DANNY FIELDS, FORMERLY ISIDOR FRIEDMAN, WAS A preliminary fighter who went from the ring to the easier combat of the Garment Center mob (no third man and no Marquis of Queensbury rules). The husky ex-light heavyweight, a six-footer, was one of the assortment of handymen in the brass knuckle set Lepke Buchalter kept on hand for his labors in the service of Sidney Hillman's Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. Away from the strains of his new career, more violent than the old even though he never got hit anymore, Danny Fields liked girls more than almost any thing. He kept a sultry young divorcee--out of a quiet hamlet on the Hudson but now caught up in the perilous tides of the Manhattan underworld--stashed away in a low-cost love nest on West 21st Street in the Chelsea district.
On the afternoon of October 24, 1935, towards four o'clock, Danny called the girl--known here as Ruth Sands because she would find her way out of the depths once this was all over--and told her that he was bringing company home. It was the kind of call any husband in the other world might make so close to dinner. The shapely brunette was used to it, except that this night would be something very special indeed.
Danny Fields' "company" turned out to be nobody less than Charlie Workman.
Ruth Sands, tall and comely and hardly the gun-moll type, knew something about "Handsome Charlie" but the man who came in with Danny didn't live up to his advance billing at all. He was nothing like the slick and flashy figure she had heard about, nothing like the collar ad who made all those other Murder Inc. triggermen look like so many Pier Six hoodlums. He was filthy dirty and all messed up. He had no topcoat or hat. His shirt was a sight--there was some talk about blood on it, but this was never explained--and his suit looked as though he had slept in a garbage dump, which in fact he had. But Workman wasn't interested in the SAME DAY dry cleaner down the street. He said everything, every last stitch, would have to be dumped into the incinerator as soon as Danny could go down to his place on the Lower East Side and get Mrs. Workman to wrap him up another outfit. It was as if the smell of death was on him, down to the shoetops, but Ruth Sands didn't know it then.
The girl did know that it was no time to ask questions, for Workman appeared violently angry, bursting with an unspoken rage, all this time. He was so tense and upset that it took some persuasion before she was able to get him to sit down to her hastily prepared dinner--and the steaks did not improve his disposition one bit. He kept fidgeting because he wanted to see something in the early editions of the next morning's tabloids, and as soon as she had the dishes cleared away the girl was sent over to the newsstand at 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue, two blocks up the street and just a few steps away from the drugstore where Vincent Coll made the last telephone call of his short life.
Well, the papers tore it for Charlie the Bug.
He blew what was left of his cool and started talking about the bloodletting in Newark the night before.
He said that he had shot Dutch Schultz.
"He must die," he said, desperation showing clearly now in his voice.
He said that he had shot some of the others, too.
"They must all die," he said. He said it that way even though Abbadabba Berman and Abe Landau already were dead--this was in the news stories, but way down because nobody cared about the supporting players in that melodrama--and the doctors in Newark were quoted as saying that the Dutchman and Lulu Rosenkrantz had no chance at all, not even a whisper.
But that wasn't really what the Bug was raging about.
He was spilling his guts because he had been left behind after the massacre in the Palace Chop House. He said the other two guys skipped and he had to run through some creepy park and hide in a goddamn swamp somewhere and sleep on a garbage dump and then walk along the railroad tracks in the dark night and find his way to the Hudson Tubes and get back to Manhattan all by himself. He said he could never understand how anybody could do that to him, and nothing Danny Fields said could calm him down. Charlie said they were a pair of yellow bastards and they had no right to do that to him.
Ruth Sands fretted and held her tongue. She had been in on some mob stuff before. Danny in his time had used the apartment to shelter not just an occasional minion of the Lepke-Gurrah gang who had to lie low but even a stray lamister or two from Dutch Schultz's band, because Danny had friends all over the place. Now it occurred to Ruth Sands that everything that had gone before was just child's play compared to this. Now Charlie the Bug was in her apartment and the toll of the dead was ticking away in Newark. The Dutchman went at 8:35 P.M.--they got that on the radio--and in another seven hours they would be drawing the sheet over Lulu and before another dawn Ruth Sands would have to come to grips with a terrible fact: she would have to live the rest of her life with the awful secret of the biggest mass spot killing since the St. Valentine's Day massacre.
