Jewish Gangsters | Dutch Schultz, Herbie Sperling, The Purple Gang


Through hard work, intelligence, and talent, Jewish Americans pulled themselves out of the worst slums in America and up to the top of the American economy in professions ranging from the Law to Entertainment to Medicine and Science. Jews have also been some of America’s most powerful, deadly, and interesting Gangsters.

Dutch Schultz Born Arthur Flegenheimer in 1902 to German Jewish parents, he dropped out of school in the 8th grade, started robbing street corner dice games, and was sent to juvenile prison at age 17 for burglary. Released from jail in late 1920 he started working for Schultz trucking company, took up the name Dutch Schultz, and jumped headfirst into the lucrative world of bootlegging beer in the Bronx, becoming known for his brutality and penchant for murder.

By the late 20’s he and his partner Joey Noel were the only Non-Italian gang that could rival the Mafia and their territory stretched from the Bronx in Washington Heights and Harlem.  A gang war with Irish gangster Legs Diamond left his partner and mentor Joey Noel dead, and a few weeks later Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein, the first godfather of 20th century organized crime, was gunned down- some people say on Schultz’s orders on revenge for his partner’s murder by Legs Diamond- who was Rothstein’s protege. Either way, Dutch was now left alone to run one of the city’s biggest bootlegging rings and the millions of profits that came with it, becoming one of the richest gangsters in America.

While Dutch was flush with cash, he was notoriously stingy paying his employees, which led to several vicious internal feuds, the most notorious of which pitted him against his former Irish hitman Vincent Coll, who earned the nickname “Mad Dog Coll” when he shot down a small child while trying to kill Schultz. In 1932 Dutch’s shooters caught up with Coll and machine gunned him to death in a drugstore phone booth.  During the ten or so years at his “peak”, law enforcement blamed him for 136 murders, and his organization grossed 20 million a year by 1929.

When prohibition ended in 1933, all the Gangsters that had grown fat during the easy money days of bootlegging were looking for a new hustle. Dutch found one of the best. He strong armed his way into the Harlem policy racket. “Policy” was probably invented by Caribbean and Black gangsters like Madame Stephanie St. Clair and served a mostly black and Spanish customer base. Policy was the forerunner of today’s state lottery system, people picked 3 numbers from 1 to 9 and the daily number was based on the outcome of various things, like a combination of horse racing tracks so it couldn’t be fixed. Or so everyone thought. Turns out Dutch had an accountant on his payroll, Otto Berman, nicknamed AbbaDabba for the magic he worked with numbers. AbbaDabba Berman’s amazing ability to calculate odds in his head in a matter of seconds gave Dutch a way to control the winning number. Schultz intimidated or murdered most of the primary Latin and black gangsters running the policy rackets- and since his accountant AbbaDabba helped with rigging the winning numbers, Schultz had found his money-maker to replace bootleg beer.

The war between Schultz and Black Harlem gangsters like Madame St. Clair and Bumpy Johnson,  was told in the, heavily fictionalized, film “Hoodlum”, with Tim Roth playing Dutch. With his grip on the New York policy racket cemented, Schultz was given the dubious distinction of Public Enemy #1 by the Federal Justice Department, having replaced Al Capone as the single most powerful gangster in America.

When Lucky Luciano created the national crime commission in 1931, Dutch got a seat at the table, but as a non-Italian he was on the outside looking in, he just didn’t know it yet. Then, like Al Capone a few years earlier, Dutch was hit with tax evasion case. His lawyer got the case removed to a rural town in upstate New York where Schultz’ cash was able to “influence” the jury and he was found not guilty. But his days were numbered.

Gangland legend has it that Dutch went in front of Luciano and the freshly minted Mafia commission to ask for permission to whack his arch-nemesis, New York State prosecutor Thomas Dewey.  The other Crime leaders balked at the heat that would come from killing the high profile prosecutor, and instead, Dutch Schultz, his accountant AbbaDabba and 2 bodyguards were gunned down in a Newark, New Jersey Steakhouse.  Schultz was shot 5 while urinating. He actually survived in the hospital for 22 hours before dying, having accomplished all his criminal success at just age 33.

