Your Complete History Guide to Gangsters of New York City

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A Guide to Gangsters, Murders, and Weirdos of New York City’s Lower East Side

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Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia (Released into Public Domain by Photographer)

It goes without saying that the study of history is one of the most rewarding pursuits you could possibly choose. History gives us the chance to explore where we come from so that we can better understand where we’re going. We get to root for incredible heroes, celebrate amazing accomplishments, and trace the development of major industries as well.

However, it’s important to understand that history covers a lot more than war heroes and trailblazers. There’s a darker side to American history as well and it’s hard not to be fascinated by it. Take New York City’s Lower East Side, for instance. At one point in time, it was peopled by some of history’s most intimidating gangsters and crime lords. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the most noteworthy.

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Photo is in the Public Domain

Charles “Lucky” Luciano

When you think of famous members of the American Mafia, “Lucky” Luciano is probably one of the first people that come to mind and with good reason. Luciano was born in beautiful Sicily, but actually grew up in Manhattan’s notorious Lower East Side.

The Mafia as we know it actually took form under his leadership after he orchestrated the murders of two of New York’s most notorious Mafia bosses. These deaths were the catalyst for major changes across the world of organized crime. A National Crime Syndicate was established. The famous Five Families were set up to rule over New York at this time as well.

Luciano was eventually imprisoned on prostitution charges. However, he was eventually paroled in 1936 and deported back to Italy toward the end of the World War II era. He would spend the rest of his life there helping to fuel the Mafia’s eventual foray into narcotics.

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Photo is in the Public Domain

Bugsy Siegel

Unlike Lucky Luciano, the infamous Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was actually born in New York – Brooklyn, to be exact. He spent his formative years as a street thug. However, he would eventually become one of the most feared crime bosses of all time. There is even evidence that he was involved in several very high-profile murders, including over a dozen killings during his meteoric rise in the 20’s and the gunning down of mobster Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria in 1931.

Siegel was also a noted bookmaker and Hollywood playboy whose legacy would eventually extend to Las Vegas as well. He was the builder behind the Strip’s luxurious Flamingo Hotel in the year 1946. Siegel himself would eventually meet his end under extremely mysterious circumstances just a few months after the Flamingo was built. Although he was arrested many times over the course of his lifetime, Bugsy Siegel was never actually convicted of a serious crime.

Mery Lansky

Meyer “Mery” Lansky was born in what is now present day Belarus, but immigrated to the New York area as a child. Like many would-be mobsters, he grew up exposed to crime and tough streets. He would eventually become an instrumental figure in the development of America’s National Crime Syndicate and be closely linked to both Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. As such, he was considered to be one of the most influential, powerful men in the entire country for many years. In addition to his organized crime dealings in the United States, he would also come to run major gambling operations both at home and abroad in Cuba.

The year 1970 would find Lansky attempting to relocate to Israel in order to avoid federal indictment. However, he was soon forced to return to the States to face charges, many of which were eventually dropped altogether due to Lansky’s deteriorating health. He would ultimately die in Miami in 1983.

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Five Points – George Catlin – 1827 The official position taken by the Wikimedia Foundation is that “faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain”. This photographic reproduction is therefore also considered to be in the public domain in the United States.

The Infamous Gangs of New York

Martin Scorsese fans will no doubt be familiar with his masterpiece Gangs of New York. However, these infamous gangs were hardly fictional. They really did run rampant through the streets of New York during the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century. The affected area includes portions of New York’s Lower East Side.

Notable gangs include but are not limited to the following.

  • The Forty Thieves of Five Points actually had quotas in stolen goods they had to meet each day in order to avoid being expelled from the group.
  • The Bowery Boys, one of the most famous New York gangs, involved themselves in bloody turf wars, as well as politics.
  • The Dead Rabbits was a Five Points gang made up mostly of young men, but also included the likes of Hellcat Maggie, a woman said to wear brass fingernails in battle and file her teeth into points.
  • The Eastman Gang was one organization that were once considered the kings of the Lower East Side. They profited greatly via pursuits like prostitution, drugs, murder-for-hire, protection rackets, and even voter fraud. Notable members include Monk Eastman, a career criminal that loved nothing more than to personally administer beatings to his many enemies.

Learn More About Crime History via Regional Interest Literature

If you find the history of New York crime, famous gangsters, infamous murders, and more fascinating, you’re far from alone. Millions just like you have chosen to explore the topic in more detail with regional history and local interest books dedicated to the topic.

Books like Arcadia Publishing’s A Guide to Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos of New York’s Lower East Side represent an excellent place to begin your journey. Read more about some of history’s most notorious criminals and chilling crimes. Discover how and why the Lower East Side was such an important locus for crime. Explore the backstories of famous crime figures like the ones touched on above and discover a few you may never have heard of before to boot.

As is the case with each of the books in Arcadia’s extensive local interest catalog, this volume was written by a local expert uniquely qualified to write on the topic. Join New York historian Eric Ferrara as he sheds new light on the history of New York’s most notorious neighborhood.

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Jack Joseph serves as the e-commerce manager for Arcadia Publishing and The History Press.  Jack oversees all direct to consumer business initiatives, e-book sales and web based projects from the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina headquarters.

Jack joined Arcadia Publishing in 2013, and has served various roles in sales and marketing.

Jack enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.