King Charles Solomon ruled Boston’s underworld without challenge until a small-time gangster gunned him down in the men’s room of the Cotton Club on Jan. 24, 1933.
He was into rum-running, dope peddling, prostitution, theaters and nightclubs, including the Cocoanut Grove. Though he was long gone by the time of the 1942 fire that killed 492 in the nightclub, King Charles Solomon was the one who first insisted on locking the doors inside and out.
He commanded a fleet of boats that brought bootleg liquor from Central America. They were guided by secret radio stations on Long Island and in New Jersey.
The Boston police called him a rum lord. Federal agents called him the Capone of the East.
He was born in 1884 in Russia to Jewish parents, Joseph and Sarah Blum. It’s unclear where he grew up. Some accounts put him in Boston’s West End, some put him in Salem, Mass.
King Charles Solomon was arrested in his teens for the first of 21 times in 21 years. He only went to prison once, though, for suborning perjury during his trial on narcotics charges. He was sentenced to five years, but was released after 13 months.
A police captain once asked him, “Charlie, you’ve got millions. Why don’t you get out of the racket?”
“Don’t be silly,” Solomon replied. He liked the nightlife too much.
King Charles Solomon
King Charles Solomon cut a dashing figure in Boston’s demimonde. He dressed elegantly and hobnobbed with celebrities who found him polite and charming. He presided over the Cocoanut Grove in evening clothes with good-looking women and vaudeville stars like Sally Rand, Tex Guinan and Sophie Tucker.
He was under federal indictment on Jan. 24, 1933 when he finished up the night at the Cocoanut Grove, pocketing the night’s take of $4,600. He then took a car with two young dancers and his bandleader, Joe Solomon, to the Cotton Club on Tremont Street near Massachusetts Avenue.
The party was going strong at 3:30 a.m. when Solomon got up and went to the bathroom. Then a group of men who had been drinking near the bar followed him. Witnesses said they heard an argument about a ‘double-crossing no-good rat.’ They reported Solomon said something like, “You got my roll, now what do you want?”
One of the men replied, “You’ve had this coming for a long time.” Shots were fired, the men fled and King Charles Solomon staggered out of the bathroom, bleeding from the neck, chest and abdomen. “The rats got me,” he said.
He was rushed to Boston City Hospital, where he died with a boxing promoter at his side. He didn’t give up his killers.
His occupation was listed as ‘theatre owner,’ his age as 46.
"Bullets sang the requiem of 'King' Solomon yesterday and wiped forever from his face the smile that thousands knew," reported the Boston Globe on January 25.
Three thousand people attended the wake at his home at his home as 193 Fuller St., Brookline.
A Boston Globe reporter described the crowd as 'cops, reporters, photographers, lawyers, actresses, small fry tacketeers and little Caesars of gangland, who kept their right hands in right-hand pockets and answered questions with the word, 'Scram'!'
Hundreds followed his casket to his burial site, the Hand-in-Hand Jewish cemetery in Roxbury.
Police found the getaway car 10 days later, abandoned in a woods in South Foxboro, Mass. Eventually they charged gangsters James H. Scully, John T. O'Donnell, John J. Burke, James 'Skeets' Coyne and Frank Karlonas in connection with the murder. Burke, O'Donnell and Karlonas went to trial first, but a jury found them not guilty.
Coyne was an ex-con and former doorman at the Cotton Club who police apprehended in Michigan City, Ind. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and robbery, and a judge sentenced him to 10-20 years in prison.
Police didn't arrest James Scully until Oct. 24, 1933, nine months after Solomon's death. A jury convicted him of robbing Solomon the night of his murder and a judge sentenced him to 16-20 years in prison.
With thanks to Boston Organized Crime by Emily Sweeney. This story about King Charles Solomon was updated in 2019.