Gangsters: Purple Gang members hide their faces from the camera in May 1929 after they were arrested on charges of providing protection to Detroit narcotics dealers. Over the years gang members were accused of hijacking, bootlegging, extortion, kidnaping and murder.
By Paul R. Kavieff / Special to The News
July 16, 1999
With the advent of Prohibition in Michigan on May 1, 1918, the young delinquents quickly graduated from nuisance types of street crime to armed robbery, hijacking, extortion, and other strong arm work. They became notorious for their high profile manner of operation and their savagery in dealing with enemies.
The four Bernstein brothers, Abe, Joe, Raymond, and Isadore (Izzy), soon became the recognized leaders of the mob. The Purple Gang was never a tightly organized criminal syndicate but a loose confederation of predominantly Jewish gangsters. By the early twenties, the Purples had developed an unsavory reputation as hijackers, stealing liquor loads from older and more established gangs of rumrunners. The Purple Gang always preferred hijacking to rumrunning and their methods were brutal. Anyone landing liquor along the Detroit waterfront had to be armed and prepared to fight to the death as it was common practice for the Purples to take a load of liquor and shoot whoever was with it. In the early years, the Purple Gang preyed exclusively on other underworld operators, insulating them from the police.