Little Boo-Boo: The criminal life of Max Hoff
John William Tuohy
Hoff Max: Bootlegger. Born 1893. In South Philadelphia, a son of Russian-Jewish, immigrants. Died April 27, 1941 AKA Boo-Boo. The nickname originated in South Philadelphia. The family lived in a predominately-Irish section and when Hoff’s mother would call her son, Max brother Lou, in Yiddish; it sounded like she was calling Boo-Boo. The name stuck on Max rather than his brother and for the next 15 years, Hoff was called “Little Boo-Boo” until it was shortened to simply Boo-Boo.
Hoff quite school and worked as a newsboy and, while still a teen opened a political club in Philadelphia’s Fifth Ward. The club was actually a front for what would become a large gambling casino.
Prohibition made him rich. By 1920, when he was 27 years old, Hoff was a millionaire. His payroll to city hall was said to exceed $150,000 a month, with one police official on the books for $25,000 a month. He operated two first rate night clubs in Philadelphia, The Ship and The Piccadilly and grossed at least $5,000,000 a year from bootleg sales. He also dabbled importing good whisky from Europe, which he haply sold to New York buyers and ran a side business importing and selling machine guns to the underworld. His money laundering empire was thought to “wash” ten million dollars a month. (The equivalent of $100 million today) Boo-Boo himself never drank, smoked or gambled. He was indicted several times but never convicted.
Sports made him even richer. By the late 1920s, Hoff was one of the biggest and most important sports promoters in the country and owned the largest stable of professional fighters in the world. In 1927, Hoff filed a suit against Light Heavyweight boxer Gene Tunney and his manager, Billy Gibson, claiming that he and Tunney had a signed agreement that Hoff would sponsor the match fight. Tunney had, in fact, signed the document, but signed it "Eugene Joseph Tunney". His real name was James Joseph Tunney. Hoff dropped the suit in 1931 but never changed his story, claiming that Tunney had cheated him.
By 1933, it was all over. Boo-Boo, as smart as he was, was too flashy for his own good. The IRS moved in and charged him with owing $12,000 back taxes. His houses were sold at auction and whatever cash he had slipped away to lawyers who kept him out of jail. The rest probably went to gangsters who extorted him.
At the end of his life, he ran a malted shop, the Village Barn, in West Philadelphia. He died in his sleep, at age 48 on April 27, 1941 at his home at 4723 Larchwood Avenue. His wife found a fifty-tablet bottle of sleeping pills, of which only six remained, so it was long assumed that he had committed suicide. However, the bottle was six years old. Hoff had died of a heart attack.