After all, the commander of the new mission was her very own house guest, and it was quite obvious that he hadn't just dropped in for dinner.
The Bug was there to stay.
Indeed, he regained his composure after awhile and had Danny give him an alcohol rub with those strong fighter's hands because his back was stiff from the time he was in that swamp over in Jersey. Then Paul Berger, another Lepke trooper, dropped in for a visit and the three men killed two or three hours playing cards and there wasn't much talk about Newark. And then it was late and the Bug flopped on the living room sofa and slept like a man at peace with the world--his world--at last. He would take care of that runout, especially the bum who went into the barroom with him and shared the artillery chore and then scrammed without him, on another day. There would be plenty of time for that.
In the morning, refreshed, Workman announced that he would like to see his wife and baby. He had been married the year before to Catherine Delewin and they had just had a baby son, Solomon. Danny was ordered to go fetch them--and bring back them clothes while you're there.
The dutiful Fields nipped off across town to East Fourth Street and Avenue A and quickly observed that the area around the $68-a-month Workman apartment seemed to be crawling with policemen--a scene duplicated that day wherever the top guns of Murder Inc. might have been in residence. Danny, not exactly anxious to mix it with the law, since he was known as a Lepke helper himself, whisked back to his own place and reported failure. "I couldn't go in, Charlie," he said. "The joint's lousy with cops."
The Bug, disconsolate, then asked Danny to drop all of his garments into the incinerator and trot out some of the Fields models. This was done, with the smaller man hardly emerging like a guy who was waiting for the photographer from Esquire, and then a fresh visitor rapped on the door. This was Henry (Heinzie) Teitelbaum, bearing greetings from the boss himself. "You gotta go away, Charlie," he said. "Lepke's orders." For Heinzie Teitelbaum, a court jester of the mob noted for his fractured English, that crisp message could not have been more explicit, but the Bug turned it down cold.
Danny Fields tried some soft persuasion on his house guest.
"Charlie," he said, softly, "Lepke's only saying you gotta lay low three or four days and then go to Florida. What's wrong with that?"
The Bug said no.
He said he wasn't going anywhere without Catherine and the baby and he wasn't going anywhere without $2,000. He said he was entitled to that much--was it too much to ask?--for the "work " he had done in Newark in the face of all that adversity. He said he was goddamn angry and he didn't care who knew it, not even Lepke.
Ruth Sands never knew just what happened after that, because there were also some whispered conversations in the bedroom, but the man who came to dinner did leave that very day. And he was indeed heading for the surf and sun of Florida, just like Lepke said, but he had his way on at least one count. Catherine and Solomon went along.
For Ruth Sands, the nightmare was over for the moment. She no longer would have to get the jitters every time she heard a footstep in the hallway or shake with fright when she heard a police siren down on Eighth Avenue. Indeed, another three years and three months were to pass before she would have to relive those fright-filled two days, and that would come under tragic circumstances.
The man she loved went on the spot on January 28, 1939. Tom Dewey was hot on the heels of the Lepke-Gurrah com- bine then and Danny Fields, one of the troopers named in the burgeoning rackets investigation, suddenly found himself in some rather extensive sessions with Murray I. Gurfein, the prosecutor's Chief Assistant. Danny, then on the payroll of one of the garment firms operating as a Lepke front, had moved well beyond the muscle man stage. As a highly ranked Lepke lieutenant and collector for the terrorist combine, he had to know lots of interesting things about where the mob's loot was coming from. He had to know who was being shaken--and how. Gurfein found Danny pretty tight-lipped, but he could have helped Tom Dewey an awful lot once Lepke and Gurrah--fugitives at the time in the same 14-man jumbo indictment--were taken into custody. He could have helped, that is, if he had lived to open up to Gurfein.
