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Forgotten Queen of the Underworld: Fredericka Mandelbaum’s Unlikely Rise

Nicknamed “Mother” Mandelbaum, Fredericka Mandelbaum meticulously selected a team of elite thieves, acting as a talent scout for the underworld.

Fredericka Mandelbaum

The Talented Mrs. Mandelbaum

While Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky dominated the headlines of the 20th century, a far less familiar figure ruled the New York underworld a century prior: Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum. In her book, “The Talented Mrs. Mandelbaum,” Margalit Fox explores the astonishing story of this woman who wasn’t just a criminal mastermind, but a surprisingly successful entrepreneur – albeit in the unconventional field of stolen goods.

Fox chronicles Fredericka Mandelbaum’s improbable journey from a penniless immigrant arriving in 1850 to a notorious millionaire and fugitive by the time of her death. The book plunges us into the vibrant yet corrupt world of Gilded Age New York, where ruthless criminals, wealthy businessmen, and politicians blurred the lines between legality and “respectable” commerce.

Fredericka Mandelbaum’s ascent from poverty to immense wealth is particularly intriguing. A peddler on the tough streets of Lower Manhattan in her early years, she had somehow transformed into a fixture of high society by the 1870s, even earning praise for her philanthropy. The question remains: how did she achieve this dramatic transformation?

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The answer lies in her secret life. Mandelbaum wasn’t just a socialite; she was also a powerful “fence,” a criminal mastermind who operated a network of thieves. Far from a disorganized operation, Fox reveals Mandelbaum’s genius for systemizing the often haphazard world of stolen goods.

Nicknamed “Mother” Mandelbaum, Fredericka Mandelbaum meticulously selected a team of elite thieves, acting as a talent scout for the underworld. She then orchestrated a sophisticated logistics and distribution network, transforming petty theft into a well-oiled, large-scale criminal enterprise.

Margalit Fox’s captivating book sheds light on this forgotten figure and the fascinating, and sometimes shocking, underbelly of Gilded Age New York.

Fredericka Mandelbaum arrived in New York in 1850, a penniless 25-year-old. Starting from the bottom, she peddled wares on the tough streets of Lower Manhattan. Yet, by the 1870s, a remarkable transformation had occurred. This one-time peddler had become a fixture of high society, even earning admiration for her philanthropy. The question lingers: how did she achieve such a dramatic ascent from tenement life to vast wealth?

Also known as “Marm” or “Old Mother” Mandelbaum, was a notorious figure in New York City’s underworld during the mid-to-late 19th century. She operated as a powerful and wealthy fence, buying and reselling stolen goods from criminals throughout the city.

Mandelbaum was one of the most successful fences in New York history, handling millions of dollars’ worth of stolen goods between the 1860s and 1880s. She built a network of thieves who brought her their loot, and she’d find buyers for it.

Nicknamed “Mother” Mandelbaum, she wasn’t just a businesswoman. She became a sort of leader in the criminal underworld, offering support and even financing criminal operations. Fredericka Mandelbaum’s criminal career lasted for decades. She was involved in some of the most notorious robberies of the time, including the 1869 Ocean National Bank robbery and the 1878 Manhattan Savings Institution robbery.

Far beyond a mere criminal, Fredericka Mandelbaum emerged as a pioneering entrepreneur of stolen goods. In an era of haphazard crime, she revolutionized the business. She meticulously selected a team of elite thieves – bank robbers, housebreakers, and shoplifters – acting as a talent scout for the underworld. Mandelbaum then orchestrated the logistics and distribution network, transforming petty theft into a well-oiled, scalable criminal enterprise.



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