They had names like Spanish Louis, Kid Twist, and Gyp The Blood and for the first quarter of the 20th Century they terrorized that section of Manhattan called the Lower East Side.
South of 14th Street there were no gangsters more infamous than Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly. Eastman the brute, fought and robbed with his men while Kelly the gentleman gangster ran things in a business like manner from inside his Little Naples night club.
By 1905 both men would be out of the picture. Eastman, the protection from Tammany Hall lifted, was sitting in a cell at Sing Sing and Kelly, after a near fatal wound received in a raid by rival gangsters in Little Naples, high tailed it to the safety of Harlem.
Vying for Eastman’s post was Max “Kid Twist” Zweibach and Ritchie “Kid” Fitzpatrick. After the latter was gunned down on behalf of Kid Twist by Harris “Kid” Stahl, Zweibach became the top dog. His reign came to an abrupt end when he was put on the spot in Coney Island by Louis the Lump in 1908.
“Big” Jack Zelig was the next gang leader of prominence. With hoodlums like Gyp The Blood, Lefty Louis and Whitey Louis at his beck and call Zelig was considered by some to be the toughest gang leader of them all. Like the others of his ilk his sovereignty concluded when a bullet slammed into the back of his head and sent him down to the pavement. Gyp, Lefty and Whitey would join him two years later after keeping a date with the electric chair.
Dopey Benny Fein came next continuing the gang war with the Italians that began back when Eastman and Kelly were battling it out. Benny has the distinction of being the only Lower Eastside gang leader not have been rubbed out.
On the tail of Fein were Johnny Spanish and Kid Dropper. Both were armed robbers and went to Sing Sing in 1911. Spanish got out first and filled the void left by Dopey Benny, his release was followed shortly later by Kid Dropper who saw to it that Johnny went the way of Zelig in 1919.
Kid Dropper enjoyed supremacy until Little Augie Orgen was released from prison. Back on the Lower Eastside the Little Augies and the Kid Droppers shot it out until 1923 when the Kid was murdered as he was leaving court.
For four years Little Augie Orgen ran the show until his right hand men Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro decided it was time for them to run the show. Little Augie bought it while walking on the Lower Eastside with his new pal Jack “Legs” Diamond.
Lepke & Shapiro ruled with iron fist until the law put them on the spot. Gurrah died in prison as did Lepke. The difference being that nature decided when Shapiro went, the state chose Lepke’s time and place. Like his criminal forefathers Gyp, Whitey & Lefty, Lepke kept a date with Ol’ Sparky.