Waxey Gordon was a Jewish American gangster who was involved in bootlegging and gambling operations in the early to mid-1900s. His contemporaries included fellow Jewish gangsters Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky.
Waxey Gordon’s Early Life
Waxey Gordon was born Irving Wexler around 1889. His parents were Polish Jewish immigrants living in New York’s Lower East Side and at a young age Irving became involved in illegal activities. In addition to stealing he was also a pickpocket whose skill was such that people joked his victim’s pockets were waxed. This is where he earned the nickname “Waxey,” a moniker that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
Eventually Gordon married a rabbi’s daughter, Leah, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Gordon would go to great lengths to shield his family from his illegal career though ultimately his activities would tear the family apart.
In the early 1900’s Gordon was hired by Arnold Rothstein to be a rum-runner (bootlegger) who illegally transported alcohol during Prohibition. Eventually Gordon was put in charge of Rothstein’s East Coast bootlegging business. He operated primarily in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey and also imported alcohol across the Canadian border for illegal distribution in the United States.
According to Robert Rockaway’s “But He Was Good to His Mother,” by the mid-1920’s Gordon was one of the East Coast’s most successful bootleggers with an income well over $2 million per year. He had a fleet of rum-running ships and owned speakeasies, gambling casinos and nightclubs. He also indulged in an extravagant lifestyle, maintaining a ten-room Manhattan apartment and choosing a New Jersey castle that included a moat as his primary residence (Rockaway, 16).
Gordon’s success started to wane in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Following the death of Arnold Rothstein in 1928 he found himself engaged in a powerful struggle with another Jewish mobster: Meyer Lansky. Together with Lucky Luciano, Lansky eventually took Gordon down by sharing incriminating information about Gordon with United States Attorney Thomas E. Dewey. The information Lansky gave Dewey led to Gordon’s conviction on tax evasion charges in 1933, for which he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
In a tragic turn of events, Gordon’s eldest son, Teddy, died in an automobile accident while traveling to New York to plead with Dewey for a reduced sentence for his father. A 19-year-old medical student at the University of North Carolina at the time, Teddy fell asleep at the wheel during poor weather conditions. His car swerved off the road and Teddy was killed. When informed about the accident, Waxey told his attorney: “That boy was my one hope. I counted on him. Everything I did centered around him.” (Rockaway, 196).
Waxey Gordon’s Later Life and Death
When Gordon was released from prison he discovered that the gambling empire he once ruled was in a shambles. His marriage had also deteriorated during his time in jail and Gordon soon moved to California to start over on his own.
During World War II he attempted to make a profit by selling sugar on the black market. (Sugar was a rationed commodity at the time.) He later started distributing narcotics and in 1951 was arrested after selling heroin to an undercover federal officer. According to reports, when the officers arrested him Gordon began to weep saying, “Shoot me. Don’t take me in for junk. Let me run, then shoot me” (Rockaway, 122). He also tried to bribe the officers with the money in his pocket ($2,500) and the diamond rings on his fingers. These efforts ultimately proved futile and in 1954 Gordon was sentenced to 25 years to life, which he would serve in Alcatraz Prison. He died six months later, at the age of 63, after suffering a heart attack. Gordon is buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens County New York.
Waxey Gordon’s Character on “Boardwalk Empire”
In addition to Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lanskey, Gordon appears as a character on HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.” He is played by actor Nick Sandow and first appears in Season 2.
- Rockaway, Robert. “But He Was Good to His Mother: The Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters.” Gefen Publishing House: New York, 2000.
- Downey, Patrick. “Gangster City: The History of the New York Underworld 1900-1935.” Barricade Books: Fort Lee, 2009.