Instead, just turned 40, Danny Fields died under a hail of bullets on a Lower East Side corner where he happened to be standing with Louis Cohen, also known as Kushner, a fabled figure of the underworld. You had to go back to the early Twenties for that name to ring a bell, but the cops had no trouble with it at all. Louis Cohen, undersized but a very tough guy, was the man who had killed Louis (Kid Dropper) Kaplan, much larger in the criminal trade at the time. Kaplan was a bully-boy thug who had come up from the East Side in the company of such notorious delinquents as Big Jack Zelig, Dopey Benny Fein, Little Augie Orgen and--hold on here--the inseparable Lepke and Gurrah. On August 1, 1922, Gurrah Shapiro, a slow-moving hulk, tossed a few errant shots in Kaplan's direction and got arrested, despite his atrocious aim. Gurrah beat the case on two counts: there were no witnesses who could remember seeing the gunplay and the defendant submitted that Kaplan had popped a shot at him, too. In the end, the Kid himself wound up in the hands of the police. The charge--murdering one Louis Schwartzman, an ex-fighter, for pilfering his best girl. Our Mr. Cohen happened to be a Lepke-Gurrah loyalist in whatever unpleasantness was afoot in the underworld society of the Lower East Side then, and this is where he comes in. When Police Captain Cornelius Willemse took Kaplan to Essex Market Court by taxi for his arraignment, Little Louis turned up in the welcoming delegation on the sidewalk. There were all kinds of cops on the scene, but Cohen paid no attention to them. He had something to do. He went around to the rear of the cab, aimed a pistol through the heavy glass panel, and killed the prisoner, taking care not to hurt the rather bulky Willemse in the process. Thus Kid Dropper was removed from the Lower East Side scene without the nuisance of a prolonged and costly trial and Louis Cohen was permitted to redeem himself with a sentence of 20 years to life which, serving fast, he was able to pay the state in 15 years.
Now, 17 summers later and just a short walk from the old courthouse, Louis Cohen would fall with Danny Fields.
It might have been a mistake, at that. The word around later was that Cohen was supposed to finger Danny for the executioners but had made the mistake of standing too close to the line of fire. Charlie Workman, talking to Allie Tannenbaum once, had it another way. He said Louis was there to knock off Danny himself but everything got fouled up that day.
Could Ruth Sands shed any light on the murder of her boy friend? No. Packing her things to go back home and shake off the hard memories of the city, she had no idea how the mob had found out that Danny had been talking to the District Attorney. Gurfein, a partner in his own Manhattan law firm today, has his own theory. "They must have trailed him down to my office," he said, "and I suppose they figured he was spilling his guts; he really wasn't."
Later that year, in April, Ruth Sands was to have a much more momentous session with the authorities, set in motion when a Newark narcotics agent, J. Ray Olivera, came into the Dewey office looking for some help on a drug angle he was trying to run down in connection with the Lepke-Gurrah operation. Vic Herwitz and Dave Worgan, two Dewey assistants, were assigned to help Olivera and it occurred to them, on a long shot, that Ruth Sands might have picked up some information about the mob's traffic in dope while she was living with Fields. She was working as a waitress then in Glens Falls, and the D.A.'s men went to the upstate hamlet with Olivera, talked to her there, and then, for her own comfort, took her to the DeWitt Clinton Hotel in nearby Albany. There, still not quite over the shock of Danny's death, Mrs. Sands lost her reserve and started to talk about the night Charlie Workman dropped in for dinner in that Chelsea apartment and did all that blabbing about the Newark murder mission.
That was quite a bombshell, but nothing happened, and Mrs. Sands was to testify in the Workman trial that nobody seemed to be interested in it when she told the story. The fact is, it was Newark's case, and Herwitz passed the information along to the Essex County prosecutor, Bill Wachenfeld, while Olivera also submitted a written report on it. That report, still in the files in Newark, also says that Mrs. Sands named Mendy Weiss as the "directing head" in the Fields murder. Herwitz himself doesn't remember Mrs. Sands' saying anything about that spot killing which could have been followed up profitably. There was no corroboration available on it, of course, and no corroboration on the Workman tip. On the latter score, the necessary supporting evidence would not be forthcoming for another year, as a matter of fact, but then it would come in large helpings. Here this chronicle takes on some even more forbidding hues as a new pair of underworld charm boys enter the picture. First, Abe Reles, called Kid Twist.