Martin "Marty" Krugman (born December 30, 1919- disappeared January 4, 1979, declared legally dead in 1986) was an associate of the Lucchese crime family and the basis for the character "Morrie Kessler" as depicted by Chuck Low in the 1990 film Goodfellas.
Marcin-Martin Krugman was a Passaic, New Jersey native and son of orthodox Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, resided in Valley Stream, New York with his Long Island-born Polish-American housewife, Franciska, who he called Frances. Krugman was very animated, skinny, balding and had bulging eyes brought on from hyperthyroidism. His general appearance, combined with the goggle-like glasses he wore, gave the impression that he was much older than his actual age.
He married his wife Franciska in 1954 and the two lived happily together, but he was a womanizer and would frequently seek out the services of local prostitutes. Following the opening of his hair salon and wig accessories store in 1970 with a bridge loan he became acquainted with Henry Hill through patronizing his night club The Suite, located next door. Krugman later spent time at Robert's Lounge where he enjoyed listening to the latest La Cosa Nostra war stories.
Martin admired the criminal life, and after finding out he had a flair for it became an independent bookmaker. The rackets in Valley Stream, New York were not quite as lucrative as those in Ridgewood, Queens. As a mob associate, Krugman, who had been an obscure numbers runner, was now permitted to operate his own numbers book, which meant that he could put together his own team of writers and collectors on the street.
Although he earned many legitimate and illegitimate incomes he was a quiet family man, not one to flaunt his wealth and power. At the age of fifty-three, and suffering from hyperthyroidism, he was a threat to no one. He needed Frank Menna, whose well-deserved reputation for violence made collecting debts much easier, and the help of Henry Hill and the Vario Crew. After Krugman became associated with Jimmy Burke, he loaned out money to Louis Werner and others in increments of $50, $150 or $250 for their gambling habits. If a customer went weeks without paying his debt, the interest accumulated rapidly, causing inevitable friction between Martin and the gambler, although the presence of Frank Menna meant it rarely came to that.
krugman's bookmaking operation followed the usual progression from street-level gamblers and alcoholics to more sophisticated borrowers. By the end of 1971, surveillance cameras recorded neighborhood merchants, union members, airport workers at JFK International Airport and members of the Vario Crew coming and going from the Just for Men salon, picking up and dropping off cash deposits. Martin proved to Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke that he was a good businessman with a sense for the bottom line and expansion opportunities.
Eventually he became a one-man operation, though from time to time he would hire "connected people", such as Vario errand boy Parnell Edwards and Frank Menna. He was totally independent of the floating craps games and illegal casinos run by the Lucchese crime family, and he desired no alliances or partners. Krugman also knew where his talent lay, and limited himself to the gambling circuit, avoiding loansharking, extortion, frauds or any other activities associated with organized crime, such as contract beatings and killings.
Growing up with hyperthyroidism
When growing up as a child he was nicknamed "Bug Eyes" for his protruding eyeballs caused by exophthalmos, a common effect of a condition called hyperthyroidism. He had a hyperthyroid stare where the eyelids are retracted upward more than normal. He also suffered from lid-lag, giving him problems tracking objects downward with his eyes, his eyelids failing to follow the downward moving iris. The same type of upper globe exposure of the lid retraction occurred temporarily when he looked upward. It caused him to resort to wearing sunglasses.
Martin also was diagnosed with hair loss which caused the thinning of the outer third of his eyebrows, palpitations, hypertension, suffered from chronic weight loss, respiratory problems with plagued him with shortness of breath and would regularly show the signs of demonstrated irritability, erratic behavior along with constant nervousness and agitation. On the exterior Martin also suffered from non-pitting edema and thickening of the skin on his lower extremities. Even with the condition Krugman was secure enough to go on television and promote his hair salon in a steady commercial slot on local Ridgewood, Queens television station. At the time of Krugman's diagnosis, there was no cure available to treat the disease. Krugman was unable to drive. His wife would drive him wherever he needed to be.
"For Men Only"
Krugman owned a popular two-story storefront popular and heavily advertised male hair salon and wig shop located beside the Engine 291, Battalion 45 fire station located at 56-07 Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens called "For Men Only", which was situated several blocks from The Suite. It served as a "drop", a collection place for betting slips and money.
His salon was advertised on Queens Public Television in the 1970s. Due to its proximity to Henry Hill's dinner club, The Suite it became a popular hangout for Robert McMahon, Joe Manri, Peter Gruenwald and Louis Werner. At "For Men Only" the exclusively female hairdressers staff who were employed there wore very low cut blouses. He became known in the area for his crafted hand-custom-made hairpieces and wigs that were very durable even when they became submerged under water with the wearer. His television commercial earned him much business.
Krugman also offered his clientele the relatively new hair care treatment hair prosthesis. Paul Vario bought his hair pieces when he started getting bald, as shown in several 1970-era surveillance photographs taken of him. The salon had two back rooms closed off by large curtains where mobsters could discuss business in privacy from any surveillance the NYPD were conducting outside. His only male employee Frank Menna, was also involved in the Lufthansa heist. His salon as the name stated, catered to a strictly male clientele which included Tommy DeSimone (who only visited the salon for hair cuts and to place bets with Krugman), Parnell Edwards who had his hair permed while Paul Vario and Henry Hill all bought wigs and hairpieces from Krugman, but mainly the clientele were "ordinary citizens" from Ridgewood, Queens.
One of the hairdressers at Martin's salon was Dorothy Fiorenza, a mob moll turned informant who as of 2001 was married to Colombo crime family boss Andrew Russo. Henry Hill also brought his son Gregg to the salon for haircuts starting when he was seven years old. Martin had retired telephone company workers install speed dial abilities when speed dialing was not available to the general public and be able to ring up a handicapper for betting odds. If he received too many wagers for his small operation he would give some of the betting action to Steven DePasquale.
Since it was a semi-legitimate business owned and managed by Krugman he did not allow Henry Hill's mobster partners to organize any mob "executions" on the premises, unlike Jimmy Burke's Robert's Lounge, and Henry Hill's The Suite that would attract unwanted attention to his already thriving business clientele. The block that the For Men Only salon was located on had two arson-related fires in the early 1970s, both of which occurred before 1975.
He used the upper-floor of the hair salon and wig shop for his independently run bookmaking and sports-book operation whose clientele included many JFK Airport employees like Louis Werner, Peter Gruenwald, Robert McMahon and Joe Manri would visit for haircuts, place bets and talk of future airport heists. From his business being close to Henry Hill's The Suite, he would go over and dine and listen to mob-war stories. Henry Hill became good friends with Krugman and helped Krugman for years avoid his book-making operation from being extorted by Jimmy Burke and later Gambino crime family soldier Billy Batts (who would subsequently be executed in 1970 by Jimmy Burke and Tommy DeSimone for his efforts) because of Krugman's valued hijacking connections inside JFK Airport.
He kept sheets of bets and personally kept tabs on the bettors, only established neighborhood bettors whom they knew they could trust. He assigned each bettor an identification number and to place a bet, he would call "the wire room", state his number, distinguish which controller he wanted to bet with and make his wager. Most of the time bettors placed a straight wager on a team, but football and basketball had a spread. Krugman, in other words, gave the favorites a point advantage: if he had the New York Giants down as a five-point favorite, over Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants would have to win by more than five points to pay off. He charged a commission or “vig” of ten cents on the dollar for winning bets. Each week Frank Menna would tell Krugman if they had a “red” or “blue” figure.
If it was blue, they were ahead, and Frank Menna would give the earnings to Krugman. If they found themselves a long way ahead, they would stop taking bets to hedge against a possible loss. At the end of the week, Menna would be sent out to settle debts. The operation was small compared to the larger, more organized bookmakers, which would employ an average of fifty controllers running bets. In a good week, Krugman and Menna might turn a $12,000 profit.
Relationships with Burke & Hill
Krugman was a close friend of Henry Hill's, but much hated by Hill's friend Jimmy Burke. Burke believed that Krugman was withholding money owed to him from a sportsbook that Krugman was said to have set up in the back of his wig shop. He was one of the people who tipped off Henry Hill about the Lufthansa heist from his connections inside Kennedy International Airport. After the Lufthansa heist Burke planned to have Krugman killed right away. It is unknown if his plans included murdering Frank Menna or even Louis Werner. Burke was planning to kill Krugman, who was forever pestering him for his $500,000 share in the Lufthansa heist.
Saved by Hill
Burke told Henry Hill, whom Krugman trusted most of all, to phone Krugman and tell him he'd be met at a local tavern, the Forty Yards. Hill phoned Krugman from the Robert's Lounge bar, where Tommy DeSimone, his sister Dolores, Milton Weker and Jimmy Burke were all sitting around talking. Tommy told Hill to persuade Krugman to go to the Riviera Motor Inn located at 2969 Atlantic Ave in Jamaica, Queens with the lure of prostitutes, get him in the car, then Thomas DeSimone and Angelo Sepe would take it from there. On the way to the Forty Yards, Hill began trying to persuade Burke that murdering Krugman was stupid and said that it was 'bread off our table', meaning that financially Krugman was useful; he also said that they needed him to do some spread betting and that his wife, Fran, would cause light to shine on Burke and his crew if Martin disappeared. Burke listened and when they saw Krugman at the Forty Yards said, "Forget about tonight".
Hill, Burke and Krugman sat around, drinking and joking, until Jimmy left and Fran came to pick up Martin. Martin began hounding Hill for his share of the money. Christmas passed, Hill and Burke went down to Florida about some cocaine and everyone hoped that the heat over Lufthansa had cooled off. The police heat and surveillance at Robert's Lounge became overwhelming and it could no longer serve as a headquarters for the Vario Crew, so they moved to a classy night club on Rockaway Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens owned by Bonanno crime family capo Vincent Asaro which was adjacent to his fence contracting company.
Krugman became a nuisance again, asking about Parnell Edwards (who had been killed) at this time, about Thomas DeSimone (who had since disappeared, later confirmed to be murdered) and hounding Burke for his share of the money. Finally Burke met Krugman at Asaro's place and Krugman was allegedly killed there. The body was dismembered and disposed of at Asaro's company (currently Bruno's Construction & Fences located at 14550 Rockaway Boulevard) in Jamaica, Queens. The following morning, Fran Krugman called Hill at 7 A.M., saying that her husband hadn't come home. She added that he'd called her at half-past nine the previous night to say he had money coming in and that he might be late. Hill claims he knew immediately that Jimmy had killed Krugman. Hill agreed to go and search for Krugman and drove to Asaro's place.
Seeing Jimmy was parked outside, Hill told him Fran wanted to know if anyone had seen Martin. Jimmy replied "He's gone". Hill shook his head in disbelief. Jimmy then ordered him to pick up Karen, then go and tell Fran that Martin Krugman was with a mistress - in other words, to 'give her a story'. Hill comforted Fran with Karen, all the while knowing that Martin was dead. Worryingly Fran, just as Hill had warned Burke, was in turn becoming a problem, claiming she knew all about the Lufthansa Heist. Gregg Hill later overheard his father telling Karen that they had dismembered Martin, "chopped him up into a million pieces". Beca Krugman's "For Men Only" hair salon and wig accessories store was sold shortly after his disappearance by his wife Fran in 1979.
Hill claimed in his 1980 testimony to the FBI that Krugman's body was buried - along with Burke's hijacker friend Dominick Cersani a.k.a Remo - in the small enclosed yard behind the bar, underneath the bocce court. He also indicated that sixteen-year-old Michael "Spider" Gianco, who was murdered not by Burke but by Tommy DeSimone in 1970 while at Robert's Lounge, was buried in a small unfinished section of the terazzo floor basement. Both claims remain unconfirmed.
Martin Krugman's name is covered by a bleep on the Goodfellas commentary without explanation. In 1986, Krugman was declared legally deceased although his remains were never found. Fran Krugman received $135,000 in a life insurance policy pay-out.
Portrayal in Film
In the movie Goodfellas, Krugman is shown being killed with an ice pick and garrote, mimicking the murder of Burke's best friend and mafia mentor Dominick Cersani, who was actually garroted in the rear parking lot at Robert's Lounge by Tommy DeSimone, Jimmy Burke and another mobster, most likely the Paul Vario street soldier Stanley Diamond. The story behind Dominick Cersani and his murder is excluded from Goodfellas, but ironically Martin Scorsese would later use "Remo Gaggi" as a character name for Pasquale Cajano who plays Chicago don Joseph Aiuppa in the movie Casino.
In the film Goodfellas Krugman's hair salon "For Men Only" was portrayed by another barbershop in Forest Hills, Queens. Krugman's character wife "Belle Kessler", based on Frances, is played by Margo Winkler, who is a real-life friend of Karen Hill.