The Purple Gang

The Purple Gang

Infobox Criminal organization
name = The Purple Gang

image_size =
caption = Paul R. Kavieff's The Purple Gang : Organized Crime in Detroit 1910-1945
founded = 1910's
founding_location = Hastings Street, Detroit, Michigan, United States
years_active = 1910s - 1932
territory = Detroit
ethnicity = Primarily Jewish immigrants
membership =
activities = Murder, extortion, robbery, gambling, bootlegging
allies = The Capone mob, Fred “Killer” Burke
rivals = Rival gangs, Fred “Killer” Burke after 1927

The Purple Gang was a mob of bootleggers and hijackers in the 1920s. Under the leadership of Abe Bernstein, the gang operated out of Detroit, Michigan, in the United States, which was a major port for running cached alcohol products across during Prohibition, since it is on the border with Canada. The history of the organization was recounted vividly in Paul R. Kavieff's "The Purple Gang : Organized Crime in Detroit 1910-1945". Perhaps the most ruthless bootleggers of their time, they may have killed over 500 members of rival bootlegging gangs during Detroit's bootleg wars.


The Purple Gang consisted of young impoverished Detroit immigrants who engaged in theft and armed robbery along Detroit's notorious Hastings Street. The gang supposedly received their name during a conversation between two Detroit market owners, each of them gang victims. One owner made the comment: "They're rotten, purple like the color of bad meat."

"The Purples were really a very loose confederation of mostly, but not exclusively, Jewish gangsters. The gang started as a group of juvenile delinquents on the lower east side of Detroit, a group of about 16 or 17 children from the same neighborhood. Mostly they were involved in the usual petty crime of juveniles... rolling drunks and stealing from hucksters", according to Paul Kavieff. [ [ The Purple Gang: An interview with Paul Kavieff] ]

Due to their murderous reputation, Al Capone supposedly borrowed Purple Gang members George Lewis and brothers Phil and Harry Keywell for the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Bootlegging netted the Purple gang millions of dollars, but the mob was also involved in extortion, hijackings, and jewelry thefts. After the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930's, the Purple Gang members joined the growing national crime syndicate that was replacing the old school mafia leadership, fondly known as the Mustache Petes.

The Purple Gang also attempted to run gambling rings in Detroit, especially among the African American population. Run by Julius Horowitz, the son of the sugar supplier to the breweries, and a one-legged black gangster wanted in the South for murder, the operation was successful until the gamblers learned that the Purple Gang had been using loaded dice and other tricks to keep it profitable. A small riot followed from which Horowitz escaped but the black gangster was believed killed. ["Me, My Father, and I". Julius Horowitz. Unpublished Manuscript. ]

The Purple Gang was exceptionally violent, constantly at war with other gangs and with each other. Newspapers would often carry stories of gang murders on both sides of their conflicts, which were constant during the gang's existence. Too many openly violent crimes caused a string of convictions of Purple Gang members, while the intra-gang violence between different gang members damaged the gang's organization and its abilities to control its turf.

"The Purples ruled the Detroit underworld for approximately five years from 1927 to 1932...jealousies, egos, and inter-gang quarrels would eventually cause the Purple Gang to self-destruct. In 1931 an inter-gang dispute ended in the murder of three Purples by members of their own gang. The three men had violated underworld code by operating outside the territory allotted to them by the Purple Gang leadership. Three members of the "Little Jewish Navy," a group of Purples who owned several boats and participated in rumrunning as well as hijacking, decided they would break away from the gang and become an underworld power themselves... The predecessors of Detroit's modern day Mafia family simply stepped in and filled the void once the Purple Gang self-destructed." [ [ Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang] by Paul R. Kavieff]

The Purple Gang were considered suspects in the case of the Lindbergh baby. They are also believed to have been behind the Milaflores Massacre.

Cultural references

*In the James Bond novel "Goldfinger" and the "movie" version Auric Goldfinger recruits the Purple Gang, along with other criminal organizations, ostensibly to help rob Fort Knox in Operation Grand Slam.
*The Purple Gang is mentioned in the Ian Fleming novels "The Man with the Golden Gun", "Thunderball" and "Diamonds are Forever".
*The Elvis Presley song "Jailhouse Rock" has the following line about a prison orchestra; "The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang."
*In the mid-late 1960s, a pop group named "The Purple Gang" was active in the United Kingdom. They were produced by famed folk-rock producer Joe Boyd. Their most successful record was "Granny Takes A Trip", released in 1967 by Transatlantic Records. The Purple Gang was championed by influential British deejay John Peel.
*"" comic #8 reveals that, in the Marvel Universe, a criminal organization called the Purple Gang was active in or near Woodstock, Illinois, during the 1970s.
*There is a local Detroit hip hop group called Purple Gang that is signed on the late Big Proof's record label, Iron Fist Records.
*The Purple Gang is also one of six mobs featured in the card game Family Business published by Mayfair Games.
*The Purple Gang is also mentioned in Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, "Middlesex".
* Author Raymond Chandler mentions the Purple Gang in his novel, "Farewell, My Lovely"."Public Hero #1" (1935)


* cite book | author=Paul R. Kavieff | year=2005 | title= The Purple Gang: Organized Crime in Detroit 1910-1945 | id=ISBN 1-56980-281-5

External links

* [ Jewish gangsters in Detroit during the Prohibition]
* [ The Death of Vivian Welsh] from The Malefactor's Register
* [ The Cleaners and Dyers War] from The Malefactor's Register
* [ The Purple Gang: Detroit's Most Ruthless Racketeers]
* [ The Purple Gang's bloody legacy] , by Susan Whitall, The Detroit News
* [ Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang] , by Paul R. Kavieff, The Detroit News
* [ Purple Gang Profile] at [ J-Grit: The Internet Index of Tough Jews]

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