Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum was born in 1818 in the country of Prussia. She immigrated to the United States in 1848 with her husband Wolfe Mandelbaum. Mandelbaum, a large woman weighing more than 250 pounds, opened a dry goods store at 79 Clinton Street, Rivington, on the ground floor of a three-story building that she later bought with her ill-gotten gains. By 1854, the dry goods store was a front for the largest fencing operation in New York City history. She lived on the top two floors of the building with her husband, her son, and her two daughters, and her apartment was luxuriously furnished like any other in the city, of course, with stolen items. Among the famous thieves 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 at her apartment, attended by every known criminal in town, of both sexes, including judges and politicians she carried in her back pocket. Knowing that women were as good, or even better, criminals than men, she became good friends with criminals such as 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 across the Hudson River to New Jersey and became known as the Queen of Hackensack.
Mandelbaum first came to the attention of the police in 1862 and it is estimated that between 1862 and 1884 he handled between 5 and 10 million dollars in stolen property. His business was so good that he decided to hire some of his best thieves, but he abandoned that idea when he caught some of them selling their stolen goods to other fences. (What did she expect? Honest thieves?) He, too, decided to open a boys’ school on Grand Street, where little ones could learn the noble profession from scratch, starting out as pickpockets and sneak thieves. For the older kids, she offered courses in burglary, safe-cracking, blackmail, and confidence games. Her school became so well known that the son of a prominent police officer applied for her admission, forcing Mandelbaum to close the school immediately.
Whenever Mandelbaum got into trouble, he could always count on Little Abe Hummel and Big Bill Howe of the Hummel and Howe law firm (not to be confused with the Dewey, Screwem and Howe law firm) to find any loopholes. they could find, legal and illegal, to keep Mandelbaum out of jail. Hubble and Howe served Mandelbaum so well that he placed them on a $5,000 annual retainer.
In 1884, New York District Attorney Peter B. Olney hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate Mandelbaum’s criminal 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 theft and receiving stolen goods. But the cunning Hubble and Howe arranged for Mandelbaum to be released on bail. Turning to form, he jumped bail and moved to Toronto, Canada, where he lived the rest of his life comfortably.
To add insult to injury, the state of New York was duped by Hubble and Howe and a corrupt bondsman, who was supposed to have the property that Mandelbaum had pledged for bail. Using back checks, they transferred the property to Mandelbaum’s daughter, along with other property that the state was in the process of encumbering. Putting her finger in the eye of the New York City police, Mandelbaum, still wanted for her crimes. she traveled several times to New York City, in disguise, to meet up with her old friends, helping them plan various heists.
Having screwed up the American government as much as any other woman 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. on various counts of legal malpractice.
To paraphrase Meat Loaf, one in three isn’t bad.