A Fein Mess

Mark Fein

Here is another story for the spoiled-brat-throws-it-all-away file. Most of the cases in that bin are head-scratchers to begin with, but few rival that of tin can and cardboard packaging heir Mark Fein who had more than enough cash to settle with his bookie but apparently chose instead to pay off his debt in lead.
 
At least that is what the jury thought when it convicted him of second-degree murder in November 1964. The truth might not be so clear cut.
 
True, Fein did lose enough money on a bet to make even a millionaire wince, but even if Christmas would have been a bit lean that year for his three kids, he could still afford the gambling loss and had never welshed on a bet before. Actually, Christmas for the kids would not have even factored into Fein’s thinking; he was a regular attendee at temple and had been a participant in the Yom Kippur service a few weeks prior to the time the state of New York said he put four bullets into the body of his bookmaker.
 
On the other hand, although Fein had motive, means, and opportunity, there were a number of really bad ne’er-do-wells who had at least 24,000 reasons to make him the fall guy in a robbery.
 
Fein, 33, was the president of Fein Industries, which in 1963 was a leading manufacturer of containers, mostly tin cans and cardboard boxes. His father, Irving, built the company, and when Mark was old enough, he brought his son into the business. That is not to say that Mark was a privileged child who did not have any business acumen. He very well might have. What he did not have was self-control and luck, and that is what got him into trouble.
 
At the time he became a killer, Fein was supporting a wife, three young children (the oldest was 7 at the time), a nanny, and a housekeeper who all lived in a swank co-op apartment on the west side of Central Park in New York. The press liked to point out that the condo was worth $65,000 at the time and that Fein also drove a really nice white 1963 Lincoln Continental worth in excess of six grand. In today’s money, that’s nearly $500k for the apartment — not taking into account the ups and downs of real estate — and $45,000 for the Lincoln. But Fein was also a keeping sleazy red-headed prostitute on the side and was paying rent on a love nest across Central Park in the ritzy east side Lenox Hill area that he kept secret from his wife and family.
 
Gloria KendalThere was not anything particularly kinky about Fein’s relationship with the woman who had more names than a phone book; he just wanted a little somethin’ somethin’ on the side. For the sake of this post we’ll call the 37-year-old hooker by the name she used in court, Gloria Kendal (just one l), although the New York Times preferred her flashier name, Carmela Lazarus. The Times also described her as “a prostitute, madam, and some-time lesbian whose own arrest record dated back to 1945.” Kendal’s police record listed 13 AKA’s. She was costing Fein somewhere between $600 to $700 a month including rent on the apartment. Trial testimony revealed that she was not living there; it was just the place that Fein and Kendal met for their trysts and those of others. It came out at the trial that he was also pimping Kendal out to his friends at the apartment. Basically it was a one-bedroom brothel.
 
“Mr. Fein rented and furnished the apartment to be used as a locale for the enjoyment of the extramarital pleasures offered by his friend, Gloria,” is how prosecutor Vincent J. Dermody would describe the arrangement. Pulling no punches before the jury, he continued: “She was a prostitute and a madam who offered her personal services and also supplied other girls for the sexual pleasure of a select and paying clientele.”
 
In perhaps one of the most colorful descriptions ever of a shady character, Dermody would later concede to the jury that Kendal had the “morals of an alley cat.”
 
In addition to cheating on his wife, Fein also liked to bet on sports. The record is not clear whether Fein was good at it or not; however, he backed the wrong team for his last wager and lost more than $7,000 (approximately $58k today).
 
Fein bet on the 1963 World Series which was a you-pick between the perennial powerhouse New York Yankees and their former cross-town rivals who had moved to sunnier climes, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees were an aging team led by the M&Ms, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, and Mantle had been hobbled by injuries during the season. Still, the Yankees won their division by 10 1/2 games, and were two-time defending champions, with league MVP Elston Howard and pitcher Whitey Ford. The Dodgers, on the other hand, had a pitching staff made in heaven: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jonny Podres, and reliever Ron Perranoski.
 
Everyone expected the series to be close, and when the Dodgers swept the Yankees in four straight, no one could have been more surprised than Fein, who had put together a coalition of friends and laid more than $24,000 on the Yankees.
 
Fein should have had the cash on hand because his partners had given him the money up front. However, he obviously had expenses and might have been playing the float, figuring the Yankees were likely winners — or that at least the series would last more than 5 days and he would have a chance to replenish the cash.
 
Reuben (Ruby) Markowitz, 40, was a the Brooklyn bookmaker with whom Fein placed his ill-fated gamble. This was a big payday for Markowitz, who was not real high-rolling bookie, so he was anxious to collect his winnings from the Fein syndicate (OK, it was just 2 other guys).
 
According to the testimony of Gloria Kendal, Markowitz, who also had a wife and family, made arrangements to meet Fein at the 63rd Street love nest to collect the $24k he was owed on October 10, 1963. He bid goodbye to his wife and child and was never seen alive again.
 
