Philip Davidson

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Philip Davidson
Born 1882
United States
Occupation Gangster, fruit peddler

Philip "Red Phil" Davidson (1882 - date unknown) was an American criminal and underworld figure in New York City during the early 20th century. A known associate of Jack Sirocco, a lieutenant in Paul Kelly's Five Points Gang, he was responsible for the 1912 murder of Eastman Gang leader "Big" Jack Zelig, though at the time of his arrest police were unable to find a police record.[1]

A retired Russian Jewish fruit peddler living at 111 E. Seventh Street, Davidson shot and killed New York gang leader "Big" Jack Zelig while on a Thirteenth Street trolley on October 5, 1912 following an altercation during a card game at a local cafe. It was suggested immediately that Zelig's murder was an attempt to keep him from testifying against Charles Becker in the Rosenthal murder case involving the Lenox Avenue Gang. However, Davidson later turned himself into authorities, telling police that Zelig had attacked him with a blackjack and robbed him, and that revenge for these acts was his motive for killing Zelig.[2]

Although Zelig was scheduled to testify during Becker's trial regarding his connection to the Rosenthal murder case, police were unable to find any connection between Davidson and Becker.[1]

New York State Judge Goff sentenced Davidson to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to second degree murder.[3] While incarcerated in Sing Sing Prison, Davidson offered to testify in Becker's defense, claiming that Zelig had paid him $500 to murder Herman "Beansie" Rosenthal but that he chose not to participate in the murder. His statement, which he had first told to his cellmate, would have shown that the money used to hire the Lenox Avenue Gang came from Zelig, rather than Becker. Davidson's testimony was refuted by police and prison officials, and Sheriff Julius Harburger referred to Davidson as "the most cowardly prisoner he had ever seen".[4]


  1. ^ a b "Gunman From Whose Gang Rosenthal Assassins Came Shot in Car". New York Times: 1. 6 October 1912. 
  2. ^ "Zelig's Murder Wasn't Inspired, Police Decide". New York Times: 1. 7 October 1912. 
  3. ^ "Zelig's Slayer Gets Long Term In Prison; Justice Goff Sends Davidson to Sing Sing for Not Less Than Twenty Years". New York Times: 9. 7 November 1912. 
  4. ^ "Gunmen Hear To-Day The Death Sentence; Sheriff Will Take Them to Sing Sing at Once, Guarding Against Attack". New York Times: 24. 26 November 1912. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928. ISBN 1-56025-275-8
  • Fried, Albert. The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. ISBN 0-231-09683-6
  • Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Culprits and Criminals. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1986.
  • Logan, Andy. Against the Evidence: The Becker-Rosenthal Affair. New York: McCall Publishing Company, 1970.
  • Mackenzie, Frederick Arthur. Twentieth Century Crimes. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1927.
  • O'Kane, James M. The Crooked Ladder: Gangsters, Ethnicity and the American Dream. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994. ISBN 0-7658-0994-X
  • Pietrusza, David. Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3
  • Root, Jonathan. One Night in July: The True Story of the Rosenthal-Becker Murder Case. New York: Coward-McCann, 1961.
  • Schiavo, Giovanni Ermenegildo. The Truth about the Mafia and Organized Crime in America. New York: Vigo Press, 1962.