The Purple Gang
The End of the Purple Gang
The gunmen were quickly bound over and a little over a month after the massacre, in a packed courtroom, Milberg, Ray Bernstein and Keywell were put on trial.
The Purples spared no expense in trying to save their members. The defendants' cronies reportedly were squeezing money from local bookmaking operations, who were compelled to contribute $2 per day for "betting service."
Solly Levine remained the key witness for the prosecution and despite the best efforts of defense attorneys stuck with his story that the three men killed his friends.
Prosecutor Toy led the case himself, summarizing the case before the jury:
"I hold no brief for the victims and their occupation. This is no defense, however. These men checked their books with bullets and marked off their accounts with blood. They lured the victims to the apartment with promises of partnership and killed them when they were unarmed and helpless."
After an hour-and-a-half of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts against all three men.
The verdict caused an eruption in the courtroom. Friends and relatives of the killers screamed hysterically and court officers climbed on tables to restore order.
A week later, Judge Donald E. Van Zile sentenced the three to the mandatory life in prison without parole. Shortly afterward with little fanfare, Ray Bernstein, Irving Milberg and Harry Keywell boarded a special Pullman train bound for Michigan's Upper Peninsula to begin serving their sentences in the state's maximum security prison in Marquette.
Harry Fleisher remained on the lam until 1932, but he was never convicted in connection with the massacre. He did serve time in Alcatraz in the early 1950s for armed robbery of an Oakland County gambling house.
Milberg died in prison after serving seven years.
Harry Keywell had a spotless prison record for 34 years before his life sentence was commuted. He walked out of prison on October 21, 1965 and later married, obtained a job and faded into obscurity.
Ray Bernstein suffered a stroke in 1963 and was transferred to the state prison in Jackson. He was paralyzed in the left side and his speech was impaired when, wrapped in a blanket and in a wheelchair, he was brought before the parole board.
Bernstein, still denying his role in the massacre, was a model prisoner. He had no misconduct during his term and taught school to inmates after he received his own high school diploma. He also was known for giving financial assistance to other inmates.
The board gave him mercy parole in 1964 and he died two years later.
Solly Levine got a life sentence of another sort.
Fleeing the vengeance of the remaining Purple Gang members, Levine was put on a boat to France by police. However, when he landed in Le Havre, the government wouldn't take him and sent him back. He then tried to go to Ireland, but couldn't get a passport.
He then disappeared.
"It would be hard to tell whether or not Solly escaped successfully," Judge Van Zile said in 1940.
Other members of the Purple Gang died as they had lived. Abe Axler and Eddie Fletcher were taken for a ride when Lucky Luciano's East Coast Syndicate moved into the city. As the national crime syndicate began to consolidate the underworld in the mid 1930s, the remnants of the Purple Gang were absorbed.
The convictions in the Collingwood Massacre "broke the back of the once powerful Purple Gang, writing finis to more than five years of arrogance and terrorism.," said Detroit Police Chief of Detectives James E. McCarty. "The effect of Bernstein's conviction should be a great influence. He reached the top of the underworld and all it got him was a life sentence."