In the Gay Nineties, Crazy Butch was one of the youngest criminals on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Legend has it that Butch was abandoned by his parents when he was only eight years old, and as a result, Butch lived on the streets and became, what was known at the time, a “street urchin.”
One day, Butch was scrounging on the streets looking for food to eat, when he met a dog, who was abandoned too. Butch took the dog under his wing and named the dog “Rabbi,” because the dog was so smart.
Butch began teaching Rabbi “tricks,” but not the usual tricks kids would teach their dogs. When Butch spotted an old lady carrying a handbag, he would tell Rabbi to “Go fetch.” And that Rabbi would do, by lunging at the handbag and tearing it off the arm of the startled woman. Then Rabbi, handbag tightly in his mouth, would run to the corner of Willett Street and Stanton Street, where Butch would be waiting. Butch would get the contents of the handbag, and Rabbi would get himself a nice big bone, one of which Butch always kept in his pocket, in case a mark suddenly appeared.
Butch and Rabbi were so successful in their stealing, other street urchins started following them, so that they could learn the tricks of the trade too. Soon Butch had his own gang of pre-teen and teenage crooks, which he called the “Crazy Butch Gang.”
When Butch accumulated enough cash, he bought himself a huge bicycle; not only for transportation, but to be used as an instrument for his next scheme. Butch would peddle the bike on the crowded streets of lower Manhattan, followed by his gang, and Rabbi. When Butch thought the time was right, he’d plow his bike into an unsuspecting female pedestrian. Instead of apologizing to the fallen lady, Butch would jump off his bike and begin berated his victim with remarks like, “What are you blind, or somethin’? You old bag!”
Almost immediately, a curious crowd would form a circle around Butch and his victim. While unsuspecting onlookers were scoping out the Crazy Butch situation, Butch’s gang, ranging from 10 – 15 incorrigible kids, would slip though the crowd, picking every pocket in sight. Rabbi would grab his customary handbag, usually from the very person Butch had knocked to the pavement. Then the gang members would scatter in different directions. They would meet later at their headquarters, a small third-floor apartment on Forsyth Street, to divvy up the profits.
As Butch and his gang started getting older and more bolder, they attracted the attention of Paul Kelly’s Five Points Gangs, which ruled the same neighborhood where Crazy Butch had been pilfering. Apparently, Butch’s gang had victimized a few relatives of the Five Points Gang, and it was rumored that one of the Five Pointers himself had been pick-pocketed by the Crazy Butch Gang.
Soon, Butch heard that the Five Pointers were out to get him and his gang, so one summer day Butch decided to test how good his gang’s defenses were in their Forsyth Street apartment. Not being the brightest of mugs, Butch crept up the stairs, then screaming like a banshee, he busted into his gang’s apartment, firing away with a revolver in each hand. His startled gangs members, most of whom were taking naps, were totally taken by surprise. One of the gang members, Little Kishky, was sitting on the window sill with the window open. Little Kishky fell backwards out the window to the pavement three floors below. It is not clear if Crazy Butch paid for Little Kishky’s hospital expenses.
As the Crazy Butch Gang got older, to neutralize the Five Pointers who were constantly after them, Butch’s gang joined forces with the 2000-strong Monk Eastman Gang, which was constantly at war with Paul Kelly’s Five Pointers.
This worked well for a while until Butch made the mistake of falling for a female shoplifter named The Darby Kid. Butch loved the The Darby Kid, and apparently The Darby Kid loved Butch. However, The Darby Kid had a jealous boyfriend named Harry the Soldier, who was always packing heat. Harry the Soldier caught up with Butch and shot him dead, which sent The Darby Kid right back into the arms of Harry the Soldier.
With the loss of their leader, the Crazy Butch Gang split up for good. Some went solo and others were absorbed into other Lower East Side gangs. One of the Crazy Butch Gang who made it to the top was Big Jack Zelig, who was known by the police as “The Toughest Man in New York City.” Big Jack took over the Eastman gang after Monk Eastman was sent to prison for robbery, and Monk’s successor Max “Kid Twist” Zwerbach was shot to death in Coney Island. But alas, on October 15, 1912, Zelig was shot to death himself at the age of 24, while riding the 2nd Avenue Streetcar.
There is no record of what happened to Rabbi, the handbag-snatching dog.