Crimes and the Rich and Famous

Crimes and the Rich and Famous

by Carl Sifakis

Crime and fame often go hand in hand. Here, veteran crime reporter Carl Sifakis details the most fascinating, shocking, and despicable crimes perpetrated by celebrities or committed against them. From the scandal surrounding Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle to the mysterious case of Lizzie Borden, more than 80 detailed entries push celebrities out of the limelight and into…  See more details below


Crime and fame often go hand in hand. Here, veteran crime reporter Carl Sifakis details the most fascinating, shocking, and despicable crimes perpetrated by celebrities or committed against them. From the scandal surrounding Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle to the mysterious case of Lizzie Borden, more than 80 detailed entries push celebrities out of the limelight and into the spotlight of crime.

Editorial Reviews

Arranged alphabetically, entries describe crimes by and against celebrities and the wealthy. Crimes, criminals, victims, lawyers, scandals, prisons, and associated locations and circumstances are all represented, granting the work an intense diversity. A quick trip through the B's, for example, familiarizes the reader with defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, the Reverend Jim Bakker, Mayflower Madam Sydney Biddle Barrows, the Benson family murders, draft dodger Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, journalist Meyer Berger, anarchist Alexander Berkman, the Black Sox scandal, the Bloomington-Morgan affair, Bonnie and Clyde, Lizzie Borden, and the Burr-Hamilton duel. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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Adams, Albert J. (1844-1907) numbers king

A famous and colorful New York City gambler, known as the Policy King, Al Adams was the boss of the most extensive numbers game operation in the city.

    Dishonesty has been the keynote of policy games from the time they started in England during the 1700s to the present, but Adams gave them a new wrinkle, not only bilking the public but also swindling other numbers operators in order to take over their businesses.

    Adams came to New York from his native Rhode Island in the early 1870s and first worked as a railroad brakeman, a job he found much too taxing. He soon became a runner in a policy game operated by Zachariah Simmons. Duly impressed by Adams' penchant for deviousness, the older man took him in as a partner. Adams developed many ways to rig the game to reduce the winners' payoff. After Simmons died, Adams took over his operation and eventually became the boss of the New York policy racket. At the time, there were scores of independent operators. It was common practice for independent policy men to "lay off" numbers that had been bet too heavily for comfort. They would simply shift part of the action to another operator who had light play on the number, thus spreading the risk. When these operators tried to lay off a heavily played number with Adams, he would note the number and claim he already had too much action on it. He would then lay off the same number around the city, even if he actually had little or no action on it. Thus, a number of operators would becomevulnerable to that number. Adams' next move was to fix the results so the heavily played number came out, hitting the owners of many policy shops with devastating losses. To make their payoffs, the operators had to seek loans from Adams, who exacted a partnership as the price of a loan, ultimately kicking the operators out entirely. Some policy operators he simply refused to help, forcing them to make their payoffs (many to Adams' undercover bettors) by dipping into the cash reserved for bribes to politicians and the police. Losing their protection, they were immediately shut down, and Adams simply moved in.

    In time, it was estimated that Adams ran between 1,000 and 1,100 policy shops in the city. Over the years his payments to the Tweed Ring totaled in the millions. Even after Tweed fell and reformers came in, Adams was able to operate with the connivance of the police. It was not until 1901 that law enforcement authorities were forced to take action against his nefarious operations, raiding his headquarters. Adams was sent to Sing Sing, where he served more than a year.

    When he came out, Adams found that he no longer controlled the New York policy game. The battle for control of the business was turning exceedingly violent, and Adams, who had always operated with bribes and trickery, neither needed nor wanted to be involved in wars to the death. He lived out the next few years in luxury in the Ansonia Hotel and amassed a great fortune through land speculation. However, he was estranged from his family, who was ashamed of his past criminality and blamed him for their inability to lead normal, respectable lives. On October 1, 1907 Adams committed suicide in his apartment.

