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** NOTE: This feature article contains both copyrighted and non-copyrighted material. The primary material is copyrighted and is an excerpt from the book (eBook edition): “Letters from Alcatraz” by Michael Esslinger (Published by Ocean View Publishing). The remaining biographical material was created under the Creative Commons License with various author contributions

Mickey Cohen

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Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen (September 4, 1913 – July 29, 1976) was a gangster based in Los Angeles and part of the Jewish Mafia, and also had strong ties to the American Mafia from the 1930s through 1960s. Cohen's Inmate Case File scribed during his time at Alcatraz, Atlanta and McNeil Island federal penitentiaries, provided a detailed background, including family history that was provided directly from Cohen during interviews.


DATE: December 13, 1962

SENTENCE DATA: This forty-nine-year-old resident of Los Angeles, Calif, was sentenced July 1, 1961 at Los Angeles to serve fifteen years for an attempt to evade and defeat income tax. He was committed directly to Alcatraz July 28, 1961 but released on appeal bond October 17, 1961. He was returned to custody May 8, 1962 with 202 days of his sentence inoperative, and returned to Alcatraz May 14, 1962. He is eligible for parole January 18, 1967 and his mandatory release date is February 14, 1972.

SOCIAL INFORMATION: He has received two visits every month from his brother, Harry Cohen, Oakland, California and his girlfriend, Claretta Hashagen, Las Vegas, Nevada who alternate their visits. He also had several visits from his attorneys. He corresponds regularly with his brother, girlfriend, and sister, Lillian Weimer, Los Angeles California and occasionally with his friends, Abe Phillips, Beverly Hills, California and Ed Trascher, Las Vegas, Nevada. He has been quite prolific in his writing and has been warned several times about violations of correspondence regulations. He has $335.05 in his personal account.

INSTITUTIONAL ADJUSTMENT: No good time outstanding. He has a clear conduct record. After his return to this institution from appeal, he was assigned to the Clothing Room on May 24, 1962, and has remained there to date. His work supervisor reports he is a very good worker because he is concerned about doing his share of the work for fear someone will think he isn't carrying his share of the load and is riding on his name. In the cell house he is very cooperative and polite towards officers. He keeps one of the neatest cells in the cell house, goes to the yard whenever he can, and seems to be well adjusted to his present situation. He has a great tendency to be a packrat.

In the cell house Cohen is reported as having made a good adjustment and spending his time in many things with card playing heading the list. He is not observed to be of any trouble to the inmates and has an attitude that he deserves special consideration, although he obeys the rules and regulations when faced with them. The cell house officer states, “This man is apt at getting what he wants by any means open to him.” Cohen is a member of the Jewish faith and attends such services regularly. The Protestant chaplain remarks the Cohen has had some individual counseling, seems to be making better adjustment and is friendly and cooperative with the chaplain.

He reads a great amount, according to his book loans from the institution library, such wide range of material as general works books, sports books, science (math), poetry, better speech and English, philosophy, travel, character, biographies and biology books. It is noted that his loans the books are strictly nonfictional in nature.

Committee Impressions and Recommendations: Making satisfactory adjustment but is quite demanding. Committee recommends continue present program.

Admission Summary

OFFICIAL VERSION: The prosecuting agency report notes: “Cohen was convicted of attempting to evade federal income taxes for the year 1946, 1947 and 1948, and of giving a false statement to an agent of the United States Treasury Department by a federal jury on June 9, 1951 at Los Angeles, California. Similar charges were brought against his wife but were later dismissed on motion of the U.S. Attorney after the premature death of a highly important witness. The total amount abated by the couple as proven at trial was about $156,000. They were also found to have failed to pay some $5,000 in income taxes for the year 1945, but these figures were not the basis of any criminal charge.

INMATE VERSION: Cohen states - “I have been convicted of income tax evasion. I have been in the Los Angeles County jail for about eight months awaiting appeal bond. I was once granted a $5,000 bond on appeal but the United States District Attorney asked Chief Justice Denman of the Ninth Circuit Court to put it in the hands of the whole court which was done. I truly don't understand the complete happenings. My attorney tells me I am being held illegally. My application for bond is in the Ninth Circuit Court; the court which is the one the Chief Justice Denman who granted me bond is the head of. I just arrived here at the institution today and I am a bit nervous, but I’ve tried to explain as much as I know.”


Mickey Cohen AZ-1518


Cohen resided in B-226, located on the second tier of B-Block along the stretch known as Michigan Ave. He lived in this cell from May 1961 until January of 1963.


