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Digging in the Rain

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 4/17/20

Law enforcement officials in Sullivan County were unusually busy during the first two weeks of April in 1940. They transported mobster Irving “Big Gangi” Cohen back to Monticello from California …

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Digging in the Rain

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Law enforcement officials in Sullivan County were unusually busy during the first two weeks of April in 1940. They transported mobster Irving “Big Gangi” Cohen back to Monticello from California to await trial in the 1937 murder of Walter Sage, and they aided State Police and investigators from the Brooklyn District Attorney's office in searching for the body of a missing gangster.

At that point, authorities had no idea where the body was buried, or even whose body it was.

Acting on a tip from Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, a major player in the enforcement arm of organized crime that the press had dubbed, Murder, Inc., officials originally thought they would find the body on the grounds of the Rosemont Lodge hotel outside Monticello. Two weeks of digging in the rocky, rooted soil there, however, failed to turn up a grave.

And authorities came to believe that the body they were searching for belonged to a low-level hoodlum named Yoell Miller. But they did not find Miller's body at the Rosemont Lodge, nor anywhere else for that matter, and it remains undiscovered to this day.

They did eventually dig up the body of Hyman Yuran, but not at the Rosemont Lodge.

On August 21, 1938, Yuran, a wealthy garment industry executive, had been vacationing at the Flagler Hotel in Fallsburg when he took a phone call, walked down to the front of the hotel, and got into his own automobile, driven by a mysterious blonde woman. He was never seen alive again.

Just hours after Yuran had left the Flagler with the blonde in his car, his wife showed up with two detectives who were working with special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey was in the midst of putting together a case against public enemy number one, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, and had expected that Yuran could be a valuable witness. The garment exec would never get to testify, even if he had been so inclined.

In fact, Yuran's disappearance would remain a mystery until that rainy April afternoon in 1940, when Reles and several lesser hoodlums began to feed prosecutors information about hundreds of murders in an attempt to save their own skins.

Although Reles provided prosecutors with the initial information about the Yuran hit, it was one of his henchmen, Sol "Sholem" Bernstein, who finally gave authorities what they needed to close out the case- the location of the body.

"Perhaps Sholem's most notable contribution was in elaborating on the execution of Hy Yuran," Burton B. Turkus and Sid Feder wrote in their 1951 expose on the mob, "Murder, Inc."

"Yuran was a dress manufacturer of some affluence. Lepke, invading the garment industry, used Yuran to such an extent that the manufacturer was almost as involved as the mob boss. When Lepke's extortion trial was approaching, Yuran was recognized as a prime source of information against the nation's czar of industrial rackets. Yuran was vacationing in the Catskills at the time. Lepke ordered a ‘varsity' firing squad to the spot immediately. Sholem was in the area and the staff specialists looked him up."

The execution squad included Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss, Jack Drucker, and Allie Tannenbaum, as well as Bernstein. And the blonde was an unwitting accomplice, too.

First acting on information supplied by Reles, who had overheard his colleagues discussing the murder, authorities had begun digging for Yuran's body on the grounds of the Rosemont Lodge on Anawana Lake Road outside Monticello, but found nothing and finally gave up. While Reles had not actually been involved in the kill, Bernstein had, and he knew the whole story, which Reles- his photographic memory notwithstanding- did not.

Apparently Yuran had been killed by Strauss and Tannenbaum, and the pair had met Drucker and Bernstein at the Rosemont Lodge to dispose of the body. They tried in vain to dig a grave there, but the ground was too hard.

"They had, however, selected a rough cemetery," Turkus and Feder wrote, "The spades glanced off rocks and thudded into shrub roots."

Pittsburgh Phil finally decided to try another location, and he sent Tannenbaum and Drucker to find a suitable spot. Tannenbaum chose his parents' hotel, the Loch Sheldrake Country Club just off Route 52, where they had just dug a swimming pool drain and the ground was still soft. So Yuran's resting place was moved a few miles down the road.

"The rotting remains of an underworld gangster came out of a shallow grave in Loch Sheldrake late Monday afternoon to haunt somebody still alive who sent him to his death because he knew too much," the Liberty Register reported in its April 18, 1940 edition, a few days after the body had been found.

"The grave had been made in a trench that had been dug at the time to extend from a nearby swimming pool. Apparently it had been easy then, in 1938, to dig into the earth thrown back after construction excavation, and then to replace it without having to worry about it attracting much attention. Since then, men, women, and children have disported in the waters of the pool, only a few feet from where the lime-eaten body lay, and scores of hotel guests have played on the ground above."

Yuran was at least the sixth—and so far the last-- victim of Murder, Inc. whose remains were found in Sullivan County between 1930 and 1940. It is believed that at least two other bodies have never been recovered.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com and ask how to order his new book, “In Further Retrospect.”

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