This Day in Jewish History

1933: Boston Bootlegger Gunned Down

Charles 'King' Solomon controlled the illegal trade in alcohol and narcotics in New England, as well as much of the illicit gambling.

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On January 24, 1933, Charles “King” Solomon, the man who controlled the illegal trade in alcohol and narcotics, as well as much of the illicit gambling, in New England, was gunned down in the men’s room of a Boston nightclub.

He died a short time later in hospital, reportedly revealing to police only that he had been brought down by “those dirty rats.”

Not much is known about Solomon’s early life, not even his precise year of birth, which sources put at 1884 or 1886, in “Russia.” His parents, Joseph Solomon and the former Sarah Blum, immigrated with him and his three brothers to the United States, settling – depending on the source – in Boston’s West End or in the town of Salem, northeast of Boston.

Solomon became involved in criminal activities at an early age, although his police record doesn’t begin until about 1912. Before he began trafficking in narcotics – mainly morphine and cocaine – he was charged with breaking and entering, and also with running prostitutes.

The dawn of Prohibition, in 1920, brought with it myriad opportunities for someone with a criminal bent, and “King” Solomon took full advantage of them, developing relationships with Canadian distillers (including Seagram, owned by the Bronfman family) and also manufacturers from Europe and the Caribbean. He was believed to have a fleet of boats that plied the waters off of New England, receiving their orders from a number of radio stations Solomon operated along the coast.

Solomon was a member of the so-called Big Seven Group, the first attempt at organizing the major crime groups in America’s Northeast, and in May 1929 participated in the Atlantic City Conference, the famed meeting in that city of the country’s leading crime figures.

The conference was timed to coincide with the honeymoon of Meyer Lansky, allowing him to combine business and pleasure in a single venue, and the lodging and entertainment were provided by South Jersey crime boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson (the model for Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson, in the TV series “Boardwalk Empire.”)

On January 8, 1933, Solomon was indicted in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of leading a liquor smuggling scheme valued at $14 million. He posted $5,000 bail and returned to his home outside Boston, seemingly untroubled by his impending trial.

On the evening of January 23, he visited his nightclub the Cocoanut Grove. After it closed for the night, he went on to a speakeasy called the Cotton Club, in Boston’s Roxbury section, where he continued to party with friends. At 3:30 A.M., he went to the men’s room, to which he was followed by four men, and was shot three times. 

No one was ever convicted for Solomon’s death the following morning. It was known that when he entered the Cotton Club, he had $4,600 in his pocket, of which only 80 cents remained when he arrived at the hospital. Simple robbery, however, seems an unlikely motive for such a carefully executed assassination.

It’s more likely that Solomon, who had a court date the following morning, was hit in order to prevent him from turning state’s evidence. As the assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Leonard Greenstone, told The New York Times the following day: “I believe Boston Charlie was put on the spot to seal his lips.”