Archive for 1960s

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.

Fame’s Ugly Cousin

Madeline Webb

Fame has an sordid counterpart that few set out to achieve: notoriety. The adjective notorious is never positive, and very rarely can the chain which links it to a name be broken.
 
Small-town girl Madeline Webb was lured by the bright lights of New York City in search of fame and fortune. Instead all she achieved was fleeting notoriety followed by a life of loneliness behind prison walls.
 
It might have been worse. Had she been a man she would have ended up in Sing Sing’s electric chair like her two partners in crime.
 
Her sad tale begins in begins in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the early 1930s when the 20-year-old fresh-faced young woman with an education degree from Oklahoma State University left her small hometown with a dream to become a Powers model.
 
Her strict Baptist mother was dead-set against Madeline heading to Hollywood, but her father, who had always spoiled his only daughter and never knew how to say no, overruled her. For the first few years he helped subsidize her career while Madeline chased her dream.
 
Madeline was shooting for the top by looking for a chance with John Powers. The starmaker had help launch the careers of such immortals as Cary Grant, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and dozens of others (some other alumni include Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, and a bunch of people whose faces and bodies readers probably know, but whose names mean little to nothing).
 
She would not prove to be the exception to the rule that people who head to Hollywood in hopes of hitting it big almost always fail.
 
“In Hollywood pretty, small-town girls like Madeline Webb aren’t even a dime-a-dozen,” one reporter covering her trial wrote. “They’re a nickel a hundred.”
 
Eventually Madeline lost hope in the Hollywood dream and traded it for an equally unlikely one of making it on Broadway. In 1938 she scraped together enough money from her waitressing job and headed to the Great White Way. For a time she danced a little and did some minor pin-up modeling (There were rumors that she did some nudes and danced naked at “an undraped show” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but she denied the allegation and no photos ever surfaced).
 
Things got even tougher when her father died and Madeline’s mother took his entire estate and poured it into the family grocery store. The support dried up for good. But Madeline was determined to carry on.
 
But time and the stress of big city life began to erode her “nickel a hundred” looks and the always elusive jobs began to get fewer and further between. Her bright-eyed farm girl appearance began to be replaced by a care-worn and faded countenance that was now usually hidden behind horn-rimmed glasses thanks to her near-sightedness.
 
“I know I have given you a lot of trouble this year, and I am sadder about it than you will ever know,” she wrote her 60-year-old widowed mother. And with a bit of foreshadowing of her future, she added: “This town scares me to death. People will stop at nothing, including murder, for money. Oh! How I wish I were home.”
 
However, Madeline failed to make good on her wish and sometime during her stay in New York she met and fell in love with a ex-convict and wife deserter named Eli Shonbrun.
 
Eli ShunbrunHis story was similar in many ways to Madeline’s. He was a failed big band singer who had once had a gig in a Long Island cabaret using the name Teddy Sanborn. When the club folded thanks to the Depression, Shonbrun auditioned for bandleader Glenn Miller, but failed to get the job. So Eli turned to petty theft to keep a roof over his head. He specialized in jewel robbery with his partner John “Crooked Nose” Cullen. Shunbrun was already wanted by police for robbing a woman in Virginia and another in New York City.
 
At her murder trial Madeline denied knowing that the man she called Eddie was a thief.
 
“He never discussed his business with me and I never asked,” she said. “I had been pampered since childhood and I had the attitude that I would be taken care of and there was no need to ask how.”
 
Madeline did know, however, that Shonbrun was married and separated from his wife. Like so many gullible women, she bought the line that his marriage was over and that he was seeking a divorce. After they set up a household in a midtown hotel called The Sutton, Shonbrun presented Madeline with diamond engagement ring that later turned out to be stolen. Whenever they met one of Shonbrun’s shady friends he introduced her as his “bride.”
 
It was clear that Madeline loved him.
 
“He is adorable and sweet, intelligent and well-bred,” she told a reporter before her trial. “He is so wonderful and so sweet, so good to me.”
 
The end for Madeline came in the spring of 1942 when the telephone rang in the apartment of 52-year-old Susan Flora Reich. The fates were rarely kind to Susan. A Jew, Susan was deported from Austria to Poland after the Anschluss with Germany, but managed to escape to the United States prior to the establishment of the Polish ghettos with her husband, Marion Reich, and her 79-year-old aunt Eliza Klamman. Unlike other refugees, The Reichs managed to save some of their wealth during their exodus and Susan enjoyed wearing flashy jewelry.
 
On March 21, 1942, the phone rang in Susan’s apartment and was answered by Susan’s elderly Aunt Eliza. The woman’s voice on the other end of the line identified herself as “the actress” Madeline Webb, and claimed to have met Susan at a party where they struck up a casual friendship. Susan was not in at the time, so Aunt Eliza took a message. The caller said she had recently been married and wanted to invite Susan to lunch at her Sutton Hotel apartment to meet her husband.
 
