Mickey Cohen at Alcatraz
Cohen states he quit school to work to assist his mother. Through a newsboys group he early-on became interested in boxing. He is unable to remember whether or how this activity was a first directed, but remembers taking part in newsboy exhibitions at a very early age. Developing this interest, possibly as an unrecognized outlet for childish insecurity and a need for recognition, he relates he became more active in the newsboy boxing cards, which in turn supplemented his earnings. Through the father, the other children had the early opportunity to receive training in the Hebrew school, with the sisters studying piano. Mickey did not have this advantage. He early learned the need for money and all it would bring, distorted by the disadvantages in the home situation.
At about the time he quit school the other children had left the home, and he continued to sell newspapers on the corner of Soto and Brooklyn Avenue. From that time until about the age of fourteen he made a name for himself in his boxing activities in the Newsboys Association in Los Angeles, recalling with pride he often made as much as twenty dollars a fight, often being placed on cards held at bootlegging clubs. Cohen states he went to Cleveland through the Newsboys Association where he continued in boxing. His sister-in-law, Mrs. Harry Cohen, relates she and her husband started him out when he first came to Cleveland and had tried hard to help him. Harry was a fight promoter at the time in that city. While Cohen did not relate this situation, he has mentioned he worked in Harry's drugstore as a soda jerk, points out he first boxed as an amateur and later turned professional. Much of his time was spent hanging around the gymnasiums which were habituated by workout pugs, gamblers and hangers-on.
While at first financially successful, the advent of the depression soon placed him at his wits and in making a living. At that time, possessing no education and lacking any skills other than boxing, his activities he relates became more directed towards gambling, a field he states nearly every "pug" takes up when he's with boxing. He relates he became identified with the group of other similarly circumstanced boxers who did know where their next meal was coming from. While boxing, it is reported he became advent for newspaper publicity whether good or bad. This trait of personality seems to remain with him. During this time, he also gave money to his mother for her support, as well as for her pleasures. At this writing, it is not yet known whether other family relations were close or what part his brother Harry may have played in his activities. The agency suggests we might well wonder how much of his delinquencies his family has helped him cover up through their acceptance of him as a person who is generous, charitable and self-sacrificing.
Cohen relates his first difficulty with the law occurred in company with some other unemployed boxers with whom he associated. In recounting the incident to the U.S. Probation Officer, Cohen stated he had formed the habit of hanging around a certain restaurant where occasionally the manager would tear up a small meal ticket for them. A scheme was developed where the manager would turn over contents of the till to them claiming he had been robbed. Carrying through with the plan, he was found out, make confession. Cohen, placed on two years’ probation for his part subsequently made restitution for about $140.00. Going to Chicago, Cohen relates he continued his gambling activities and became further identified with the underworld.
His appearance on the Los Angeles scene took place in 1939. The prosecuting agency in reporting his activities and their development from this time reports he has been the focal point of numerous police investigations. The most recurrent offenses appear to be brutal assaults on persons who did not agree with business methods he outlined. Public expenditures of funds in investigating and prosecuting Cohen (and his subordinates) over a period of thirteen years would total several hundred thousand dollars. Cohen’s record in the Los Angeles area from November, 1939, according to the prosecuting agency, shows he was arrested by the Los Angeles Police at a bookmaking place he was operating and was charged with robbery. He was released on November 15, 1939. In May of 1940, he was arrested by the police for assault with a deadly weapon and for vagrancy, and was released with charges being dismissed on June 24, 1940. In November the same year he was again arrested by the police for further investigation and released on November 14th.
Cohen had married Lavon Weaver Cohen, alias Simoni King in October of that year. Records indicate that she became a prostitute at the age of fourteen and according to the Chief of Police of Los Angeles, was reported to have operated in Honolulu as a prostitute and also a madam. Her foul language evidenced in Dictaphone recordings in the police department's possession, as well as her language and actions in the presence of officers of the department has tended to substantiate her background as a prostitute.
Cohen was again arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department in February of 1941 for bookmaking and on July 11th was convicted and received a six-month sentence in a $100 fine, serving his time at the Los Angeles County Honor Farm. Following his release he was again arrested in September 1941 and held for questioning in connection with the attempted murder of Benny Gamson while under appeal bond on the former offense. In July, 1942, he was arrested by the Los Angeles Police for cutting telephone wires of a racing wire concern after beating the owner of the services. In February, 1943, he was permitted to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor and was fined $200 which he paid. During the next month he was arrested by the police for shooting craps and fined five dollars. Arrested by the San Francisco police in September, 1944, and charged with vagrancy, he was permitted for forfeit $1,000 bail and leave town. In May 1945, he was arrested in Los Angeles for shooting and killing Maxie Shaman, a competitive bookie, in a bookie joint owned by Cohen. He admitted the shooting and though there were no direct witnesses, he alleged he acted in self-defense. A complaint was refused by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, his gun was returned to him and he was released. He has since bragged to intimates that cost him $40,000 to escape this charge of murder. In November of the same year he was arrested by the Los Angeles police on a charge of robbery at a gambling place owned by him. The complaint was refused by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and he was released on November 19th. He was again arrested by the Los Angeles police in January, 1946 on a bookmaking charge, the case was dismissed on February 6th. Cohen, in May, 1946, was one of the suspects questioned and released in the unsolved homicide of Paul Gibbons, a bookie competitor and hoodlum. Investigation made by the Beverly Hills Police Department notes it was rumored at the time that Gibbons was the person who had broken into Cohen’s home on June 16, 1944. At the time it was the underworld conversation that Cohen had obtained the services Benny "Meatball" Gamson and George Levinson, two known police characters, to do away with Gibbons. Gamson’s car was placed at the scene of the crime and he was arrested in a complaint asked from the District Attorney's Office which was refused and he was released.
