Kid Dropper: The short and very violent life of Nat Kaplan
John William Tuohy
Kaplan, Nathan: Early Manhattan gang leader (Sometimes spelled Caplin, the name is buried under) AKA Kid Dropper, (He was actually called The Kid Dropper) AKA Jack the Dropper. Born 1891 Died August 28, 1923. Lived at 47 Norfolk Street. (Now a parking lot) A petty thief from a slum on the Lower East with a long arrest record
And an impressive number of dismissals. By 1910 Kaplan, with the blessing of the all-powerful Five Point’s gang, was running his own gang of toughs. However, he quickly entered into a violent yearlong street war with rival gang leader Spanish Johnny, even though the newspapers of the day reported that Kaplan was a member of Spanish Johnny’s gang.
The war ended on June 28, 1911 at 6:00 PM when Kaplan was convicted of robbery. The conviction rose out of a January 26, 1911 house invasion by Kaplan, Charlie Neuman, Joe “Dorr” Wilson and three other hoodlums. The gangsters punched their way into a boarding house at 107 West Thirty-Eighth Street (The property no longer stands) owned by an Alice Lewis and systematically robbed each of the tenants for a grand total of $200. Kaplan was found guilty of robbing $87 and was sentenced to seven to nine years at Sing-Sing prison.(He was indicted for assault while in Sing-Sing in 1915 and moved to Clinton prison)
Released in 1918, Kaplan formed another gang and filled the void in the enforcer-for- hire market left by Dopey Benny Fein and Joe “The Grease” Rosenzweig. He also resumed his war with Spanish Johnny with most of it taking place within the garment district. It ended when Spanish Johnny was murdered on July 29, 1919.
With the death of Spanish Johnny, Kaplan controlled virtually all of New York’s labor enforcement market. As a result, he often extorted tribute from both sides regardless of whom he was working for. By 1923, gangsters Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen and Lepke Buchalter, Gurrah Shapiro and Jack Leg Diamond, relative newcomers to the underworld, were nipping for control of different parts of Kaplan’s operations. Especially Orgen, who had engaged Kaplan’s men in several gun battles for control of New York’s Wet Wash Laundry Workers. Kaplan had been hired by the employers to break the workers strike, while Orgen was hired by the workers to protect. At one point, during a fistfight, Kaplan slashed Orgen across the face, scarring him for life. A few weeks later, Orgen shot Kaplan in both legs.
On August 28, 1923, Kaplan was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon involving an assault against a hoodlum named Jacob Shapiro of 52 Stagg Street. As Shapiro crossed 75 Essex street, Kaplan and three others drove by and fired a series of shots at him. At first, Shapiro was unshaken in his accusation of Kaplan and then, in court, changed his mind. The judge in the case ordered Kaplan held over in violation of the Sullivan Act anyway and ordered an arraigned at Essex Market Court. The arraigned was a major news story and a large crowd waited outside the courtroom to get a glimpse of Kaplan as he entered the building.
As Kaplan left the building, an Orgen gunman named Louis Cohen, a burglar and small-time thief with two arrests on his record. (Born Louis Kerzner or possibly Kershner in 1902, he lived at 67 East Fourth Street, the apartment house still stands) shot and killed Kaplan as he entered the back seat of a taxi just seconds after Kaplan’s wife, Veronica, kissed him and said “Jack, you beat all the other cases, you’ll beat the one uptown as well”
Standing on tiptoes to see over the crowd, Cohen fired three shots, almost randomly, into the rear window of the cab. One bullet went through the back of Kaplan’s head. He slopped on to the shoulder of a detective sitting next to him and moaned “Jesus, they’ve got me”
A second hot the cab driver in the head just below the ear, the third flew into the cab floor. At that point, Veronica Kaplan leaped on Cohen screaming, “Don’t shot him!” but Cohen smacked her across the head with his pistol and then fired two more shots, one hot Kaplan in the head, the other went wild. Veronica Kaplan leaped back on top of Cohen and now aided by police, knocked him to the ground. Veronica leaped into the cab and grabbed her husband’s arm and cried “Tell me you were not what they said you were”. Cohen, it was learned was considered “A water boy” or an errand boy for Orgen, until Orgen assigned him to murder Kaplan. Afterwards, Orgen assured him, he would be made a full-fledged member of the gang. Cohen was told, and he believed, that the people of New York would see him as a hero for ridding the streets of the likes of Kaplan and, at most, he would serve three maybe four years “Up the river” at Sing-Sing. Instead, he barely missed being sent to the electric chair and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Orgen then took over all of Kaplan’s operations. When Cohen was released from prison in 1937.
On January 28,1939, Cohen, then age 37, and Irving Friedman (AKA Isadore AKA Danny Fields) was walking along Lewis Street in Manhattan at 6:00 PM when they were both shot dead. An all-around gangster, Friedman was scheduled to testify against Lepke Buchalter on behalf of District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey. However, Friedman’s name was slipped to the press and he was murdered. The Cohen murder was more than probably an accident. Cohen managed to get threes shot off at the gunmen before he was killed. He then managed to crawl to a vacant lot at 7 Lewis Street (The property no longer exists) before he died. Friedman fell dead in a sewer about fifty feet away, with a bullet through his neck.