Thursday, January 16, 2020

Fornology Blog 2020--Closing in on a Million Hits

After almost ten years of blogging, my site will register a million hits this year. Writing blog posts has become my favorite type of writing because of the instant gratification and immediacy of reader response. What also appeals to me is a post can be endlessly revised to correct any content or grammar errors, which is not the case with published longer works where your words are imprisoned on the page.

When I began to blog at the urging of my first publicist in 2011, I was less than thrilled. I knew nothing of blogging, so I did what any self-respecting Baby Boomer would do, I bought a hard copy of Blogging for Dummies. There is no shortage of books about monetizing your blog, but I needed advice on how to build a blog.

Once I understood the nature of the beast, I began to recognize the value of building an audience by drawing readers to my site. Blogging has become my primary marketing vehicle because of its long reach and its cost--blogging is essentially free. All of my posts are offered for free, but my longer works can be purchased in my blog's sidebar. I prefer the soft rather than the hard sell.

At first, my post topics were random, but soon I focused on topics related to my longer works creating interest in my books' subjects. Not only did my blog become a research tool, it helped me develop my author's voice and writing style, all the while growing my audience.

What is remarkable to me is that I've written 445 posts over the last nine years. My present goal is to reach 500 posts before I pull the plug and call it a career.

Top Ten Fornology Posts 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

S&H Green Stamps--Emblem of a Bygone Age

Sperry and Hutchinson Company were the originators of S&H Green Stamps--as much an American cultural icon as anything. The company began offering redemption stamps to American retailers in 1896. Stores bought the stamps and offered them as bonuses based on the dollar amount of the purchase. S&H Green Stamps was the earliest retail customer loyalty program selling and distributing stamps and books to merchants. With a unidirectional cash flow, this shoppers' incentive made its originators multi-millionaires.

Stamps were issued in denominations of 1, 10, and 50 points. Stamp pages were perforated with glue on the reverse side to mount in twenty-four page collector booklets. Each booklet contained 1,200 points. Reward gifts were based on the number of filled books required to obtain the object. Green Stamps had no real cash value.

S&H Green Stamps could be obtained at supermarkets, department stores, and gas stations. Completed booklets were redeemed at one of 800 distribution centers located around the country. Most popular in the early 1960s, S&H boasted that its reward catalog was the largest publication in the United States. They issued three times more stamps than did the United States Postal Service.

Economic recessions in the 1970s reduced sales and decreased the value of the rewards. Shoppers began to see the stamps as not worth the trouble, and stores started to drop the program. In 1981, the founders' successors sold the business.

Green Stamps entered the realm of pop art iconography when Andy Warhol used a three step silkscreen process to print a 23"x22.75" canvas in 1962. Three years later, he used offset lithography to print the classic green stamp images on forty-nine 7'x7' panels to act as wallpaper within a gallery exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia. A single panel recently sold at auction for $6,250.

S&H Green Stamp founder

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Purple Gangster Marries Shiksa

Edward Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Burnstein.
Most Purple Gang members made their mothers proud by marrying Jewish women and following the precepts of their Hebrew faith--on the surface anyway. One notable exception was twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Burnstein who married a nineteen-year-old Catholic show girl from Kenosha, Wisconsin named Marguerite Ball.

After graduating from dance school, Marguerite began her show business career in vaudeville with the Paul Ash Revue performing live musical skits on-stage in Chicago movie houses before the evening's silent film was shown. These small productions were broadcast over local radio from 7:15 pm to 8:00 pm.

Marguerite (Ball) Burnstein
Marguerite performed in short musical pieces named "May Time Jazz Carnival," "Oh, Teacher," "Shanghai Dreams," and "Paul's Hot Ashes." She was talented enough to capture the notice of George White, a show business impresario of variety shows called the George White Scandals--along the line of the more famous and elegant Ziegfeld Follies. Marguerite performed on Broadway in "Manhattan Mary" and "Helen, In the Scandals" as an uncredited cast member.

The details of Joe and Marguerite's courtship are unknown, but it can be safely said that theirs was a whirlwind romance culminating in marriage on March 23, 1929 in Detroit. Their newspaper wedding notice described Joe as the vice-president of a Detroit motor company--a lie designed for the benefit of the Ball family who surely had reservations about Marguerite's hasty Justice of the Peace marriage to a man they knew little about. The newlyweds moved into a custom Tudor-style home said to be valued at $100,000 in the exclusive Detroit suburb of Palmer Woods.

