Murder Incorporated

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Purple Gang of Detroit

The Purple Gang was a notorious mob of (mostly Jewish) bootleggers and hijackers in the 1920s. Under the leadership of Abe Bernstein, the gang operated out of Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, which was a major port for running cached alcohol products across during Prohibition, since it is on the border with Canada.
The history of the organization was recounted vividly in Paul R. Kavieff's The Purple Gang : Organized Crime in Detroit 1910-1945.

Perhaps the most ruthless bootleggers of their time, they may have killed over 500 members of rival bootlegging gangs during Detroit's bootleg wars. Originally, the mob came from young impoverished Detroit immigrants, who engaged in theft and armed robbery along Detroit's notorious Hastings Street. The gang supposedly received their name during a conversation between two Detroit market owners, each of whom had been victimized by the gang in its early days. One of them made a comment, "They're rotten, purple like the color of bad meat."

"The Purples were really a very loose confederation of mostly, but not exclusively, Jewish gangsters. Well, the gang started as a group of juvenile delinquents on the lower east side of Detroit, a group of about 16 or 17 children from the same neighborhood. Mostly they were involved in the usual petty crime of juveniles. . .rolling drunks and stealing from hucksters", according to Paul Kavieff .

With their murderous reputation, Al Capone supposedly borrowed Purple Gang members George Lewis and brothers Phil and Harry Keywell for the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Bootlegging netted the gang millions of dollars, but the mob was also involved in extortion, hijackings, and jewelry thefts. After the end of Prohibition, Purple Gang members were invited into the growing national crime syndicate in the 1930s, which was replacing the old mafia that had been dominated by the Mustache Petes. Purple Gang members accepted the invitation and eventually began running the crime syndicate's gambling empire.

"The Purples ruled the Detroit underworld for approximately five years from 1927 to 1932...jealousies, egos, and inter-gang quarrels would eventually cause the Purple Gang to self-destruct. In 1931 an inter-gang dispute ended in the murder of three Purples by members of their own gang. The three men had violated underworld code by operating outside the territory allotted to them by the Purple Gang leadership. Three members of the "Little Jewish Navy," a group of Purples who owned several boats and participated in rumrunning as well as hijacking, decided they would break away from the gang and become an underworld power themselves... 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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