Loch Sheldrake, or Sheldrake Pond, as it was known before many of the ponds in Sullivan County became lakes overnight as part of the late 19th century tourism boom, is one of the deepest bodies of water in the region.
It was a favorite dumping ground for Murder, Inc. when the enforcement arm of organized crime plied its trade in the mountains, and it is believed that at least one of the bodies deposited there has never been found.
It was about nine o’clock on a muggy Saturday evening in August 1936, and two young honeymooners were dressing for a night out when they were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone in their Glen Wild cottage. The husband, a well-built man with a slightly misshapen face that had once been handsome, answered the phone, spoke a few words, and hung up. He turned to his wife, explained that he needed to take care of some business before they partied, and finished tying his silk tie.
A short while later a car pulled up outside and the husband went out to meet it. There were three young men, barely out of their teens, seated inside.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” he assured his wife before getting into the back seat. Helen Goldstein never saw her husband again.
Sol Goldstein, whose friends called him Jack, should have known better. He had been a gangster himself for most of his life, and he knew that getting into the back seat between two guys was not a good idea. As soon as they were out of sight of the cottage, one of the men grabbed Goldstein, locking a wiry forearm securely around the older man’s neck. The other youngster, later identified as Abraham “Pretty” Levine, produced a hammer, and struck Goldstein on the head, hard enough to knock him out, but not hard enough to kill him. Levine had been given strict instructions to “just snatch the bum and bring him here. Don’t knock him off.”
Those orders had been delivered by Harry “Pittsburgh Phil” Strauss, who wanted the pleasure all to himself. Strauss was delighted when Louis Capone had selected him a few weeks before to kill Goldstein. The two had a history, and a pool hall brawl a few years before over a woman they both fancied had resulted in a near fatal beating for Goldstein, who was left with his facial features totally rearranged. Few people who tangled with Strauss were ever so lucky.
Before getting married and deciding to go straight, Goldstein had been a longtime employee of the Fulton Fish Market, a major source of income for organized crime. The fish market’s boss, Joseph “Socks” Lanza, was set to go on trial for controlling the sale of fish by using strong-arm tactics – beating up buyers, wrecking trucks, throwing acid – to fix prices and keep dealers in line. Lanza knew that Goldstein, newly reformed, could be a potential witness against him, so he contacted Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, who ran Murder, Inc., and described his plight. Buchalter enlisted Capone, his top aide, to deal with the situation. Capone had directed Strauss to make the matter go away, and had arranged for some help.
“Go up to Loch Sheldrake, where Pep (Strauss’s nickname) is staying, to do some work,” he had told Levine in the Brooklyn candy store that served as the gang’s headquarters. Levine and Anthony “Dukey” Maffatore, drove to the mountains, where they met up with Strauss, Mikey Syckoff and Jack Cutler.
The boys delivered Goldstein’s unconscious form to Strauss at Loch Sheldrake, and Pittsburgh Phil, happy to settle his personal score as well as fulfill a contract, finished the job he had started in the Brownsville, NY billiard parlor. He tied up Goldstein’s limp body in such a way that the harder he struggled the tighter the rope would get around his neck, trussed him up in a blanket with some boulders, and, with two other accomplices, Allie Tannenbaum and Jack Drucker, rowed out the center of the lake. There, Goldstein’s body was quietly dumped overboard, never to be recovered.
Although his bride never reported him missing, she did later tell his frantic mother, who had come to the mountains looking for her son after not hearing from him for months, that “Sol was thrown into a lake.” Nothing else was known about Goldstein’s sudden disappearance.
“For four long years, mystery and silence surrounded the disappearance of the son who had made his mother so happy when he stopped running with the tough boys, and took up with a ‘nice girl,’” Burton B. Turkus and Sid Feder wrote in their 1951 expose on the mob, Murder, Inc. “Then, in 1940, Allie and Pretty told the minute details of a contract on a man they knew only as ‘Jack,’ and (Abe) Reles filled in the missing identification. Reles could always be depended on for such incidental intelligence.”
Reles provided details of hundreds of murders, including several in Sullivan County, putting many of the mob’s top killers – including Lepke, Capone, and Pittsburg Phil – on death row. He was permanently silenced by a fall from a fifth floor window while in police custody at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, forever earning him the nickname among other gangsters of “the canary who could sing, but couldn’t fly.”
Photo: Pittsburg Phil Strauss, who murdered Sol Goldstein and dumped his body in Loch Sheldrake.