Joe was the most business-minded of the Burnstein brothers and owned a number of legitimate businesses used to launder gang money and provide fronts for other gang activities. He owned an auto parts business, a men's fine clothing store, a three-chair barber shop (on the site of the current Fox Theater), and oil wells in Mt. Pleasant and Clare, Michigan. Outwardly, Joe had all the trappings of a prosperous and legitimate businessman--including a trophy wife.

Joseph Burnstein's mansion--notice the B emblem on the awnings.
A scant year passed before Marguerite gave birth to a healthy daughter. Her married life with Joe seemed idyllic until fate reared its ugly head. One week after Marguerite gave birth to their child, Joe was fighting for his life in the same hospital. One of his business partners--while on an opium binge--shot Joe in the midriff hitting his spleen.

Joe almost bled out, but Purple Gang members lined up at Detroit Receiving Hospital donating blood to help save his life. True to the gangster code, Joe refused to testify against his assailant Harry Kirschenbaum. They were friends and Joe said all he remembered was bumping his head and passing out. Kirschenbaum was acquitted in Detroit Recorder's Court but was convicted later on a federal narcotics charge for possession of opium.

When Joe recovered sufficiently from his stomach wound and returned home from the hospital, Marguerite gave him an ultimatum, "Either quit the gang or say goodbye to me and your daughter."

Leaving the day-to-day gang life behind, Joe cast his eyes west and eventually settled in El Dorado, California where he became a consultant to Reno and West Coast gambling concerns. After his brother Ray was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to Marquette Prison for life, youngest brother Isadore moved to California also, leaving oldest brother Abe to run the gang's gambling rackets.

Joe and Marguerite remained married for fifty-five years until he died of heart failure at the age of eighty-four on February 28, 1984. Marguerite died on January 9, 1992 in El Dorado, California at the age of eighty-one. Of the four Burnstein brothers, Joe was the only one with a lasting marriage and two daughters to show for it.

Mobsters' Women

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mobsters' Women

The age of the flapper--1920s

Once World War I ended and the doughboys returned from Europe, young men and women were ready to shed the Victorian inhibitions of the past for the freedom of modernity. While the soldiers were off fighting the Germans, women won their voting rights and Temperance groups made national Prohibition the law of the land. 

The alchemy of these new political realities dramatically impacted society setting the stage for the Roaring Twenties and the age of the flapper. Young women shed their corsets, raised their hemlines, lowered their waistlines, bobbed their hair, and put on shoes with heels. They smoked, they swore, they drank, and they danced to the latest syncopated rhythms at speakeasies while rubbing elbows with underworld figures and wealthy local businessmen. 

Many young women were attracted to the lavish lifestyle of underworld figures who dressed in fine clothes and drove flashy automobiles. As long as the money and perks rolled in, most gangster wives and girlfriends knew better than to question the source of their good fortune--they were smart enough to play dumb.

But being involved with a gangster was a risky proposition for women. Gangsters of the Roaring Twenties tended to die young leaving their wives and girlfriends bereaved and destitute. Some young women hooked up with other gangsters, some returned home to their families, some returned to the chorus line from whence they came, and some went to work in a variety of low-paying jobs.

Al and Mae Coughlin Capone
Planning for the future was not a priority for people living in the moment. Life insurance and pension plans were not part of the gangster's long-term prospectus. When Al Capone died, his wife Mae was forced to vacate their Palm Island estate in Miami Beach, Florida. She went to work helping her son run a Miami restaurant called The Grotto, but when the venture failed, Mae lived modestly in Hollywood, Florida on the generosity of her brother-in-law Ralph Capone and the Chicago organization who paid her a small stipend understood to be hush money.

In Detroit, Michigan, Purple Gang enforcers Abe Axler and Eddie Fletcher died as they lived--at the wrong end of a gun. Both men when released from federal prison had to pay $5,000 in fines. After Axler and Fletcher were released, they were broke. Shortly after that, they were found murdered in the back seat of car. Abe had $18.60 in his pockets and Eddie had $0.60. The Axler family in New York paid to ship Abe's body home for burial. Eddie Fletcher's body was also returned to New York, but his family had long-since turned their back on Eddie. His burial expenses were paid by First Brodyer Benevolent Association because of his indigence.

Neither of their widows had a financial safety net, so they played the marriage sweepstakes. Evelyn Axler remarried twice--both times to alcoholics. She died at the age of thirty-eight from second and third degree burns over her entire body. The cause of death was entered as accidental by the Wayne County Coroner though the details of her death are lost to history. Anna Fletcher fared much better. She remarried a man not in the rackets and drifted into obscurity leaving the mob life behind.

