THE PURPLE GANG, PART I Morning Star, December 8, 1996, pg. 21
This is my long-awaited and overdue article(s) about the infamous Purple Gang. To preface this topic, over the course of studying Albion history, I’ve come across particular persons in Albion who had some “inside information,” or personal recollections of walking in the Purple Gang headquarters and seeing “the safe” or the armored car. Some know about things they feel they don’t dare talk about–even 60 years later. An aura of mystery, intrigue, and folklore about the Purple Gang in Albion has developed over the years. If you have any particular story you’d like to share, write me, and I’ll place your story in my history files here for future reference. Please let me know if I am welcome to give your name for credit or if you wish to remain anonymous.
The Purple Gang was a group of notorious Detroit gangsters during the 1920s and 1930s. Brothers Louis, Sam, and Harry Fleisher were involved with the group. Harry Fleisher became a major leader of the Gang after its leaders Raymond Bernstein and Harry Keywell received life sentences for gangland slayings in 1931. Both Harry and Sam were convicted of conspiracy to murder Senator Warren G. Hooper in 1945. For space’s sake, I’m omitting alot about their criminal activity and background. Refer to “Three Bullets Sealed His Lips” by Bruce A. Rubenstein and Lawrence E. Ziewacz, pages 51-52, and 71-72 for more information.
Louis Fleisher came to Albion in August 1935, and rented an apartment at 108 S. Monroe St., then owned by the Wilder family. The Gang’s “headquarters” was a junk yard that Louis Fleisher and Sam Bernstein (alias “Stone”) purchased from M. Pryor. Bernstein lived at 803 E. Cass St. Sam Fleisher also lived in Albion, but was convicted of an income-tax evasion charge and was sent to Federal prison in April, 1936. Three Bullets authors state, (page 52), “Even though in the 1930s Sam and his brother Harry and Louis had operated a junkyard in Albion which served as a front for their criminal activity, they no longer resided there,” referring to the year 1945. The business was called the Riversisde Iron and Metal Company, and had operated since World War I. It was located in the southern edge of the Market Place along the river where the far eastern portion of Thompson’s Brake Service is now located.
One place Purple Gang mambers liked to hang out was at the Streetcar Tavern out on Austin Avenue, named so because it was constructed out of an old Interuban car. Purple Gang mobster Abe “Buffalo Harry” Rosenberg and his brother Louis, owned the apartment house attached to the tavern. Three Bullets authors described Rosenberg as a “slim, bushy eyebrowed, pug-nosed, 44-year old mobster” (pg. 52). Numerous meetings were held here between gang members.
And of course, during the days of prohibition the Purple Gang liked to come to Albion to purchase home-made liquor on the “West End” in the vicinity of Austin Avenue, and it is “rumored” that the Parker Inn on Michigan Avenue (now Munger Place) was a favorite lodging spot for gangsters traveling between Chicago and Detroit.
Another meeting place was at the Bohm Theatre. Local resident Helen Sharp, long-time ticket booth operator there, recalled to this writer that Sam Fleisher and his crew would always come to the Bohm on Sunday evenings. He would be accompanied by a woman whom they called “Flapper Susie,” named so because of the way she dressed. They would have some strangers with them, and not all would stay for the entire movie. One time they stationed a look-out man, a small Italian named “Joe” outside the Bohm during the show. It is strongly suspected the Purple Gang used the moviehouse on Sunday evenings to conduct their gangster business. Helen stated to me that Fleisher would always have a large wad of bills with him to pay for his theatre tickets. Perhaps the New Bohm Theatre should hold a “gangster night,” and show the 1932 classic “Little Caesar” starring Edward G. Robinson.
In lieu of a photograph of the junkyard building, from our Historical Notebook this week we present a portion of the 1918 Insurance Map of Albion, specifically showing the location of this building, labeled “Junk” on the map, and the house (202 E. Porter St.), which is the site of present-day Thompson’s Brakes. The map labels the area as E. Porter St. Notice the small footbridge, still standing today. If anyone has a photograph of the junk office building or the small garage building (not shown on map) north of it, please contact me.
This is the web version of the writings of Frank Passic, including the weekly columns that appear in the Morning Star Shopper, Albion Recorder, The Mich-Matist, and other articles Mr. Passic has written in various publications about Albion history. Even the most casual of readers will find these articles educational, more than a little interesting, and often amusing.
An Albion native, Frank Passic is a 1971 graduate of Albion High School and has been writing Albion history articles since 1976.