Saturday, June 11, 2011

Arthur Flegenheimer aka Dutch Schultz

Infamous 1930s crime lord, Dutch Schultz, is buried beneath a bench-like monument --which bears his birth name, Arthur Flegenheimer—in Hawthorne, New York’s Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Schultz, who was murdered in 1935 by rival gangsters, was a convert to Catholicism. As Schultz lay dying from gunshot wounds in a New Jersey hospital he was baptized by Father Cornelius McInerney, a Catholic priest who had befriended the gangster while he was in prison.

That Schultz’s body was taken to Coughlin’s Undertaking parlor in Manhattan, remained a closely guarded secret. The morning of his funeral, a throng of people gathered outside the funeral home, along with reporters, to witness  Schultz’s body being carried out in its casket. Unbeknown to them, his wood casket had been whisked away in the early morning hours for a leisurely ride to the cemetery.

At the graveside --nearby that of former cohort, Larry Fay, also gunned down-- Father McInerney performed a short Catholic service for the five family members in attendance. Afterwards, Schultz’s mother, Emma, draped a Jewish prayer shawl over his casket. Outrage followed that such a notorious and recent convert had been permitted burial on sacred Catholic ground. An editorial in Catholic Weekly posed the question: “If a guy like that can go to heaven there won’t be anybody in hell?” Monsignor John L. Bedford of Brooklyn, responded with an article in The Monitor which read in part, “Was Schultz worse than the penitent thief? He was a criminal. He seemed unworthy of the least consideration. Perhaps he was. But who will close the gates of mercy? The fact that he received the sacraments is no guarantee than he received God’s forgiveness.” 

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