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Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century
They called it Satan’s Circus—a square mile of Midtown Manhattan where vice ruled, sin flourished, and depravity danced in every doorway. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was a place where everyone from the chorus girls to the beat cops was on the take and where bad boys became wicked men; a place where an upstanding young policeman such as Charley Becker could become the crookedest cop who ever stood behind a shield.
Murder was so common in the vice district that few people were surprised when the loudmouthed owner of a shabby casino was gunned down on the steps of its best hotel. But when, two weeks later, an ambitious district attorney charged Becker with ordering the murder, even the denizens of Satan’s Circus were surprised. The handsome lieutenant was a decorated hero, the renowned leader of New York’s vice-busting Special Squad. Was he a bad cop leading a double life, or a pawn felled by the sinister rogues who ran Manhattan’s underworld?
With appearances by the legendary and the notorious—including Big Tim Sullivan, the election-rigging vice lord of Tammany Hall; future president Theodore Roosevelt; beloved gangster Jack Zelig; and the newly famous author Stephen Crane—Satan’s Circus brings to life an almost-forgotten Gotham. Chronicling Charley Becker’s rise and fall, the book tells of the raucous, gaudy, and utterly corrupt city that made him, and recounts not one but two sensational murder trials that landed him in the electric chair.
The sole police officer to be executed in U.S. history, NYPD lieutenant Charles Becker died in the electric chair in 1915 for the murder of a lowlife gambler who pimped his own wife. Set apart from other, mostly Irish, New York policemen by his German ancestry and "markedly intelligent," Becker bribed his way in 1894 onto a force infected by Tammany Hall and worked undercover patrolling the crime-riddled midtown Manhattan district called Satan's Circus, the city's center of entertainment and vice. Acquitted in 1896 of charges of falsely arresting a woman for prostitution, a charge testified to by novelist Stephen Crane, Becker went on to commit graft, perjury and theft, but by 1911 he headed his own vice squad and by 1912 he had built up a vast extortion racket. Gambler Herman Rosenthal, one of Becker's victims, exposed him to the media and the DA, and when Rosenthal was shot to death, Becker became the notorious prime suspect although some doubted his guilt. Peopled by mobsters and crooked cops and politicians, and chronicling the early years of the NYPD as well as Becker's ruin and comeuppance, this engrossing, well-researched history by the author of Batavia's Graveyard immerses readers in the corrupt hurly-burly that was old New York. Map. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved