Monk Eastman

Monk Eastman
Monk Eastman

NYPD mugshot of Monk Eastman, taken from newspaper
Born 1875
New York City, New York
Died December 26, 1920(1920-12-26) (aged 45)
New York City, New York
Cause Gunshot
Alias(es) Joseph Morris {August 1903}
William Delany {December 1903} and {October 1917 enlistment in US Army};
John Marvin {February 1914}
Charge(s) 1901 reported wounded in gang fight
December 1902 arrested on assault charge {acquitted}
August 1903 arrested after gunfight with rival gang-charged with assault but not held
1903 arrested under own name in Freehold N.J on charge of beating up coachman James McMahon {discharged}
December 1903 arrested after Michael Donavon killed after gang fight-discharged; arrested twice as "suspicious person" but not held
April 1904 arrested for assault-sent to Sing Sing for 10 years
May 1912 arrested for manufacturing and using opium-sent to Sing Sing prison for eight months
February 1914-arrested as "John Marvin" in Buffalo New York on charge of Bulgary {discharged}
November 1915-arrested in Riverdale New York on charge of stealing silver in Albany New York-sent to Dannemora for two years and eleven months-released October 1917
Conviction(s) 1904; 1912; 1915
Penalty Sing Sing and Dennemora
Status served sentence-deceased
Occupation thug; soldier; dockworker

Edward "Monk" Eastman (1875 – December 26, 1920) was a New York City Gangster who founded and led one of the most powerful street gangs in New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century, the Eastman Gang. His other aliases included Joseph "Joe" Morris, Joe Marvin, William "Bill" Delaney, and Edward "Eddie" Delaney. Eastman is considered to be one of the last of the nineteenth-century New York gangsters who preceded the rise of Arnold Rothstein and more sophisticated organized criminal enterprises such as Cosa Nostra.[1]


Early life

Monk Eastman's background is a subject of debate. The most common story, popularized by Herbert Asbury in his book The Gangs of New York says that Monk was born Edward Osterman in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to an affluent Jewish restaurant owner. When Monk reached maturity, the story continues, his father set him up with a pet shop where he could indulge in his hobby of raising and selling birds, but young Edward was eventually seduced by the action and easy money of Manhattan's underworld, which he went on to conquer with sheer brute force. As popular as this story may be, no public records exist to support it. What city records do tell us (as documented by crime authors such as Patrick Downey, Ron Arons, and Rose Keefe) is that Monk was born Edward Eastman in 1875 in the rowdy Corlear's Hook section of lower Manhattan to Samuel Eastman, a Civil War vet and wallpaper-hanger, and his wife Mary Parks. By the time Monk was five his father had run off and the family had been forced to relocate to the home of Mary Parks' father George Parks on the upper east side.

According to the 1880 United States Census 5 year old Edward Eastman was living on East Seventy Fifth St., in Manhattan, NY. He lived with his grandfather George Parks, age 68. George was born in New York as were both his parents and was working in a dry goods store. Also in residence were Edward's mother Mary, age 35, sisters Lizzie, age 10, Ida, age 8, and Francine age 3. Everyone being born in New York with the exception of Lizzie who was born in California. Both George Parks and Mary Eastman are recorded as having been divorced.

Going back 10 years to the 1870 census Mary Eastman is seen living on Cannon St. in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with Samuel Eastman, age 40, born in New York and working as a paper hanger. Living with them were Lizzie and Willie, age 3 born in New York. It can be speculated that Willie did not survive as he was not listed with the family in 1880. Going back another 10 years to the 1860 census Samuel Eastman is seen living in Manhattan in the household of Thomas McSpedon (?) and working as a paper hanger. While no further census records on Edward Eastman are found his mother is listed in the 1900 census as living on Curtis Ave. in Queens with her daughters Elizabeth and Francine and their families.

The fact that Monk's first documented arrest didn't occur until after his grandfather had died suggests that George Parks may have succeeded in keeping young Monk on a relatively respectable path. At some point George set Monk up with a pet shop on Broome street, and even after he had become a notorious gangster, Monk continued to list "bird seller" as his legitimate occupation. But Eastman's considerable skill as a criminal suggests that he had spent his youth doing not-so respectable things as well. At some point he must have gravitated back to his childhood haunts on the lower east side and become involved with the many gangs of the area.

Criminal career

Monk Eastman officially entered the police records in 1898 under the alias William Murray (one of the many Irish monikers Eastman employed). He spent three months on Blackwell's Island for larceny. During this time Eastman belonged to a gang of pimps and thieves known as the Allen Street Cadets. Herbert Asbury reports that Eastman distinguished himself as a colorful character in these early days by keeping a messy head of wild hair, wearing a derby two sizes two small for his head, sporting numerous gold-capped teeth, and often parading around shirtless or in tatters, always accompanied by his cherished pigeons. In time, Monk's reputation as a tough guy (despite his squat five-foot-six inch frame) earned him the job of "sheriff" or bouncer at the New Irving Hall, a celebrated club on Broome street, not far from his pet shop. According to urban legend, Monk patrolled the New Irving with a four-foot-long "locust" or police day-stick in hand, on which he carved a notch for every head bashed. On the night that he reached 49 notches, Eastman reportedly whacked an innocent bystander as well so as to make it an even fifty. It was in places like the New Irving Hall and Silver Dollar Smith's Saloon (another Eastman haunt) that Eastman first became involved with the Tammany Hall politicians who would eventually put him and his cohorts to work as repeat voters and strong-arm men.

