“Beansie” Spills the Beans
The Becker-Rosenthal Trial began with Charles Becker (July 26, 1870 – July 30, 1915), a NYC Police Lieutenant of German decent, becoming famous early in his career during the Stephen Crane Scandal in which Becker arrested prostitute Ruby Young (alias Dora Clark) in the author’s company. Later, he reportedly assaulted Young after she pressed charges. Interestingly, Becker was promoted under the aforementioned, General Bingham; Becker went on to become one of the most corrupt cops in NYC’s Tenderloin District, succeeding Captain Max Schmittberger, who had been discharged for his own criminal activity and who Becker helped bring to trial. The two-faced Becker followed suite, accepting bribes and extorting money from local criminals in exchange for police immunity. He did not act alone, rallying other police officials, political figures, and gangster goons under his wing.
Becker’s cover was exposed when one smalltime gambler, Herman “Beansie” Rosenthal went to the press with halting accusations that Becker was extorting money from his gambling house, threatening to shut it down. Rosenthal was further enraged when Becker led a police raid against Rosenthal, taking his seventeen year old nephew into custody. On July 16th, 1912, two days after Rosenthal took the scandal to the “New York World” papers, he was shot outside NYC’s Hotel Metropole. Four gunmen were arrested, comprising of Lenox Avenue Gang leader, Harry “Gyp the Blood” Horowitz (1889 – April 13, 1914) and three other gang members, Louis “Lefty Louie” Rosenberg, Jacob “Whitey Lewis” Seidenschmer, and Francesco “Dago Frank” Cirofici. Needless to say, this party was almost exclusively Jewish, with the exception of Cirofici. It was reported that to one gunman approached Rosenthal’s lifeless body and uttered the notorious line, “Hello, Herman; goodbye, Herman.” The Lennox Avenue Gang certainly had a strong Jewish membership and was well established by the early 1900’s as strong allies of the Eastman Gang. A partnership evolved between Becker, Zelig, and Horowitz and the trio ruled NYC’s underworld. No one could have predicted that once Rosenthal’s body hit the pavement, the three were essentially doomed.
“Baldy Jack Rose” Testifies
Following the arrest of the Lenox Avenue gunmen, the rental getaway car was traced to Jacob “Baldy Jack Rose” Rosenzwig (September 1876 – October 4, 1947), who functioned as Becker’s collector from various gambling undergrounds. Rose reluctantly agreed to this arrangement after Becker threatened to close his business. Rose was additionally forced to give Becker 25% of his weekly income. After “Beansie” spilled the beans, Rose had allegedly been assigned to recruit gangsters for his murder. When Zelig declined the offer on behalf of the Eastman Gang, Rose turned to Horowitz and the Lenox Avenue Gang who were happy to oblige.
Along with the four Lenox Avenue gunmen, Rose and gangsters’ Louis William “Bridgie” Webber, Sam “Schapps” Schepps, and Harry Vallon were also incarcerated in Tombs prison, as having been involved, the latter informing the murderers of Rosenthal’s location. Shockingly, the men shared a cell in Tombs, enabling them to synchronize their alibis. These four sang like canaries under pressure from District Attorney, Charles Seymour Whitman (September 29, 1868 – March 29, 1947) and police officials. They were offered immunity for their testimony, pointing fingers at the four gunmen and asserting that they had all been hired by Becker to murder Rosenthal, a notion that Whitman, a contender for New York State Governor, was already convinced. “It was a pleasing sight to me to see that squealing Jew lying there,” Rose claimed Becker had reveled upon seeing Rosenthal’s body. “I would (like to) have cut out his tongue and hung it on the Times Building as a warning to future squealers.” On July 29, 1912 Becker was arrested and transferred to Sing Sing prison. On October 5, 1912, two days before the trial was scheduled to begin, Zelig was shot and killed by Jewish, Five Points Gang member, Philip “Red Phil” Davidson while riding a NYC trolley. Although, Davidson claimed his motif was over a $400 dispute, it is commonly assumed that he was hired to prevent Zelig from testifying against Becker and the others. Zelig had been forever silenced, but their efforts were ultimately futile.
Whitman: Governor or Executioner?
The initial trial began on October 7, 1912 and lasted until October 30, 1912 when a prompt guilty verdict was reached for all five defendants. The case was appealed, yet overturned for all but Becker on the grounds that the presiding judge, John William Goff, was heavily biased against Becker, for which there was less solid evidence against. On April 13, 1914, the result of testimonies from Rose, Webber, Schepps, and Vallon sent Lenox Gangsters’ Horowitz, Rosenberg, Seidenschmer, and Cirofici, to the Sing Sing electric chair. Moments before his execution, Cirofici urged Becker’s innocence; “So far as I know, Becker had nothing to do with the case. It was a gambler’s fight. I told some lies on the stand to prove an alibi for the rest of the boys.”
