Scene from ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ (HBO)
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Another ‘Boardwalk’ Casualty: Waxey Gordon

This season’s time jump bypasses much of the bootlegger’s criminal career

Alexander Aciman
September 23, 2014
Scene from 'Boardwalk Empire.' (HBO)

The seven-year jump to this season of Boardwalk Empire has also meant skipping the bulk of another minor character’s entirely criminal activity. Waxey Gordon made appearances in the last few seasons, but by the time this season ends, the career as a bootlegger that made him one of the most famous Jewish gangsters will presumably be on its last legs.

Irving Wexler, son-in-law to a rabbi with a son of his own in med school, may sound like the ideal Jewish self-made man. And, in some sense, Waxey was a self-starter—in that that his reputation for stealing and racketeering caught the attention of Arnold Rothstein, who eventually asked Waxey Gordon to run his whole distillery operation.

As Wexler began making millions working for Rothstein, he started exploring other ventures as well. He opened up a string of speakeasies in New York (and controlled most of the speaks in the city), and even allegedly entered into co-ownership of boxer Ruby Goldstein’s contract—Goldstein was a welterweight champ also known as “Jewel Of The Ghetto.” Wexler also struck up a business partnership with “Big Maxie” Greenberg, a Jew from St. Louis who moved to New York and died the year Wexler went to prison.

According to an article in the New York Times, Wexler was across the hall when Big Maxie and a fellow associate were shot in a hotel room. Waxey mistook the multiple gunshots for broken glass. He was seen leaving the hotel almost immediately after the incident.

But eventually, when Waxey owed almost half a million dollars in taxes, his fellow Rothstein associates Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano tipped off federal investigators. Of course, Wexler denied everything, but ended up serving seven years of a 10-year sentence.

Upon leaving prison, Wexler took a pauper’s oath and was no longer required to pay the enormous sum of money he owed the government in back taxes. He told reporters that he would be heading back to New York to become a legitimate salesman. One reporter noted: “Waxey Gordon is dead—thats all over…He was a sort of underworld Rip Van Winkle, blinking in the new post Prohibition world.” It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs when a gangster doesn’t have a gang anymore.

But Waxey couldn’t shake the criminal life that had been in his blood since early childhood. He was eventually busted during a sting operation in 1951 for trying to sell two pounds of heroin. He was sent to Alcatraz, and died of a heart attack in prison the following year.

Alexander Aciman is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.