The murder of Michigan Republican State Senator Warren G. Hooper in 1945 was most likely the last significant coordinated criminal effort by Detroit’s legendarily-merciless Purple Gang, an all-Jewish mob that became an iconic symbol of the Prohibition Era in the Motor City. Hooper was killed to prevent him from testifying in front of a grand jury convened to investigate corruption in Michigan state politics and officially remains unsolved today 70 years later. Several Purple Gangers, however, would eventually be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the case.

The 40-year old Hooper was shot to death as he drove home on a desolate road near Springport, Michigan around 4:30 p.m. on January 11, 1945, four days before he was scheduled to be called in front of the grand jury. A Springport municipal employee discovered Hooper’s body, slumped behind the wheel of his skidded vehicle, shot three times in the head.

Months earlier, he had been granted immunity by the Ingham County Prosecutors’ Office after confessing to accepting a $500 bribe to vote against a proposed horse-racing bill looking to install measures designed to protect against cheating and agreeing to take the witness stand against then-state Treasurer Frank McKay and State Representative William Green. Ingham County is home to Michigan’s state capital of Lansing.

In May 1945, original Purple Gang lieutenants and siblings Harry (H.F.) Fleisher and Sammy (S.F.) Fleisher and “Junior Purple,” leader Myron (Young Mikey) Selik, along with Greek Purple Gang associate Pete Mahoney were indicted for conspiracy to murder Hooper. All four men were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison – Mahoney’s conviction would be tossed by the appellate court. Selik and H.F. Fleisher fled the indictment and stayed on the run for several years until Selik was nabbed living under an alias in New York and Fleisher was swooped up while living in hiding in Florida.

The star witness against them at trial, Purple enforcer-turned-government informant Sam (Sammy A) Abramowitz, disappeared in the years following the trial. Early Purple Gang mentor, Charles Leiter (boss of the Oakland Sugar House Gang, prime Purple breeding ground in the early 1920s), once acted as McKay’s bodyguard.

According to Abramowitz’s court testimony, a Detroit bar called O’ Larry’s owned by Purple associate Lawrence (O’ Larry) Pollack was the Post-Purple Era headquarters for remnants of the gang and where the Hooper hit was planned. Abramowitz claimed Selik and the Fleishers recruited him for the job at the Dexter Avenue tavern.

Selik’s fellow Junior Purple heavyweight, Abe (Buffalo Harry) Rosenberg, was arrested in the case, but never had charges brought. Rosenberg and Hooper allegedly engaged in a public dustup in the weeks preceding Hooper’s slaying, with Buffalo Harry accusing the politician of making inappropriate remarks to his wife and threatening to physically harm him as retribution.

The Junior Purples were a contingent of Detroit-area Jewish gangsters mentored by the original Purples as aspiring hoodlums roaming Motown’s eastside. Young Mikey Selik specifically was a protégé of the Fleisher brothers, themselves confidants and childhood friends to the four Burnstein brothers (Abe, Ray, Joe and Izzy), the founders and bosses of the notorious Purple Gang.

Harry Fleisher and Ray Burnstein were best pals and central figures in Detroit’s infamous Collingwood Apartment Massacre, the 1931 house-cleaning hit of a renegade trio calling themselves “The Little Jewish Navy” and specializing in transporting illegal liquor in speed boats across the U.S.-Canadian border on the Detroit River. Estimates place the body count for the heavily-feared Purple Gang (primarily in existence between 1925-1935) at well into the 500s.

Hooper lived in quaint Albion, Michigan, slightly less than halfway between Detroit and Chicago, and a popular retirement spot for former members of the Purple Gang, which had disbanded in the previous decade. The remaining Jewish Purple and Junior Purple racketeers went to work for Detroit’s Italian mafia, an organization that owned the biggest horse-race track in the state and controlled all action regarding the ponies in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.

Born and raised in California, Hooper moved to Michigan in the 1930s, settling in Albion and taking a job with the city. He was elected to the state’s House of Representatives in 1938 and won a state Senate seat in 1944, a mere two months before he was killed. The shooters in the Hooper hit, according to FBI and state police informants, were Purple assassins (possibly led by Ray Burnstein) on furlough from serving prison sentences at nearby Jackson State Prison. Hooper’s murder proved a tipping point in the war against corruption within the state government, with dozens of indictments, convictions and firings occuring in the aftermath of the headline-grabbing rubout.

All of the Purple Gang conspirators in the Hooper hit died peacefully of natural causes: Sammy Fleisher was the first to go in 1960. H.F. lasted until 1978, long removed from his days as a shot-caller on the street and a warehouse foreman for a local Detroit steel company. Selik died in 1997 after becoming a “earner” for Italian mob bosses in the Motor City following his release on his Hooper conviction in 1956, overseeing a lucrative bookmaking operation.

End Note: Contributions to this article were made by America’s preeminent Purple Gang expert, Paul Kavieff

Related Post

Leave a Reply