenie against them.

One day, Bumpy informed Queenie that the word on the streets was that she was a marked woman. He told her she should lay low, because the Mob wanted her dead. Queenie became a recluse, not daring to appear out in public and trying to run her operations through Bumpy and her other workers. Tales passed down over the years say that the mobs search for Queenie was so intense that on one occasion, Bumpy had to help her to hide in a coal bin beneath a mound of coal. He had done his best to protect

Queenie, but they both knew that it could not go on. Finally Bumpy convinced her to take whatever deal the Mob offered, in order to stay alive and in business. She sent Bumpy to Schultz to tell him she would cooperate. Schultz agreed to let her continue running her numbers bank, in exchange for a majority share and his allowing her to live. Queenie never stopped hating Dutch Schultz. 

Bumpy became an important middleman for the Mobs Harlem domain. Crime was still his livelihood and he was eager to learn all he could about white organized gangs. According to Ianni, When a black wanted to buy a franchise to establish a numbers bank, he went to Bumpy Johnson, who arranged it for a fee. When a black drug dealer wanted to buy a large quantity of drugs, Johnson arranged the sale. Italian racketeers knew him as a persuader, one who could settle underworld quarrels before disputes erupted into violence, and into the publicity they naturally wished to avoid.

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