Although Markowitz’s wife reported him missing almost immediately, it was not until November 8, 1963 that his body was discovered floating, bound hand and foot, in a murky canal near the Harlem River near 225th Street.
 
Traditional flat-footed detective work involving combing through receipts and telephone records eventually led detectives to Mark Fein and Gloria Kendal.
 
Fein committed the worst mistake a person involved in a murder investigation can make during his initial interview with the cops: he lied and denied that he ever knew Markowitz. That is a stupid thing to do, particularly when the police could show that Fein and Markowitz were at least phone friends. Eventually, Fein admitted knowing Markowitz, but said that all he ever did with him was “buy sporting tickets.” In further conversations Fein admitted meeting Markowitz that day and said he paid off the wager. The meeting, however, was not on 63rd Street, but was a few blocks south on First Avenue and 61st Street. As to who killed Markowitz, Fein said he had no idea.
 
That did not square with the story that Kendal was telling police. In her version she laid the killing right at the feet of Fein, adding that while she was not there at the time of the murder, she aided and abetted the clean up.
 
According to Kendal, on the night of October 10 she received a panicked phone call from Fein, who insisted that she come up to the flat immediately. She agreed.
When she arrived at 63rd Street she said Fein was sitting on a couch across from a large steamer trunk.
 
“What do you think is in that trunk,” Kendal said Fein asked.
 
“I’m sure I have no idea,” she said she replied.
 
“It’s the body of a dead man,” he said. “it’s my bookie, Ruby Markowitz.”
 
She went on to say that Fein asked her to call some friends to dispose of the trunk; he had other obligations that could not be avoided, according to her statement.
 
Her admission was good enough for city’s finest and in a New York minute Fein was under arrest. With a story like this there was no way to avoid the perp walk, and the five newspapers then in circulation in the Big Apple were more than happy to cover this scandal.
 
When Fein arrived in arraignment court and was literally crying on his father’s shoulder, every reporter made note of that in his story. They were even more delighted when Kendal’s status was downgraded from “statuesque, red-headed divorcee” to “prostitute.” Most downplayed the lesbian angle because in those days things like that were considered a mental illness and that kind of insanity did not make for good copy.
 
The grand jury indictment soon followed while the high-priced defense lawyers licked their chops and angled for a chance at the case. The story dropped off the front pages over the spring except when Fein managed to make bail after prosecutors said they were not quite ready for a speedy trial.
 
There was good reason for the delay. All the state had to go on was Kendal’s story. And what a story it was.
 
After Fein left the apartment, Kendal said she called two friends, David Brody and a woman who went by the name Jerry Boxer, to help her dispose of the trunk. They rented a station wagon and took the trunk down the freight elevator.
 
Nancy FeinKendal said the trio drove north, looking for an isolated place to dump the body into the East River. When that proved unsuccessful, they opted to drop the trunk into the Harlem River. But each time they tried to find a place, Kendal said, a police prowl car would cruise by and they had to move on. Eventually, between somewhere between 178th and 185th streets they pulled into Highbridge Park, dumped the trunk into the frigid water, and watched it sink.
 
That was Kendal’s story, but it did not jibe with how the body was found. When the body emerged from beneath the murky water the next month, it was found three miles north of the dump site. That is unusual, because the Harlem River is not really a river, but is actually a link between two other rivers — the Hudson and the East. As a result, it does not have much of a current, which means that things do not normally drift far from where they are dumped.
 
Most peculiarly, the body was not found in a trunk, and no trunk was ever found or linked to Fein. The police report said the body was “tied to pilings.”
 
No gun was ever found, but that is easy to explain and does not help Fein’s case much. However, the defense was not allowed to inspect the bullets taken from Markowitz’s body before Fein’s trial.
 
Later, in one of the appeals, the defense led by A-list attorney Louis Nizer tested the bullets and asserted that they were fired from two different guns, which means in all liklihood there were two different killers.
 
Another thing that did not come out at Fein’s trial was that the District Attorney’s office found at least three people who would testify in contradiction to Kendal’s statement, but never bothered to tell the defense.
 
markfeinprisonA year after the murder, jurors buying Kendal’s story convicted Fein of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Despite the evidence of a tainted case, no appeals court would grant Fein a new trial, although one judge chastised the district attorney’s office for withholding evidence and wrote that jurors might have been “persuaded to reach a different verdict” had they known about it.
 
Although Fein’s wife eventually left him, his father never deserted his son and apparently became his best investigator. According to a New York Times retrospective in 1973, Irving Fein located a TV repairman who said in an affidavit that he saw Markowitz at about the same time Fein was allegedly committing the murder, and Kendal’s maid who would have testified against her former boss.
 
Fein did 13 years of his 30-year sentence, still maintaining his innocence when he was paroled in 1977. Nobody knows whatever happened to Gloria Kendal, but the Register is willing to bet that her end — assuming it has already come — was not pretty.