SABR

A Black Sox Mystery: Who Was "Rachael Brown"?

By Bill Lamb

Quietly nestled among the renowned sports names charged in the Black Sox scandal is that of an obscure figure, one Rachael Brown.1 Based on surviving evidence, it appears that Brown was indicted by the Cook County grand jury almost entirely on the word of Lefty Williams who identified the negotiators of the fix with the Sox players as “two fellows introduced as Brown and Sullivan … the gamblers from New York.”2

Defendant Brown, however, was never taken into custody on the indictment. Nor did he ever make an appearance, either personally or via counsel, in a Chicago courtroom. From the time of the scandal until today, Rachael Brown has remained largely a cipher, a scandal actor whose identity has never been conclusively established.

In the order in which they appeared on the public stage, here are snapshots of the most likely candidates for the role of Black Sox defendant Rachael Brown.

1. Abram Braunstein, commonly known as Rachel Brown

 A contemporary of Arnold Rothstein, this individual was a small-time Manhattan gambler who first came to public attention via his connection to Louis “Bridgie” Webber, a key prosecution witness in the trial of the notorious Rosenthal murder case. Those proceedings culminated in conviction with death sentences for five men, including corrupt NYPD Vice Squad Lieutenant Charles Becker. While in a jail cell awaiting his fate, Becker claimed that Rosenthal’s killers had had an earlier target, namely “‘Rachel’ Braunstein, Webber’s partner in a 42nd Street gambling house and known in the gambling fraternity as Rachel Brown.” See The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 1912.3

According to Becker, a prospective new trial witness named Jack Sullivan would testify that Rosenthal’s slayers had plotted to kill Rachel Braunstein and take his half of the gambling partnership. Sullivan “learned of it, … told Braunstein and escorted him to a steamship” on which Braunstein escaped to Spain, as reported in The Boston Globe, The New York Times and The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 1912.

In due course, this allegation precipitated the issuance of a subpoena for “Rachel Brown of 123 Manhattan Avenue,” served while Brown was appearing in magistrate’s court to answer a disorderly conduct charge that stemmed from a fight. Indignant, Brown disclaimed knowledge of the reason why the subpoena had been issued and “asserted that since the Becker trial he had been hounded and threatened on many occasions,” as per The New York Times, Mar. 6, 1914.

After that, Brown apparently tried to stay out of the public eye. But four years later, “Rachie Brown, the old partner of Bridgie Webber” was back in the news after being netted in a police raid of the newly opened Picadilly Club in Manhattan. The arrestee identified himself as fish dealer Aaron Braun but vice detectives immediately recognized him as “the genuine ‘Rachie Brown.’” See The Boston Globe, Dec. 9, 1918.

The following summer, Brown was in custody again, arrested during a raid on a disreputable gambling resort in Saratoga, as reported in The Saratogian, Jul. 29, 1919. After much foot dragging by local officials cozy with gaming interests, a specially convened Saratoga County grand jury returned gambling-related indictments against 48 targets, including Abram (Rachie) Brown, as per The Saratoga Sun, Aug. 20, 1920.4

None of the above received mention when newspapers nationwide ran stories about the forthcoming indictment of Joseph “Sport” Sullivan and Brown, “an otherwise unidentified gambler from New York City” in connection with the Cook County probe of the 1919 World Series. See e.g., The Chicago Tribune, Sep. 30, 1920. Within days thereafter, however, it was reported that “Rachie Brown, a gambler said to have been deeply involved in the Series plot, has left New York City and gone to Europe. His departure is regarded by underworld gossips as proof that he was mixed up in the baseball plot. He (Brown) had been known as a ‘steerer’ for Rothstein’s gambling operations.” See unidentified news item reprinted in The Sporting News, Oct. 7, 1920.5 See also, The Schenectady Union-Star, Oct. 5, 1920: “ Rachel Brown, partner of Bridgie Webber … and indicted by the Cook County grand jury in Chicago for world series fixing” left on an ocean liner.

Such reports, however, were quickly contradicted by “several men of wide acquaintance in the gambling ring” who had talked with Brown several days after his purported getaway ship had sailed. See The New York Times, Oct. 6, 1920. This is probably so because the following month, “Rachel Brown” and codefendant Jules Formel were apprehended on Broadway and then transported upstate to answer the Saratoga charges, as reported in The New York Times, Nov. 22, 1920. The sensation of the ensuing trial of Formel is captured in the headline, “Rachie” Brown Turns States Evidence, Granted Immunity, published in The Saratoga Sun, Dec. 31, 1920.

Later in the proceedings, “Rachie Brown, indicted in the world’s series baseball scandal,” was identified as the roulette wheel operator in the Formel gambling resort. See The New York Times, May 13, 1921. That report notwithstanding, if this Brown was indeed the same Rachael Brown indicted by the Cook County grand jury, there appears to have been no effort made to extradite him to Chicago. And after May 1921, Abram Braunstein, commonly known as Rachel/Rachie Brown, disappears from public view. 

2. Nat Evans, New York Gambler and Business Associate of Arnold Rothstein

Although never assigned the role during his lifetime, Nat Evans has been deemed the alter ego of defendant Rachael Brown by most present-day Black Sox authors. Polished and personable, Evans was a well-heeled New York gambler who junior partnered various Rothstein casino ventures (while avoiding involvement in the more unsavory rackets — labor racketeering, drug smuggling, fencing stolen property, etc. — that AR financed). The most notable Rothstein-Evans collaboration was their joint ownership of The Brook, a Saratoga mansion with stables acquired in 1919 and transformed into a high stakes casino catering to wealthy patrons attired in formal evening dress. The two were also partners in a succession of Manhattan and Long Island gaming places.

During the Cook County grand jury probe, Evans’ name was only mentioned in passing. According to published accounts of testimony by former Cubs owner and racetrack regular Charles Weeghman, Rothstein was reputed to have masterminded the World Series fix with Evans, Abe Attell, Nicky Arnstein, Max Blumenthal and other Rothstein operatives abetting him. See e.g., The Chicago Tribune, Sep. 26, 1920. Evans, however, was never charged by the grand jury. On April 1, 1921, Evans and Rothstein friend/sometimes bodyguard Sidney Stajer were observed acting suspiciously at a St. Louis hotel and detained on charges of convenience. A brief news account of the matter described Evans as “the missing link” of the current baseball scandal but Evans denied any connection to the affair, interposing the stock gripe that he had lost money betting on the White Sox. See The New York Times, Apr. 2, 1921. And because no connection was then drawn between Evans and the indicted Rachael Brown, Evans was promptly released on bond and went about his way.

In the decade following the acquittal of the Black Sox defendants, Evans was generally held in high regard, particularly by the New York turf and boxing press. His presence at important horse races and championship fights was routinely noted, the name Nat Evans appearing in print alongside that of such notables as Mayor Jimmy Walker, Florenz Ziegfeld, Babe Ruth, Irving Berlin, Conde Nast, James J. Corbett and Bernard Gimbel.6 There was even a middling 1920s racehorse named for him.7 By the time that Nat Evans died in February 1935, whatever tenuous connection he may once have had to the Black Sox scandal was, at most, a dim memory.

The current equation of Nat Evans to scandal defendant Rachael Brown finds its genesis in a 1959 biography of Arnold Rothstein by former New York Post reporter Leo Katcher. In Katcher’s slim account of the World Series fix, Evans was portrayed as Rothstein’s advisor and negotiating agent with the Black Sox players.8 A far more expansive treatment of Evans’ supposed role in the fix was provided four years later when Eight Men Out was published. In Eliot Asinof’s seminal account of the scandal, Rothstein and Evans decided that Evans “would be known simply as ‘Brown’” when dealing with the corrupt players.9 In 1966, however, the Evans = Rachael Brown proposition was rejected by Black Sox contrarian Victor Luhrs. To Luhrs, Nat Evans and “Rachael Brown, a gambler from Boston,” were separate personalities, with Evans, using the pseudonym “Brown,” paired with Sport Sullivan in dealing with the players while “other Rothsteinians (like) Nicky Arnstein and Bostonian Rachael Brown played more remote roles in engineering the fix and betting.”10 The two Browns scenario, however, has not prevailed in recent Black Sox literature, with the works of David Pietrusza, Gene Carney and Susan Dellinger all subscribing to the now conventional view that Nat Evans was the fixer indicted by the grand jury as Rachael Brown.11

3. Rachel Brown, Rothstein’s Lady Bookkeeper

Some of the latest work on the Black Sox scandal adds an interesting twist to the Nat Evans/Rachael Brown equation. This thesis accepts employment of the alias Brown by Evans while dealing with the Black Sox players but also places a female bookkeeper employed by Rothstein, named coincidentally enough Rachel Brown, abetting the fixers’ work in Cincinnati and Chicago. The wellspring of this take on the case is a brief passage in the Katcher biography of Rothstein that states, “Evans went to Cincinnati taking Attell and Rachel Brown with him,” the author having earlier explained that “Mrs. Brown was Rothstein’s chief bookkeeper,” dispatched by AR to keep track of all the bets.12 The involvement of this lady bookkeeper in the fix was thereafter accepted uncritically by various Black Sox authors, including scandal authority Gene Carney.13

