Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum was born in 1818 in the country of Prussia. She immigrated to the United States in 1848 with her husbands Wolfe Mandelbaum. A big woman, tipping the scales at over 250 pounds, Mandelbaum opened a dry goods store at 79 Clinton Street, the corner of Rivington, on the ground floor of a three-story building that she later purchased with her ill-gotten gains. By 1854, the dry goods store was a front for the biggest fencing operation in the history of New York City. She lived on the top two floors of the building with her husband, son and two daughters, and their apartments were as lavishly furnished as any in the city, of course, with stolen goods. Among the famous crooks she dealt with were Shang Draper, George Leonidas Leslie, Banjo Pete Emerson, Mark Shinburn, Bill Mosher and Joe Douglas.
Mandelbaum was known for throwing lavish parties in her apartment, attended by every known criminal in the city, of both sexes, including judges and politicians she had in her back pocket. Knowing woman were as good, or even better crooks than men, she became good friends with female criminals like Black Lena Kleinschmidt, Big Mary, Ellen Clegg, Queen Liz, Little Annie, Old Mother Hubbard and the notorious pickpocket and shoplifter Sophie Lyons, who with her bank-robber husband Ned moved right over the Hudson River to New Jersey and became known as the Queen of Hackensack.
Mandelbaum first caught the eye of the police in 1862 and it is estimated that from 1862 to 1884, she handled between $5-10 million of stolen property. Her business was so good, she decided to put some of her best crooks on salaries, but abandoned that idea when she caught a few of them peddling their stolen goods to other fences. (What did she expect? Honest crooks?) She also decided to start a school for children on Grand Street, where the little tykes could learn the noble profession from the ground up, starting as pick-pockets and sneak thieves. For the older children, she offered courses in burglary, safe-breaking, blackmailing and confidence games. Her school became so well know, the son of a prominent police official applied for admittance, forcing Mandelbaum to shut down the school immediately.
Whenever Mandelbaum did get herself into trouble, she could always count on Little Abe Hummel and Big Bill Howe, from the law firm of Hummel and Howe (not to be confused with the law firm of Dewey, Screwem and Howe), to find whatever loophole they could find, legal and illegal, to keep Mandelbaum out of jail. Hubble and Howe were of such good service to Mandelbaum, she placed them on an annual retainer of $5000.
In 1884, the New York District Attorney Peter B. Olney hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate Mandelbaum’s crime organization. One of the detectives sold her a stolen shipment of silk, and when her house was raided the next day, she was arrested with her son Julius and clerk Herman Stroude. Mandelbaum was charged with grand larceny and receiving stolen goods. But the wily Hubble and Howe arranged for Mandelbaum to be released on bail. Resorting to form, she jumped bail and moved to Toronto, Canada, where she lived the rest of her life in comfort.
To add insult to injury, New York state got hoodwinked by Hubble and Howe and a crooked bondsman, who was supposed to have held the property Mandelbaum had pledged for bail. Using backdated checks, they transferred the property to Mandelbaum’s daughter, along with other properties the state was in the process of putting liens on. Putting her finger in the eye of the New York City police, Mandelbaum, still wanted for her crimes. traveled several times to New York City, in disguise, to take up with her old pals, helping them plan several heists.
Having screwed the American government as much as any women in American history, Mandelbaum died of natural causes in Canada, in 1894, at the age of 76. Howe died peacefully in bed in 1903, but in 1905, Little Abe Hummel was sent to prison for several counts of legal malpractice.
To paraphrase Meat Loaf, one out of three ain’t bad.