Levinson, also taken in custody, obtained an attorney to represent him but the police were unable to interview him for two days after the killing and then only in the presence of his attorney. Cohen was interrogated and he volunteered information Gibbons was a stool pigeon for law enforcement officers and had double-crossed several members of the underworld, Cohen states Gibbons was a walsher and was an employee of the Shannon brothers, also known as a Shaman who Cohen had killed the preceding year. With Gibbons’ elimination, Gamson and Levinson acquired a reputation amongst the underworld as killers and it was reported that they had been given the assignment to eliminate Cohen by rival gamblers and that Cohen found out they had an apartment at a Los Angeles address. On October 3, 1946, both Gamson and Levinson were killed there. It was the general conversation amongst the underworld that Cohen had these gunmen liquidated. The Beverly Hills Police kept him under surveillance constantly, questioning him and his guests at frequent intervals as he returned home early in the mornings until he finally moved to West Los Angeles.
In June, 1947, Cohen was one of the suspects questioned and released in the unsolved homicide of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and afterwards took over part of Siegel's interests. He was again questioned in August, 1948, as one of the suspects and was released in the unsolved homicide of his bodyguard Harry "Hookie” Rothman, and the wounding of two members of Cohen’s gang, Albert Snyder, and James Risk in Cohen’s place of business. Rothman had been on the downgrade through the use of drugs for several years prior to the shooting and Cohen had come to distrust him, had a severe beating administered to Roth men for throwing his weight around at the Del Mar Track. After the shooting Snyder left town and was last reported in Pittsburgh. In March, 1949, Cohen and several of his game were charged with conspiracy, assault with a deadly weapon, and obstructing justice in the beating of a Mr. Pearson. He was acquitted after a trial on March 7, 1950. On July 20, 1949, Niddie Herbert was shot in front of a restaurant on the Sunset Strip, dying six days later. Cohen was wounded in the shoulder and in all probability was the prime target. Harry Cooper, an investigator for the attorney general's office and Dee David, a call girl were also wounded. Herbert had taken over “Hookey” Rothman's job with Cohen after Rothman's killing. A prior attempt had been made on his life at his home on June 22nd. The common opinion was that Cohen was behind the shooting in an endeavor to teach Herbert a lesson, Herbert having hidden Collins bullet ridden car in his garage while the investigation was being conducted by the sheriff’s offices, information of the hiding of the car leaked out approximately 2 weeks after the investigation started.
Early in August, 1949, David Ogul and Frank Niccoli, two of Cohen's henchmen, disappeared. They were under indictment with Cohen and five other of his hoodlums for assaulting a local businessman who had bookmaking connections. Ogul and Niccoli’s testimony probably would have made the case against Cohen and the other defendants. Cohen was acquitted after the disappearance. At the time of this incident he was trying to smear the police department in a political maneuver by involving them in the case, the attempt being unsuccessful.
Cohen’s Attorney, Samuel Rummel, was killed with a shotgun in front of his home in Los Angeles on December 11, 1950. He had been Cohen's attorney for years but it was known they had been in disagreement for several months prior to the killing. Cohen's home at 513 Morino Drive, Los Angeles was bombed on February 6, 1950, which was indicative of the violence surrounding his activities. Residents in the vicinity have petitioned the City Council to have Cohen evicted for public safety reasons.
The Los Angeles Police reports Cohen's life story was run in serial form by the Los Angeles Daily News in 1949, indicative of the great amount of public interest in his case. His connection with organized crime has been apparent for many years. His contacts and quite possibly his superiors in the underworld include Frank Costello in New York, Anthony Milano in Akron, a member of the Mafia, Jack Dragna of Los Angeles, Mafia chief of the West Coast in many others of similar background. The list of his gang members, at least some of the members, have been furnished the institution by the prosecuting agency. According to the prosecuting agency, he has handled betting transactions with many of the biggest betting commissioners in all parts of the states, but acquired a reputation as a walsher. His haberdashery in Los Angeles operated as a blind for his activities featured a bulletproof steel door, a bullet proof sedan, and a nominal amount of actual sales. Despite his record of professional gangsterism and his intimate association with repeated acts of violence, Cohen has a reputation for aiding needy persons and causes, and for generosity for his friends and relatives. He is obsessed with a craving for publicity and fine living, indicative by his announcing immediately after he was sentenced for income tax evasion that he planned to write a story of his life is the subject of a motion picture.
At this time, Cohen relates that he is been trying to remove himself from his gambling and other illegal interests. He states this has been brought home to him through his family. His family reports that within the last two years since meeting evangelist, Billy Graham, he has shown a sincere interest in religion.
Mickey Cohen in 1949
Lavon Weaver Cohen
Mickey & Lavone at their Los Angeles home
Cohen and his crew are booked and questioned following a failed assassantion attempt on August 18, 1948. The attempt resulted in the shooting death of one of Cohen's top men, Harry Rothman.
Bugsy Siegel (top & bottom)
Bugsy Siegel's home in West Hollywood where he was murdererd in 1947 (photo M. Esslinger).
Another failed assassination attempt on Cohen's life. Adversaries bombed Cohen's home in February of 1950. He is pictured here poking fun at the situation when he commented to reporters: "Them bastards ruined one of my best suits."