Edwin Torres: An Old Jeff Story
January-born Edwin Torres [birthdate: 7 January 1931] can be trusted to judge the quality of a story. A justice for the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Torres wrote Carlito's Way, which was made into a film starring Al Pacino.
• • Standing on Sixth Avenue, as Old Jeff chimed the late hour, Judge Torres reminisced about his shoe-leather-days as a sure-footed NYC attorney, defending many of the Latino female inmates of the (former) House of Detention. Glancing at a group of men who were discussing the arraignment of two retired city detectives - - Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were accused of betraying their badges to become paid Mafia killers, a story now in the news - - Torres pointed at Jefferson Market.
• • "Not since 1912 have there been such explosive criminal charges involving the New York Police Department," said Judge Torres. "It was right there, in that very courthouse, that a police lieutenant named Charles Becker was tried for the murder of a two-bit gambler and informant named Herman "Beansie" Rosenthal.
• • Charles Becker gained fame when he became the first - and to date only - New York City police officer to be found guilty of murder and, subsequently, executed by the State of New York in the electric chair.
• • The child of German immigrant parents, Charles Becker joined the police force at the age of 23 and quickly established a reputation for aggressiveness and daring. Ambitious for the good life, Becker was cagey and fine-tuned his ability to manipulate the Police Department's insular bureaucracy.
• • In September 1896, on a Manhattan streetcorner, he arrested and sought to railroad Dora Clark, an innocent woman, on prostitution charges. Charles Becker might have gotten away with it had his actions not been witnessed by none other than Stephen Crane, the 24-year-old author [1 November 1871 – 5 June 1900] who was then enjoying acclaim for his Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage.
• • Against the advice of his fellow reporters and of commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (an acquaintance of Crane's and an admirer of The Red Badge Of Courage), Crane testified on the morning of 16 September on behalf of Dora Clark, before Magistrate Robert C. Cornell at Jefferson Market Courthouse.
• • "Whatever the woman's character," Stephen Crane told reporters in 1896, "the arrest was an outrage. The policeman flatly lied."
• • Patrolman Becker defended himself at a departmental hearing, thanks in part to his lawyer, who portrayed Crane as a pimp and an opium addict. A disciplinary board found that Becker had made an "honest mistake."
• • On the 16th of January 1907, Commissioner Theodore Bingham promoted Charles Becker to sergeant, a reward for assisting the commissioner in an earlier investigation. Becker welcomed the opportunity. It led shortly to his becoming the bagman for the precinct captain. Becker’s cut was 10 percent of the take. In the first year he made $8,000.
• • Greedy and power-mad, by 1912 Becker's nefariousness got him in serious trouble. He was arrested and charged with ordering the murder of a small-time gambler, Herman Rosenthal, and tried at the Jefferson Market Courthouse. In the opinion of the District Attorney Charles Seymour Whitman, Becker had ordered the rub-out because Rosenthal had told "The World" (a daily newspaper) and the D.A. that Becker was his "partner" in a 45th Street gambling house.
• • The 1912 trial at Jefferson Market Court was so intensely covered by the media that at least three books have been written about Charles Becker and the gang of thugs he hired to assassinate "Beansie" Rosenthal, according to Judge Torres, who admits he's still mesmerized by Jefferson Market's history.
• • Lieutenant Charles Becker was convicted and died at Sing Sing in the electric chair 30 July 1915.
• • Photo - none
New York Public Library