Mickey as a featherweight boxer, circa 1932


In a subsequent statement, Cohen states he is not guilty of the charge. He relates he employed a chief accountant as well as an accountant for each of his business enterprises, giving them both strict orders “NOT TO FOOL WITH UNCLE SAM ON INCOME TAX.” He explains he had arrangements with gambling customers placing bets on a given amount of money. For example, a customer would state he wished a place $25,000. Portions would be wagered on various events, with alternating gains and losses. No money will exchange hands until the specified amount would be won or lost. He attributes his conviction to his notoriety.

Evaluation Summary

Meyer Harris Cohen, known as Mickey Cohen, was born in New York City, New York, September 4, 1913 to Max and Fanny Cohen, Russian-Jewish immigrants, natives of Kiev, Russia, who came to New York, according to Cohen, sometime around turn-of-the-century. He states his father had another name other than the Americanized version but is unable to recall it. He is also uncertain whether his parents ever took out citizenship papers. According to family members, his father operated a fish market in New York until his death from tuberculosis in 1914 in that city.

The family has related his parents were very happy in their marital relationship, were very hard-working and industrious. Cohen has remarked though he never knew his father, his mother has always worked very hard until her recent years when her age and infirmities would not permit. The parental home was characterized by his sister Pauline as being very religious with both parents keeping the Hebrew Sabbath strictly into the letter. Mickey was not yet two years old when his father passed away. She recalls the funeral took place at home, that many friends came to the wailing ceremonies as was the custom of the church. The five children, with Mickey, the youngest, were present. According to the wife and his sister, Mickey did not speak much about loss of his father, but has always been sympathetic towards his mother, his only knowledge of him being what he is been told.

Cohen, in relating his childhood, states he is been told his mother had to borrow money to come to Los Angeles following his father's death because of her health. Both his mother and his older brothers and sister are understood to have suffered severe privation during this time. He remembers the other children were better educated than himself, through his father providing them an education. He, however, was denied this privilege, suggesting a feeling of being underprivileged in this respect in comparison with the others. In his recollection, he relates closest to his sister Lillian, believing this was circumstanced by her having to take care of him as a small child when his mother tried to work after arrival in Los Angeles, to alleviate the dire financial circumstances he recounts in supporting the family. He stated a very early age, five or six; he started to hustle papers for the now extinct “Record”, “Express” and “Examiner.”

According to the family, during this period of Mickey’s early life the mother came to Los Angeles because of her health. For a period of about five years she was nervously ill, having a tension in the throat and a hoarseness of the voice somewhat hysterical in nature. It is thought she received some clinical treatment in Los Angeles after her arrival, which the condition left her as suddenly as it set in. Pauline was nine years of age when little Mickey was made her responsibility.

Pauline remembers him as an easy child to manage, that he was toilet trained early, walked and talked early. The home was kept immaculately clean with the example set by the mother. Both his wife and sister-in-law states he is now fanatically clean about his person and everything about him. Probably impressed by this early training. His mother relationship presented no complication of a prenatal nature, and he was loved and wanted as were the other children. Due to economic stress, however, his mother did not have much time for Mickey during the impressionable age of mother-dependent and in experiencing her absence from him a feeling of rejection and being unwanted is suggested. Emotional growth, lacking the father and as far as can be determined at this time, one in lieu of the father person, a picture of non-direction towards normal adjustment is suggested. Cohen, at this time, relates his next brother in age is about eleven years his senior. Has he remembers he did not play or associate with any of his brothers during childhood, that he had to "fight his own way" particularly with the other young newsboys in the Boyle Heights district. Explaining these years, he recalls “… If you came from Los Angeles, you know Boyle Heights.” Through these years, by savings in being held by the older boys, Mrs. Cohen bought a small grocery and later a restaurant, working fourteen and fifteen hours a day. Mickey was sent to school during this time, remember school as a “special school”, possibly a school for retarded children, though this has not yet been verified. He states he didn't learn anything in regard to reading or writing, but in company with twelve or fourteen other children, he drew pictures and made crafts, whiled away the time which he describes as irksome and distasteful. At this time, evidencing pride and asking for approbation, he describes his effort in recent years to teach himself spelling, letter writing and arithmetic. He does not remember how far he progressed in school. His family does not remember his grade level, but he quit voluntarily at the age of ten with not much pressure brought to bear to induce him to continue other than by Pauline, who is indicated she tried to impress upon him the fact it was a bright boy and should learn some kind of trade. He had no trouble relating to his other schoolmates but did break his leg when about eight or nine, causing him to dismiss school, possibly hindering him, in making him feel lost or not being accepted. He met the situation by giving up, possibly through a well formulated pattern of insecurity in relation to society and the home situation.

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.