Detroit News July 16, 1999
Article by Paul R. Kavieff: http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=183#ixzz2KEgZFLa4
The four Bernstein brothers, Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Isadore (Izzy), soon became the recognized leaders of the mob. The Purple Gang was never a tightly organized criminal syndicate but a loose confederation of predominantly Jewish gangsters. By the early twenties, the Purples had developed an unsavory reputation as hijackers, stealing liquor loads from older and more established gangs of rumrunners. The Purple Gang always preferred hijacking to rumrunning and their methods were brutal. Anyone landing liquor along the Detroit waterfront had to be armed and prepared to fight to the death as it was common practice for the Purples to take a load of liquor and shoot whoever was with it. In the early years, the Purple Gang preyed exclusively on other underworld operators, insulating them from the police.
The young Purple Gangsters came under the tutelage of two older and established Detroit mobsters in the early twenties named Charles Leiter and Henry Shorr. These two men operated a legitimate corn sugar outlet on Oakland Avenue known as the "Oakland Sugar House." Leiter and Shorr became the mentors of the Purples using the younger men for strong arm work, extortion of local businesses, and to muscle in on the alley brewers to whom they sold bootleg supplies. As a result, the Oakland Sugar House Gang was born, in reality only an early phase of the Purple Gang's evolution.
With their numbers swelled by the influx of mobsters from other cities who came to Detroit to cash in on the golden harvest of Prohibition, the Purple Gang prospered. The mob soon branched out into other rackets. During a period of strife in the Detroit area cleaning industry, the Purple Gang was used as terrorists by corrupt labor leaders to keep union members in line and to harass non-union independents. This conflict became known as the Cleaners and Dyers War. Bombings, thefts, beatings, and murder were all methods employed by the Purples to enforce union policy. They were paid handsomely for their services. The labor war ended with the Purple Gang Trial of 1928 in which all of the Purple Gangster defendants were eventually acquitted. The gang emerged from the trial unscathed and became the dominant power in the Detroit underworld. The Purples ruled the Detroit underworld for approximately five years from 1927 to 1932.
|In September 1928, Purple Gang defendants were found not guilty of extortion in the "cleaners and dyers war." This photo shows the prosecutors, defense lawyers and defendants during the trial before Judge Charles Bowles.|
During the late twenties, the Purple Gang reigned supreme over the Detroit underworld, controlling the city's vice, gambling, liquor, and drug trade. They also controlled the local wire service which provided horse racing information to all of the Detroit horse betting parlors and handbooks. The gang even became the suppliers of Canadian whiskey to the Capone organization in Chicago. This arrangement was made after Capone was told by the Detroit underworld to keep his operation out of the city. Capone thought it more prudent to make the Purples his liquor agents rather than go to war with the gang.
For several years the Purples enjoyed almost complete immunity from police interference as witnesses to crimes were terrified of testifying against any criminal identified as a Purple Gangster. Jealousies, egos, and inter-gang quarrels would eventually cause the Purple Gang to self-destruct.
|The "Collingwood Manor Massacre" in 1931 took the lives of Hymie Paul, Isadore Sutker and Joe Lebowitz. This illustration from the old Detroit Times shows how the bodies were found in the apartment.|
Although the Purples remained a power in the Detroit underworld until 1935, long prison sentences and inter-gang sniping eventually destroyed the gang's manpower. The predecessors of Detroit's modern day Mafia family simply stepped in and filled the void once the Purple Gang self-destructed.
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