The Queen of Thieves’
New York’s First Female Crime Boss
During the Gilded Age, New York City’s first crime ring came into power under a leader who taught the city’s best criminals, bribed those in power, and made a fortune. Meet ‘Marm’ Mandelbaum.
She had the eyes of a sparrow, the neck of a bear and enough business acumen to build an empire as the “Queen of Fences.”
The press called her a “Queen Among Thieves” and the person who “first put crime in America on a syndicated basis.” In 1884, The New York Times named her “the nucleus and centre of the whole organization of crime in New York City.” During the Gilded Age, Fredericka Mandelbaum, a German-Jewish immigrant, rose to power as the country’s premier fence—seller of stolen goods. Described as “a huge woman weighing more than two hundred and fifty pounds” with “extraordinarily fat cheeks,” Mandelbaum was the head of one of the first organized crime rings and a driving force behind New York City’s underworld for more than twenty-five years.
Mandelbaum was better known as Marm, and a mother is exactly what she was. She set up shop in New York City sometime around 1864, and for 20 years she built up a reputable gang of thieves, pickpockets, and bandits—who all trusted her to pay them fairly for what they stole. It’s estimated that she and her gang handled merchandise that would today be worth somewhere around around a quarter of a billion dollars when adjusted for inflation. Part of Mandelbaum’s success was due to the way she treated her network of thieves. She stood by her own, and always kept a law firm on retainer for any of her gang who got caught. She was famous for handing out bribes to police and judges, encouraging them to look the other way. Unlike most of the other street gangs, a large number of Mandelbaum’s crew were women.