Schultz talked constantly while he died, and his seemingly incoherent,  but interesting words were written down and “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz” have been used by numerous writers and songwriters in novels and songs. One writer even used Dutch’s death bed ravings as a coded message about the Illuminati. 1990 National Book Award finalist E.L  Doctorow used Schultz as a primary character in his novel Billy Bathgate and a movie was made based on the book starring Dustin Hoffman and Bruce Willis.

Not long before he died, Schultz figured he was headed for prison time from his tax evasion case, so he put 7 million dollars in cash and bonds into a special built safe and hid it somewhere in upstate New York. This story is actually considered to be true by most researchers and there are still treasure hunters looking for Dutch Schultz’s lost fortune.

Arthur Flegenheimer, aka Dutch Schultz, was the most powerful non-Italian left in Organized crime after Prohibition and his name still ranks high on the list of most infamous gangsters of any race, color, or creed over 80 years after his murder.


Purple Gang hailing from Detroit, the Purple Gang was the only major organized crime group with all-Jewish leadership during the Prohibition Era. They got their name from the Jewish neighbors who said they reminded them of spoiled meat, Purple.  While there were many very, very powerful Jewish Gangsters on the East Coas/t and in Chicago, they were allied with non-Jews, mainly the Italians, but in Detroit, the Purple Gang was were the most powerful gangsters during the 1920’s and were the key suppliers of bootleg whiskey to America’s Gangster #1- Al Capone. The Detroit police pinned 500 murders on them and during their reign, Detroit had actually had a higher murder rate than New York and Chicago.

The narrow Detroit river  separates the city from Canada, where alcohol was legal,  and a ½ million cases of Canadian whiskey were smuggled across the Detroit river every single month, much of it controlled by the Purple Gang. Detroit was wide open, as it had grown so fast that government and police couldn’t keep up. Between 1910 and 1930 the city went from less than a half million to a million and a half residents.

Led by the 4 Bernstein brother the Purple Gang thrived in this environment- running Opium dens, illegal gambling, extortion rackets, and alcohol of course. They employed one of the era’s most infamous outlaws, Fred “Killer” Burke to execute the first machine gun murders in Detroit history, in 1927- a triple homicide dubbed the Miraflores Massacre. Burker later died in Michigan State prison for killing a cop.

The Purple Gang not only supplied liquor to Al Capone, they helped him set up the most infamous murder in Gangland history- The St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Capone was at war with the Bugs Moran gang. Capone had a phone call place to Moran offering to sell him a load of stolen Purple Gang whiskey, Moran agreed to meet, but didn’t go himself. The 7 men who there to do the deal were lined up against a wall and shot to death by men dressed in police uniforms.

Police knew that Moran’s gang had been hijacking Capone’s Purple Gang supplied whiskey so the Purples became the prime suspects. Witnesses identified multiple Purple Gang members as having been at the rooming house across from the Massacre in the week leading up to the murders, but none were ever charged in the crime.

The Purples violence began to turn inward; The 1931 Collingwood Massacre was another triple murder, this time of a rival faction of bootleggers. 1931 was also the year that Lucky Luciano formed the national Italian Commission and Italian gangsters became the dominant ethnic group in America organized crime. The Purples time was coming to a close and in 1935 Abe Bernstein peacefully handed over many of his rackets to the Italians. But the Purple Gang wasn’t quite dead.

