home home



Max Fox was a local gangster of dubious distinction. His involvement in illegal liquor was low profile in the area but widely known at the time. Born in Austria, his family emigrated to America in the late 1890's.

In the New Bedford street directories of the 1920's Fox was listed as a 'junk dealer" on Pearl street and later Acushnet avenue downtown. In reality Max Fox and his brother Louis were district lieutenants for Charles "King" Solomon, a racketeer who also controlled the narcotics, prostitution and illegal gambling in the Boston area during the 1920's and '30's. Louis was known as 'LF' and died in 1963 of a heart attack. Boston director of Customs Joseph Maynard called Solomon "as notorious here as Capone is in Chicago." Wikipedia has a slight mention of Solomon.

One of the earliest organized crime figures in New England's history, Solomon immigrated from the Russian Empire as a boy settling with his family in Boston's West End. The son of a local theater owner, Solomon and his three brothers came from a middle-class background and, during his teenage years, worked as a counterman in his uncle's restaurant. However, by his early 20s, he had had become involved in prostitution, fencing and bail bonding prior to Prohibition.

By the early 1920s, he controlled the majority of illegal gambling and narcotics such as cocaine and morphine before expanding into bootlegging with Dan Carroll during Prohibition owning many of the cities most prominent speakeasies including the Cocoanut Grove nightclub. He enjoyed extensive contacts throughout the underworld including the Bronfmans in Canada as well as associates in New York and Chicago.

Although never indicted on bootlegging charges (due to his political connections), he was tried on narcotics charges in 1922. Represented by editor and general councilor of the Boston American Grenville MacFarlane, which had then been crusading against drug abuse, he was later acquitted of charges. He would however serve thirteen months of a five year prison sentence at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for intimidating a witness into perjury for his narcotics trial. During his imprisonment, a request for his transfer to a prison closer to Boston was made by Boston Congressmen George H. Tinkham and James A. Gallivan.

Attending the Atlantic City Conference in 1927, Solomon was one of the several leaders in the "Big Seven" who helped negotiate territorial disputes and establish policies which would influence the later National Crime Syndicate in 1932. Solomon continued to control illegal gambling in New England until his death on January 24, 1933 when he was murdered in the men's room of Boston's Cotton Club by rival gunmen (John Burke and James Coyne). His territories were eventually divided up among his lieutenants Joseph Linsey, Hyman Abrams and brothers Max and Louis Fox.

Further reading Fried, Albert. The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. ISBN 0-231-09683-6 Goodman, Jonathan (1996). The Passing of Starr Faithfull. [Kent, Ohio]: Kent State University Press. pp. 278–281 et seq on Solomon. ISBN 0-87338-541-1. Messick, Hank. Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, 1973. ISBN 0-7091-3966-7 Pietrusza, David. Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3 Reppetto, Thomas A. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7798-7

(Note: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America by Allbert Freid is an excellent read regarding crime in America)

The reference to "the Bronfmans" is regarding the Bronfman family which owned Seagrams Distilling in Canada. The Bronfmans were said to be in business with Joseph P. Kennedy, father of JFK, RFK and Ted Kennedy. Sam Bronfman would later call Joe Kennedy as ruthless as any businessman ever. Kennedy was reputed to have a close relationship with Irish rum runner Danny Walsh RI. Walsh was a self described "gentleman farmer" who raised thoroughbred horses on his Charlestown, RI farm. Walsh was kidnapped in 1933 just before the end of prohibition and despite his brother paying a $40,000 ransmom he was never seen again. The most widely held theory is that he was placed in a barrel of cement and dumped over board. Like Solomon he was probably eliminated by rival gangsters. Kennedy would forsee the end of prohibition and form Somerset Importers, with the help of Franklin Delanoe Roosevelts's son, James. Someset imported Dewar’s, Haig & Haig, and Gordon’s Gin.

Louis Fox ran the Revere area for Solomon while Max ran the New Bedford area. Solomon also ran a famous Boston speakeasy named the Cocoanut Grove. Considerable political influence helped Solomon's rackets thrive until he was shot down in front of Boston's Cotton Club in 1933, a mere months before the repeal of prohibition when the Cocoanut Grove became a legal nightclub. A fire at the club after Solomon's death would kill 492 patrons and employees in 1942. Fire laws in the state of Massachusetts would be revamped based on the investigation of the Grove tragedy. This website, The Cocoanut Grove Fire is very informative.

Early newspaper articles of Fox's arrest record include a conviction in 9/1910 for "using a condemned scale and using false measures." It's safe to assume that given his occupation as a junk dealer he was caught shorting people in junk purchases. In 1910 he was charged with assault and fined $10. In 1913 he was arrested on gaming charges. and fined $5. Receiving stolen property in 1925, probably the Port Hunter case. In 1925 charges of 'liquor keeping" which was from a raid during a liquor landing at Salters Point, Dartmouth, MA for which he would serve three months in jail, and a 1926 charge of improper operation of a motor vehicle. Max Fox was involved in smuggling early into Prohibition and by about 1922 he set his sights high. He arranged the purchase of a 259 foot freighter to bring in liquor from St. Miquelon, Nova Scotia where liquor was still legal. It is unclear if he had any money in the deal or just made the arrangements with backing from Charles King Solomon. In either case the former Navy collier U.S.S. Lebanon which served in Manilla during the Spanish American War and was later used for towing ships in Navy target practice was quite a sight berthed in Fairhaven, MA.

