Sept. 26, 2013
Gerald Chapman became America’s first “celebrity gangster” and its first “Public Enemy No. 1.” President Coolidge pardoned him from the Federal charges against him so that the State of Connecticut could hang him.
by Robert Walsh
“Death itself isn’t dreadful, but hanging seems an awkward way of ending the adventure…”
– Gerald Chapman to his lawyers after being sentenced to death for murder in 1925.
We’ll call him “Gerald Chapman” as that was his favourite alias. His real name was probably George Chartres and he was born in New York in August of 1887 but, as records are sketchy and Chapman was always evasive about his early life, we’ll probably never know for sure. What we do know is that he was a thief, safecracker, armed robber, bootlegger, burglar, conman and cop killer and one of the first “celebrity gangsters” of the 20th century.
Chapman was born into a poor neighborhood on New York’s Lower East Side in August, 1887. Although he came from an honest family he began drifting into petty crime while still a young boy, little things at first like shoplifting, petty theft and so on. His first foray into the bigger leagues was an armed robbery that earned him a 10-to-15 year sentence at the notorious Sing Sing Prison. He was transferred to Auburn Prison (site of the world’s first electrocution) where his criminal career really began to blossom. Before his armed robbery conviction he was nothing more than a typical juvenile delinquent, one of many small-time neighborhood crooks destined to spend their lives going through the revolving door between freedom and prison, doing what some American crooks call “Life on the instalment plan.”
There didn’t seem like anything else in store for Chapman until he arrived at Auburn and met his criminal mentor and frequent accomplice, George “Dutch” Anderson.