Adler, Polly (1900-1962) New York madam

Often called the last of the great madams, Polly Adler achieved such a measure of esteem that in the 1930s and 1940s she was regarded as one of New York City's most illustrious "official greeters." As she said in her memoirs, "I could boast a clientele culled not only from Who's Who and the Social Register, but from Burke's Peerage and the Almanach de Gotha." Her clients, of course, were not limited to high society; they included politicians, police, writers and gangsters. Among the latter were Dutch Schultz, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. The first two were regarded by Polly and her girls as lavish spenders. Luciano was not. If a girl sent by Polly to Luciano's suite in the Waldorf Towers thought she would do much better than the standard $20 fee, she was disillusioned. Luciano might stuff an extra $5 in her bra at the conclusion of a session, but that was all. As he later recalled: "I didn't want to do nothin' different. What do you think I was gonna do—spoil it for everybody?"

    Polly almost always used the real names of her clients when introducing them to her girls; the clients did not object, knowing that their secret was safe with Polly. When Dutch Schultz was on the run from the law in 1933 because of an income tax evasion charge drawn by a young federal prosecutor named Thomas E. Dewey, there were 50,000 wanted posters on him. The gang chief nevertheless continued his regular two or three visits a week to Polly's place and was never betrayed.

    Despite some memorable police raids, Polly generally operated with little interference out of lavish apartments in Manhattan's fashionable East 50s and 60s. Long laudatory descriptions of the decor in her opulent "homes" appeared in various publications. One establishment at Madison Avenue and East 55th Street was described as having a living room done up in "Louis XVI," a taproom in a military motif colored in red, white and blue, and a dining room that suggested the interior of a seashell. All the baths and "workrooms" were finished in peach and apple green. Free food was always offered and the bar did a thriving business. Many men dropped in just for refreshments and a stimulating chat with the loquacious madam.

    Polly became a celebrity in her own right. Interviewed by the press, she commented on various past and present events. Her opinion on Prohibition: "They might as well have been trying to dry up the Atlantic with a post-office blotter." Offer the people what they want, she said, and they will buy it. It was a philosophy that served her as well in her field as it did the bootleggers in their area. Madam Adler routinely made the gossip columns and was a regular at nightclub openings, where she would create a sensation marching in with a bevy of her most beautiful girls. She later recalled: "The clubs were a display window for the girls. I'd make a newspaper column or two, the latest Polly Adler gag would start the rounds and, no matter where we happened to go, some of the club patrons would follow after us and end the evening at the house."

    Polly Adler retired from the business in 1944. Encouraged by a number of writer friends, including Robert Benchley, she pursued a writing career after taking a number of college courses, and by the time of her death in 1962, she had become something of a literary light. In her later years Adler, an acknowledged expert on matters sexual, was a dinner companion of Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

Ah Hoon (?-1909) murder victim

The tong wars of New York's Chinatown were fought with more than guns, hatchets and snickersnee. They were also fought with insult, loss of face and wit. In the 1909-10 war between the Hip Sings and the On Leongs, some of the most telling blows were struck by the celebrated comic Ah Hoon, who was a member of the On Leongs. Ah Hoon used his performances at the venerable old Chinese Theater on Doyers Street to savage the Hip Sings. Finally, the Hip Sings could take no more insults to their honor and passed the death sentence on the comic. They announced publicly that Ah Hoon would be assassinated on December 30. The On Leongs vowed he would not be. And even the white man got into the act. A police sergeant and two patrolmen appeared on stage with Ah Hoon on December 30. The performance went off without a hitch, and immediately after, Ah Hoon was escorted back to his boarding house on Chatham Square. He was locked in his room and several On Leongs took up guard duty outside the door. Ah Hoon was safe. The only window in his room faced a blank wall across a court.

    The On Leongs started celebrating this new loss of face by the Hip Sings, who sulked as the On Leongs paraded through Chinatown. When Ah Hoon's door was unlocked the next morning, his shocked guards found him dead, shot through the head. Subsequent investigation revealed a member of the Hip Sings had been lowered on a chair by a rope from the roof and had shot the comic using a gun equipped with a silencer. Now, the Hip Sings paraded through Chinatown. Ah Hoon's killer was never found.

