Friday, February 5, 2010

Sholem Bernstein

Apologies for the slowing down of posts since the beginning of the new year but as I have mentioned earlier I've been busy with other projects. As most people who freelance surely know, work schedules can be far from concrete and routine.

In that time though I have managed to finish up another portrait to add to the series. This time around is the lesser known Sholem Bernstein, a low level operative of the Brooklyn / Brownsville troop of Murder Inc. soldiers.

Bernstein was a talented car thief whose services were instrumental in procuring getaway cars that would later trace to a dead end in an investigation.
Nothing of much importance was ever given to Bernstein further than placing his hands on the ten o'clock and two o'clock behind numerous stolen steering wheels, and pushing down on the gas. Sholem, who some called Sol, drove the getaway car at the fateful murder of candy store owner Joseph Rosen in 1936. Rosen was a former garment industry worker whose trucking business had been forced into retirement by Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter's powerful influence over labor racketeering in New York. Rosen was set up with a small candy store in Brooklyn by Lepke in order to try to help the man support his family. This was after a few missteps Rosen had working for a couple of other trucking companies under Buchalter's control. The candy shop faltered and Rosen, understandably embittered towards Buchalter, demanded financial reprimand and rumors flew that the candy man was looking to blow the whistle on Lepke's empire with one quick visit to Thomas Dewey's office.
Sholem Bernstein was driving the car with Emanuel 'Mendy' Weiss as one of his passengers that Sunday morning on September 13 when Rosen was face down in his candy store, his body host to seventeen bullet holes. Joe Rosen's murder seemed perhaps inconsequential at the time to Lepke, who had overseen and ordered numerous syndicate hits, all calculated carefully, but this one would later prove to be the foundation of his downfall, and lead to his trip to the electric chair in 1944.

Inevitably Bernstien's small potato stature within the crew who ran the underworld in King's County manifested him into an easy pushover when threatened by District Attorney William O'Dwyer and prosecutor Burton Turkus. Bernstein was holed up in room 622 of The Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island; his neighbor in room 623 was Abe Reles. He was one of the four important turncoats under police protection, along with Allie 'Tick Tock' Tannenbaum and Mickey Sycoff, who were across the hall in room 626.

Tannenbaum and Bernstein were key figures in Buchlater's trial for the prosecution, with Tannenbaum's corroboration of the planned murder and the eye witness account from Bernstein, which sealed Mendy Weiss' fate as well. Amazingly enough, court transcripts from the trial detailed Bernstein's attempted extortion racket that he tried to run while passing the sometimes agonizingly long hours under lock down at the Half Moon. This was done through threatening letters sent out to potential victims, passing through the hands of the policemen on duty onto their intended destination. The scam however proved unsucessful.

Like fellow stoolies Allie Tannenbaum and Abe 'Pretty' Levine, Sholem Bernstein disappeared from sight and was never heard from again following the fall out of the trails and subsequent string of executions. His post-Murder Inc. days still remain a mystery.

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