Rachie Brown

This article was written by Bruce Allardice

From his 1919 passport application; this photo has never appeared in any Black Sox-related book.The Black Sox dealt with a gambler they knew only as “Brown,” “identified” soon after as New York City gambler “Rachie” Brown. In his article “A Black Sox Mystery: Who Was Rachael Brown,” author Bill Lamb makes a convincing case that this man was actually casino operator Nat Evans, a friend of Arnold Rothstein, who went by the name Brown during the Fix to throw off subsequent investigators. Late in life accused fixer Abe Attell swore that Evans (a close friend of Attell’s) posed as Rachie Brown to the players.1

A more detailed look at Brown’s life shows how unlikely it was for Arnold Rothstein to entrust Brown with anything. Rachie Brown comes across as a small-time (at most, midlevel) operator with a reputation as a “squealer,” a survivor, certainly, but not at the pay grade of somebody such as Nat Evans. Brown knew Rothstein, but (unlike Evans) was not a close associate of “AR.” As such, the common thesis that Evans posed as “Brown” during the Fix makes a lot of sense.

Like most of the gamblers involved in the Fix, Brown was Jewish-American. According to his 1919 passport application, he was born on July 4, 1870, in New York City, the son of Hyman Braunstein. The passport officer highly doubted that affidavit of birth. In fact Brown WAS born Abraham Joseph Brown or Braunstein, around 1871, but his census entries have him born in Wisconsin or Michigan. His widow stated that he was born on July 4, 1871, in Milwaukee.2 Around 1897 he married Rose Bell (last name unknown), who survived him. The couple was childless, but they adopted a daughter, Jessie, who died at the age of 14.

One newspaper story had Brown coming to New York City from St. Louis, “in the days of the Becker strong arm squad” [i.e., the early 1900s].3 He appears as a broker on the 1905 census of New York, living in Manhattan with his wife. The first public notice we have of him is 1907, during one of New York City’s frequent (and invariably unsuccessful) attempts to clean out the gambling houses in the city. An article in the New York Herald goes into great detail about the many gambling joints in and around Broadway, all doing business in full view of the public, “notorious resorts for thieves” all paying $200 to $500 a month in protection money to the police and the Tammany Hall politicians. Among the joints mentioned was “that unique institution, the Paris Optical School. Abe (Rachel) Brown complains that he is compelled to pay an average of $500 a month for the privilege of teaching a lot of criminals, whom the detective sergeants attached to Inspector McLaughlin’s Bureau can’t catch, that their optics are not perfect. Brown, who is affectionately referred to by his police pals as ‘Jew Rachel,’ had one roulette wheel and two crap tables running last night. His profits last month, according to his own story, were about $7,200.”4

Around this time he partnered with Louis William “Bridgie” Webber (1877-1936) in various gambling houses. The connection almost got Brown killed. In July 1912 a small-time bookmaker, the unlikable Herman Rosenthal, complained to the press about the police department shaking down his operations for protection money. Two days later, as Rosenthal walked out of the Hotel Metropole off Times Square, he was brutally murdered. The subsequent trial culminated with death sentences for five men, including corrupt NYPD Vice Squad Lieutenant Charles Becker. Bridgie Webber was seen running from the crime scene. While in a jail cell, Becker claimed that two months before Rosenthal’s murder, Rosenthal’s killers had targeted “‘Rachey’ (Rachel) Braunstein, Bridgie Webber’s gambling partner.” According to Becker, Rosenthal’s slayers had plotted to kill “Rachel Braunstein” and take over Brown/Braunstein’s half of the gambling partnership. Trial witness Jack Sullivan learned of the plot and told Brown, who promptly (wisely?) boarded a ship and fled to Spain.5

The plot thickens. At the time of Rosenthal’s murder, Brown “was a partner of Bridgie Webber in West Forty-Fifth Street and in the poker room at Sixth Avenue and Forty-Second Street. … He, Webber, Rosenthal, and Sam Paul [1874-1927, also involved in the Rosenthal murder] were members of the old Hesper club on Second Avenue, and left the East Side to break into the gambling pastures for the Tenderloin and Harlem. Brown started a house on his own account in West Forty-Fifth Street, and it was promptly closed up by the police.” Another Brown venture, in the “Tenderloin,” was to have opened the night of April 7, 1911. On the morning prior to the opening, a bomb exploded in the house’s basement entrance, wrecking the place.6

Webber and Brown didn’t like, or trust, each other. They “were once partners in the Sixth Avenue poker room from which the gunmen departed to kill Rosenthal.” Brown suspected that Webber had hired the gunmen who killed Rosenthal. Webber accused Brown of tipping the police off to one of Webber’s establishments, and raiding it. Brown blamed Webber for the police tailing him day and night. Amidst mutual accusations of “squealing,” the newspapers suggested that Webber would only meet Brown with “a rapid fire gun battery.” Brown, on the other hand, “is one who has always settled his own quarrels personally … [and to] have a strong objection to the class of men favored by Webber [i.e., hired gunmen] in affairs of personal vengeance.”7