Alcatraz prison

In 1868 the U.S. War Department established a prison for hostiles and deserters on a stark little island in San Francisco harbor. The Indians called it "Alka-taz"—the lonely "Island of the Pelicans."

    By the 1930s Alcatraz had outlived its usefulness to the War Department, but it filled a new need for the Department of Justice, which wanted a "superprison to hold supercriminals," because there just seemed no way to contain them securely in the rest of the nation's federal penitentiaries. The new federal prison on Alcatraz opened on January 1, 1934 under the wardenship of James A. Johnston. Although the warden had previously earned a reputation as a "penal reformer," he would rule "the Rock" with an iron hand.

    Hardened criminals were shipped in large batches from other prisons, the schedules of the trains carrying them kept top secret. The first batch, the so-called Atlanta Boys Convoy, excited the public's imagination, conjuring up wild stories of huge gangster armies plotting to attack the convoy with guns, bombs, flamethrowers and even airplanes in order to free scores of deadly criminals. But the first mass prisoner transfer and those following it went off without a single hitch; by the end of the year, the prison, now called America's Devil's Island, housed more than 250 of the most dangerous federal prisoners in the country. The city of San Francisco, which had fought the establishment of a superprison on Alcatraz, now found it had a prime tourist attraction; picture postcards of Alcatraz by the millions—invariably inscribed, "Having wonderful time—wish you were here"—were mailed from the city.

    The prisoners, however, wished they were almost anywhere else. Johnston followed the principle of "maximum security and minimum privileges." There were rules, rules, rules, which made Alcatraz into a living but silent hell. A rule of silence, which had to be abandoned after a few years as unworkable, meant the prisoners were not allowed to speak to one another either in the cell house or the mess hall. A single whispered word could bring a guard's gas stick down on a prisoner. But the punishment could be worse; he might instead be marched off to "the hole" to be kept on a diet of bread and water for however long it pleased the warden and the guards.

    A convict was locked up in his Alcatraz cell 14 hours a day, every day without exception. Lockup was at 5:30, lights out was at 9:30 and morning inspection at 6:30. There was no trustee system, and thus no way a convict could win special privileges. While good behavior won no favors, bad behavior was punished with water hosing, gas stick beatings, special handcuffs that tightened with every movement, a strait jacket that left a man numb with cramps for hours, the hole, a bread-and-water diet and, worst of all, the loss of "good time," by which all federal prisoners could have 10 days deducted from their sentence for every 30 days with no infractions. But this harsh treatment proved too much for the prisoners and too difficult for the guards to enforce, even with an incredible ratio of one guard for every three prisoners. Within four years the rule of silence started to be modified, and some other regulations were eased.

    Incredibly, despite the prison's security and physical isolation, there were numerous attempts to escape from Alcatraz, but none was successful. In 1937 two convicts, Ralph Roe and Teddy Cole, got out of the workshop area during a heavy fog, climbed a Cyclone fence 10 feet high and then jumped from a bluff 30 feet into the water. They were never seen again, but there is little doubt they were washed to sea. The tide ran very fast that day, and the nearest land was a mile and a quarter away through 40° water. The fact that the two men, habitual criminals, were never arrested again makes it almost certain that they died. Probably the closest anyone came to a successful escape occurred during a 1946 rebellion plotted by a bank robber named Bernie Coy. During the 48 hours of the rebellion, five men died and 15 more were wounded, many seriously, before battle-trained marines stormed ashore and put an end to the affair. Escape attempts proved particularly vicious on Alcatraz because convicts with so little hope of release or quarter were much more likely to kill guards during a break.

    Many more prisoners sought to escape the prison by suicide, and several succeeded. Those who failed faced long stays in the hole after being released from the prison hospital. Others escaped the reality of Alcatraz by going insane. According to some estimates, at least 60 percent of the inmates were insane. It remains a moot point whether Al Capone, who arrived there in 1934 from the Atlanta Penitentiary, where he had been serving an 11-year sentence for tax evasion, won parole in 1939 because of the advanced state of his syphilitic condition or because he too had gone stir crazy like so many others.

