“Mr. Big” Murdered at the Park Sheraton Hotel
Poker Dispute Leads to Murder
Arnold Rothstein (January 17, 1882 – November 4, 1928)
The name Arnold Rothstein and the words World Series have become synonymous with organized crime enthusiasts. Arnold Rothstein was said to be responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series, between the Chicago White Sox and the underdog Cincinnati Reds. Known as the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, it would be the most memorable legacy of Arnold Rothstein. He also had something in common with Mafia boss Albert Anastasia. They both checked into the Park Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue and both checked out with more holes than they entered with.
Arnold Rothstein was born and raised at 355 West 84th Street in Manhattan by strict Orthodox Jews. At the age of three Arnold showed signs that he was different when he stabbed his older brother nearly killing him. As he got older he shunned the way of his parents and dropped out of school. He decided to finish his education on the streets of New York and planned to make a name for himself. Coincidentally, he was given many nicknames: “The Brain”, “The Big Bank Roll” and “Mr. Big.” Arnold Rothstein wasn’t your typical gangster. He wore pinstriped suits that made him look more like a banker. Rothstein learned early the importance of buying cops and politicians instead of using brute force. During his life he would use them to his every advantage. A.R., as his friends knew him, surrounded himself with the muscle to collect his debts. That was his style, to remain in the wings and unnoticed. Rothstein supplied them with booze and broads and they made sure A.R. received what was owed to him.
Rothstein paved the way for many dealings between the Jewish and Italian gangs. He had professional opportunities and tutored Luciano, Johnny Torrio and of course, Meyer Lansky. He taught these young gangsters the importance of cooperation with other ethnic gangs and that it was easier to buy someone than have them killed. His ideas were the building blocks that lead Luciano and Lansky to create the Commission or “Syndicate”, a cooperation of gangsters of all ethnic backgrounds. With cooperation, the Syndicate would prevail for many years and make tons of money.
Rothstein became a millionaire through gambling. He loved to gamble and some said that he had a photographic memory that allowed him to count cards and deduce odds. But his real strength came from the cache of politicians he had under his thumb. He helped clear many cases on the courts dockets, many of them never even going to trial. Rothstein became an anomaly. His likeness was referenced in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book the Great Gatsby, the play Guys and Dolls and most recently the book Eight Men Out. His private life to outsiders was mythical, his status within the underworld, legendary.
Rothstein found himself in a unique position. He was the guy responsible for importing liquor into the United States during the start of Prohibition. Without him, the flow of liquor would dry up quickly. He had accomplished the impossible; he had created job security within the underworld. A valuable lesson that one of his students learned quickly, Meyer Lansky. Even though he enjoyed his untouchable status A.R. never slept in the same place twice, nor did he commit to a routine, something Albert Anastasia would find out later would prove deadly. The “Big Bank Roll” didn’t even keep a checkbook. Instead he secured his money in apartments he owned throughout the City. But all good things come to an end no matter how careful you are so Arnold began to branch out in other lucrative areas such as prostitution, gambling, narcotics and labor racketeering. He was able to front the money to bring in large quantities of heroin and cocaine.
When Prohibition ended so did his untouchable status. Always a gambler at heart, Arnold lost over three hundred and twenty thousand dollars combined to a cadre of Californian gamblers named Nate Raymond, Al Thompson, Joe Bernstein, Martin Bowe and Meyer Boston during an early September weekend. On top of that he had lost over one hundred thousand at the racetrack and most of his heroin shipments began to dry up or were hijacked. Other gangsters throughout the underworld where shocked at the extent of his losses, but were convinced that Mr. Big would make good on the losses. Everyone was completely taken by surprise when he refused to pay the debt because he believed that the game was fixed. Rothstein’s luck was running out.
On November 4, 1928, the card game organizer, George McManus summoned Arnold to room 349 of the Park Sheraton Hotel located at 870 7th Avenue. A.R. was in his favorite hangout; Lindy’s on the corner of E 44th and Broadway, when he received the call. What possessed him to go, none will ever know. Around quarter after ten, Rothstein stumbled out of the service elevator, clutching his stomach. Rothstein made it to the sidewalk and proceeded to collapse. He was taken to the hospital but never recovered from a gunshot wound to the midsection. During moments of consciousness he refused to give police the name of the person who shot him, vowing to take care of it himself. He never got the chance. Mr. Big was dead within two days.
Rothstein died on Election Day and never knew that he was correct in betting that Herbert Hoover would be the next President over Calvin Coolidge. He stood to win a substantial amount of cash, more than enough to pay his poker debt.Some associates from inside the organization pointed to other possible motives in who would want Rothstein dead. Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as Dutch Schultz, had been moving in on Rothstein’s territory and stood to reap big benefits with him out of the way. Also, Luciano and Lansky stood to be the big winners with Rothstein’s murder. They inherited most of his rackets and through Lansky, Dutch Shultz became a close associate. Regardless of who was responsible for the murder of Rothstein, the fathers of the Syndicate had learned from the best. They put Rothstein’s plan into action.
George McManus, the card game organizer was arrested for the murder of A.R and brought to trial. The evidence against him was overwhelming. However, the chambermaid recanted her story about seeing McManus at the hotel, even though a coat with his name in it was found inside of the room. He was acquitted in the death of Arnold Rothstein and walked out of the courtroom with the coat under his arm.
At the Park Sheraton Hotel, gangsters check in, but they don’t check out.