Also stirred into the mix was Carney’s waggish theory that Evans may have registered at the Sinton Hotel as Brown so that he and Rachel could share a room (read bed) without risking arrest on morals charges. See Carney, Notes from the Shadows of Cooperstown, No. 324/Mar. 12, 2004 and No. 337/Aug. 20, 2004. That theory, in turn, was presented as fact by Susan Dellinger in her engaging 2006 look at the fix from her grandfather Edd Roush’s perspective. In this telling, loyal Rothstein bookkeeper Rachel Brown was portrayed as a gentile Englishwoman and the current paramour of Nat Evans who “liked the idea of posing as ‘Mr. Brown’ in Cincinnati so they could be together.”14

Among the things that undermine the plausibility of such tales is the absence of corroboration. No contemporary account of Rothstein associates, for example, includes a female bookkeeper named Rachel Brown. Nor is such a person mentioned in Carolyn Rothstein’s life with Arnold-type memoir.15 This reduces the exponents of Rachel Brown the lady bookkeeper to dependence upon Leo Katcher’s 1959 Rothstein biography. But Katcher (1911-1991) was only a boy during Rothstein’s heyday and had no personal contact with his subject, relying instead on old news clips and thirty year old memories of AR. And as for the lady bookkeeper, the provenance of Katcher’s allusion to Rachel Brown cannot be investigated, for no sources for his two fleeting references to her are provided.

But more than the paucity of verifiable proof belies the existence of female bookkeeper Rachel Brown. For the identity of Rothstein’s longtime bookkeeper was not a secret to his contemporaries and was, in fact, amply revealed to the public in reportage of the contentious litigation that attended the probate of Rothstein’s deathbed will. The actual Rothstein bookkeeper was a man named Samuel Brown, one of AR’s three co-executors. See e.g., The New York Times, Nov.17, 1928, describing Samuel Brown as “the executor who was Rothstein’s bookkeeper and confidential secretary”; The Washington Post, Nov.17, 1928, referring to the affidavit of Samuel Brown “who managed Rothstein’s business affairs at the main office”; The New York Times, Nov. 18 and 28, 1928, alluding to “Samuel Brown, bookkeeper and confidential secretary to Rothstein” and “an old friend of the gambler”; The New York Times, Dec. 29, 1928, application for fees by the lawyer for Carolyn Rothstein cites the hostile attitude of the will’s original executors including “Samuel Brown, his bookkeeper.” See also, Rothstein, C., p.247, wherein Mrs. Rothstein recalls that as AR lay dying in a hospital bed, she “got a hold of Samuel Brown, a man who worked for Arnold” to free up the cash needed to cover immediate expenses.16 Finally and at the risk of overkill, it should be noted that no contemporaneous account of fix events, by either Black Sox player or gambler, places any kind of female in the scandal narrative. 

Commentary

Given the 1920-21 reportage of East Coast newspapers, it seems likely that indicted Black Sox defendant Rachael Brown was widely presumed to be Abram Braunstein, commonly known as Rachel Brown in New York gambling circles. The whereabouts of Braunstein/Brown in the run up to the Black Sox trial — free under bond on Saratoga gambling charges but periodically in a Saratoga County courtroom — were publicly reported but the disinclination of Cook County authorities to seek his extradition to Chicago is understandable. For without the testimony of a cooperative Black Sox player, the prosecution had no way of proving the charges lodged against defendant Brown (or the fugitive Sport Sullivan, either).

More than 40 years after the acquittal of the Black Sox defendants, Eliot Asinof’s celebrated Eight Men Out cast Rothstein lieutenant Nat Evans in the role of “Brown,” one of the financier’s negotiators with the players. Although 8MO is notably without sources, the confirmed deaths of Rothstein, Evans, Bill Burns, Billy Maharg, David Zelcer and Carl Zork and probable, if unreported, demise of Braunstein and Sullivan left only one fix insider available to Asinof when he began his researches in the early 1960s: Abe Attell.17

Asinof’s reliance on Attell, a cheerfully corrupt character not overly troubled by the need for historical accuracy, is, of course, problematic. Yet from his position at the heart of the fix action in Cincinnati and Chicago, Attell was unquestionably in a position to know the true identity of defendant Rachael Brown. And given the risks involved and the amount of money at stake, the assignment of the capable and trusted Evans, as opposed to the small time Braunstein or some other nonentity, to handle Rothstein’s interests in the fix makes sense.

