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November 27: Barnett Baff and the Poultry Racket

November 27, 2015

justice2n-4-webThe New York Times reported on this date in 1914 that a murdered New York poultry whole-saler, Barnett Baff, had been buried in the Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, under the auspices of “the Temple Anshe Bialistok, in Willett Street” on the Lower East Side — and that arrests were imminent in the case. “I know who did it,” Baff’s son Harry told the newspaper. “It was the crowd of retail buyers. And I know every one of them.” Baff had been shot down in public by two Italian gunmen, but the indictment in the case charged six Jews with the murder, one of whom pleaded guilty to manslaughter and turned state’s witness. Of the defendants, two were found guilty of manslaughter and first-degree murder, respectively. The case revealed the existence of a “poultry trust” that extorted $10 per truckload from merchants; Baff had resisted their influence and been subjected to violence, including an attempted bombing, before being murdered. According to the New York Daily News, “A series of prosecutions of kosher poultry dealers began in 1910, when 87 men were indicted for anti-trust violations (‘Poultry Racketeers Rule the Roost,’ said one headline). Thirteen more chicken dealers were fined and jailed the following year, with Baff as a primary informant. And in 1914, eighteen members of the Live Poultry Dealers’ Protective Association were charged with corruption — again, with Baff’s help.... Big Joe Cohen, the poultry union boss, called a meeting of stakeholders to discuss their Baff problem.”

“In 1913, attempted mediation between Barnett and his poultry industry rivals, by Reform Rabbi Judah Magnes, came to naught. Barnett was accused of unfair competition and ruthless methods. He accused his business rivals of dishonesty and combining against him.... By the Spring of 2014, Barnett was also at odds with Harry, Jacob, and Joseph Cohen, brothers who controlled the unloading of poultry in the New Jersey rail yards.” —Bonnie Quint Kaplan (Baff’s great-granddaughter), Barnett Baff and the Everlasting Murder Case

“Nothing, it would have seemed to the average citizen of the average town, could be more commonplace than the existence of a man who dealt in chickens, ducks, and geese.... Yet it is quite evident that it takes quite as much nerve, and is fully as exciting, to run a wholesale poultry business in that section of the metropolis as it does to fill the office of town marshal in a roaring mining camp.” —The Day, November 26, 1914