The Ironic Death of Arthur Flegenheimer

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In a hospital room in Newark, New Jersey, Arthur Flegenheimer lay between crisp white sheets. He was busy dying. This was in that other country called the past, where they do things differently - 23-24 October, 1935, to be exact. No matter how well paid the medical staff - the ambulance people alone had been given a whopping $7001 - people died of peritonitis, whether caused by a ruptured appendix, which was more usual, or by a single rusty bullet richochetting through the lower torso before exiting out the back of this particular victim who now lay, drugged, barely conscious, and with a body temperature of 106°2, fighting a futile battle for his life.

Mr Flegenheimer's mother sat sobbing in an anteroom, comforted by her daughter, while Frances, Flegenheimer's wife, was occasionally allowed to come to the bedside in a fruitless attempt to communicate with her failing husband. Doctors and nurses came and went, but the four-bed ward with one patient remained crowded - Police Sergeant Luke Conlon was in attendance, though not as a family friend, along with other police officers, and FJ Lang sat by the bed throughout the entire ordeal. Lang, a man Flegenheimer had never seen before in his life, but who was to be his companion to the gates of death, held a pen and pad in his hands. A police stenographer, Lang was there to take down the dying man's statement.

There were many things the Newark police would like to ask the gangster. They were going to get both less and far more than they bargained for. For in death, Arthur Flegenheimer - aka 'Dutch Schultz' - would leave a literary legacy that Gertrude Stein might have envied, causing writers and fortune hunters alike to pore over his final words for at least three-quarters of a century afterward.

Dutch Schultz3, beer baron, numbers king, protection racketeer and multiple murderer, was about to turn stream-of-consciousness poet.

'Mother is the best bet and don't let Satan draw you too fast4.'

Father Cornelius McInerney had been there. The German-Jewish gangster had received the last rites of the Church he'd adopted - some say to placate his rival, Lucky Luciano5 - and Dutch was preparing to die, if not in the odour of sanctity, at least in the hope that Newark, New Jersey, was the closest he'd come to hell.

Surely St Peter, bribed by the right muscle, would overlook such minor peccadilloes as:

  • Pumping 'Legs' Diamond so full of holes he earned the title of 'Clay Pigeon of the Underworld'.
  • Hanging Joe Rock by his thumbs in a warehouse with a gonorrhea-infected bandage over his eyes, so that the mobster went blind.
  • Shoving a gun into Jules Martin's mouth and pulling the trigger - the work of an instant - because the man had defrauded his boss's numbers business - then stabbing the corpse multiple times and cutting the heart out.
  • Ordering 'Mad Dog' Coll gunned down in a phone booth. Since the Irishman was a psychopath, that might even be considered community service, though the war with the Coll gang caused a lot of collateral damage, including the death of a child.
  • Sending his disloyal associate Bo Weinberg to 'sleep with the fishes' - or so it was thought. Only Dutch knew for sure where the man ended up.
  • Corrupting the little town of Malone, New York, by spreading around so much cash the jury laughed off his indictment for income-tax evasion.

Perhaps Dutch believed the slate was wiped clean in heaven. On this planet, the one in which he was breathing his last, there were those who were less forgiving - like the boys at Murder, Inc, who knew where to find someone with a car and a gat6 who knew the way to the Palace Chop House in Newark.

'Who shot me? No one.'

Who wanted him dead, this ruthless, badly-dressed gangster with three women weeping over him in the next room?

  • Many former employees. Dutch was rare, if not unique, among gang leaders in having been the target of industrial action by his employees. The reason? He paid his henchmen salaries, not cuts of the action. And he was cheap - according to Luciano, '...practically a miser.' Dutch merely said he thought a guy was a sucker who spent $15 on a shirt. This was not normal behaviour in a criminal so wealthy that he was being investigated for tax fraud by...
  • Thomas Dewey7. Dewey, at that time a special prosecutor for New York City, had forced Dutch into exile in abominable Newark. Dutch had vowed to take him out. This was, of course, why Dutch was now lying in the Newark City Hospital, dying by inches, because of...
  • Lucky Luciano. In addition to coveting Dutch's business territory, Luciano feared that the assassination of Dewey would lead to serious repercussions for crime bosses - in other words, that it would be bad for business. He had duly reported this suspicion to the Syndicate, and in plenary session the crime lords, who did everything in an orderly and businesslike fashion, commissioned the hit that was to be carried out by...
  • Lepke Buchhalter. As the current head of Murder, Inc, he was, after all, getting paid to send his people to Dutch's headquarters in the Palace Chop House in Newark, there to plug Dutch, his bodyguard Lulu Rosencrantz, his bookkeeper Abbadabba Berman, and anybody else who got in the way - the barman wisely didn't, as he had a bar to hide under. The bartender might have been hoping for a tip, but those who wished Dutch dead included...
  • Almost anyone in New York except for his mother, sister, and wife. He didn't charge them protection money.

