Charles Becker’s life changed in July 1911. Before then, the New York City policeman had worked a few cases that brought him some renown. But then he was assigned to head up one of three Special Squads, which a newspaper described as groups of tough cops whose job it was to “travel about the City and hand out generous doses of strong-arm medicine to any and all who show unmistakable signs of being in need of it.”
The squad’s exploits, and Becker’s in particular, became a favorite topic of newspapers like the New York Times, which described Becker as “standing over six feet in his socks, tipping the scale at over 200 pounds, broad-shouldered, with the eyes, jaw, and fists of a fighter.” He reveled in the limelight, hiring a press agent to help get his story told.
Charles Becker, center
Becker also found that his position enabled him to make piles of money offering “protection” to illegal businesses in the shady section of the City known as Satan’s Circus. Although Becker only earned a salary of only $2,000 a year, it’s estimated he pocketed close to $10,000 a month in bribes. In his dirty dealings, he ended up in business with gambler Herman Rosenthal. When Rosenthal’s illegal casino was raided after he had paid protection, he went to the newspapers with tales of Becker and his associates criminal activity. Two days later, on July 16, 1912, Rosenthal was gunned down in the street.
Baldy Jack Rose, who testified against Becker
While Becker was nowhere near the site of the murder, the men charged with the shooting claimed that Becker had arranged to have Rosenthal killed. Becker was arrested and tried by District Attorney Charles Whitman. One of the criminals who testified against Becker, Jack Rose, was granted immunity and his testimony helped convict Becker. After two trials and countless appeals, Becker was found guilty, sentenced to die, and sent to Sing Sing prison. Becker, who admitted to being corrupt, told a reporter for the Sun, “They have convicted an innocent man. . . There is not the slightest question that those men who testified against me were all liars, the worst of perjurers.”
Trial spectators outside the Tombs prison, hoping for a sight of Becker
On July 30, 1915, Becker became the first police officer in America executed for a crime. Due to a malfunction in the electric chair, it took him almost 9 terrible minutes to die.