1929 : Purple Gang Members Arrested

May 18, 2022 all-day

Detroit's Infamous Purple Gang book cover

On May 18, 1929, members of the notorious Jewish organized crime organization, the Purple Gang, were arrested for arms violations and protecting Detroit drug dealers.

Source : Detroit Historical Society Facebook page

Detroit’s Purple Gang entry from the Encyclopedia of Detroit

Detroit’s Infamous Purple Gang / Paul R. Kavieff. Charleston, SC : Arcadia Publishing, c2008. Chronicles “the Purples from their days as a juvenile street gang through their rise to power and eventual self-destruction. Using rare police department mug shots and group photographs, the book transports readers through the dark side of Prohibition-era Detroit history. Detroit had a gold rush atmosphere and a thriving black market during the 1920’s that attracted gangsters and unsavory characters from all over the country.

The Purple Gang : Organized Crime in Detroit, 1910-1945 / Paul R. Kavieff. Fort Lee, N.J. : Barricade Books, c2000. The Purple Gang was a loosely organized confederation of mobsters who dominated the Detroit underworld and whose tentacles reached across the country. Beginning in the Prohibition Era, the Purple Gang prevailed in distilling alcohol and running liquor from Canada, kidnapping, and labor racketeering. This is the hitherto untold story of the rise and fall of one of American’s most notorious criminal groups. In an era resembling the Wild West when post World War I America groped for identity, chaos was the rule. And in Detroit’s underworld, the Purple Gangsters were the rulers.

Daniel Waugh, “Off Color: The Violent History of Detroit’s Notorious Purple Gang“, [Holland, Michigan] : In-Depth Editions, [2014].  Those boys are tainted, off-color!” This plaintive lament from an early 20th century Detroit pushcart merchant was said to have given the Purple Gang their nickname. Off Color is the complete story of how a group of juvenile delinquents rose from robbing street peddlers to become one of the most notorious bootlegging mobs in history. Due to Detroit’s close proximity to Canada, the Purple Gang was in a prime position to strike it rich in the illegal alcohol trade, whether by smuggling whiskey across the Detroit River, hijacking it from those who did, or making their own. Not limiting themselves to the booze business, the Purples were violent jacks-of-all crimes who dabbled in kidnapping, extortion, arson, labor racketeering, narcotics, and murder-for-hire. Noted for being extremely dangerous, the Purples were known to victimize friend and foe alike. Their nefarious influence reached into the Michigan state capitol and members of the gang were suspected of participating in both the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the Lindbergh kidnapping. While the loosely-knit Purple Gang would eventually dissolve under a storm of prison terms and violent infighting, they endure in American history as a colorfully named group of hoodlums who rose to prominence in the wild era when booze was illegal, men wore spats, women were flappers, and gangsters like the Purples enforced their will with the business end of a machine gun.

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