Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Collingwood Manor Massacre

The Collingwood Manor Massacre of 1931 marked the decline of the Purple Gang’s power in Detroit. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Purple Gang had become a powerful crime syndicate in Detroit. At their height, the gang was involved in assault, bombing, hijacking, rum running, wire service, theft, gambling, extortion, prostitution, kidnapping, narcotics, and reportedly was responsible for over five-hundred homicides. They were connected with corrupt labor leaders during the Cleaners and Dyers War and carried the distinction of being the first group in Detroit to commit murder with a machine gun in the Milaflores Massacre in March 1927. Chicago police suspected they were involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, but it was never proven. 

Early on, the Purple Gang hijacked liquor from rum runners along the Detroit River and later smuggled liquor in consortium with an affiliated group who called themselves the “Little Jewish Navy.” These men were responsible for trafficking liquor from Canada by boat. Their allegiance to the Purple Gang splintered as they sought greater profit margins outside the Purple Gang’s authority.

Ray Bernstein, a key Purple Gang leader, arranged for the death of the Little Jewish Navy leaders Joe Lebowitz, Hymie Paul and Isadore Sutker. On September 16, 1931, the three men, escorted by Sol Levine, went to meet with the Purple Gang at Apartment 211 at 1740 Collingwood Avenue. They were told it was a friendly meeting. Instead, Purple Gang gunmen Harry Keywell and Irving Milberg murdered Lebowitz, Paul and Sutker when they arrived. Levine was spared due to his friendship with Bernstein.

Fearing that he would be targeted by the Purple Gang, Levine testified against the gang during the subsequent murder trial. Bernstein, Keywell, and Milberg were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Collingwood Manor Massacre crippled the Purple Gang’s influence by leading to the arrests of vital members. Intra-gang rivalries, inter-gang disputes, legal convictions, and multiple homicides weakened the group. Other criminal organizations filled the voids left by the Purple Gang’s dismantled empire. The Collingwood Manor Massacre represents the primary moment that the gang’s power shifted toward decline.