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Detroit’s Colorful History May 14, 2012

Posted by msbobbieg in Uncategorized.


Detroit’s Colorful History

(The Purple Gang)

 By: Bobbie Jones


             Long before the color of a bandana determined whether you lived or died and way before if was a torturous decision to leave the house with a blue or black shirt on there was another color that fascinated the uneasy public in the city of Detroit.

Although, the colors may have not been red, blue or black that caught the attention of authorities back in the 1920’s but there was most definitely a distinguishable hue on the radar of the Detroit Police Department and that color was Purple – and the Purple Gang ran wild.

Yes, if you have never heard of the notorious Purple Gang let me transport you back in time when the streets ran red with the life source that pumps through a human’s veins and to a time when you entered a restaurant but you did not sit with your back to the door.  If you heard the scattered sound of ratta-tat-tat you grabbed everyone you loved and you hit the floor.

For many Detroiters’ these were very dangerous times but for other these were very exciting times – very much hinging on what one considered exciting.

Now, when it came to celebrated gangsters and the cities they inhabited Detroit does not always pop into one’s mind.  Names like Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger quickly come to mind But, I can assure you that Abraham Burnstein – the order giving leader of the Purple Gang could rival any gangster that came out of Chicago, New York or Philly.

Bootlegging, extortion and the criminal enterprises that keep the Purple Gang in business for a number of years may have never come about if poverty and substandard conditions did not rule the day – sound familiar?  The great days of Prohibition (Stopping the flow of the Drink) turned out to be not so great days after all.  Once prohibition was established it gave many a wayward criminals a way to line their pockets and create havoc in the process and the Purple Gang was willing to take their place in history.

Who Were the Purple Gang?

The Purple Gang was made up of mostly young Jewish men.  A group of 20 or so members from the onset and their orders were given by a Mr. Abraham Burnstein.  They occupied mostly Detroit’s lower east side – Hastings Street was hit pretty hard.

The Purple Gang terrorized the Hastings neighborhood and many of the original gang members met and formed a friendship at the Bishop Grade School on Winder Street.

If big time glamour and headlines gave the citizens of Detroit a thrill then it sure came in big doses.  Some of the PG members were just as handsome as any movie star; take Harry Millman, almost a Dean Martin look-a-like.  But, when his dead body lay cold on the bar room floor glamour would turn to terror in an instant.

   There were many attempts on Harry’s life – just take a peek at what happen to his car fortunately for Harry he was not inside when the car bomb exploded but it did however kill the valet by accident. (1040 Club on Wayne Street in Detroit is where Harry finally came to the end of his life.)

  And if you think corruption of Detroit City Officials is something new get a load of the only Detroit Mayor to be recalled in the history of the city. Charles Bowles was reportedly doing business with the seedy members of Detroit’s underworld.  The day after Bowles was recalled, July 23, 1930 a well known radio broadcaster was shot dead in the lobby of the La Salle Hotel as he sat reading his newspaper.  Gerald Buckley of WMBC radio lead the campaign to have Bowles recalled.

 Gerald Buckley was also on the take but when Buckley decided his kickbacks were not large enough he threatened the Mob and said he would expose the members of the Purple Gang and all their cohorts on his radio show.  Greed, ignorance and his over sized ego and just plain foolishness got him killed. (Threaten the Mob – Really?)

The Collingwood Manor Massacre

Another group of young, ill-informed, greedy and foolish men were those 20-something year old men that decided they wanted a piece of their own action outside of the Purple Gang and they took off on their own (while still in the Purple Gang mind you.)  These (3) young men I mean fools – stopped taking orders from the Burnstein brothers and they also decided to mussel in on the Chicago based Capone boys that transported liquor into Detroit.  A Double Cross was in the works and this lead to one of the bloodiest afternoons in Detroit History.

  On September 16, 1931  three young Purple Gang members went to an apartment house under the pretence that they were going to receive their fair share – they got bullets instead.  Joe Leibowitz, Herman Paul and Isadore Sutker – all three were shot dead in an ambush and this set off an outrage of Detroit residents that demanded the killings stop.  Finally, the assassins were quickly arrested and a trial would soon follow and By November 1931 Purple Gang members would finally see the inside of a courtroom something they had avoided for many years.

As the years went on many Purple Gang members would find themselves behind bars and others shot to death in the streets of Detroit, many at the hands of their fellow gang members – what a way to go huh?  I once heard it said that “Crime doesn’t pay.”  But, in this world there will always be a group of fools that think they know more than those that came before.  To the parents of these individuals I wish you luck, you will need it.


A Bobbiegirl – PSA


—   A part of Detroit History – Courtesy of and Special thanks to the Walter Reuther Library and Crime   

 Historian Paul R. Kavieff – Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang

You can pick up a copy of Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang at your local Bookstore or Library.

Good Bless & Good Luck


– Photos provided by: Google Images on the Web

– Videos by: You Tube

– Purple Gang Promo by: Ms. Bobbie Jones

– Additional Photos by : Bobbie Jones

Copyright (c) Bobbie Jones – May 2010

– All Rights Reserved


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