What does not make sense, however, is Evans’ adoption of the alias Brown, the surname of Rothstein bookkeeper Samuel Brown. Given the universe of phony names available to the fixers, the goal of concealing AR’s connection to the scheme was hardly promoted by Evans’ use of an alias that corresponded to the name of a known Rothstein associate. Yet this curiosity repeats itself elsewhere in the scandal. Black Sox defendant David Zelcer, the Des Moines gambler paired with Attell in dealing with the players, employed the alias Curley Bennett, notwithstanding the real life existence of Joseph “Curley” Bennett, a Tammany foot soldier and all purpose villain known to work as a steerer and/or body guard for Rothstein.18 The same lack of forethought attends the prominent role in the fix assigned to Attell himself, a noisy, indiscreet Lilliputian known on sight to thousands of sports fans from his storied ring career.19

The Little Champ’s long association with AR – Attell was yet another Rothstein bodyguard – was one more telltale sign that Rothstein was financing the fix. In the end, two possibilities suggest themselves here: Rothstein’s complaint that he had been victimized by the unauthorized use of his name by the World Series fixers was true. Or perhaps, like other criminals, Arnold Rothstein was something less than the genius portrayed by his biographers. 

Conclusions

Given the critique of views held by others, it seems only fair to close this piece by submitting the writer’s own conclusions to scrutiny. Accordingly, based on review of the surviving judicial record and an analysis of Black Sox scholarship, it is the my view that:

  • Whatever his initial misgivings about involving himself in the plot, Arnold Rothstein, the only underworld financier known to keep a huge bankroll at his fingertips, agreed to underwrite the fix of the 1919 World Series;
  • That the number of fix agents commissioned by AR is debatable. On this score, the Sullivan/Brown tandem were almost certainly Rothstein agents. Less clear is whether the Attell/Bennett group was also commissioned by AR or whether it merely used Rothstein’s name to advantage without AR’s authorization20;
  • That at the time the fix was in motion, there was a small time New York gambler commonly known as Rachel or Rachie Brown. His real name was Abram Braunstein;
  • That the person described by Lefty Williams as “Brown … the gambler from New York” was not Braunstein, aka Rachel/Rachie Brown (who had only recently been arrested in Saratoga), but more probably trusted Rothstein associate Nat Evans;
  • That the first name Rachael utilized in the indictments was likely the product of: (a) prosecutor/grand juror exposure to East Coast newspaper reportage which assumed that Brown, the otherwise unidentified New York gambler mentioned during leaked grand jury testimony, must refer to Braunstein, Gotham’s notorious Rachel Brown; or (b) now lost grand jury testimony by AL President Ban Johnson about gambler identity uncovered by detectives in the league’s employ, or (c) most intriguingly, testimony by a helpful Arnold Rothstein, taking advantage of his grand jury appearance to shield the valued Nat Evans at the expense of the disposable, arrest-prone Braunstein/Brown;
  • That despite charging a Rachael Brown in the Black Sox indictments, neither the State’s Attorneys Office nor the grand jurors knew who this defendant Brown really was, and
  • That the uncertainty about the true identity of defendant Brown was entirely satisfactory to Rothstein, and
  • That Rachel Brown, the lady bookkeeper first discovered by Rothstein biographer Leo Katcher in the late 1950s, is apocryphal.

In the final analysis, all of the above is no more than informed guesswork. For the fact remains, the measures necessary for conclusive identification of the Rachael Brown indicted by the Cook County grand jury -- arrest, fingerprinting, lineup, courtroom identification, etc. – were never effected. That being so, and given the passage of time and the fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence, the true identity of defendant Rachael Brown may simply never be known, remaining yet another unsolved Black Sox mystery.

(This article first appeared in the Black Sox Scandal Committee's April 2010 newsletter.)