In May 1913 police found a dynamite bomb in the basement of Brown’s house, at 127 Manhattan Avenue. Brown seemed rather nonchalant about the whole thing. He told police that “he knew of no enemies who might want to do him harm.” Mrs. Brown calmly explained that her husband was a stockbroker, although she admitted that his business office had been “blown up two years ago by dynamite”!8

In March 1914 Brown appeared in magistrate’s court to answer a disorderly-conduct charge that stemmed from a fight. Indignant, Brown “asserted that since the Becker trial he had been hounded and threatened on many occasions.” In fact, New York District Attorney Charles S. Whitman, knowing Brown’s animosity toward Webber, was putting pressure on Brown to testify against Webber in the Becker-Rosenthal case.9

Arnold Rothstein knew Brown, but does not appear to have had a close relationship with “Rachie.” Rothstein knew all the principals in the Rosenthal murder. In fact, Rosenthal had tried to borrow $500 from Rothstein (whom he considered a friend) to pay off Charlie Becker. In 1917 Rothstein, Brown, and Curly Bennett were among the many gamblers at a crap game in the St. Francis Hotel who were robbed at gunpoint.10

In 1918 “Rachie Brown, the old partner of Bridgie Webber” was back in the news after being netted in a police raid of the newly opened Piccadilly Club in the Tenderloin. Police found 25 men playing poker, with signs that roulette wheels were soon to be installed. A man police suspected of running the place identified himself as fish dealer Aaron Braun but vice detectives immediately recognized him as “the genuine ‘Rachie Brown.’” The cops suggested that Brown “close up shop and beat it after you get through with this affair.”11

An interesting sidelight on Brown occurred in early 1919. In February of that year he applied for a passport in order to travel to Cuba for his health. The application was notarized by Julius Formel, a notorious gambler and business associate in the Saratoga casinos. Brown gives details on his life and explains that his father, Hyman, is in a sanitarium. But the passport officer, who appears to have known Brown, didn’t believe a word of it. “I shall be glad if this passport be refused. In the first place I do not consider he is the type of a man who should be allowed to leave our country. I doubt if he is in his right mind. I think he wants to go to Cuba to bet on the races [presumably at the Havana racetrack Nat Evans operated]. Secondly, I doubt if he was born in this country and question the reliability of his birth affidavit. He is the most insulting and arrogant man that has been in this Agency for a long time. The entire staff will sign this Certificate if necessary. His father is now in an insane asylum and I am afraid the son will soon kick into the same place if he does not change his method of conduct.”12

The summer of 1919, Brown was in jail again, arrested during a raid on a gambling resort in Saratoga. When brought before the local judge, Brown “boasted of having paid over $50,000 income tax last year. He was allowed to give a small bail to appear as a witness before the grand jury when wanted, no charges being lodged against him.” A short time later the Saratoga County grand jury returned gambling-related indictments against 48 targets, including Brown. Brown acted as a “steerer,” haunting the posh local hotel lobbies “looking for ‘suckers’ for a gambling den in Greenfield.”13

Initially, nothing on Brown’s life received mention when newspapers nationwide ran stories about the indictment of Joseph “Sport” Sullivan and “Brown,” “agents of Rothstein,” in connection with the Cook County probe of the 1919 World Series.14 The Grand Jury in Chicago indicted “Brown,” but Chicago officials seem to have been unsure whether the indicted man was indeed “Rachie” Brown or Nat Evans, posing as Brown.15 The consensus among modern historians is that Evans monitored the Fix on behalf of Arnold Rothstein, but while dealing with the players used the name “Brown” to confuse future investigators.

Reports soon surfaced that Brown had fled the country. An October 5 story out of New York claimed, “Rachel Brown, partner of ‘Bridgie’ Webber in the old days when the tenderloin was run wide open and more recently a partner and ‘steerer’ for Arnold Rothstein and indicted by the Cook County grand jury in Chicago for world series ‘fixing,’ has fled to Europe. Brown is widely known in sporting circles in Albany and Saratoga.”16

Reports of Brown fleeing the country, however, were soon contradicted by “several men of wide acquaintance in the gambling ring” who allegedly talked with Brown several days after the purported getaway ship had sailed. The author of this article has checked passenger lists and can find no trace of Brown sailing from New York at this time. He could not have left, because the following month, Brown and Saratoga codefendant Jules Formel (who’d notarized Brown’s passport application) were arrested in New York City and then transported upstate to answer the Saratoga charges. Granted immunity, Brown testified against his old friend, Formel. However, Brown managed not to implicate either himself or Formel directly. The evidence showed that Formel cut local public officials in on his gambling profits, and that Brown took 15 percent as his share. There appears to have been no effort made to extradite Brown to Chicago, even though he was under indictment.17

Brown then tried bootlegging. In April 1921 he was indicted for smuggling alcohol by car from Canada. The newspaper report identified him as the gambler who was indicted in the World Series Fix. Brown pleaded guilty, paid part of the fine, then was released on his promise (!) to pay the rest. He failed to do so, and in 1922 was rearrested in New York City.18

After this last brush with the law, Brown appears to have retired from the New York gambling scene. In the late 1920s he and his wife moved to Los Angeles, purchasing a house on South Catalina Avenue and running a small bookmaking operation. He died there, of a cerebral hemorrhage, on September 22, 1936. His remains were cremated.19

 

Sources

In preparing this biography, the author relied primarily on major online newspaper databases. Also helpful was David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003).

