Friday, February 5, 2010

Dutch, Lucky, Dixie and Dewey

In the early 1930s, a young Jewish man named Arthur Fliegenheimer, who, by dint of business acumen and an extraordinary penchant for violence, became the most powerful bootlegger and numbers-runner in the Bronx. He adopted the name “Dutch Schulz,” a decision he later regretted, since he said that if he kept “Fliegenheimer,” the papers would never have put it in their headlines. (Nor would it have fit.) His activities attracted the attention of New York’s new Special Prosecutor, Thomas Dewey. Schulz managed to beat one charge of income tax evasion, but he knew full well that Dewey would soon have a grand jury return another set of indictments. Schulz called a meeting of the heads of New York’s crime families, including the famous Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Schulz informed his colleagues that he was going to do the unthinkable: get rid of Dewey. Luciano and the others told Schulz that they could not agree to such an action because the resultant public outrage would bring heat upon all of them.

Schulz’s temper got the best of him. He stormed out of the meeting shouting that he would kill Dewey and they would thank him for it. After Schulz’s departure, the other bosses agreed that they would have to have Schulz eliminated. Shortly thereafter, October 24, 1935, Schulz was meeting with his accountant and two bodyguards in the Palace Chophouse in New Jersey, when a group of gunmen entered and killed all four of them. This particular mob hit has been depicted on film perhaps a dozen times.

Ironically, Schulz received his wounds while answering nature’s call and, as one writer put it, “had something other than a gun” in his hand at the time. Every Hollywood depiction has Schulz dying at the scene (for those of you who viewed the clip, could Tim Roth be any more of an overactor?). Schulz was still conscious when the ambulance showed up. He gave his stretcher-bearers $700 in cash, figuring that would get him the best possible care.

Schulz lapsed into semi-consciousness, and for almost twenty-four hours, babbled semi-coherently before he died. An autopsy later showed that Schulz’s killers were covering all of their bets. They had used rusty bullets, and Schulz died of peritonitis.

The postscript to this is another irony: it’s altogether possible that Luciano’s ordering of Schulz’s murder saved Dewey’s life. Within a year, Dewey supervised a prosecution of Luciano that sent him to prison for ten years. He was then deported, forced to spend the rest of his life in Italy.

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