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Charles Becker Trials: 1912-14

Becker Runs Crime Ring From Within Police Department, Tried Before New York's Hanging Judge

Defendant: Charles Becker
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: John F. Mcintyre, Lloyd B. Stryker, and George W. Whiteside; Second trial: W. Bourke Cockran, John Johnstone, and Martin Manton
Chief Prosecutors: First trial: Frank Moss and Charles S. Whitman; Second trial: Charles S. Whitman
Judges: First trial: John W. Goff; Second trial: Samuel Seabury
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trials: October 7-30, 1912, May 2-22, 1914
Verdicts: Guilty, both trials
Sentence: Death by electrocution

SIGNIFICANCE: The sordid career of New York police Lieutenant Charles Becker included graft, extortion, and ultimately the murder of his former gambling hall partner. Becker's brazen operation of a personal crime syndicate from within the police department provided novelist Stephen Crane with Vie inspiration for his work Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Becker's trial also inspired the public and the press to give more attention to big-city corruption.

Charles Becker was born in 1869 into a family of German immigrants who had taken up residence in New York City. When Becker grew into manhood in the early 1890s, New York was teeming with immigrants and a new industrial prosperity. It was also a city rife with corruption. The Tammany Hall political machine and the crime bosses openly ran New York together and had a long tradition of sharing the wealth from prostitution, gambling, extortion, and other flourishing vices. Although there were many honest policemen, plenty of officers were willing to fatten their wallets by cooperating with the crooked politicians and the bosses. Unlike the lowly cop on the beat who looks the other way every now and then, however, Becker became actively involved in the New York crime world.

Becker was a tall man weighing well over 200 pounds, all of it muscle. He was violent but also intelligent. While the thugs that he controlled took in more and more protection money from pimps and gambling houses, Becker also obtained promotion after promotion in the police department. In 1911, police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo promoted Becker again, not only making him a lieutenant and Waldo's aide, but also the officer in charge of a special squad charged with cracking down on crime.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917