Fred "Killer" Burke after pleading guilty to murder.
As a rule, most mobster wives and girlfriends were left unprovided for, but there were exceptions. Fred "Killer" Burke--gunman responsible for three of the most notorious gangland killings of the Prohibition period--had as many wives and girlfriends as he had aliases. His final marriage was to twenty-year-old Bonnie Gwendoline Porter when Burke was thirty-seven.

Bonnie Burke
Less than a year after their marriage in 1930, Burke was arrested for the murder of a St. Joseph, Michigan patrolman who was trying to apprehend him for a minor traffic accident. When Bonnie Burke was brought in for questioning, she said she knew nothing about her husband's criminal past and believed he sold oil well leases. "My husband spent a lot of time on the road," she told police. In reality, Burke held up banks and committed other crimes in surrounding counties and states.

Charged with second-degree murder, Fred Burke pleaded guilty knowing there was a contract put out on him for double-crossing the Purple Gang. He was sentenced to life at Marquette Prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where he died of heart failure in 1940. Despite not visiting Burke in the nine years he spent behind bars, Bonnie was left with a fortune in negotiable United States Treasury 
Bonds leaving her a very rich woman.

Chester and Anna LaMare
Another exception to the plight of most mob wives was Anna LaMare, the wife of Cesare "Big Chet" LaMare--Hamtramck, Michigan mob boss and Wyandotte, Michigan Mafia don. In a move to become capo regime ("boss of bosses"), LaMare attempted to gather Detroit's Mafia leaders together in one place to assassinate them in one fell swoop. The plan unravelled and two low-ranking Eastside Mafia members were shot to death igniting a year-long Mafia gang war between Eastside and Westside Mafia factions--only one would survive. LaMare knew his days were numbered. A month before he was assassinated by turncoat members of his own gang, LaMare discussed his estate and other holdings with Anna.

While Anna was out of the house on February 6, 1931, from 9:00 pm until near midnight, two gunmen--Joe Amico and Elmer Macklin--shot Big Chet. Anna returned home and found her husband in a bleeding heap on the kitchen floor. She called the Wyandotte Police screaming into the phone at them. After they arrived, Anna calmed down and was questioned claiming she was out of the house for only an hour or so. When she left the house, Chet was by himself she told investigators. Because of the coagulation of LaMare's blood and the level of rigor mortis in his body, the coroner knew Anna was lying. LaMare had been dead for over two hours.

Chester LaMare's silver-clad casket being carried out of his Wyandotte home
Though Anna was suspected by police investigators as being complicit in some way, she was never charged and held only briefly before being released to arrange for her husband's funeral. Two of LaMare's foot soldiers were charged with Big Chet's murder while Anna walked away scott-free with an estate valued at $500,000--including money in the bank, extensive real estate holdings, and a Ford Motor Company dealership.

Most women involved with underworld figures were married to woe, and few profited from their association with a gangster. But all of them carried the weight of memory and the stigma of being a gangster's woman to their graves.

Purple Gangster Marries Shiksa 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Detroit's Pfeiffer Brewery and Johnny Pfeiffer

The Johnny Pfeiffer plaster-of-paris figurine depicts a Revolutionary War minuteman playing a fife. Designed by Walt Disney Studios in 1951 for the Pfeiffer Brewing Company, the back bar statuette was made by the Plasto Corporation in Chicago. A company spokesperson says Pfeiffer Brewing commissioned eight different versions of Johnny over the 1950s. Two thousand of the 7.25 inch figurines were produced every month making it the most common and least valuable statue they ever produced, currently selling on Ebay for $25 to $45 depending on condition and the motivation of the buyer.

Brewery founder Conrad Pfeiffer brought the original beer recipes from Germany in the late nineteenth century. The original styles were "Pfeiffer's Famous"--a light lager--and "Pfeiffer's Wurtzburger"--a dark lager. Their brew masters used only new seasoned white oak kegs and barrels to insure consistent quality and taste. Pfeiffer became Detroit's third most popular beer brand behind Stroh's and Goebel before Prohibition took effect in 1920.

Repeal was passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in December 1933, ending America's nightmare experience with Prohibition. Beginning in February 1934, Pfeiffer restored the exterior beauty of its original building built in 1889. The interior of the plant was completely remodeled, enlarged, and modernized. Legal beer shipments resumed on May 15, 1934.

