In 1888, a child named Irving Wexler was born to Polish Jewish immigrant parents on the Lower East Side. Eight years later, young Irving fell in with a bad crowd of boys and learned quickly there was a living to be made picking pockets of the unsuspecting. Thus our boychick earned the street name “Waxey,” because he was able to remove a mark’s wallet “as though it were coated with wax.” Undoubtedly this life of crime seemed a way out of crushing poverty, and so the boy thief grew into a Golem-sized criminal.
Described by police as “gruff, powerful and thickset,” he had a particular talent for what the Jewish neighbors called “schlamming,” which roughly translates as beating the shit out of someone. Of course, picking pockets and schlamming folks was strictly small-time stuff and before long, Waxey was on to bigger and better. The tipping point in his burgeoning career came one day in 1919 when his schlamming skills were noticed by the elegantly dressed criminal genius and Kingpin of the Jewish mob, Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein saw an up-and-comer in Waxey and put him to work as a rum-runner during the first years of Prohibition.Turns out that Waxey had a serious aptitude for rum-running. Before long, he was running all of Rothstein’s bootlegging on the East Coast from Rothstein’s casino in the Tenderloin section of Manhattan. He was reportedly earning an estimated $2 million a year (in 1920’s greenbacks) and began buying handfuls of breweries and distilleries as well as owning several downtown speakeasies. Waxey was a striver at heart and around this time started to exhibit nouveau-riche criminal tendencies: riding black stretch limousines all over town, living in prominent and lavish Manhattan hotel suites and building himself mansions in New York and the Jersey shore. In the police lineup below, that’s Waxey on the left (henchmen on the right.) Sharp dresser.And it had to have been really good living for a while, but as they often do in these tales, things began to unravel. When his mentor Rothstein was shot and mortally wounded during a “business meeting” at the Park Central Hotel at Seventh Avenue near 55th Street, serious infighting broke out in the crew. Although Waxey had formed a partnership with former Rothstein employees Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Waxey constantly fought with Lansky over bootlegging and gambling interests and soon a brutal gang war began between the two. Bodies started to turn up in unlikely places. There was probably a lot of schlamming to go around.Ultimately Lansky and Luciano went turncoat to get Waxey out of the picture for good, supplying United States Attorney Thomas E. Dewey with information leading to Waxey’s conviction on charges of tax evasion in 1933.And so Waxey served his time. When he got out, he found his gang long since disbanded. Ignored by his former political connections, he was reported to remark to a journalist, “Waxey Gordon is dead. Meet Irving Wexler, salesman.” What kind of salesman, you ask? Pharmaceuticals, of course. He was capo in a high-level West Coast narcotics operation, but in 1951, Waxey pulled a chump’s move and was arrested for selling heroin to an undercover police officer. (Isn’t the first rule that you ask someone, “Are you a cop?”) The 62-year-old career gangster reportedly offered the detective all his money, women, and power in exchange for his release. When the detective refused, he jokingly pleaded and begged with the detective to kill him instead of arresting him for “peddling junk.” Waxey was later convicted, and due to his extensive criminal record was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in Alcatraz.The judge at sentencing called Waxey a “malignant cancer” on society and had this to say to him… and as he died behind bars, it became his epitaph:
You have demonstrated repeatedly that there is no crime or racket to which you would not resort in order to make a dollar. Your latest and most dastardly offense is typical of your hostility, and it should bring down the curtain on your parasitical and lawless life.
Waxey Gordon! Now there’s an original gangster for you.