On this day in 1935, mobster Dutch Schultz was shot to death, together with two of his henchmen, at the Palace Chop House and Tavern, in Newark, New Jersey. Schultz, an important bootlegger during Prohibition (1920-1933) and a major player in the numbers and protection rackets, was known as an especially ruthless and stubborn criminal. It was fear of his headstrong nature that led “The Commission,” the umbrella organization of organized-crime families in the United States, to have him murdered.
Dutch Schultz was born Arthur Simon Flegenheimer in New York in 1901, the son of German Jewish immigrants. He is said to have taken his nickname from the Schultz trucking company, his employer before he went into business on his own. Flegenheimer felt he needed a working name that “was short enough to fit in the headlines,” as he himself put it. His hauling work led naturally into bootlegging, and after he became an independent beer merchant, he expanded his business from the Bronx into Manhattan.
When Prohibition ended, Schultz moved into numbers, betting derived from the results of horse races. He was fortunate to have an accountant who knew how to rig the contests so that his boss would have better-than-average odds. From this he expanded into the protection racket with New York restaurant owners. His business success earned him the attention of special state prosecutor (and later New York governor) Thomas E. Dewey, who had Schultz indicted for tax evasion. Although was acquitted, he knew it was only a matter of time before the authorities would pursue further charges against him. Schultz’s only time behind bars had been at age 17, after he was caught breaking into an apartment, and he wasn’t about to be incarcerated again. So he came up with the idea of murdering Dewey, and asked The Commission, whose Italian crime bosses allowed Jews something of an auxiliary membership, for permission to carry it out. When permission was denied (by a unanimous vote), he accused his colleagues of being out to take over his business and vowed to go ahead with Dewey’s killing on his own.
It was at this point that his colleagues on The Commission decided that Dutch Schultz was too dangerous to remain alive, and a team of hit men, working for Louis “Lucky” Buchalter’s Murder Inc., was given the order to carry out his killing. (Ironically, once Schultz was gone, Dewey went after The Commission’s head, Charles “Lucky” Luciano. In June 1936, he was convicted on 62 counts related to prostitution, and sentenced to 30-50 years in state prison.)
When the killers entered the Chop House, which doubled as Schultz’s office, they found three of his colleagues at his table, but had to track him to the men’s room, where they shot him while he was urinating. Badly injured, Shultz staggered back to his table and collapsed. Medics took him to a hospital, where he died the following evening after surgery – though not before asking for and receiving last rites from a priest. Schultz, it turned out, had become a believing Catholic during his trial. He was given a Catholic funeral, but his mother arranged for him to be buried in a tallit. His three colleagues also died. Although Schultz told police he did not know who shot him, Charles “Bugs” Workman was eventually convicted of the crime.