Charles Becker Pays the Price

     New York Police Lt. Charles Becker has been called “the crookedest cop in America”.  Novelist Stephen Crane claimed he observed Becker as a young patrolman beating up prostitutes and taking change from them, when they would not pay him for allowing them to operate on his beat.  The New York Board of Police Commissioners charged him with making false arrests on several occasions.  Becker also tried to cover up an accidental shooting of an innocent bystander during a police pursuit.  This cover-up almost cost him his badge.


Lt. Charles Becker from the Public Domain

     In 1912, Charles Becker outdid himself.  He ordered the murder of Herman Rosenthal.  Rosenthal had turned informant on Becker’s shakedown operation.  Rosenthal revealed damaging details to District Attorney Charles Whitman.  Whitman intended to charge Becker with graft and corruption.

     After the murder on July 16, 1912, several of his co-conspirators began to fear that they may be next.  “Billiard Ball” Jack Rose was the first to break.  Rose turned himself into Whitman and revealed that Becker had ordered Rosenthal’s death.

     A few days later on July 25, 1912, the former head of the “Italian Squad”, Detective Frank Upton, captured Frank Cirofici, one of Rosenthal’s killers.  Within a couple of days, the other three gunmen were captured.  Based on the information Rose and others provided, Whitman had Becker indicted for murder on July 30, 1912.


Rosenthal’s Assassins from the July 24, 1912 New York World

     In a surreal scene, Whitman’s special investigators went to the police station, where Becker had been assigned to desk duty.  After being informed that he was being arrested, the investigators sat and waited for an hour as Becker completed his shift.  Becker went with the detectives, was arraigned on the charges and taken to jail.

     Charles Becker and the four assassins were convicted of Rosenthal’s murder.  The four assassins were executed in Sing Sing Prison on April 13, 1914.  Becker was tried three times after the appeals court held that the judge in the first trial was prejudiced towards Becker and his defense.  Becker was convicted by all three juries.


Artist Rendering of Becker By Murder Scene from July 20, 1912 New York Tribune

     Some of the most damaging information was the fact that Becker was near the Hotel Metropole twenty minutes before the murder.  The July 20, 1912 edition of the New York Tribune carried an artist rendering of the scene.

     Charles Becker was executed on July 30, 1915 at Sing Sing Prison.  Charles Whitman had been elected Governor and refused to commute Becker’s sentence.  Becker’s strong body and a botched electrocution made his execution extremely painful.  Becker was shocked several times before he died.

    Because Becker was convicted primarily on testimony from criminals, a large volume of conspiracy literature has sprung up around the case since 1927.  Several of these books are available on Amazon.

     Did you know the story of Charles Becker?  What surprised you about this story?  You can leave a comment or ask a question about this post in the comments section below or on my Facebook pageTwitter profile and Google+ page.

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