He began life in 1888 as Irving Wexler, but he became infamous as Waxey Gordon, a bootlegger who thrived in the 1920s.
"Gordon" was one of several aliases he used. Why this one stuck isn't clear. As for his nickname, many say it came from his skill as a youthful pickpocket, so smooth it was as though his victim's wallets were lined with wax. Or that his hands were a smooth as wax. I've read it both ways.
Sounds good, but I lean toward the version that says "Waxey" was a play on his given name of Wexler, and that the name was pinned on him while he was a teenaged inmate at a New York State reformatory. That he was arrested as a pickpocket at 17 tells me he wasn't all that skillful with his hands.
He tried his hand at several things, including operating a pool hall and owning small hotels, but it was as a bootlegger in the 1920s, with the blessing of Arrnold Rothstsein, that he made his fortune. He squeezed out several rivals until he and Dutch Schultz controlled the New York City market, which they agreed was big enough for the two of them. By this time Rothstein was gone, assassinated in 1928, perhaps on orders from Schultz.
However, Gordon and Schultz continue their peace, until it was shattered in the 1930s when both men became targets of federal investigations, which caused uprisings in both organizations. Two of Gordon's lieutenants were killed when a gang attempted to assassinate their boss, who escaped through a window. A few days later another Gordon soldier was killed.
Gordon survived physical threats. What brought him down was the information being fed to the government, which was closing in on him for income tax evasion.
Syracuse Journal, May 22, 1933
By JAMES L. KILGALLEN
New York (INS) — Waxey Gordon, New York’s “public enemy number one,” admitted to authorities today that he was in the Elizabeth-Carteret Hotel in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on the afternoon of April 12 when gunmen murdered Max Hassel and Max Greenberg, alleged beer racketeers.
Gordon made this admission to New Jersey authorities who questioned him at the federal building here where he was arraigned and held in $100,000 bail for early trial on charges of evading $382,976 taxes on his income of $1,616,900 in 1930 and 1931.
The king pin racketeer had been captured yesterday at a hunting lodge near Monticello, New York. The federal authorities are trying to send him to the Atlanta penitentiary in the same manner in which they put Al Capone behind bars.
Gordon denied all knowledge of the actual killings. He said he was in another room on the eighth floor when he heard the shots.
He said that when he heard the shots, he “beat it.”
He also denied he was with a girl in the hotel at the time.
The double murders of Hassel and Greenberg, the latter said to have been a partner of Gordon, was one of the underworld sensations of the new “legalized beer era.”
Hassel and Greenberg were found in Room 824 of the hotel, riddled with bullets. On table in the office-like room were eight glasses in which liquor had been served.
Three bullets had been pumped into Hassel. Two of them entered his head, one pierced his chest.
Greenberg was found slumped in a big swivel chair before a desk, three bullets in his head. In his pockets were $1,737 in currency and a loaded .32-caliber revolver.
Hassel was well known in Pennsylvania, having at one time, according to police, had breweries in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was reported that Hassel’s brewery interest had been merged with Gordon’s.
New Jersey officials who rushed here to question Gordon included First Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Huston of Union County; Captain of Detectives Patrick F. Brennan of Elizabeth; Roy A. Martin, chief of Union County detectives, and Detectives Frank Bruggy and Ernest Manfredi. Also participating in the interrogation of Gordon was Federal Agent Frank Murphy of the internal revenue squad.
Assistant Prosecutor Huston later announced that Gordon ha admitted he was in the hotel at the time of the double murder, but denied any knowledge of the crime.
Martha McDowell, housekeeper for Gordon at the lodge at White Lake, where he was captured yesterday, was subpoenaed and questioned by authorities in the federal building.
Gordon professed to have no knowledge of pretty Gloria O’Neill, showgirl whom authorities found in the Elizabeth-Carteret Hotel shortly after the shooting.
The girl, when taken to the prosecutor’s office at that time, told of being “invited down by Waxey and the boys.” She said she had heard shots, but thought they were the backfire of an automobile.
The arch racketeer and two of his bodyguards were arrested yesterday in a Catskill hunting lodge at White Lake, eight miles west of Monticello.
Federal Judge Goddard, before whom Gordon was arraigned, warned both sides to be ready for trial in two weeks.
The indictment against Gordon was based on information gathered by Hugh McQuillen, government representative. who prepared the case which sent Al Capone to prison after his trial in Chicago. Capone is doing a 10-year “stretch.”
Immediately after his arraignment, Gordon was busy through representatives trying to arrange bail. Prior to arraignment in federal court, Gordon was taken before the police line-up at headquarters. He didn’t relish the experience.
The beer baron, upon whose shoulders has fallen the bullet-ridden mantle of Jack Diamond, Vannie Higgins, Vincent Coll and other slain racketeers, was unshaven and ill at ease.
His clothes, usually immaculate, were unpressed. He prides himself on his attire and patronizes Capone’s former tailor. He wore a dark gray tweed suit of expensive make.
He and the two other prisoners had been fingerprinted and photographed for the rogues’ gallery.
A dark-faced, thick-faced, middle-aged man with an underslung jaw, he stood there beneath the glaring lights of the police lineup. One of the police officials asked him if he were in the beer business.
“Beer?” he said, innocently. “Why, I’m in the hotel business.”
They smiled and asked him where. He had the answer — 429 Fourth Avenue.
Asked where he lived, he replied, “That address.”
He made no mention of his penthouse.
Asked where he’d been all the time, while police and federal officials were hunting him, he answered that he “went upstate about three weeks ago.”
Why did he go?
“Oh, for a little vacation.”
