A Not-So-Nice Jewish Boy in Brooklyn
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because when they make a movie about Corvette-driving, gun-toting Jewish hitmen, this will be the first one they make.
By Eugene S. Robinson
If you were cooling into a comfortable night of cinema and came across a character named Seymour, maybe played by Rick Moranis, maybe in Little Shop of Horrors, you’d not be surprised to later see this character, bookish possibly, wearing glasses, probably, and even further down field, sporting a last name like Siegel. Or Shapiro. Or in Moranis’ case, Krelborn. That’s because, as distastefully racist as it might seem, the idea of the Jewish mensch is so firmly ensconced in the collective media mind, well, we just assume.
But Harvey “Chris” Rosenberg, tearing through the pre-hipster Brooklyn of the 1970s and suspected of involvement in more than 200 murders, was no mensch. What he was, all extremely touchy 5’ 5” of him, far outpaced whatever his parents — straight-up working class Jews who dutifully dragged him to the Catskills each summer — might have had planned for him. Starting with dealing weed in his Canarsie, Brooklyn neighborhood in 1963 at age 13, and graduating quite nicely to stealing cars when he was 20, Rosenberg had a regular hard-on for crime.
They were such nice-looking men. But they were stone-cold killers.
And in 1970, New York City was about to be hit hard by drugs and drug-related crime. All while Rosenberg cut his teeth in a heavily Italian mob-connected neighborhood. Which eventually found him drawn into an orbit that saw him arrested for dealing hashish, beating the rap, and then getting out and getting caught up in a frenzy of felony that, at its most random, saw him trying to steal a snowplow of all things. All out of a shop he had stolen enough scratch to open called, curiously enough, Car Phobia Repairs.
Falling in with Roy DeMeo, a made man in the Gambino crime family, Rosenberg, sometimes rocking DeMeo’s last name to put some distance between him and his Hebraic background — he felt Jews in general to be weak, according to mob chronicler Jerry Capeci — had started to get ideas. The most significant one, in many more ways than one, was the mistaken notion that he’d eventually get extended an invitation to join the Italian mob on account of what was now a thriving car theft and drug dealing business. That and the fact that he and the notorious Gemini Twins he’d brought in were breaking wild over Brooklyn, stealing everything that moved and selling everything that didn’t.
“They were wild men,” says retired New York undercover organized-crime cop Fred Santoro about Rosenberg’s murderous crew, the nexus of DeMeo’s crime klatch. Invitations to the Gemini Lounge, out off of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn’s Flatlands neighborhood, often ended with towels draped around the soon-to-be-perforated heads of unsuspecting business partners, to catch the blood, right before they were chopped and dropped into waterways or car trunks.
Fearless, Rosenberg became a favorite of DeMeo, who was loathed by his higher ups. Not for not being an earner, because Roy was that. But for his dabbling in porn as a sideline. Specifically child porn. Despite this the young Chris and the older DeMeo became fast friends and by way of dealing coke and Quaaludes, alongside car thievery, Rosenberg rocked the typical criminal spoils: nice pad, flash car and flashier clothes. And, of course, the less desirable risks: In the winter of 1974 Rosenberg opened his garage door and was shot three times — in the jaw, right arm and chest.
He lived, which led, immediately after he got out of the hospital, to the first of many murders. A murder noteworthy here because it involved the death of another Jewish gangster, Andrei Katz, the guy most widely assumed to have shot Rosenberg.
“But you need to understand something,” Santoro says, “these guys killed in the furtherance of their criminal enterprises.” Meaning, they presumably didn’t do it for fun, even though, as the numbers climbed, you’d be hard-pressed to think they weren’t enjoying themselves just a little. Rosenberg even developed a bit of a system, Santoro says, frequently opting to murder in his underwear so as not to stain the nice clothes he had grown fond of wearing.
But because all good things, or very, very bad ones, must end, in 1979, at age 29, Rosenberg was shot in the head and stabbed in the heart before being dismembered and trunked. By? DeMeo and his, or rather their, crew. A Colombian crime lord had threatened a gang war if Rosenberg, who had killed and robbed their coke connection, wasn’t taken out. The cocaine killing had at first appeared to be a random murder, but the Colombians managed to trace it back to Rosenberg because he had dropped a name before the deal went down: Chris DeMeo.
In a final twist, a church now stands where the Gemini Lounge once was. “They were such nice-looking men,” says former NYPD officer Maria Melendez. “But they were stone-cold killers.”