Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cleveland's Killer Celebrities, Part 1

The King & Shondor

Don King
Don King

In later life, Donald King would be world-famous as the boxing promoter who hooked up with a young heavyweight named Muhammad Ali.

Before that, he would spend four years in prison for literally "stomping" to death a minor numbers racketeer as he lay on the sidewalk, calling out, "How much do I owe you? How much do I owe you?"

But now, in 1957, he was "The Kid," just one of the numbers operators competing violently for bettors in Cleveland's ghetto.

Except that he was defied Shondor Birns.

King was flamboyant always seen "with a .38 in his belt and a big cigar in his mouth," according to a 1988 Plain Dealer series by Christopher Evans. But he had gotten little attention outside the ghetto, except for the 1954 killing of a rival in what was ruled self-defense.

Now he made Page One headlines. A bomb blasted his front porch at 3:45 on a May morning in 1957. King told police: "Shondor was one of the five pistols who bombed me."

King explained that he had been one of five numbers operators who each paid Birns $200 a week to make sure that none of their competitors paid odds of more than 500 to 1. King was behind in his payments. He told police he had decided to get out of the racket.

Birns was charged with blackmail. "He appeared jovial and confident when he was booked," the Press reported.

King was promised 24-hour police protection.

In October, though, he was ambushed outside his home. A shotgun blast hit him in the side of the head. Taken to the hospital, he refused to cooperate with police.

At the trial, however, King told jurors that a Birns emissary had offered him $10,000 not to testify: "He said if I didn't testify, he would guarantee there would be no more shooting at me or bombing my house and I'd have no reason to be scared no more."

The prosecution produced a surprise witness, "a former employee of the rackets." On the stand, the Press reported, "she burst into tears again and again and refused to answer questions as Birns and the other defendants glared at her. Her attorney told the judge she was told that she and her 12-year-old daughter would be killed if she testified."

Elijah Abercrombie, a co-defendant, told the jury that police had offered to let him run an unhampered gambling game if he gave them information against Birns. Defense lawyer Fred Garmone called King "a scheming, lying, witness-fixing extortionist himself."  

The jury deliberated 11 hours. It cleared one defendant and hung on Birns and the others.

Once more, he had beaten the rap.

Next: Sonny Changes His Story

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