Pfeiffer gained considerable market share after Prohibition repeal largely due to heavy-handed distributors who intimidated vendors and tavern owners to take their beer products over other brands. Complaints from vendors prompted the Michigan Liquor Commission to investigate Pfeiffer distributorships.

On February 22, 1935, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Gordon E. Tappan testified at a Liquor Commission public hearing that "(Pfeiffer Brewing Company) made no attempt to screen its distributors for character, qualifications, morals, or police records." Tappan charged the company and its agents with using strong-arm tactics to muscle in on Michigan's beer industry. The company made no attempt to rid itself of underworld influence.

The Macomb Distribution Company had Mafia boss Joe "Uno" Zerilli and his underboss William "Black Bill" Tocco on their board of directors with Anthony Lambrecht, Alfred Epstein, Abe Rogoff, and H. Armin Weil, who also had police records. The board of Meyer's Products Company--another Pfeiffer distributor--included Donald F. Gray--president; Charles Leiter--vice-president and Oakland Sugar House Gang co-boss; Henry Shorr--treasurer and Sugar House Gang co-boss; Elda Ruffert--secretary; James Syla--manager; Sam "the Gorilla" Davis--company agent and known Purple Gang enforcer; and Henry Toprofsky--company agent and known Purple Gang enforcer. 

Pfeiffer Brewery officials were required by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to show cause why their brewing license shouldn't be revoked. Then president William G. Breitmeyer pled ignorance and said the company was having trouble keeping up with demand. They didn't need to force their products on anyone. On April 10, 1935, the company agreed to bar all persons with criminal records from serving as beer distributors and suspended their contracts. Despite the bad Depression-era publicity, Pfeiffer became Detroit's most popular brand overtaking Stroh's and Goebel by the end of the 1950s. But trouble was brewing on the horizon.

In the 1960s, Budweiser, Miller, and Pabst sought to become national brands. Because of their assets, access to capital, and huge advertising budgets, the Big Three brewers put many regional brewers out of business--not because of superior products but because of marketing and financial resources.

To compete with the Big Three, Pfeiffer changed its corporate name to Associated Brewing Company (ABC) in 1962. ABC acquired and consolidated smaller Midwestern brands and breweries to position itself in the national market, but they overextended themselves and became overburdened with debt. The old Pfeiffer brewery and bottling plant on Beaufait Avenue closed in 1966, and by 1972, the rest of ABC's remaining assets were sold off.

Detroiters are left with some aging memorabilia and a few random facts. In some small measure, the microbrewery movement of the twenty-first century is nipping at the heels of the national brands and cutting into their profits. Many of the old-style beers are once again available for our quaffing pleasure.

Many thanks Renee Reilly-Menard for gifting Johnny Pfeiffer to me along with the Vernor's gnome. The Detroit Historical Museum already has Johnny Pfeiffer in its collection. He looks good on my mantelpiece. I think I'll keep him.

Home for the gnome:

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Elusive Purple Gang--Now Available From Amazon

The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit’s Kosher Nostra is a concise history of one of America’s most notorious and violent Prohibition gangs. The four Burnstein brothers and their associates were the only Jewish gang in the United States to dominate the rackets of a major American city.

From their meteoric rise to the top of Detroit’s underworld to their ultimate demise, The Elusive Purple Gang is an episodic account of the Purple Gang’s corrosive pursuit of power and wealth and their inevitable plunge towards self-destruction. 

A quality Wheatmark Inc. paperback edition is now available from Amazon with ebook formats avaliable at the end of November. A digital audiobook is in production and should be available in late December.

2020 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Prohibition. I hope readers young and old will find The Elusive Purple Gang informative and interesting. As always, Amazon reviews are kindly encouraged. Thank you.


Monday, November 11, 2019

John Norman Collins's Murder Alibi

John Norman Collins on Triumph motorcycle he used to pick up Karen Sue Beineman.

Part three of the Detroit Free Press retrospective article on killer John Norman Collins and the Washtenaw County Murders details two prison letters he wrote to his Canadian cousin John Philip Chapman in 2013. In them, Collins states he is innocent of the Karen Sue Beineman and Alice Kalom murders, and he names the killer.

A footnote to this three-part feature story is that Collins broke his long-standing rule of not responding to media requests and wrote the Free Press last Tuesday asking that they not publish the articles. Then, he proceded to slander me writing I was using him to snare women into my web. Just for the record, I don't have a web.

John Norman Collins Mugshot August 2, 1969.
Collins throws Eastern Michigan University Roommate Under Prison bus