Starker: Big Jack Zelig, the Becker-Rosenthal Case, and the Advent of the Jewish Gangster

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Overview

Selig Harry Lefkowitz, alias Big Jack Zelig, was New York's first great gangster boss. Like many of his pre-Volstead contemporaries, his historic impact has been overshadowed by Al Capone and Murder Inc. He is listed in today's crime anthologies primarily because four members of the gang, along with corrupt cop Charles Becker, died in the electric chair for the July 1912 murder of gambler Herman Rosenthal. In New York City from 1908 to 1912, however, Zelig inspired admiration and fear, and he was synonymous with ...

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Overview

Selig Harry Lefkowitz, alias Big Jack Zelig, was New York's first great gangster boss. Like many of his pre-Volstead contemporaries, his historic impact has been overshadowed by Al Capone and Murder Inc. He is listed in today's crime anthologies primarily because four members of the gang, along with corrupt cop Charles Becker, died in the electric chair for the July 1912 murder of gambler Herman Rosenthal. In New York City from 1908 to 1912, however, Zelig inspired admiration and fear, and he was synonymous with the word 'gangster.' New York editor Herbert Bayard Swope recalled that The Starker (Yiddish for 'Big Boss') threw terror into the heart of the New York underworld like no one has before or since." Based on dozens of interviews and years of painstaking research, "The Starker" introduces readers to a story from New York's criminal past that is dazzling in its audacity and criminal in the success of the people responsible for the murders in covering up their own crimes."

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

True crime writer Keefe intended this as a biography of Zelig (born Zelig Lefkowitz, aka Harry Smith, etc.), but Zelig proves an elusive figure, and this book is more about his milieu. Jewish gangster Zelig lived a short, violent life, rising to the top before being gunned down at 24 in 1912. His story and those of several other players like Max "Kid Twist" Zweifach, Monk Eastman, and Charles Becker are set against the backdrop of gangsters in pre-Prohibition New York City. Keefe has managed to dig up quite a bit of background material, including accounts left behind by Zelig contemporaries and descendants. The book is bursting with facts and anecdotes but it can be a bit challenging-the casual reader may need a scorecard to match birth names to aliases to gangster monikers. Recommended only for true crime/historical collections for the time period and aficionados of the topic.
—Karen Sandlin Silverman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581826029
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 10/28/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 23, 2008

    Rose Keefe Knocks another One out of the Park!

    Rose Keefe pours on the gas from the first sentence. `As Jacob Goldberg rounded the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue, the last person he expected to encounter on the bustling sidewalk was his old partner in crime, Harry Smith. Jacob considered himself to be a hard-working and law-abiding citizen these days, but his teenage years had included some wilder moments, and Harry had been an instigator of most of them. Seeing him now aroused portions of nostalgia and uneasiness.¿<BR/>Rose Keefe writes vigorous prose when her razor-sharp mind cuts through layers of fat-headed assumptions. Everyone assumed that Dion `Dean¿ O¿Banion, the beer baron gunned down by Johnny Torrio¿s thugs in a Chicago Flower shop was an off- the ¿boat Irish mobster; that George `Bugs¿ Moran was an Irish American hitter whose north side mob challenged Al Capone and inspired ethnic flourishes to the panoramic painting of the St. Valentine¿s Day Massacre. Nonsense. Rose Keefe dug the scalpel into the lard and got to the heart of matter.<BR/>Dean O¿Banion was a Maroa, Illinois mossback and only Irish on his mother¿s side and George `Bugs¿ Moran of French Canadian decent (George Clarence "Bugs" Moran was born Adelard Cunin on August 21, 1891 and died in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, February 25, 1957). Moreover, the celebrated Beers Wars of the Volstead Act Era, the great Progressive stain on America, had very little to do with ethnic hostilities than about the very American value of profit. Capone¿s wife was Irish and Dean O¿Banion¿s and later Bugs Moran¿s mobs celebrated diversity!<BR/><BR/>Rose Keefe is a brilliant young Canadian writer with a witty and energetic prose style accompanying a restless capacity for inquiry. In her recently released Crime Biography of New York Jewish Gangster, Zelig Lefkowitz, alias Big Jack Zelig, The Starker ( Cumberland Press, 2008), Keefe examines the assumptions that Jack Zelig was hired by corrupt New York Police Captain Charles Becker to murder the gambler Herman Rosenthal, who threatened to expose Becker as a grafter. Zelig was murdered on a New York streetcar the day before he was to testify in murder trial against Becker. The assumptions resting on New York District Attorney Charles Seymour Whitman, a wildly ambitious patrician using the prosecutor¿s office to amass bodies on which he might step his way to the White House, assisted in his efforts by the Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.<BR/><BR/> A Great work of scholarship and human understanding

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