'French Canadian Bean Soup'

Luke Conlon and his stenographer were trying to get information on two subjects. One was the identity of the hitmen. The only thing any of them had got from one of the victims, Jules Krompier, was 'I'd know him if I saw him again.' Dutch, Lulu, and Abbadabba all died without fingering anybody from Murder, Inc, or implicating Luciano.

The other thing they wanted to know was what Dutch and Lulu were doing up in the Catskills8 the day before - and what Dutch had done with that safe he'd ordered. One suspected that about $7m had been buried somewhere.

But peritonitis is a nasty business, and painful, and 'the Dutchman' had paid well and was full to the gills with morphine, and his temperature was high enough to addle what was left of his brain, so all the police and posterity got were a day's worth of non sequiturs ending with these last words:

''Look out for Jimmy Valentine for he is an old pal of mine...Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. Shut up, you got a big mouth! Please help me up, Henry. Max, come over here. French Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.'

After 22 hours of earthly suffering, Arthur Flegenheimer went on to his eternal reward. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery, though his mother draped a talis9 over his shoulders.

Arthur Flegenheimer is gone, but not forgotten - certainly not in Phoenix, New York, where they show up annually to dig, certainly not by Beat poets and students of literature. Arthur Flegenheimer will long be remembered, even if his last words were '...leave me alone.'

Truth, Lies, and Fiction

The Dutch Schultz story has inspired a great deal of journalism and quite a lot of fiction:

  • In the best traditions of American journalism, photos were taken of Schultz as he sat slumped over his restaurant table, as he lay in hospital dying, and immediately after his death. Morbid curiosity-seekers and weeping fans can also find a photo of his tombstone on the web.
  • The Beat writer William S. Burroughs based a rambling script on the gangster's last words, appropriately titled The Last Words of Dutch Schultz10.
  • EL Doctorow based his award-winning Billy Bathgate11 on the life of Dutch Schultz. Doctorow's interpretation of the words 'French Canadian Bean Soup' is of so much importance to the plot of that novel that revealing it here would constitute 'spoiler information'. The Robert Benton film version of Billy Bathgate12 starred Dustin Hoffman as Dutch Schultz and Bruce Willis as Bo Weinberg.
  • There is a rock band from Belfast called Dutch Schultz. It is not clear from his public utterances whether Flegenheimer would have appreciated their hit 'It Bends in the Middle'. Perhaps he would have recognised musical outlawry as a kindred profession to his own.
  • For those who wish to see a treasure map in Dutch's last words, or who wish to imbibe inspiration from the cryptic nature of his final utterances, the full text is available online.

1A major windfall in the Depression.2Fahrenheit. This is the United States of America. In Celsius his temperature would have been 41.1111111°, though the hospital would have had no thermometer capable of registering this.3Arthur Flegenheimer, who lived in a nickname-prone world (not only for gangsters, nicknames were common in early 20th-Century America), got his nickname from his resemblance to an earlier street tough named Dutch Schultz, a local celebrity in his New York neighbourhood.4These and other quotes are excerpted from Schultz's last words as taken down by FJ Lang on 23-24 October, 1935.5One might say Dutch changed his religion for professional reasons.61930s gangster slang meaning 'gun'.7If Dewey had been murdered by Dutch Schultz, the US would have lost a two-time candidate for President, and a world-famous headline.8A mountain range and resort area in Upper State New York.9Jewish prayer shawl.10Cape Goliard, 1970.11Penguin, 1989.121991.

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