This Day in Jewish History

1915: 'Gyp the Blood' Executed for Assassination Ordered by Dirty Cop

Harry Horowitz was infamous for his penchant for violence; asked why he threw bombs into people’s windows, he would say: 'Because I like the noise dey make.'

Gyp the Blood (left) and Lefty Louie with their captors, 1912.
Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

On April 13, 1915, Harry Horowitz, a dapper New York gangster better known as “Gyp the Blood,” died in the electric chair at Sing Sing for his part in the sensational 1912 murder of gambling boss Herman Rosenthal. The same day, three other men who were convicted of participating with Horowitz in the July 16, 1912, shooting of Rosenthal also met their deaths in the chair. 

The Rosenthal murder case was one of the most dramatic and sensational criminal affairs of the early 20th century. Not that much sympathy was lost on “Beansie” Rosenthal, who ran a number of illicit casinos in New York. But shortly before he was shot dead in the street, outside the Metropole Hotel, on West 43rd St., Rosenthal had very loudly accused Lt. Charles Becker, the head of the police vice squad, of being on the take, and running his business into the ground with his extortionate demands. 

So incensed was Rosenthal that he had invited representatives of the New York press corps to listen to his charges; in the wake of his accusations, he was scheduled to appear before a grand jury the following day. His brazen assassination just hours before that appearance could not help but be interpreted as an attempt to silence him. 

According to witnesses, four men were present when Rosenthal was shot, and they quickly jumped into an automobile that was waiting for them – what has been called the first use of a getaway vehicle in a gangland shooting. Besides Horowitz, they were Jacob Seidenshner (known as "Whitey Lewis"), Francisco Cirofici ("Dago Frank"), and Louis Rosenberg (“Lefty Louie”). 

Horowitz was their leader, the head of a low-level criminal organization in East Harlem that called itself the Lenox Ave. Gang, which specialized in fairly straightforward street crime. They were in turn subordinate to Jack Zelig, the boss of the more sophisticated, downtown Eastman Gang.

Harry Horowitz was probably born in 1889, in New York’s Lower East Side. The first part of his alias, “Gyp,” referred to his swarthy complexion, which supposedly made him resemble a Gypsy, while “the Blood” was a slang term referring to his natty sartorial style, rather than to his infamous penchant for violence. 

Horowitz was known for taking, and winning, $2 bets from people who didn’t believe his claim that he could break a man’s back over his knee. His most cited quotation, possibly apocryphal, was the response he gave to someone who once asked him why he threw bombs into people’s windows: “Because I like the noise dey make.”  

Police Lt. Chas. Becker, ca. 1910-1915.
Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

According to the story that came together in the months following the murder, Lt. Becker had turned to Jack Zelig to get the talkative Rosenthal out of the way, and Zelig assigned the mission to Horowitz and his team. Seidenshner and Cirofici were both picked up within days of the killing, but Horowitz and Lefty Louie Rosenberg remained on the lam for two months, when they were finally arrested while hiding out in a Queens apartment. 

Although the defendants all claimed that they hadn’t been at the Metropole, and that as far as they knew, Rosenthal had been whacked by someone they could only identify as “Itsky,” Gyp, Lefty Louis, Frank the Dago and Whitey Lewis were all convicted on October 12, 1912, and sentenced to death. 

A last-minute appeal to the governor of New York for a reprieve fell on deaf ears, and the sentence was carried out on this day in 1914. According to the New York Times, when Joseph Horowitz, Harry’s father, an observant Jew, received word that the governor had denied the request for a reprieve, he cried out, “The Passover week!” Indeed, April 13 turned out to be the third day of the Pesach festival in 1915. 

As for Becker, he too was convicted of murder, and although his conviction was overturned on procedural grounds, he was convicted in a second trial, and sentenced to death. When he was electrocuted on August 2, 1915 – having protested his innocence to the very end –he was the first police officer in American in history to be given the death penalty.