Most of New York’s immigrants in the 19th Century went on to become industrious, some illustrious, members of society. But not all. The notorious gangs of NYC were made of immigrants who banded together to survive by living a criminal lifestyle. And one of the most notorious gang leaders was a woman, Federika ‘Marm’ Mandelbaum.
She and her husband Wolfie arrived from Prussia in 1848 and set up a dry goods shop on Clinton Street. The shop rapidly became a front for fencing stolen goods with the profits being used to finance further crime throughout the city.
Her entrepreneurial skills knew no bounds as she quickly set up gangs of confidence men and also a school to teach pickpockerts. It was not all plain sailing, her biggest rivals were the Grady Gang who ran a very similiar operation and resented her successes. Nonetheless she also set herself up as a prominent NYC hostess, inviting the cream of New York society to dine at her table which they readily agreed to do. She also held soirees where she entertained the criminal elite of the city.
It is estaimated that between 1862 and 1884 she handled somewhere between $1-5 million in stolen goods which required her to own two large warehouses so she could efficiently handle all the stolen goods that came her way. However in 1884 after a successful sting operation by the Pinkerton Detective Agency during which she was tricked into handling specially marked stolen goods, she fled with an estimated $1m of her profits. She then settled into respectability in Hamilton, Ontario where she lived until her death in 1894.