Flash­back: Re­turn­ing to the Scene of a 1924 Crime

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Josh Nathan-Kazis Trans­la­tion as­sis­tance pro­vided by Chana Pol­lack.

One Fri­day morn­ing in 1924, an ar­mored car pulled up in front of the old For­ward build­ing on East Broad­way in Man­hat­tan and dis­gorged three bank mes­sen­gers, bear­ing $11,358 in cash among them.

The mes­sen­gers passed un­der the gray busts of Marx and En­gels, carved in re­lief high above the of­fice’s arched en­try­way, and walked up the steps and through the big front doors.

The ar­rival of the three bank mes­sen­gers Fri­day morn­ings was a reg­u­lar part of the weekly rou­tine at the For­ward in those days. The cash, des­tined for the week’s pay­roll, went to the pa­per’s cashier, known in the For­ward’s pages as Com­rade Ye­fim Yeshurin.

What was not a part of the weekly rou­tine was the ar­rival of the five young strangers who fol­lowed the bank mes­sen­gers un­der the noses of the gray Com­mu­nists that Oc­to­ber morn­ing.

Wit­nesses later at­tested that two of the strangers looked Ital­ian and the other three looked Jewish. They blended into the bus­tle of the busy lobby, un­til two of them stepped up to Yeshurin’s win­dow, where he was busy check­ing the bank’s count.

“Throw them up!” the men told him, point­ing pis­tols in his di­rec­tion. He obliged.

To the crowd in the lobby, the scene play­ing out in their midst seemed too the­atri­cal to be real.

“It was a reg­u­lar mo­tion pic­ture hold-up,” one of them said later.

The il­lu­sion was dis­pelled when one of the gun­men knocked an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive named Meyer Keil­son on the head with a black­jack.

The gun­men were sep­a­rated from Yeshurin and his cash by the iron bars of the cashier’s cage. The door to the cage was in the main of­fice, off to the side of the en­try hall, where Com­rade Mack Haskell, the build­ing su­per­in­ten­dent, sat with the keys.

Three of the gun­men stormed Haskell’s of­fice and con­fronted him. “Open it!” one shouted, ges­tur­ing at the door. “To the devil with you,” Haskell told him. The gun­men knocked him on the head, too.

With Haskell dis­patched, the men turned their at­ten­tion, and pis­tols, back to­ward Yeshurin, who was watch­ing through the bars. Yeshurin, opened the door, and the rob­bers flooded in.

As a re­ward for his co­op­er­a­tion, Yeshurin, too, got a knock on the head with a black­jack.

As theth ban­dits swept the news­pa­per’s en­tire pay­roll into a black satchel, Haskell, re­cov­er­ing from his blow, ran across the lobby, shout­ing to the news­pa­per’s gen­eral man­ager, B. Char­ney Vladeck, to call the cops. Vladeck picked up the phone, only to dis­cover the switch­board op­er­a­tor out of com­mis­sion. Within mo­ments the strangers had fled to a wait­ing black Buick sedan that sped off down East Broad­way.They had the en­tire $11,358 pay packet in their satchels.

Af­ter­wards,Af­ter an air of sus­pi­cion per­vaded among the com­rades at the old pa­per. The tim­ing of the rob­bery had been too per­fect. How had the ban­dits known when the pay­roll cash would be de­liv­ered? How did they know how to get into Yeshurin’s cage so quickly?

In its own pages, all the For­ward said was that it was “clear the hold-up at the For­ward was planned by the wanted ban­dits for a long time.” The New York Times, how­ever, told a more sin­is­ter story. Ex­ec­u­tives of the pa­per, pre­sum­ably Vladeck, told the Times that they sus­pected an in­side job.

Five months later, bur­glars struck again. On a Sun­day af­ter­noon, four men in black masks stormed the of­fices, grabbed $1,600 and ran.

None of the For­ward ban­dits was ever caught. If there was a co-con­spir­a­tor among the For­ward com­rades, there’s no record that he was ever found out. If Marx and En­gels knew, they never told.

Af­ter­wards, an air of sus­pi­cion per­vaded the at­mos­phere among the com­rades at the old pa­per.

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