    Alcatraz in the 1930s housed not only the truly notorious and dangerous prisoners but also many put there for vindictive reasons, such as Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz, who, along with Rufus "Whitey" Franklin, was one of the most ill-treated prisoners in the federal penal system. The inmate roster included the tough gangsters who truly belonged, like Doc Barker, and those who did not, like Machine Gun Kelly, who had never even fired his weapon at anyone. There were also such nontroublesome convicts as former public enemy Alvin "Creepy" Karpis.

    Over the years there were many calls for the closing of Alcatraz. Some did so in the name of economy, since it cost twice as much to house a prisoner on Alcatraz than in any other federal prison. Sen. William Langer even charged the government could board inmates "in the Waldorf Astoria cheaper."

    By the 1950s Alcatraz had lost its reputation as an escape-proof prison and had become known simply as a place to confine prisoners deemed to be deserving of harsher treatment.

    By the time "the Rock" was finally phased out as a federal prison in 1963, it was a crumbling mess and prisoners could easily dig away at its walls with a dull spoon.

Allen, John (c. 1830-?) "Wickedest Man in New York"

One of the most notorious dives in New York City during the 1850s and 1860s—on a par with such later infamous resorts as the Haymarket, Paresis Hall and McGuirk's Suicide Hall—was John Allen's Dance House at 304 Water Street. Allen himself became widely known as "the Wickedest Man in New York," a sobriquet pinned on him first by Oliver Dyer in Packard's Monthly. What brought down the wrath of Dyer and other crusading journalists was not simply the vulgarity and depravity of Allen's establishment but his personal background. Allen came from a pious upper New York State family; three of his brothers were ministers, two Presbyterian preachers and the other a Baptist. He himself had initially pursued a similar ministerial career but soon deserted the Union Theological Seminary for the pleasures and profits of the flesh.

    With his new wife, John Allen opened a dance hall-brothel on Water Street, stocking it with 20 prostitutes famed for wearing bells on their ankles and little else. In 10 years of operation, the Aliens banked more than $100,000, placing them among the richest vice operators in the city.

    Despite his desertion of the cloth, Allen never entirely shed his religious training. While he was a drunk, procurer and thief and was suspected of having committed more than one murder, Allen insisted on providing his lurid establishment with an aura of holiness. All the cubicles in which his ladies entertained customers were furnished with a Bible and other religious tracts. Regular clients were often rewarded with gifts of the New Testament. Before the dance hall opened for business at 1 P.M., Allen would gather his flock of musicians, harlots, bouncers and barkeeps and read passages out of the Scriptures. Hymn singing was a ritual; the favorite of Allen's hookers was "There Is Rest for the Weary," apparently because it held out a more serene existence for the ladies in the life hereafter.

There is rest for the weary,
There is rest for you.
On the other side of Jordan,
In the sweet fields of Eden,
Where the Tree of Life is blooming,
There is rest for you.

    Eventually, when a group of uptown clergymen took over Allen's resort for prayer meetings, it looked as if the religious aspect of the dance hall had gotten out of hand. Allen had apparently embraced religion entirely, and a lot of uptown devout began attending these meetings to bear witness to the reformation of sinners—especially John Allen. Alas, exposés in several newspapers turned up the sad intelligence that Allen, rather than undergoing a religious rebirth, had actually leased out his establishment to the ministers for $350 a month and seemingly provided some newly reformed sinners for 25¢ or 50¢ a head.

    In time, the revivalist movement faded and Allen attempted to return his resort to its former infamy, only to find the criminal element no longer had faith in him, figuring anyone so religiously inclined might be untrustworthy. The last public record of Allen was his arrest, along with his wife and some of his prostitutes, for robbing a seaman. Shortly thereafter, the dance hall closed.

    Allen's fate is obscured by contradictory legends. One had him finally undergoing a complete reformation and even taking up the cloth, but another placed "the Wickedest Man in New York" practicing his tawdry business in a different city under an assumed name. None of these stories has ever been confirmed.

