||New York| Big Jack Zelig
Birth: May 13, 1888
Death: October 5, 1912
"Big" Jack Zelig was a New York gangster and one of the last leaders of the Monk Eastman Gang.
Early years & the Eastmans
Born Zelig Harry Lefkowitz (or William Alberts), as a teenager Zelig became a well known pickpocket and thief while growing up on New York's Lower East Side as a member of Crazy Butch's pickpocket gang before joining the Eastman Gang in the late 1890s. Rising up the ranks, Zelig became leader of the Eastman Gang after "Kid Twist" Max Zwerbach's death in 1908. With lieutenants Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker, the gang had over seventy-five members, including satellite gangs such as the Lenox Avenue Gang, led by "Gyp the Blood" Harry Horowitz.
Feud with Sirocco and Tricker
After being arrested in 1911 for robbing a brothel, Sirocco and Trick attempted to gain leadership of the gang refusing to bail out Zelig. Zelig was later released due to his political connections however he was informed by a member that Sirocco and Tricker were planning on murdering him upon his release. The assassin, a gunman named Julie Morrell, was lured by Zelig to a Second Avenue nightclub where Morrell was killed, possibly while intoxicated, by the gang leader on December 2.
The next year, however, the old Eastman/Five Points feud flared anew. As Zelig left the Criminal Courts on afternoon in early June 1912, he was shot through the neck by a Five Points gunman named Charley Torti, who was a known associate of Louis Pioggi, aka Louie the Lump, who had gunned down Zelig's mentor, Kid Twist Zwerbach, four years earlier. Big Jack amazingly recovered from his wound in time to be dragged into the Becker/Rosenthal case.
Charles Becker, a corrupt NYPD lieutenant, had had Zelig in his pocket for quite some time, and in the summer of 1912, Becker was named as a prime extortionist in the underworld. A New York World exposed named him as one of three corrupt police officers involved in the case of Herman Rosenthal, a small time bookmaker who had complained to the press that his illegal businesses had been badly damaged by the greed of the city's corrupt police officers.
Becker told Jack Zelig and members of the Lenox Avenue Gang, specifically, Harry "Gyp the Blood" Horowitz, Jacob "Whitey Lewis" Seidenshner, Louis "Lefty Louie" Rosenberg, and Francesco "Dago Frank" Cirofisi, that he wanted Rosenthal "croaked". The gambler was gunned down in from of a Times Square joint called the Metropole Hotel on July 16, 1912, two days after his story appeared in the newspapers. In the aftermath, the District Attorney, Charles S. Whitman, made no secret of his belief that the gangsters who killed him had committed the murder at Becker's behest.
The fall-out from the Rosenthal murder was huge, making national headlines. All of Big Jack's henchmen were rounded up and charged with murder. It was widely whispered that their boss would testify against them in exchange for leniency. The day before he could, October 5, 1912, Zelig was shot and killed by "Red" Phil Davidson while riding on a Thirteenth Street trolley. Davidson claimed he had shot Zelig over a $400 dollar grudge, but most believed he had been killed to keep him from testifying against Charles Becker in the Rosenthal murder case involving the Lenox Avenue Gang.
Shortly after Zelig's death New York detective Abe Shoenfeld wrote "Jack Zelig is as dead as a door nail. Men before him - like Kid Twist, Monk Eastman and others - were as pygmies to a giant. With the passing of Zelig, one of the most 'nerviest', strongest, and best men of his kind left us."
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