Getting nowhere with Gordon at the police lineup, the authorities hustled him into a taxicab and took him to the federal building where he was arraigned.
Gordon’s two bodyguards, Harry Klein, alias Herman Pincus, and Joseph Aront, who were arrested with him, also appeared before the lineup. Late today they were to be returned to Sullivan County on charges of consorting with a known criminal.
Waxey was indicted April 27 for income tax evasion and has been missing since the indictment was returned.
Syracuse Journal, December 2, 1933
NEW YORK— In less than 55 minutes, a federal jury yesterday found Waxey Gordon, the pickpocket who rose to wealth and power as a beer baron, guilty of income tax evasion.
It took only ten minutes more for Judge Coleman, brushing aside all attempts to interpose technical objections aimed at delay, to impose a sentence of ten years behind bars and fines that may total $100,000 on the racketeer whose domain once embraced most of northern New Jersey,
Gordon was tried on four indictments, two charging evasion of income tax payments, and two charging conspiracy to evade. The jurors found him guilty on all four counts.
Gordon took the verdict like a “big shot.” His 60-year-old lawyer, former magistrate Charles G. F. Wahle, and members of his staff seemed stunned. His wife, Mrs. Leah Wexler — Gordon’s real name is Irving Wexler — bowed her head into her handkerchief and wept.
But Gordon stood up and only by a narrowing of his eyes, a sort of menacing glare that stabbed at the jurors, did he indicate it was any blow to him. Then he went out, with composure, his arm about his elegantly dressed, inconsolable wife.
After posing for news photographers, Gordon sent out for dinner, which was served him in United States Marshal Mulligan’s office. While eating, he sent word to Wahle, his attorney that he realized his record was against him and had expected no mercy in the sentence given him. He said he thought he had been treated “as nicely as possible" by Judge Coleman and United States Attorney Dewey.
He will file an appeal Monday.
From the federal building Gordon was taken early in the evening to the federal detention prison at West and Eleventh streets. It was believed he will be sent to the Northeastern penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
The sentence is a severe one, the judge lopping off only four years of the maximum possible — 14 years. It put Waxey Gordon in a class with the redoubtable Al Capone, who was sentenced to 11 years and fined $50,000 in a similar case.
Gordon was released from prison in 1940. He declared himself broke, perhaps to wiggle out of the $2 million tax lien the government had against him.
He was arrested again in 1942 and was sentenced to a year in prison for selling sugar on the black market. Later he turned to the drug trade, and on March 7, 1952 he was indicted as boss of a network of dope distributors and peddlers, receiving.
Because of his criminal past, Gordon was held in prison, first in Sing Sing, then Attica. Stays at both prisons were brief. He was troublesome inmate, so he was shipped across the country to Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, to await his trial in the city by the bay. He didn't live long enough for another day in court. On June 24, 1952, he suffered a heart attack in the Alcatraz hospital, and died. He was 64 years old.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 30, 1952
NEW YORK, June 29 (AP) — The mortal remains of Irving (Waxey Gordon) Wexler, millionaire prohibition era beer baron, were carried today from a Brooklyn funeral home in a plain wooden coffin.
There were no flowers and no crowds of the curious for the man who died in Alcatraz prison last Tuesday night. Behind the coffin came two women in black — Wexler’s widow, Leah, and a daughter, Beverly, and a son, Paul. They climbed into a car and followed the hearse to Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens. A few friends who attended the funeral hurried away quickly.
In the funeral home, a rabbi, who refused to tell reporters his name, had spoken briefly on the mysteries of life and death.
In his heyday, Waxey Gordon lived the high life, and today is well remembered as the man who had Gypsy Rose Lee's teeth straightened. He spotted the stripper one night in 1931 at a New York speakeasy. She was just 20 years old at the time, coming out of nowhere to become the top attraction at Minsky's Burlesque.
From across the room, Miss Lee looked stunning, so Gordon sent four bottles of champagne to her table, where she was sitting with her mother, the now infamous Rose Hovick.
Minutes later, Gordon approached the table, and he and Miss Lee made small talk. While not attracted to the overweight, 43-year-old bootlegger — she thought he looked like a lawyer — she knew she might be highly rewarded if she made nice with him. Having gone through a very tough patch after her sister, "Dainty June," left the vaudeville act early in 1929, the former Louise Hovick wasn't sure her surprising success on the burlesque circuit would continue. So there were plenty of things she'd do for money, including prostituting herself for married man who had three children.
However, as Gordon said his goodbye that night at the table, with four of his underlings standing behind him, he fought back a grimace when Miss Lee flashed a smile.
As he left, he supposedly told one of his pals, "She's a great-looking broad, but those chompers have gotta go."
He made a dentist's appointment for her the next day, and for two years Waxey Gordon was Gypsy Rose Lee's sugar daddy.
Among his gifts was a dining set that was delayed after his promise, probably because it took awhile for his gang to steal one that was fancy enough for her. It was a housewarming present; she had invested her earnings in a home in Queens.
The delivery was made in the wee small hours of a morning, and Gordon accompanied was with the men who brought the table and chairs into the home. Gypsy Rose Lee was upstairs; her mother let the men in. A curious visitor was 19-year-old June Hovick, apparently already estranged from her husband. She was competing in marathon dancers and just happened to be in New York City for a few days.
Rose introduced herself to Gordon, then pointed toward June, and explained that she was her baby. "She used to be somebody, too," she snapped.
Gypsy Rose Lee paid for the gifts in the expected way, as Gordon liked to show her off to his friends and associations. And after he landed in prison, he asked her to visit him for the same reason. Word is, she made only two visits before she'd had enough of their relationship.