Allen, Lizzie (1840-1896) Chicago madam

Next to the fabulous Carrie Watson, Lizzie Allen was Chicago's most successful madam during the 19th century. A native of Milwaukee, she came to Chicago in 1858, at the age of 18, with the clear intention of becoming a madam. She went to work at Mother Herrick's Prairie Queen and, unlike most of the other girls, did not squander her earnings on men. After a stint at another leading brothel, the Senate, Allen opened a house on Wells Street staffed by three prostitutes. Despite the modest nature of the enterprise, she prospered there. Like most other brothel owners, Lizzie was burned out in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but she is credited with being the first back in business. She recruited a large staff of unemployed harlots and put them to work in a new house on Congress Street while the carpenters were still working to complete it. With that jump on the competition, Allen accumulated a large fortune and soon became one of the most important madams in the city. In 1878 she formed a relationship with a "solid man," the colorful Christopher Columbus Crabb, and with him as her lover and financial adviser, she flourished still more. In fact, Lizzie Allen was regarded by one local tabloid as "the finest looking woman in Chicago."

    In 1888 Allen and Crabb built a 24-room mansion on Lake View Avenue to use as a plush brothel, but police interference doomed the enterprise. They then built an imposing double house at 2131 South Dearborn, which they named the House of Mirrors. Costing $125,000, it was one of the most impressive brothels of its day. (The house was destined to even greater fame under the Everleigh sisters, who took it over in 1900 and made it the most celebrated bawdy house in America.) Lizzie Allen operated the mansion until 1896, when, in poor health, she retired, leasing the property to Effie Hankins. She signed over all her real estate to Crabb and named him the sole beneficiary in her will. The estate was estimated to be worth between $300,000 and $1 million. When Lizzie Allen died on September 2, 1896, she was buried in Rosehill Cemetery. Her tombstone was inscribed, "Perpetual Ease."


Allison, Dorothy (1925-1999) crime-solving psychic

Among the various psychics who have made the popular press in recent years, one American psychic, a housewife from Nutley, N.J., ranked above all others as having some apparent crime-solving ability. Dorothy Allison's visions of peaceful landscapes containing unfound bodies have turned out to be, as Newsweek labeled them, "close approximations of grisly reality." In the past dozen years or so, Mrs. Allison had been consulted by police in well over 100 cases and, by her own count, had helped solve 13 killings and find more than 50 missing persons. Many police departments expressed wholehearted, if befuddled, gratitude. "Seeing is believing," said Anthony Tortora, head of the missing persons division of the Bergen County, N.J. sheriff's office. "Dorothy Allison took us to within 50 yards of where the body was found. She's quite a gal."

    Some of Mrs. Allison's "finds" have been accident victims and others have been the victims of foul play. In September 1977 two of her finds turned up in different states just one day apart. She pinpointed a swamp area in New Jersey where 17-year-old Ronald Stica would be found and was able to tell police prior to the discovery of the body that he had been stabbed to death. The day before, the body of 14-year-old Susan Jacobson, missing two years, had turned up inside an oil drum in an abandoned boat yard in Staten Island, N.Y. Mrs. Allison had described the corpse site—although she had never been to Staten Island—as a swampy area, with "twin church steeples and two bridges—but one not for cars" nearby. She said she also saw the letters M A R standing alone. All the elements were there, including the letters M A R painted in red on a nearby large rock.

    Perhaps Mrs. Allison's most amazing case was one that began at about 6:30 P.M. on Thursday, July 22, 1976, when Deborah Sue Kline left her job as a hospital aide, got in her car and started for her home in Waynesboro, Pa. She never got there. Months of police investigations proved fruitless. Jane Kline, the girl's mother, finally contacted Mrs. Allison, who agreed to come to Pennsylvania. Quite naturally, the first thing the mother asked was if her daughter was still alive. By the end of the day, Mrs. Allison told her the answer: Debbie was dead. Mrs. Allison put on Debbie's graduation ring "to help me feel her presence." She toured the area with police, reporters and a friend of the Klines.

