Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century
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They called it Satan’s Circus—a square mile of Midtown Manhattan where vice ruled, sin flourished, and depravity danced in every doorway. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was a place where everyone from the chorus girls to the beat cops was on the take and where bad boys became wicked men; a place where an upstanding young policeman such as Charley Becker could become the crookedest cop who ever stood behind a shield.
Murder was so common in the vice district that few people were surprised when the loudmouthed owner of a shabby casino was gunned down on the steps of its best hotel. But when, two weeks later, an ambitious district attorney charged Becker with ordering the murder, even the denizens of Satan’s Circus were surprised. The handsome lieutenant was a decorated hero, the renowned leader of New York’s vice-busting Special Squad. Was he a bad cop leading a double life, or a pawn felled by the sinister rogues who ran Manhattan’s underworld?
With appearances by the legendary and the notorious—including Big Tim Sullivan, the election-rigging vice lord of Tammany Hall; future president Theodore Roosevelt; beloved gangster Jack Zelig; and the newly famous author Stephen Crane—Satan’s Circus brings to life an almost-forgotten Gotham. Chronicling Charley Becker’s rise and fall, the book tells of the raucous, gaudy, and utterly corrupt city that made him, and recounts not one but two sensational murder trials that landed him in the electric chair.
CONTENTS TITLE PAGE MAP PREFACE 1 WIDE-OPEN 2 KING OF THE BOWERY 3 GRAFT 4 STUSS 5 STRONG ARM SQUAD 6 LEFTY, WHITEY, DAGO, GYP 7 “GOOD-BYE, HERMAN” 8 RED QUEEN 9 TOMBS 10 FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT 11 RETRIAL 12 DEATH HOUSE EPILOGUE NOTES BIBLIOGRAPHY ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR COPYRIGHT Charles Becker Herman Rosenthal Charles and Helen Becker Big Tim Sullivan Charles Whitman (Library of Congress) Jack Rose(Library of Congress) Jack Zelig
the prison had ever had such sympathetic treatment,” observed the World. Helen left the prison at 1:30 in the morning, and Becker was returned to his cell. “I am tired of the world and its injustice to me,” he told Father Curry, the New York priest. “My happy life has been ruined; I have not been given a chance a mere dog would get.” Warden Osborne, coming to say good-bye at 2:30 A.M., found his prisoner awake and sitting on the edge of his cot, “his chin sunk in his hands.” At 4:00, Father
a predetermined rotation, would have let the men’s families know when their loved ones would be home. But although two separate attempts to bring in the new scheme were made, both were unsuccessful. Aside from any other considerations, the costs involved meant that the idea was abandoned almost as soon as it was tried. What was telling about all this was not so much the failure of the campaign for three platoons as the determination shown by ordinary patrolmen, who felt angry enough at their
the afternoon his trial was scheduled to begin—October 15, 1896—Officer Becker rallied the support of colleagues from the West Thirtieth Street station, and when he made his way down Mulberry Street to the hearing, he did so in the company of a bodyguard. Callow patrolman though he was, Becker entered the headquarters building surrounded by a phalanx of policemen made up of every member of his precinct not on duty at the time. Police trials seldom lasted longer than an hour or two, but this
that not one of them will be left on my roundups…. I will frame every one of them up and send them up the river for carrying concealed weapons. Of course, the gambler added, “all this [occurred] while I was only thinking of my position the fear of the vengeance of the crowd who…were accusing me of Jobbing Zelig.” Rose, in short, felt he had no choice but to obey the lieutenant, but he had never met Zelig and had no experience of procuring murder. Instead he had gone to see his friends Vallon