Harry Millman was a younger generation Purple- known for his good looks, his evil ways, and his hatred for the Italian Mafia. In addition to his own rackets Millman was going around Mafia controlled brothels and gambling joints, robbing them, beating the customers. Then he spit in the face of Scarface Joe Bommarito, one of Detroit’s top Mafia bosses. One night in 1937 was in Boesky’s deli, a popular spot in Detroit’s Jewish 12th street neighborhood. In one of those strange historical oddities, Boesky’s deli was owned by the parents of convicted 1980’s Wall Street fraudster Ivan Boesky, who actually made the cover of Time magazine. So that night Purple Gang killer Harry Millman was in Boesky’s deli and in comes 2 members of New York’s Murder, Inc hit squad, sent by Mafia Commission to take care of Millman and they gunned him down in front of dozens of witnesses

America’s only Jewish Mob had a big impact of on pop culture, with several movies being made about them, even Elvis Presley name checked the Purple Gang in “JailHouse Rock” – “the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.”

As an epilogue, several Purple Gang old timers were convicted of murdering and burning the body of a Michigan State Senator in 1945. Even more recently, up through the late 1970’s Sam “the Mustache” Norber, who was a young affiliate during the later years of the Purples, was one of Detroit’s primary heroin connections, and supplied some of the Motor City’s top black drug kingpins.

The Jewish Purple Gang was one of the key characters in the criminal history of Detroit, one of America’s most criminal cities.

Herbie Sperling was one of the biggest heroin dealers of the 1960’s and early 70’s on the entire East Coast. He helped moved hundreds, or maybe thousands of kilos of heroin from the Italian Mafia and their so called French Connection to to the top Black and Latin dealers in New York. Sperling got his start in crime working as a gopher for one of America’s most powerful and dangerous mob bosses- Vito Genovese.

Sperling got started in the heroin business in the 1950’s making deliveries for Genovese soldier Joe Valachi. Joe Valachi, of course, went on to be the first Made Man to turn informant and the 1st actual member to verify the existence of La Cosa Nostra during Senate hearings, perhaps that’s where Herbie Sperling learned to hate informants so much.

Joe Valachi went down for heroin distribution in 1959 before turning Federal witness. Vito Genovese and several other Mob bosses also went away for heroin around the same time and the Italians, supposedly, decided to get out of the drug business. What they really did was turn it over to guys like Herbie Sperling. A few select Mafia contacts supplied Sperling with unlimited amounts of heroin and he middle-manned the loads off to the Black and Latin dealers that controlled the street level trade.

Known for his use of violence on the streets, Sperling was the prime suspect in a murder that left a headless and limbless torso. The torso was identified by teeth, the medical examiner had found inside the stomach, the victim had been so badly beaten, he had swallowed his teeth, smashed out of his jaws.

Sperling was eventually indicted for selling heroin and cocaine- When he was arrested at the Long Island home he shared at times with his elderly mother, the arresting agents told him they would release her if he cooperated. ‘Listen.’ Herbie told them, ‘if you guys have a beef with her, that’s her problem. Don’t lay it on me. The old lady has to take her own weight.’

Sperling was one of the first drug traffickers to get a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but he wasn’t done yet.  While in Atlanta Federal prison in 1977, he was indicted for hiring 3 black inmates to murder a guy named Vincent Papa. Papa was low level mobster that had orchestrated the theft of tens of millions of dollars of drugs from the New York Police evidence room. The powers that be were worried he was about to start naming big names and he had to go. Two black inmates were convicted of murdering Papa and had more life sentences added to their terms, but Sperling was acquitted of conspiracy.

Then, In 1980, Sperling was doing time with the infamous Nicky Barnes at Lewisburg Federal prison in New York, known as Mafia Row. This was the time when Barnes decided to turn informant against his old partners in Harlem. The Feds didn’t know whether to trust Barnes so they gave him a test case… Herbie Sperling. “Mr. Untouchable” told Sperling he wanted to setup a trade of heroin for cocaine in the free world. Sperling enlisted his son Nicholas, who was nabbed by Feds and joined his father in Federal Prison. In 1991 Sperling popped up being interviewed in a documentary about Lewisburg and he had a lot to say about Leroy “Nicky” Barnes.

Herbie Sperling is still alive after over 40 years in federal prison, doing his time in a maximize security medical facility. Herbie Sperling might have been the last of the Jewish tough guy street level Gangsters.