Two days later Susan rang the bell outside the apartment shared by Shunbrun and Madeline. She entered the apartment and was never seen alive again.
 
When she failed to return home, her husband called the police who tracked her down the next day at the apartment. She was dead, having been strangled with a scarf. A $1,500 ring was missing from her finger. It was a bad haul for the thieves, but it was all she wore that day.
 
It was not hard for police to close the case. As far as criminal ploys go, the only way the killers could have done a worse job was to ask Susan to bring the neighborhood beat cop.
 
Soon after, Madeline, Shonbrun, and Cullen were in jail, facing first-degree murder charges. Ironically, her arrest probably was as close to greatness as Madeline would ever come. The lead detective on the case was Thomas Tunney, brother of heavyweight champ and one of boxing’s all-time greats, Gene Tunney.
 
The three-carat diamond was found separate from its settings in one of Madeline’s slips in the shoddy hotel in the Bronx where they were hiding out.
 
Once in custody, Madeline claimed no knowledge of the murder.
 
Shonbrun met Madeline the night of the murder on a street corner and told her they had been locked out the hotel because they could not pay the rent. She was not particularly surprised at that news.
 
“It had happened to us so often before,” she told the police. “We were always being put out of hotels, always have to leave our clothes behind. Once we spent the night in Penn Station.”
 
But even if her ignorance of the crime was true, eventually Shunbrun must have told her something.
 
“I have lived through the toughest week of my life,” she told Det. Tunney. “I have had to live like a rat, ducking in and out of dorrways, expecting to be arrested at any moment.”
 
One of the witnesses against the trio was Shunbrun’s uncle and fence who was the first one picked up by police. He quickly rolled on the rest of the gang after admitting knowledge of the planned crime. After turning state’s evidence to avoid the chair, he told authorities that it was Madeline who made the “come on” phone call.
 
Aunt Eliza swore that it was Madeline’s voice on the other end of the phone, but Madeline denied this. Bolstering her claim that she had no involvement, both Shunbrun and Cullen insisted she had no part in it. They confessed their own parts, and said the uncle was the mastermind and that he was skilled in imitating women’s voices.
 
The most the prosecution would concede was that Madeline was not at the scene of the crime during the robbery and murder. However, she was still a party to it, and equally culpable.
 
The trial was a perfunctory affair with the exception that Madeline was perhaps her own worst enemy. She repeatedly tossed epithets at assistant district attorney Jacob Grumet (“You filthy so-and-so. I don’t want your kind of justice!”) and constantly embracing Eli Shunbrun. The jury returned guilty verdicts with no recommendation of mercy for Shunbrun and Cullen and they were executed on April 29, 1943, two of 10 killers electrocuted that year.
 
The jury recommended mercy for Madeline and Judge Jonah Goldstein agreed, sentencing her to life without parole.
 
When the cell door closed at the Westfield Women’s Prison in Westchester County just north of the city, Madeline went to pieces, Warden Henrietta Additon reported. For two days she convulsed with sobs and beat her hands raw against the bars. Additon, one of the most-regarded female penologists in the U.S., was afraid that her new prisoner would end up in an asylum. But as the days passed Madeline adapted to the anonymity that a prison number brings and was soon a model inmate. Additon saw something useful in her charge.
 
Many of the women in the prison were poorly educated at best and as such could not hold a job. They were not interested in being taught by the screws, so time-and-time again the cell doors revolved around them. Additon wondered if they might be willing to learn from one of their own, particularly one who nothing to gain by helping them.
 
“I felt there was much more to this girl than appeared on the surface,” Additon said later.
 
Madeline accepted Additon’s proposal and finally began to put her OSU degree to use.
 
“Once we convinced her that there was a constructive job she could do in this institution she responded at once,” Additon said. “She had the most difficult of all the students to work with and she had to do a great deal of studying herself to handle her job. But she worked at it, and she got results.”
 
Later she began curating the prison library. She also returned to performing, directing plays but never taking a role onstage herself.
 
In 1963, a magazine reporter did a feature on Madeline, now 48, and reported that the once-selfish and pampered dancer had matured behind bars.
 
“She has a wonderful way with people and a very deep and sincere interest in helping the next one.” said the superintendent at the time, Warden Lillian Fish. “You can’t fake that in an institution like ours. You either have it or you don’t.”
 
Although she became eligible for parole thanks to a change in New York lifer laws, the parole board repeatedly passed over Madeline Webb without explanation. At the time the article was published (1963), the average lifer with a 20-to-life term served just 13 years. Madeline was 7 years over the mean.
 
She remained hopeful of release one day, thanks to the support of her jailers and even Judge Goldstein who sentenced her in 1942.
 
“I have made the most of my 20 years,” she told the reporter. “I feel I can still make a contribution to society — in a life outside of prison.”
 
Madeline would have to wait another 4 years before Gov. Nelson Rockefeller commuted the balance of her sentence. She was released in 1967 and returned to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where for the rest of her life she courted neither fame nor notoriety.