    After a while, she was able to reconstruct the crime. She saw Debbie driving home from the hospital and two cars, a yellow one and a black one, forcing her off the road. According to a local newspaper account: "She was taken from her car in one of the other cars to a place where she was molested. She was taken to another place where she was killed with a knife wound. I saw [at the death site] yellow signs, a dump, burnt houses and a swimming pool. I could see her skeleton. It was not underground. The word `line' or `lion' came to me."

    On January 26, 1977, three days after Dorothy Allison had returned home, police located the body of Debbie Kline. It was not buried and was in an area where junk was dumped. There were no "burnt houses" but the spot was just off the Fannettsburg-Burnt Cabins Road. In the area were yellow traffic signs warning motorists of steep grades on the road. Near the body was a discarded plastic swimming pool. There was no "lion" but there was a "line"—150 feet away was the line between Huntington and Franklin Counties. And Debbie had been stabbed to death.

    Then the police confronted a suspect, in jail at the time on another rape charge. His name was Richard Lee Dodson. Dodson broke down and led them to where the body had been found. He and another man, Ronald Henninger, were charged with the crime. Ken Peiffer, a reporter for the Record Herald, said: "She told me, among other clues later proven accurate, the first names of the two men involved, Richard and Ronald. She even told me that one of the men had a middle name of Lee or Leroy."

    The police of Washington Township, who were in charge of the case, made Dorothy Allison an honorary member of the police department. The citation given to her reads in part, "Dorothy Allison, through psychic powers, provided clues which contributed to the solving of the crime."

    Of course, not all of Dorothy Allison's efforts had been triumphs. She was the first psychic called in by Randolph Hearst after daughter Patty disappeared in Berkeley, Calif. Mrs. Allison turned up little of value while on the West Coast. Still, Hearst did not scoff. "Dorothy couldn't locate Patty," he said, "but she is honest and reputable. I wouldn't laugh at it." Allison died December 1, 1999.

Altgeld, John P. (1847-1902) Illinois governor

John P. Altgeld, elected governor of Illinois in 1892, was the main player in the final act of the 1886 Haymarket affair, in which a dynamite bomb killed seven policemen and two civilians and wounded 130 others. Altgeld, a wealthy owner of business property, announced he would hear arguments for pardoning three anarchists who had been sentenced to long prison terms for their alleged part in the affair; but no one expected him to free them because it would be an act of political suicide. Four other anarchists had already been hung as a result of Haymarket, and another had committed suicide in his cell.

    In June 1893 Altgeld issued a long analysis of the Haymarket trial, attacking the trial judge, Joseph E. Gary, for ruling the prosecution did not have to identify the bomb-thrower or even prove that the actual murderer had been influenced by the anarchist beliefs of the defendants. "In all the centuries during which government has been maintained among men and crime has been punished, no judge in a civilized country has ever laid down such a rule before." Altgeld also referred to the judge's obvious bias in constantly attacking the defendants before the jury. He then issued full pardons for Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab and Oscar Neebe, declaring them and the five dead men innocent.

    While Altgeld was hailed by labor spokesmen, most newspapers condemned him bitterly. The New York World caricatured him as an acolyte worshiping the bomb-wielding, black-robed figure of an anarchist. The Chicago Tribune denounced Altgeld, who was German, as "not merely an alien by birth, but an alien by temperament and sympathies. He has apparently not a drop of pure American blood in his veins. He does not reason like an American, nor feel like one." The governor was also hanged in effigy.

    Altgeld ignored such criticisms, being content he was "merely doing right," but his act turned out to be political suicide. In 1896 he ran for the U.S. Senate but was defeated. Clarence Darrow later tried to set him up in practice as an associate, but Altgeld, no longer rich, was a tired man, and he died in obscurity six years later. His memory was neglected until Vachel Lindsay placed a poem, "The Eagle That Is Forgotten," on his grave; it read in part:

Where is that boy, that Heaven-born Bryan,
That Homer Bryan, who sang
from the West?
Gone to join the shadows with
Altgeld the eagle,
Where the kings and the slaves
and the troubadours rest....

    See also: CLARENCE DARROW.

Their Blood Runs Cold



Copyright © 1983 The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved.

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