Seaman Avenue buzzed with gossip in the days that followed the Halloween of 1932.
“Did you hear about Ganze?”
“I hear he was picked up for a murder in a clip joint.”
Many on the northern Manhattan block between West 204th and Academy Streets were familiar with Lawrence Ganze. The thirty-one-year-old taxi driver and his family lived in a rented apartment inside 81 Seaman Avenue. He was the son of Russian immigrants, had an eighth grade education and was fluent in both English and Yiddish.
His nickname was “Salty.”
Ganze, his wife Lillian, and two small children, Rosalyn and Gerald, likely felt at home among the large Depression era immigrant community that made up the neighborhood. Lillian’s parents were both Romanian. The two had married in 1926.
Newspapers confirmed the gossip on the street—“Salty” Ganze had been arrested for the robbery and murder of an international diamond dealer.
According to media accounts “Salty” and two other accomplices, Herman Newberg, 32 and Eleanor Thompson, 22, and as many as three others, were involved in setting a trap inside a phony speakeasy.
Pooling their money and skills the three opened “The News Writer’s Club” on 144 West 74th Street then paid cab drivers to bring them “prospects.”
Inside the club, a vacant former speakeasy reopened by the trio for their criminal enterprise, the three practiced their roles as they awaited their first victims.
Thompson, a shapely blonde, would play the role of hostess for unsuspecting rubes as Ganze and Newberg plied their intended victims with drinks.
The first two prospects to enter the speakeasy were Achille Mirner, a Russian diamond dealer visiting the city from his home in France, and Jerome Bernheim, a fellow diamond dealer with a shop in the Mayflower Hotel.
The two men drank whiskey at the “club” for two hours before being presented a bill for $157. An outrageous sum, but Mirner paid the tab. As the jewelers got up to leave their seductive hostess invited Bernheim over to her apartment. The jeweler accepted the invitation and left his foreign friend with the two con artists.
Mirner was beaten and robbed soon after his friend was led away by his lovely escort.
Blocks away from the speakeasy Thompson told the Mayflower jeweler to head into a building across the street.
“Just go into that house. You’re a good fellow, so I’ll pay the bill,” Thompson told her companion.
He did exactly as he was told. Moments later the jeweler watched in confusion as the taxi sped away with the blonde hostess still inside.
The taxi drove Thompson straight back to the phony speakeasy where she found her accomplices standing over their alive but bleeding victim.
The trio left their victim on the floor and fled the scene with some $1,600 the jeweler had concealed on his person.
All in all it was a good score. They’d roughed up their target somewhat, but he’d survive with a good story to tell his friends back in Paris.
But Achille Mirner didn’t survive.
Several hours after enduring a ferocious beating at the hands of Ganze and Newberg, the bloodied jeweler staggered into the lobby of his hotel, The Saint Andrew, at 72nd Street and Broadway.
“I was taken for a ride,” he said and instructed the clerk to copy down the license number of the taxi that just dropped him off.
When police arrived Mirner provided a detailed description of the robbery. The officers were familiar with the location, which they knew had been shuttered for at least six months.
Early that morning, a Sunday, the jeweler died from internal injuries sustained in the beating—likely from a kick to the abdomen.
The diamond merchant was correct in assuming the Good Samaritan cabbie who had returned him safely to his hotel was in on the robbery. The jeweler’s dying description led to the quick arrests of Ganze, Thompson and Newberg.
For Thompson, the shapely blonde, the arrests proved a stroke of luck. Detectives suspected the two men had plans to murder their young accomplice after Ganze was overheard on the telephone stating “Well, what do we care? Dead men tell no tales. We’ve got the blonde and she seen it all, so we’ll get rid of her.”
At his arraignment, “Salty” Ganze wept like a child when his wife, Lillian, entered the courtroom.
The following spring Ganze and Newberg entered guilty pleas in exchange for sentences of five to fifteen years each at Sing Sing. Florence Eleanor Thompson, then 22, flashed a broad grin as Judge John Freschi acquitted her on all charges.
Ganze’s wife, Lillian, and the couple’s two young children, would stay in Inwood during her husband’s incarceration, renting an apartment in 647 Academy Street.
By 1940, according to census reports, Ganze was out of prison and living with his wife and kids in another Inwood apartment on 104 Vermilyea Avenue.