TagMickey Cohen

Suge Knight and Mickey Cohen, Shot on the Sunset Strip – Same Location, 65 Years Apart

Mickey Cohen bodyguard Neddie Herbert is loaded into an ambulance after Cohen’s entourage was ambushed outside Sherry’s nightclub on the Street Strip by two men with shotguns lying in wait across the street – Herbert later died from his wounds

The attempted murder of a rap mogul Suge Knight in a Sunset Strip nightclub early Sunday morning has striking parallels to another even more brazen — and more historically significant — assassination attempt against a powerful underworld figure on the Strip 65 years earlier.

Most striking is the fact that both shootings occurred at the same address, 9039 Sunset Blvd. Today it is the location of 1 Oak, an upscale live entertainment venue. In 1949 Sherry’s, a nightspot that was popular with movie stars and mobsters, occupied the site.(One of Sherry’s owners was famed Sunset Strip private eye and former NYPD detective Barney Ruditsky.)

Knight, 49, was shot inside the crowded club during a pre-Video Music Awards party hosted by Chris Brown. Police say a gunman approached him and opened fire, hitting him six times and wounding two others, an unidentified man and woman. All three are expected to recover.

“We believe it was a crime of opportunity,” a Sheriff’s Department investigator told the Los Angeles Times. Knight, who made millions producing and distributing rap music in the 1990s, has ties to the Piru Bloods of Compton.

The target of the 1949 assassination attempt was mob boss Mickey Cohen, 35, the powerful head of the national crime syndicate’s multimillion dollar illegal gambling and vice operations in Southern California. At the time of the attack, he was embroiled in a gang war gripping Los Angeles. Earlier in the year, his accusations of corruption against senior LAPD officers had launched highly publicized investigation into vice racketeering in the top ranks of law enforcement.

Here’s how the Los Angeles Times described the ambush at Sherry’s:

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Will ‘Mob City’ Stick to the Facts or ‘Hollywood-ize’ the Hollywood Mob?

Left: Mickey Cohen, Jeremy Luke as Cohen

Those of us who spend our days digging up Los Angeles history, especially the 20th-century era when the mob ran rampant, will be watching the new series “Mob City” with special interest when it debuts on TNT on Wednesday. One historian of particular note who will be tuning in is Los Angeles underworld expert and Mickey Cohen biographer Tere Tereba.

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Mickey Cohen at 100

Cohen in the 1970s, shown here with Alice Vaus, the wife of Jim Vaus, Cohen’s former wiretapper who later became an evangelist (Source: willvaus2.blogspot.com)

September 4, 2013, marks the 100th birthday of Mickey Cohen, the colorful, outrageous and flamboyant mob boss who controlled the eastern syndicate’s multimillion-dollar interests in Southern California for a generation until his death in 1976.

Here, by the numbers, are key facts about Cohen’s life, all taken from Los Angeles underworld expert Tere Tereba’s definitive bio, Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster:

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Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster, by Tere Tereba

After Ben Siegel was assassinated, in June 1947, the Syndicate’s East Coast bosses put Mickey Cohen, Bugsy’s one-time enforcer, in charge of their Southern California rackets. Later that year, Cohen moved his headquarters into a deluxe private office suite in a storefront building at Palm Avenue and Holloway Drive on the Sunset Strip. The next few years, as he ruled his multimillion-dollar underworld empire from the Strip, would prove to be the pinnacle of Mickey’s career. By 1951, after having survived two attacks by gun-wielding would-be assassins — including one who entered his offices and blew the head off one of his bodyguards — and a series of bombs set off at his home, Cohen would finally be run to ground by an IRS investigation that ended with a sentence to federal prison.

Memories of Cohen had faded until recently. If he was remembered at all, he was thought of as a caricature of a mob thug, the enforcer who operated in Siegel’s shadow. He started coming back into his own in 2008, in a seven-part series on the LAPD’s Gangster Squad, written by Paul Lieberman, that became the book, Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles , published in 2012, and the movie, “Gangster Squad,” which was released earlier this year. In 2009, Cohen’s life was treated in a dual biography with his nemesis, LAPD Chief Bill Parker, in John Buntin’s L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City.

But Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster, by Tere Tereba, published in 2012, stands apart. It is a meticulously researched, fast-paced recounting of Cohen’s journey from rags to riches, gangster-style. It traces Cohen’s rise — from Boyle Heights street kid to stick-up artist in Cleveland and Chicago, who eventually became Los Angeles mob goon and bookmaker, then Hollywood celebrity who spent his evenings hobnobbing with movie stars in Sunset Strip nightclubs — and his fall — from tax investigations and stints in federal prison to his post-prison return to celebrity, though diminished, back out on the scene in Los Angeles — with a level of detail not found anywhere else.

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Tere Tereba Interviewed about her book, ‘Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crime of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster’

Brent X. Mendoza at TheSunsetStrip.com:

THESUNSETSTRIP.COM:The new book, what initially sparked your interest in Mickey Cohen? Was it your time on The Strip and growing up in Hollywood?

TEREBA: That’s part of it; I wanted to know about the L.A. underworld. We know about the organized crime from everywhere else, but was there not an underworld in L.A.? So my book essentially takes you all the way back to prohibition when Mickey Cohen was a very small child, and it takes you through 1976, and much of it plays out on The Sunset Strip.

I didn’t know that that was going to happen… After uncovering history from ten years of research and going over documents and rare photos, I found I was able to finally deliver a realistic look at L.A.’s underworld, which hadn’t ever been done before. So it really started with me being curious and then I realized that this is an extraordinary story and it’s never really been properly, or even partially, told.

I was fascinated, and shocked by it all… There were literally multiple shootouts on The Sunset Strip; there were shootouts in Brentwood, on Sunset in Bel Air that didn’t make the papers, downtown L.A. Gang war was raging from 1946 to 1950 on the streets of L.A. all surrounding Mickey Cohen…and what I uncovered was a much more involved story of what was going on with Bugsy Siegel being a major Hollywood socialite and how he goes to war right before he was assassinated in 1947. He starts a war with J. Edgar Hoover… All sorts of things going on right around where I live and where I went about my daily business. All of this history around me that had never been put together in one document and exposed.

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Johnny Stompanato, Sunset Strip Resident

Johnny Stompanato

The gangster Johnny Stompanato lived here in the late 1940s. His boss, Mickey Cohen, owned a storefront building at the foot of Horn, at 8800 Sunset. Stompanato ostensibly worked at Courtley’s, a jewelry store next door to Michael’s Haberdashery, the men’s clothing store Cohen operated on the side. In reality, of course, Cohen ran illegal gambling and other rackets for his bosses back east.

Stompanato was different from the other guys who worked for Cohen. He was not Jewish, for one thing. For another, he was a Marine, who had seen action in World War II.

The reason Johnny Stompanato is remembered today is because of the way he died. He was killed by a stab wound in the bedroom of his girlfriend, Lana Turner. Lana’s teenaged daughter, Cheryl Crane, confessed to the crime saying she did it trying to protect her mother from Stompanato’s physical abuse. The killing was ruled to justifiable homicide.

For a while Stompanato lived on Horn Avenue, directly above the building that housed Cohen’s businesses. His apartment building happened to be directly across the street from Café Gala, the celebrity gay-straight lounge, which was also the site of the first Spago’s restaurant many years later.

Mickey Cohen Throws Christmas-Themed Grand Opening Party for His Haberdashery on the Strip

In December 1947, Mickey Cohen celebrated the relocation of his haberdashery from un-posh Santa Monica Blvd. up the hill to new digs at 8802 Sunset on the Strip, with a Christmas-themed grand-opening party. Among the guests were Jack Dragna, Cohen’s principal rival for control of the Los Angeles rackets, and Lt. Rudy Wellpott, head of the LAPD’s elite administrative vice unit, who ran another set of rackets from inside the department.

Both men will play big roles in his life over the next year and a half.

In August 1948, a shotgun-toting hitman hired by team Dragna will enter Cohen’s plush offices in the ground level below the haberdashery and blow the head off of one of Mickey’s bodyguards and wound another. Cohen, who was in the men’s room washing his hands when the shooting started, hid from the gunman in a stall by crouching on the toilet.