Eastman's greatest rival was Paul Kelly, leader of the Five Points Gang. The warfare between these two gangs reached a fever pitch on September 17, 1903, with a protracted gun battle on Rivington Street involving dozens of gangsters. One man was killed and a second reported fatally wounded[2][3][4] and numerous innocent civilians were injured. Members of the Eastman gang were arrested[5][6][7]

Tammany Hall worked closely with both Kelly and Eastman, and grew tired of the feuding—and the bad press that was generated when civilians were killed or injured in the cross-fire. In 1903, Tammany Hall set-up a boxing match between Eastman and Kelly in an old barn up in the Bronx. The fight lasted two hours, with both men taking an awful punishment before it was called a draw.

Monk Eastman lived at 221 E.5th Street at the turn of the century, just about two blocks from Paul Kelly's New Brighton Social Club at 57 Great Jones Street.


On February 3, 1904, Eastman attempted to rob a young man on 42nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. However, the young man was being followed by two Pinkerton agents hired by man's family to keep him out of trouble. The agents intervened and Eastman started shooting at the agents while running away. The chased ended when Eastman was apprehended by policemen responding to the shooting. Tired of bad publicity from Eastman, Tammany Hall refused to help him this time. Later that year, Eastman was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison at Sing Sing penitentiary.

In 1909, Eastman was released after serving five years in prison. During his absence, the Eastman Gang had shattered into several factions; one of his top men, Zwerbach, was dead. Since none of the surviving gang factions wanted Eastman as their leader, he was effectively out of power. For several years, Eastman reverted to petty thievery. During this period, he became addicted to opium and served several short jail terms.

Military service

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the 42-year old Eastman decided to join the Army. During his military physical, the doctor observed all the knife and bullet scars on Eastman's body and asked him which wars he had been in; Eastman replied, "Oh! A lot of little wars around New York.".[8] Eastman ended up serving in France with "O'Ryan's Roughnecks", the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division. After Eastman's discharge in 1919, the Governor of New York, Al Smith, recognized Eastman's honorable service by restoring his U.S. citizenship.

Final years

After his discharge from the Army, Eastman quickly returned to a life of petty crime. One of his criminal partners was Jerry Bohan, a corrupt Prohibition agent. On the morning of December 26, 1920, a group of men, including Eastman and Bohan, met at the Bluebird Cafe in Lower Manhattan. Around 4 am, there was a group conflict over a monetary issue, with Eastman and Bohan particularly opposing one another. When Bohan left, Eastman followed him and accused him of being a rat. Feeling threatened due to previous conflicts between the two, Bohan quickly went for his pistol and emptied it into Eastman and he died.[9]

Bohan was later convicted of Eastman's murder and served three years in prison. Monk Eastman was buried with full military honors in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Monk's Religion

Although universally referred to as a Jewish gangster (even by papers of his own time), there is remarkably little evidence supporting Monk Eastman's Jewishness beyond the fact that he worked closely with many Jewish criminals and was circumcised. In fact the evidence against his being Jewish is stronger. In his book The Jews of Sing Sing, author Ron Arons points out that none of Monk's sisters (or his own parents for that matter) were married in Jewish ceremonies, and that his maternal grandfather died in a Baptist rest home. Also, his paternal grandfather was born in America during a time when there were very few Jews in the country. Eastman's brother-in-law even told the medical examiner after Monk's death that the gangster was "not a Hebrew." All the same, none of the evidence against Monk's Jewishness is airtight (in a climate of antisemitism such as existed in late 19th century America, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Monk's family simply hid or even renounced their Jewish heritage) so the matter will probably remain a permanent point of debate.

Eastman in Literature and Film

  • Eastman is featured in a 1933 short story by Jorge Luis Borges called Monk Eastman: Purveyor of Iniquities and in Kevin Baker's 1999 novel Dreamland.
  • In the P.G. Wodehouse novel, Psmith, Journalist, the fictional character "Bat Jarvis" is largely based on Eastman and shares his kindhearted streak for animals.
  • In the 1988 film Eight Men Out Monk Eastman is referred to as one of Arnold Rothstein's enforcers and collection agents. "Yeah, that's right, I'm collecting for Mr. Rothstein now," said Abe "Lil Champ" Attell, played by Michael Mantell. "Would you rather deal with Monk Eastman!?" Stephen Mendillo, who played Monk in the movie, had a couple lines in the train station when Rothstein sends him to let Sport Sullivan know the fix is on: "If anyone connects Mr. Rothstein to this, I come see you again. You don't want that!"
  • The film Gangs of New York features a character called "Walter 'Monk" McGwin" (played by actor Brendan Gleeson) who is loosely based on Eastman and carries a club with notches carved into it. However, the story in this film takes place several decades before Eastman became a "sheriff", or bouncer.
  • In the book, "The Notorious Izzy Fink" by Don Brown, Monk was powerful gang leader.
  • Monk Eastman is referenced in Harry Grey's 1952 biographical novel, "The Hoods" (on which Sergio Leone's movie, "Once Upon a Time in America" was based).


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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