Becker’s case was revisited from May 2, 1914 until May 22, 1914, when Whitman’s prosecution once again led to a guilty verdict. In January 1915, Whiteman became the 41st Governor of New York State, while Rose, a born-again Christian, traveled the country as a criminal lecturer. As Becker’s pleas became more desperate, it was discovered that the Governor had the authority to overturn the fate of a man on death row by signing a simple document; however Whiteman, being the defendant’s former prosecuting attorney would not entertain this. When bids to transfer this responsibility to another acting Governor circulated, Whiteman refused to relinquish control. Becker’s death ensured Whiteman’s success. “I am innocent as you of having murdered Herman Rosenthal or having counseled, procured or aided his murder or having any knowledge of that dreadful crime,” Becker wrote in a letter to Whitman. After further failed pleads for mercy, one involving Becker’s wife Helen, who wept in Whitman’s office the day preceding her husband’s death date, the Governor did not remove the decree.
On July 30, 1915, Becker was sent to Sing Sing electric chair. Minutes before his death, Becker still asserted his innocence. He then suffered from one of longest executions in Sing Sing history, lasting nine minutes. Becker made headlines as the first police official to be executed in the U.S. The case was revisited at different points in history, arresting and acquitting other suspects of the murder. Today, questions remain whether the Lieutenant was truly responsible for Rosenthal’s murder. What is not in question is that Becker was surely a corrupt official. It is important to remember, however, that Becker’s actions were not uncommon among police officials and political figures of that time. Becker just had the unfortunate luck of being tried, prosecuted, and executed for his alleged hand in Rosenthal’s murder. It is said that Becker’s wife Helen, attached a silver plate on her husband’s casket, engraved with the words: “Charles Becker; Murdered July 30, 1915; By Governor Whitman.
For Further Reading
- The Real Jewish Gangsters of NYC
- General Theodore Bingham vs. The Jews
- The Eastman Gang
- Big Jack Zelig: The “Big Yid” of the Lower East Side
- The Becker-Rosenthal Trial
- Detective Abraham Shoenfeld Infiltrates Jewish Criminal Underworld
- Arnold Rothstein: The Modern Jewish Gangster
- The National Crime Syndicate
- The Murder of “Bugsy” Siegel
- The Kefauver Committee and Aftermath
- Jewish Gangsters Today
Trial and Verdict
- “Charles Becker” (Murderpedia)
- The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Charles Becker, Appellant (Argued December 1st, 1913, Decided February 24th, 1914) (Murderpedia)
- The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Charles Becker, Appellant (Court of Appeals May 25th, 1915) (Murderpedia)
- The People of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Jacob Seidenshner, Frank Cirofici, Lois Rosenberg, and Harry Horowitz, Appellants (Argued December 17th, 1913, Decided February 24th, 1914) (Murderpedia)
- Photos: “Charles Becker” (Murderpedia)
- Mark Gado, “Killer Cop: Charles Becker” (TrueTV: Crime Library)
- Jay Robert Nash, “Charles Becker: The ‘Crookedest’ Cop in New York” (Jay Robert Nash’s Annals of Crime)
- “Trial” (John Jay College of Criminal Justice: Crime in New York 1850-1950)
The Execution of Charles Becker
- “Becker Goes to the Electric Chair Still a Brave Man” (Genealogy Trials: First Appeared: The Quincy Daily Journal / Quincy Whig 1915)
- Mark S. Gado, “Tombs Inmate Trio Tripped Up Killer Cop” (Correction History)
- Richard F. Snow, “Charles Becker” (American Heritage)
Questions of Becker’s Guilt Remain
- Joe Bruno, “The Wrong Man: Who Ordered the Murder of Herman Rosenthal and Why” (Scribd / Joseph Bruno Literary Services)
- Sam Roberts, “100 Years after a Murder, Questions about a Police Officer’s Guilt” (The New York Times)
Murder of Herman “Beansie” Rosenthal
- “Grand Jury Witness Gunned Down in New York” (100 Years Ago Today)
- Evan Hunter, “For Beansie, The Short Goodbye” (New York Times)
Herman “Beansie” Rosenthal
- Pat Hamou, “One Hundred Years of Herman Rosenthal” (Six for Five: An Illustrated History of New York’s Jewish Criminal Community 1900-1945)
Governor Charles Seymour Whitman
- “New York Governor Charles Seymour Whitman” (National Governors Association)
Jacob “Baldy Jack Rose” Rosenzwig
- Pat Hamou, “Bald Jack Rose” (Six for Five: An Illustrated History of New York’s Jewish Criminal Community 1900-1945)
Harry “Gyp the Blood” Horowitz
- Harriet Ryan, “History Haunts Manhattan’s Tombs Jail” (CNN)
- “The Tale of Tombs” (Correction History / NYC DOC)