In May 1949, Cohen will release recordings of phone calls that implicate Wellpott and other LAPD brass, all the way up to Chief C.B. Horrall, in gambling, prostitution and abortion rackets in the city, including Brenda Allen’s A-list bordello services on the Sunset Strip. Wellpott be forced to resign from the LAPD, but will be acquitted by a jury on bribery charges.

The store, which was called Michael’s, occupied a storefront in a building Cohen purchased that occupied the southwest corner of Holloway Drive and Palm Avenue on the Strip.

Liz Renay, Stripper Who Dated Mobster Mickey Cohen, Dies at 80

When Liz Renay accompanied her boyfriend, Mickey Cohen, then the former “King of the Sunset Strip,” to the fights, it was her habit to wear a full length fur coat and nothing else. At a certain point during the evening, she would stand up, turn to face the audience, open the coat and give the guys a show.

Outrageous? Sure. But par for the course for the bigger-than-life Ms. Renay, who died in Las Vegas on Jan. 22, 2007. She was 80.

Renay met Mickey Cohen when she moved to town in 1957, five or so years after his days as the king of the Sunset Strip had ended. He’d served time on tax evasion charges and remained a constant target of investigation.

A small-town girl who’d moved to New York and become a nightclub entertainer, Liz was no stranger to the underworld but still found herself unprepared for life as a mob moll:

In 1959, she was indicted on five counts of perjury. And in 1961 she served 27 months at Terminal Island federal prison in Los Angeles.

“I have paid a dear price for the mistake I made, and I hope the public will be forgiving,” she told reporters who met her at the prison gate when she was released. “I wanted to protect Mickey. I felt I owed him that. I couldn’t deliberately hurt someone who had been nice to me.”

At the time, Cohen was serving a 15-year sentence for income tax evasion.

“It sure knocked the hell out of my career when I went to Terminal Island,” Renay told the Phoenix New Times in 1998. “I would have been a big star had I not gone to prison.”

In 1972, she worked as a stripper at the Body Shop on the Sunset Strip:

She didn’t need to work. She was married to her sixth husband, millionaire entrepreneur Tom Freeman, who did not want her to take the strip joint job. But who was he to argue? “She’s an exhibitionist,” he told The Times. At the time, Renay had recently published her best-selling autobiography, “My Face for the World to See.”

In 1974, she had another brush with the law when she was unsuccessfully charged with indecent exposure after she’d run naked down Hollywood Boulevard to promote a burlesque show at the Ivar in Holywood.

In 1977, Liz created an entirely new fan base and won eternal fame for her portrayal of Muffy St. Jacque in John Waters’ “Desperate Living.”.

Born Pearl Elizabeth Dobbins in Chandler, Ariz., she was married seven times, and had a son and daughter. She and her daughter Brenda did a mother-daughter strip act in the 1970s.

1948: Mickey Cohen Moves Up

Mickey Cohen's storefront building around 1951 after he decided to quit the haberdashery business during an IRS investigation into his business dealings; inset: Mickey Cohen

Mickey Cohen’s storefront building around 1951 after he decided to quit the haberdashery business during an IRS investigation into his business dealings; inset: Mickey Cohen

Mickey Cohen assumed control of the East Coast syndicate’s interests in Southern California not long after the assassination of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, in June 1947. Later that year he moved the headquarters of his multi-million dollar underworld empire into a storefront building on the Strip at 8804 Sunset Blvd. [map]. He also installed three of his legit businesses in the building’s street-level storefronts: Michael’s Haberdashery, Courtley Jewelers and his tailor’s shop.

Cohen had many enemies, of course, including rival local gangsters as well as officers inside the LAPD, a few of whom were corrupt and had been shaking him down for years. He was targeted for assassination twice during his years on the Strip. The first attack came in August 1948 when a gunmen entered his deluxe private office suite on a lower floor in the storefont building and opened fire. Cohen survived by hiding in the men’s room but one of his bodyguards, Hooky Rothman, had his head blown off.

The second attack came almost year later, in July 1949, when two men with shotguns opened fire from across the street when Mickey and his entourage were leaving Sherry’s night club on the Strip at 9039 Sunset Blvd. [map], around 4 a.m. Cohen and three others were wounded and required hospitalization but another bodyguard, Neddie Herbert, later died from his wounds. The gossip columnist Florabel Muir, a friend of Cohen, was slightly wounded by shotgun pelt that grazed her derriere.

