Carlos Ghosn’s lawyers may have been baffled by their client’s recent disappearance but when the great New York receiver Marm Mandelbaum vanished in 1884, her lawyers Bill Howe and Abe Hummel were not at all surprised. After all, they had engineered it. 

Morton landscape

James Morton

Mandelbaum had graduated from being a small-time receiver to the queen of criminal society, holding dinners at which her favourite thieves, such as George Leonidas Leslie (‘Western George’ the bank robber) attended. ‘As a handler of stolen goods Marm Mandelbaum had no peer in the US,’ wrote New York police chief George Walling.

Her integrity was described as absolute. She also established what was referred to as a Bureau for the Prevention of Conviction and would lend money to those who needed defending. But woe betide those who did not repay her the fees advanced.

In July 1884 she was very badly betrayed. There are a number of differing accounts of her downfall but it was almost certainly Mary Holbrook who did the deed. At the time Holbrook was working as Lizzie Wiggins. Mandelbaum would not provide the services of Howe and Hummel, and when Holbrook went to prison for five years she squealed.

Granted an astronomical $100,000 bail on a receiving charge, and despite being under watch by Pinkerton agents who rented a house opposite hers, Mandelbaum escaped. The neighbours who had let out the house to the Pinkertons were also telling Mandelbaum when the detectives were on the premises. She sent out a servant about the same build and heavily veiled and, while the agent was distracted, she and her son left the house and went to Canada.

When the case was called a very contented Howe looked around the court carefully. ‘I am forced to confess that the defendants are not here,’ he said. ‘No, they are not.’

Mandelbaum never returned and nor did the court get the bail money. Hummel had tied that up in such a complicated series of mortgages and remortgages that it proved to be irretrievable.

She died in Hamilton on 27 February 1894. 


James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor