Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen (September 4, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York – July 29, 1976 in Los Angeles, California) was a notorious Jewish mob boss based in Los Angeles from the 1930s through 1970s. Cohen was a powerful associate of the American Mafia. He fought for the control of illegal business or "rackets" against the Los Angeles crime family, of which he was formerly an associate during his time as a lieutenant to legendary mobster Bugsy Siegel.
Mickey Cohen was born on September 4, 1913, into an Orthodox Jewish family. His mother Fanny had emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine. At age six, Mickey was selling newspapers on the street; his brothers Louie or Harry would drop him off at his regular corner, Soto and Brooklyn Streets. Soon, however, Cohen and most of his brothers became involved in crime. (Cohen's brother Sam, an Orthodox Jew, was an exception.) In 1923, at age nine, Cohen was delivering alcohol to customers from a gin mill operated by his older brother in a drug store. He was arrested later that year, but avoided prosecution due to his brother's connections.
As a teenager, Cohen began boxing in illegal prizefights in Los Angeles. He moved to the West Coast to train as a professional boxer, fighting in the Midwest on the way. His first professional boxing match was on April 8, 1930 against Patsy Farr in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of the preliminary fights on the card for the Paul Pirrone/Jimmy Goodrich feature bout. On April 11, 1933 Cohen fought against Chalky Wright in Los Angeles, California. Wright won the match and Meyer was incorrectly identified as "Mickey Cohen from Denver, Colorado" in the Los Angeles Times] sports page report. His last fight was on on May 14, 1933 against Baby Arizmendi in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. On June 12, 1931 Cohen fought and lost a match against World Featherweight Champion Tommy Paul, having been knocked out cold after 2:20 into the first round. It was during this round he earned the moniker "Gangster Mickey Cohen". Cohen lived first in Cleveland, where he met Lou Rothkopf, an associate of Moe Dalitz. Cohen moved later to New York, where he became associates with Tommy Dioguardi, the brother of labor racketeer Johnny Dio, and with Owney Madden. Finally, Cohen went to Chicago, where he ran a gambling operation for the Chicago Outfit, Al Capone's powerful criminal organization.
During Prohibition, Cohen moved to Chicago and became involved in organized crime working as an enforcer for the Chicago Outfit, where he briefly met Al Capone. During this period Cohen was arrested for his role in the deaths of several gangsters in a card game that went wrong.
After a brief time in prison, Cohen was released and began running card games and other illegal gambling operations. He later became an associate of Matthew Capone, Al's younger brother. While working for Jake Guzik, Cohen was forced to flee Chicago after an argument with a rival gambler.
In Cleveland, Cohen again worked for Lou Rothkopf, an associate of Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. However, there was little work available for Cohen in Cleveland, so Rothkopf arranged for him to work with Siegel in California.
Mickey Cohen was sent to Los Angeles by Meyer Lansky and Lou Rothkopf to work for and also keep watch upon Bugsy Siegel. During their association, Mickey helped set up the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and ran its sports book operation. He also was instrumental in setting up the race wire, which was essential to Vegas betting, a Nevada attraction perhaps only second to the Hoover Dam. During this time, Cohen met prostitute Lavon Weaver (working alias Simoni King), and the couple married in 1940.
In 1947, the crime families ordered the murder of Siegel due to his mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel, most likely because Siegel or his girlfriend Virginia Hill were Skimming money. According to one account which does not appear in newspapers, Cohen reacted violently to Siegel's murder. Entering the Roosevelt Hotel, where he believed the killers were staying, Cohen fired rounds from his two .45 caliber semi-automatic handguns into the lobby ceiling and demanded that the assassins meet him outside in ten minutes. However, no one appeared and Cohen was forced to flee when the cops arrived.
Cohen's violent methods came to the attention of state and federal authorities investigating the Dragna operations. During this time, Cohen faced many attempts on his life, including the bombing of his home on posh Moreno Avenue in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Cohen soon converted his house into a fortress, installing floodlights, alarm systems, and a well-equipped arsenal kept, as he often joked, next to his 200 tailor-made suits. Cohen also briefly hired bodyguard Johnny Stompanato before his killing by actress Lana Turner's daughter. Cohen bought a cheap coffin for Stompanato's funeral and then sold Lana Turner's love letters to Stompanato to the press.
Cohen always tried to improve himself, on account of his lack of any formal education and would take vocabulary lessons. He almost never drank alcohol and the cigar clenched between his teeth was rarely lit.
Later years and death
In 1950, Mickey Cohen was investigated along with numerous other underworld figures by a US Senate committee known as the Kefauver Commission. As a result of this investigation, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to prison for four years
When he was released, he started again, and became an international celebrity. He sold more newspapers than anyone else in the country, according to author Brad Lewis. His appearance on television with news correspondent/reporter Mike Wallace in the late 1950s rocked the media establishment. During the television interview, Cohen admitted to being a killer stating, "I have killed no men, that, in the first place, didn’t deserve killing". He ran floral shops, paint stores, nightclubs, casinos, gas stations, a men's haberdashery, and even an ice cream parlor on San Vicente Boulevard in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, according to author Richard Lamparski.
In 1957 Time Magazine wrote a brief article, about Mickey Cohen meeting with Billy Graham. Cohen said, "I am very high on the Christian way of life. Billy came up, and before we had food he said—What do you call it. that thing they say before food? Grace? Yeah, grace. Then we talked a lot about Christianity and stuff." Allegedly when Mickey did not change his lifestyle, he was confronted by some Christian acquaintances. His response: "Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?"
In 1961, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz. His heavily armored Cadillac from this period was confiscated by Los Angeles Police Department and is now on display at the Southward Car Museum in New Zealand. During his time on "the Rock," another inmate attempted to kill Cohen with a lead pipe. In 1972, Cohen was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he had spoken out against prison abuse. He had been misdiagnosed with an ulcer, which turned out to be stomach cancer. After undergoing surgery, he continued touring the U.S., including television appearances, once with Ramsey Clark.
Cohen's girlfriend Liz Renay herself spent three years in prison for refusing to inform on him. One of his many other girlfriends, Candy Barr, served prison time for marijuana possession. Two of his other favorites were Tempest Storm and Beverly Hills, the former having her breasts insured with Lloyd's of London.
Mickey Cohen died in his sleep in 1976 and is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
- Mickey Cohen at Alcatraz. Alcatraz History. Retrieved on 2019-02-02.
- Jay Robert Nash (1995). Bloodletters and Badmen. M. Evans and Company. “What particularly enraged Cohen was that Turner refused to pay for her ex-lover's funeral and Cohen had to foot the bill. He bought a cheap wooden coffin for Stompanato. Then, he vindictively gave the press Turner's love letters to Stompanato.” ISBN 9780871317773.