Not long after the shotgun ambush at Sherry’s, Cohen’s home in Brentwood was bombed several times. But if these and other attacks were meant to drive Mickey Cohen out of business, they were efforts in futility. However, what did eventually drive him out was an investigation by the IRS, which forced him to sell his legitimate businesses and eventually resulted in conviction and sentencing to a lengthy term in federal prison.

No one was ever arrested in connection with any of the attacks on Mickey Cohen. Years later, however, Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno [Wiki] revealed that he had arranged the attempted hit in 1948 at the behest of Cohen’s gangster rival Jack Dragna — he also said that the triggerman who killed Hooky Rothman was longtime Dragna associate Frank “the Bomp” Bompensiero [Wiki]. But the source of the shotgun ambush outside Sherry’s in July 1949 along with the identities of the two gunmen remains a mystery. Many experts in mid-century Los Angeles crime history believe the most likely suspects were officials inside the LAPD.

1948: Hollywood Agog

Brenda Allen with attorney Max Solomon at a bail hearing in 1951

Brenda Allen with attorney Max Solomon at a bail hearing in 1951

On the morning of May 5, 1948, dozens of powerful Angelenos — movie stars, moguls and other high muckamucks — must have done spit takes with their coffee upon opening the Los Angeles Times and seeing this headline: “Names Found in Vice Raid Set Hollywood Agog.” The report that followed contained potentially career-killing news: During a raid on the bordello Hollywood madam Brenda Allen operated at 8436 Harold Way above the Sunset Strip [map], police had confiscated a box of index cards containing the names, contact info and sexual predilections of about 250 men whom the Times article described as “notables of the film colony.” And it got worse: A photo, captioned “Lots of names,” showed a uniformed LAPD officer pawing through the files, which appeared to be casually spread across a desk.

This was not the first time a Hollywood madam’s client list had fallen into the hands of the LAPD, nor would it be the last, and all these incidents tend to follow a similar arc: Initial, barely suppressed panic among the marquee names on the madam’s list followed by secret machinations among lawyers, agents and studio executives leading to quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations among lawyers and police, as well as, presumably, an exchange of cash in return for assurances that the names will never see the light of day.

We will never know whether a scenario like that played out in the Brenda Allen matter over the summer of 1948. We do know what the outcome was, however. During Allen’s trial on the charge of running a “house of ill fame,” after reviewing the names on the cards, Judge Joseph L. Call issued his decision:

JUDGE CALL: In the box are names of dignitaries of the screen and radio and executives of responsible positions in many great industries. Publication of their names would be ruinous to their careers and cause them great public disgrace. I order the exhibit sealed.

Judge Call found Brenda Allen guilty, and the matter appeared to be settled. But it wasn’t. Like other madams before her, Brenda Allen had been paying corrupt officers inside the LAPD for protection. In fact, Detective Sgt. Elmer “Jack” Jackson, a member of the elite Administrative Vice Squad, which reported directly to Chief Clemence B. Horrall, was both her lover and de facto business partner. Separately, Sgt. Jackson and his boss, Lt. Rudy Wellpott, had been shaking down the mobster Mickey Cohen for several years, or so Cohen will claim.

All of this corruption and much more exploded into public view exactly a year to the day after Brenda Allen was busted. It was then, on May 5, 1949, that Mickey Cohen announced during a trial on an unrelated matter that he had in his possession recordings of telephone conversations between Brenda Allen and Sgt. Jackson — calls made to and by Jackson in his office at LAPD headquarters. Before the summer was over, Chief Horrall had resigned and he and five other top LAPD officials, including Sgt. Jackson and Lt. Wellpott, had been charged with lying to the grand jury — Jackson and Wellpott were also charged with taking bribes from Brenda Allen.

But now, dear reader, here is a test of your insight into how these sorts of things worked in Los Angeles back then. Among the people accused of criminal acts in the Brenda Allen case only one person was convicted and sent to jail. Among the five top LAPD officials, Brenda’s 250 clients and Brenda herself, can you guess who it was who took the fall?

Hint: The jailbird was a woman.