  • 1. Rachael is the variant of the Brown first name that appears in the indictments returned by the Cook County grand jury.
  • 2. Statement of Claude (Lefty) Williams, dated September 29,1920, and part of the grand jury record. After the names of those indicted had been publicly leaked, the grand jury subsequently received testimony from Joe Gedeon that identified Sport Sullivan and “R.R. Brown of New York as the men back of the bribing” of the players, as reported in The Boston Globe, Oct. 27, 1920.
  • 3. Note that the Americanized version of the common German/Jewish surname Braun is Brown. Properly pronounced, the two names sound identical.
  • 4. Throughout the proceedings in Saratoga, the accused was referred to as Brown, not Braunstein. Press reports used the first names Abram and Abraham interchangeably, but the immunity agreement signed by the parties employed the name Abram.
  • 5. An unflattering wire service dispatch on the flight of Brown commingled facets of the gambler’s connection to Arnold Rothstein with those of the urbane Nat Evans. See The Schenectady Union-Star, Oct. 5, 1920. This precipitated even an astute Rothstein biographer to confuse the two men. See Pietrusza, David, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Carroll & Graf, New York, 2003, p.417, n.186. Apart from resort to the alias Brown, however, Abram Braunstein and Nat Evans were two distinct and very different men.
  • 6. See e.g., The New York Times, Jun. 26, 1929 and Jun. 22, 1932. The generosity of Nat Evans and “other wealthy sportsmen” in hosting disabled WWI veterans at the Palestine Emergency Fund boxing show drew the praise of respected sports scribe James P. Dawson in The New York Times, Oct. 28, 1928.
  • 7. The racehorse Nat Evans won an occasional small track feature race, as noted in a Washington Post headline dated Sep. 24, 1927. The horse’s owner, Mrs. M. Stajer was presumably a relation of Rothstein and Evans friend Sidney Stajer.
  • 8. Katcher, Leo, The Big Bankroll: The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein, DaCapo Press, New York, 1959, pp.145-147.
  • 9. Asinof, Eliot, Eight Men Out, Henry Holt & Company, New York, 1963, p.3. While a minor detail, Asinof leaves unexplained just how the grand jury came to attach the first name Rachael to fix conspirator Brown.
  • 10. See Luhrs, Victor, The Great Baseball Mystery: The 1919 World Series, A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc., So. Brunswick, NJ, 1966, p.144. In identifying Rachael Brown as a gambler from Boston, Luhrs merely repeated Ban Johnson’s description of Brown in his career retrospective interview published by The Chicago Tribune, Mar. 10, 1929.
  • 11. See Pietrusza, pp. 150, 163, 171-172; Carney, Gene, Burying the Black Sox, How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded, Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, DC, 2006, p.251; Dellinger, Susan, Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series, Emmis Books, Cincinnati, pp. 187-188.
  • 12. Katcher, p. 147, then p.145.
  • 13. A Buck Weaver biography differentiates the Rachael Brown alias used by Nat Evans, “a Rothstein henchman active in the conspiracy” from Rachael Brown, “a woman (who) may have been an employee of Rothstein’s in one of his gambling houses.” See Stein, Irving, The Ginger Kid, Elysian Fields Press, Dubuque, Ia., 1991, p.246; or see “the grand jury indicted Rachael Brown as a conspirator without ever figuring out that she was only a Rothstein bookkeeper who had been dispatched to Chicago and Cincinnati to keep track of his bets,” in Dewey, Donald & Acocella, Nicholas, The Black Prince of Baseball: Hal Chase and the Mythology of Baseball, Sports Classic Books, Toronto, 2004, p.329; while Carney, p.243, simply accepts the Katcher claim that “Mrs. Brown was Rothstein’s chief bookkeeper” and present in Midwestern cities to assist Evans and Attell in doing her employer’s bidding.
  • 14. Dellinger, p.188.
  • 15. Rothstein, Carolyn, Now I’ll Tell, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1934. The only female AR employee mentioned therein is a secretary named Freda Rosenberg.
  • 16. According to his widow, Arnold Rothstein was his own chief bookkeeper, almost obsessively keeping track of the accounts that he maintained in his little black books.
  • 17. In a subsequent work, Asinof acknowledged that Abe Attell was his primary 8MO informant. See Asinof, Eliot, Bleeding Between the Lines, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1979, pp.103-109.
  • 18. See Pietrusza, pp.153, 178. Between the World Series fix and the trial of the Black Sox defendants, the real Curley Bennett and Rothstein were publicly tied together in press coverage of a high profile securities theft case. See The New York Times, May 20, 1920.
  • 19. Whatever his foibles, Abe Attell was a great fighter, the undisputed featherweight (126 lb) champion from 1903 until 1912. When younger brother Monte Attell captured the bantamweight (118 lb) crown in June 1909, the Attells became the first siblings ever to hold world boxing titles simultaneously. For his accomplishments inside the ring (if not for his escapades outside of it), Abe Attell has been enshrined in several boxing halls of fame.
  • 20. During 1923 bankruptcy proceedings involving the securities firm Fuller & McGee, Rothstein grudgingly acknowledged his acquaintance with Sport Sullivan. See Rothstein, C., p.178 for a verbatim account of AR’s testimony. There is, however, no verifiable link between Rothstein and the St. Louis gamblers recruited to revive the fix after the player/gambler falling-out that followed the double-cross of Game 3. On this score, the writer is skeptical of the elaborate tri-partite (including the Carl Zork group) scheme postulated in the Pietrusza biography of AR.
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