U.S. NAVY SHIPS -- USS Lebanon (1898-1922, later AG-2) Previously S.S. Lebanon, later S.S. Taboga and Homestead. USS Lebanon, a 1486 gross ton (3375 tons displacement) freighter, was built in 1894 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Co. as S.S. Lebanon. She was purchased by the Navy in April 1898 and placed in commission as USS Lebanon for service as a collier in the Spanish-American War. The ship arrived off the Cuban coast in early June 1898 and provided coal to U.S. naval forces there. After additional operations in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast Lebanon decommissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard in April 1899. Placed back into commission at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August 1905, Lebanon again operated as a collier along the East Coast and in the Caribbean until decommissioned at Norfolk in October 1909.

When Lebanon was recommissioned in July 1911 she was assigned a new role, supporting the Atlantic Fleet's gunnery training. After transporting ammunition between East Coast ports during 1911, she participated the Fleet's 1912 Caribbean winter maneuvers, towing gunnery targets during battle practices and repairing the targets between exercises. Lebanon's primary duty continued to be target towing and repair through and after World War I, although she was also occasionally used as an ammunition transport and as a tender. Designated a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG-2, in July 1920, the ship was decommissioned in February 1922 and sold in June 1922. She returned to merchant service as S.S. Taboga in 1922, was renamed Homestead in 1926, and foundered in Humber Arm, Newfoundland, in July 1932. This page features all the views we have concerning USS Lebanon and S.S. Lebanon, Taboga, and Homestead. http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-l/ag2.htm

It spent some time in the summer of 1922 being outfitted at a Fairhaven shipyard before going into service as a rum ship and renamed the Toboga. According to the book Black Ships:Rum Runners in Prohibition by Everett S. Allen it was as thus;

"One day in 1922 a strange steamship came into New Bedford harbor and tied up at a dock in Fairhaven. Those aboard disclaimed any knowledge of the purpose of the visit or where the vessel was bound. The Toboga remained at the wharf for months, during which time more or less fitting out was done."

At dusk on February 3, 1923 the steamer put out to sea. At the last minute before sailing Captain Mark L. Gilbert came aboard and took the place of the man who had obstensibly been in command. Gilbert was known in the area; he had attempted to unsuccessfully to operate a dry dock and ship building company in Fairhaven during World War I. With the order "Let everything go!" Gilbert assumed authority; Toboga's lines were cast off and she was under way. Another source, the Providence Journal series of articles from 1935 with Tiverton rum runner Herb Cavaca mentions a man named Manley from Fairhaven as the Captain.

Max Fox was often at the center of a hijacking by rival gands. One particular battle took place at Angelica Point, Mattapoisett. Another was at Salter's Point, Dartmouth. In the Mattapoisett case Fox ended up being a state's witness in the June 1925 trial of James 'Ponzi' Walsh, Edward P. Quinn, Wilfred Vanasse and Damien Dallaire who were charged with conspiracy to steal the property of Joseph A. Rose, which just happened to be illegal liquor. In July 1926 Fox won a verdict in one of the famous Port Hunter Cases. The Port Hunter was a ship that had sunk off of Nantucket. Locals had pirated the cargo of leather jackets, shirts and boots destined for U.S. armed forces personnel off of the wreck and sold the goods. He had been sued by E. A. Nickel of Vineyard Haven, who sold him goods taken from Port Hunter. The goods were seized by Federal officials whereupon Mr. Fox stopped payment of the checks to Nickel. Fox won. The most spectacular battle he was involved in was the Bergeron Farm Shootout which involved nearly 50 men, both men of Fox's gang and the hijackers who were Providence gangsters who included the then fairly unknown Raymond Patriarca and also present were 4 Dartmouth Police Constables who unknowingly walked into a hell fire after being told by the Dartmouth Police Chief to investigate chicken theives at the Bergeron Farm.

Max eventually opened a used car lot named Metropolitan Motor Exchange where sold cars and Reo trucks on Purchase street in New Bedford. This was a useful source for cars and trucks to be used in smuggling on land.

Max Fox would, without a doubt become the area's biggest racketeers. Providing financing, transportation and muscle would be a lucrative endeavor and unlike many in the business he was wise enough to invest his profits and walk away from smuggling ahead of the game. His associates would include Charlie Travers and his brothers and also Herb Cavaca of Tiverton, RI. All of whom would pilot and maintain the fast contact boats that delivered the liquor in from the mother ships to the shore landings.

Max would eventually serve a year in jail for the Bergeron Farm affair and seemed to keep a low profile afterwards keeping his interests in gambling and illegal loans as well as his Metropolitan Motors used car lot on purchase street in New Bedford.

Fox was shrewd and invested in real estate and holdings. Using his wife's and some other names he became a part owner in the Olympia Building in downtown New Bedford. Max Fox died in November of 1966. He and his wife, Sara (Schwartz), had three daughters, one who would marry a local politician, Harold H. J. Clasky, for whom the New Bedford park, Clasky Common park was named in honor of.