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The Execution of Officer Becker: The Murder of a Gambler, the Trial of a Cop, and the Birth of Organized Crime [Hardcover]

Stanley Cohen


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Book Description

26 Sep 2006
Lieutenant Charles Becker was the only New York City police officer ever executed for murder. He was convicted of orchestrating the gangland slaying of a small-time gambler named Herman (Beansie) Rosenthal in the summer of 1912. Becker was convicted twice, in showcase trials, and died in Sing Sing's electric chair in 1915. The murder and the trial were front-page news in all twelve New York City newspapers for three years. Sensational as the case was on its own, it was given impetus by the fact that Becker was found to be a central figure in a network of police graft and political corruption whose effects were felt in City Hall, the state capital, and finally throughout the nation. For added measure, there was the strong likelihood that Becker, though clearly a cop on the take, had nothing to do with the murder of Rosenthal.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc; 1st Carroll & Graf Ed edition (26 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786717572
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786717576
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.1 x 2.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,470,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Riddled with historical errors. 2 Oct 2007
By Nancy Beiman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a sloppily written and poorly researched book. Major errors appear on the opening page (Herman Rosenthal was one of the few gangsters not to have had a nickname; Cohen repeatedly refers to him as "Beansie"--the monicker of the similarly named "Rosenfeld" who was actually a partner of the murder victim.) Big Jack Zelig is incorrectly identified as William Alberts (his true name was Selig Harry Lefkowitz--a biography, THE STARKER, is being published in February 2008.) Photos are badly labeled. Some of the gangsters are still changing identities even now, years after their deaths. Two pictures (Sam Schepps and Harry Vallon) are captioned differently than the same photos in Andy Edmond's much better AGAINST THE EVIDENCE, which is now out of print but worth reading.
This book is a good guide to the inaccurate reporting on the Becker case, since it seems to rely mostly on newspaper accounts of the trial that were invariably highly unfavorable to the defense. But it should in no way be considered historical fact. Corrupt policeman Becker was an unsavory character, but he went to the chair for a murder that he did not commit. The District Attorney hounded him to his death for political advantage. Cohen portrays this even more unsavory man as some kind of hero.
SATAN'S CIRCUS by Mike Dash is an immensely superior work in every way.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but inacurate and lacking in careful historical research 28 Nov 2013
By No45 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am a criminal defense lawyer, former newspaper staff reporter, and a freelance journalist with a background in primary source historical research. This case is one of the more fascinating criminal trials in New York history and I looked forward to reading the book and giving it a good review. It is a well written book,with a fresh narrative style, but it is historically inaccurate .The Becker trials took place during the heyday of "yellow journalism," Much of the press coverage of the legal proceedings in the two Becker trials was inaccurate and badly distorted the true facts of the case . By relying so much on the contemporary news accounts for the factual basis of his narrative the author repeats many of the same mistakes that the contemporary newspaper reporters made in their original coverage of the case. A proper historical treatment of the two Becker trials should rely heavily on a review of the original court records, trial transcripts and appellate briefs. This could have been an opportunity for the author to do a critical examination of the contemporary press coverage of the Becker trials - and how it might have influenced the verdicts - through a careful comparison of the news accounts and the actual trial record. Unfortunately, this wasn't done here. Although well written, this book is deeply flawed when evaluated as a work of history..
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars INCREDIBLY sloppy and inaccurate 'writing'... 2 April 2013
By exec producer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having been something of a student of the Becker/Rosenthal affair for ten years now, I am bound to say that I was actually shocked when I encountered this book, after having read at least four other books and countless contemporary news articles on the case. The first giveaway - and it's a doozy - is that Cohen says throughout the book that Herman Rosenthal's nickname was 'Beansie'. It is absolutely BEYOND me how anyone with even an ounce of knowledge about this case could make this rookie faux pas. Herman Rosenthal had no nickname - Cohen is thinking of Herman Rosenfeld, a contemporary of Rosenthal. This simple fact alone betrays such a lack of basic research and even _interest_ in the subject that, after receiving the book (thankfully a used copy for which I paid 1 cent), I set it aside. It will remain unread unless, lacking something else to read, I sometime pick it up and skim it for other errors. Pictures of central characters in the case are utterly mislabeled. It took me all of one minute to realize that this, er, author doesn't know what he's talking about. He should be ashamed to put this out as history. It is the worst kind of shoddy work. PLEASE - if you are interested in the Becker/Rosenthal affair, do NOT buy this book. ANY other book on the case is preferable, particularly "Against The Evidence' by Andy Logan -- out of print but easy to find cheap in paperback.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem for Crime Buffs 19 Dec 2006
By Bill Emblom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Author Stanley Cohen has done a thorough job in investigating the murder of gambler Herman "Beansie" Rosenthal in the Times Square area of New York City in 1912. A good portion of the book deals with the trial of the actual murderers by the shady names of Gyp the Blood, Lefty Louie, Dago Frank and Whitey Lewis, and the two trials of the man convicted of orchestrating the hit of Rosenthal, Lieutenant Charley Becker. Becker apparently enlisted three others (Bald Jack Rose, Bridgey Webber, and Harry Vallon) to set up the hit on Rosenthal who then hired the four hitmen to carry out the actual assassination. Becker was afraid of Rosenthal exposing Becker's involvement in shady operations in his police department, and the only way to silence Rosenthal was to place him in the past tense. I feel Becker's mistake was to involve three middlemen who then turned state's evidence against Becker to save their own neck. The four actual hitmen paid the supreme price for their involvement in Sing Sing's electric chair in 1913. Despite two trials Becker also kept a date with the electric chair in July of 1913, a few months after the actual hitmen. The fact that Becker was a police officer who faced execution in Sing Sing made this story front page news from the time of the murder until his execution. The book involves several people in addition to those already mentioned, and I found it hard to keep everyone's role in the drama straight. That, however, is my problem. I feel the author did a wonderful job on this book, and if you enjoy crime stories this one is a dandy. Two sets of pictures show the main characters in addition to New York landmarks in the 1910's such as The Tombs and the Criminal Courts Building connected by the Bridge of Sighs, Rector's Restaurant, New York's Lower East Side, the Tenderloin District (Times Square area), the Hotel Cadillac near the site of the murder at the Metropole Hotel, children hawking newspapers with the cry of "Extra", the building where Lefty Louie and Gyp the Blood were arrested in Queens, and children licking huge blocks of ice in front of a grocery store to ward off the stifling July heat. The pictures, I felt, gave me an idea of what New York City was like during the 1910's. Those who enjoy crime stories will want to make this book a permanent addition to their library.
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