 

Notes

1 Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter, April 2010. See also William F. Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2013); William F. Lamb, “A Black Sox Mystery: The Identity of Defendant Rachael Brown,” in Base Ball, A Journal of the Early Game, vol. 4, no. 2, Fall 2010, 5-11.

The Attell statement is in the Asinof papers, Chicago History Museum, a copy of which was furnished to this author by Bill Lamb.

This biography is adapted from my articles “Nat Evans: More Than a Rothstein Associate,” and “Rachie Brown: Shedding Light on a Mystery Man,” Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter, June 2014, 14-17 and 18-20.

2 Sources for the details of his life include his 1919 Passport Application; the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 federal censuses; 1905, 1915 and 1925 NY State censuses; New York City Directories; various newspaper articles; Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom. Brown’s California death certificate.

His first name is given variously as Abraham, Abe, Abram, nicknamed Rachie, Rachel, and Rachael; his last, as Brown, Braun, Braunstein, and Bronstein. Abraham Brown was the name he usually went by and was called by.

3 “Rachie Brown Flees Country,” Ballston Spa Daily Journal, October 5, 1920.

4 “Won’t Lie for the Police: Is in Danger of Death,” New York Herald, February 28, 1907. In one of their periodic raids to stamp out gambling (or, at least, stamp out gamblers who didn’t pay off Tammany Hall politicians), police arrested Brown in 1910. See “Alleged Gambler Held,” New York Tribune, October 22, 1910.

5 Becker’s whole story is in the New York Evening World, October 28, 1912, under the headline “Rose and Informers Planned Murder of Webber’s Partner, Becker Charges.”

6 “Dynamite Found on Doorstep of Webber’s Partner,” New York Evening World, May 2, 1913; “Bomb Explosion in Gamblers’ War Jars Broadway,” New York Evening World, April 7, 1911. The “Tenderloin” in Manhattan was a red-light and entertainment district centered on what is today the Theatre District. The Hesper Club, at 111 Second Avenue, was a favorite hangout for bookies, jockeys, gamblers, and Tammany Hall politicians. Rosenthal had been president of the club.

7 “Broadway Expects New Gamblers’ War,” New York Sun, April 3, 1913.

8 “Dynamite Found on Doorstep of Webber’s Partner,” New York Evening World, May 2, 1913.

9 “Gunmen Insist They Are Innocent,” New York Times, March 6, 1914; “Has New Witness Against Becker,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8, 1914.

10 “Four Are Indicted in $9,000 Holdup at Big Crap Game,” New York Evening World, May 28, 1917. See also David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003), 137.

11 “Goes to Disprove Tip; Finds Game,” Washington Times, December 13, 1918.

12 Passport Application, February 3, 1919. Brown’s erratic behavior may have been linked to the syphilis mentioned in his death certificate. As it turned out, Brown fell ill and never went to Cuba.

13 “Famed Rachie Brown Flees the Country,” Hudson Valley Times, October 6, 1920. “ ‘Rachie’ Brown Flees Country,” Ballston Spa Daily Journal, October 5, 1920.

14 Cf. “Halts Sox Inquiry,” Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1920.

15 For a more complete look at Brown/Evans and the Fix, see Lamb, “A Black Sox Mystery.”

16 “Master Mind Fixed Series,” New York Tribune, October 5, 1920. “Rachie Brown Flees Country,” Ballston Spa Daily Journal, October 5, 1920.

17 Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom, 94-95. A few of the many newspaper accounts of Brown’s Saratoga travails include “Alleged Gamblers Go to Saratoga,” New York Times, November 22, 1920; “Witnesses Testify There Was Plenty of Gambling in Saratoga,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, May 12, 1921; “’Rachie’ Brown Was Granted Immunity From Prosecutions by Deputy Attorney General,” Hudson Valley Times, December 31, 1920; “Bank Accounts of Formel and His Wife Placed in Evidence,” Saratoga Springs Saratogian, December 31, 1920. Formel was eventually convicted.

18 “Charged With Smuggling Liquor,” Utica Herald-Dispatch, April 19, 1921; “Search Ended,” Ballston Spa Journal, September 15, 1922.

19 Lamb, Black Sox in the Courtroom, 206. “Deaths,” Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1936. California death certificate, Los Angeles County, #12343, September 22, 1936.