Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cleveland's Killer Celebrities, Part 1

Such a Nice Guy

The story was, naturally, all over the media, as had been Shondor's antics for four decades.

In the Cleveland Press, Dick McLaughlin summed up his career: "A muscleman whose specialty was controlling numbers gambling on the East Side, keeping the peace among rival operators and getting a cut from each of them, Birns was a feared man because of his violent reaction to any adversary."

But the next paragraph told of a different Shondor:

"Yet he was popular, had an engaging personality, was known by many newsmen because he was 'good copy' and was ever ready to buy them a drink (including this reporter).

"He was a feared man, but a genial and generous man, holding court almost daily at the Theatrical Lounge where he lunched."

Shondor Birns
Shondor Birns

There, he was gracious with the lawyers and downtown businessmen who, like Tony Soprano's neighbors, came up to shake the hand of the famous criminal.

He was also willing to lend money and do favors. "I was playing around on my wife," said an unnamed businessman, "and she had a private eye tailing me. I told Shondor about it and he told the private eye, 'I'd appreciate it if you'd leave this man alone.' I never saw the private eye again."

His old associates were surprised that he had become so careless in his old age. He had settled into the custom of visiting Christy's every Saturday to chat with the owner and the barmaid and sometimes buy drinks for the regulars.

One of his friends seemed to have the explanation: "He told me last week that this was his last month in the rackets. He said he was going to retire, that he had enough money and couldn't spend it all."

Police rounded up the usual suspects, but the bombing wound up, like so many bombings in previous months, as an unsolved crime.

They had a suspect, another hoodlum who had reason to want Shondor dead, but they couldn't get the goods on him:

It was Danny Greene, a would-be Shondor who envied Birns' control of the rackets.

Not to mention his front-page reputation.

Next: Shondor the Apprentice Hood

 

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