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Sunday, November 08, 2020

David Mazroff


I had an interesting enquiry (thanks, Cindy!) regarding an American writer of true-crime articles, a prolific contributor to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine in 1968-77, who also wrote a few novellas featuring a character named Rick Harper for Mike Shayne and the Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine. Mazroff was also one of the authors who wrote as Brett Halliday, although only a single story, I believe ('To Kill a Cop', Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, August 1972).

I emphasise this because, while I was digging around, I found an article in a 1973 newspaper which implied that Mazroff was the regular author behind the Mike Shayne stories and had written over 500 stories and novelettes.

The article (Kokomo Tribune, 15 April 1973) claimed that "For over 40 years, Mozroff has woven experiences and facts from courthouse digs into fiction and non-fiction pieces that have sold in the millions. His main character is private detective Mike Shayne, who from his Miami office is featured in novelettes and short stories in the monthly Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Mazroff, also known as Brett Halliday, describes the shamus as a guy of average education and intelligence who gets knocked down but bounces back to logically solve case after case."

The article describes Mazroff as "an easygoing, always-thinking man nearing retirement age. After years of pulling Shayne through scrapes, Mazroff has created a new character, Rick Harper. This young, sophisticated MIT graduate is a roving private detective who pursues virtuous cases, such as seeking revenge against the mob for killing a little old lady. Mazroff started out as a police and court reporter. He also writes westerns and nonfiction. He says ideas are plentiful to a fertile mind. And the daily news provides incidents around which stories are built. Mazroff believes anecdotes from his own life enrich his writing. He uses his storytelling ability to answer questions and give reporters something to write about. his True Crime stories about such people as Pretty Boy Floyd nad Tony Accardo (also known as Joe Batters) give insights into the world of organized crime which Mazroff discovered many years ago in Chicago."

Mazroff did, indeed, have some insights into criminal activity not, as he claimed, from 40 years of writing, but from his own criminal activities.

Mazroff was born in Russia on 10 April 1907, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who moved to America in 1912. By 1920, father Harry Mazroff was working as a machine operator in Detroit, Michigan, while his wife, Sarah (nee Gerstein), was looking after their large family of children—Rudolf [Nathan R.], Sam, Dave, Mary, Elizabeth, Molly, Annie and Joseph—who were aged between 2 and 15. Harry remained in Detroit until his death in 1945.

By then, his son Dave Mazroff was already in trouble with the law. At least as early as 1935, Mazroff was arrested as a suspect in the May 1935 holdup of the Wayne Discount Corp. loan office in Lafayette Boulevard, Detroit. Mazroff was found guilty by a jury of armed robbery. Mazroff was no newcomer: a report on the court case that November noted that this was the second felony on Mazroff's record, and that he had more than 30 holdups and one shooting on his arrest card. Mazroff had almost escaped while on his way from the County Jail to Recorder's Court two months earlier. The report also noted that his mother was in court and had collapsed and had to be carried out when the jury, which had sat for only 30 minutes, brought their guilty verdict.

At the time of the 1940 census, Mazroff was a prisoner at the Black Township Prison Farm.

On 11 January 1945, Mazroff was reputedly involved in the murder of Senator Warren G. Hooper. A key witness in the Sigler-Carr grand jury investigation of graft in the Legislature, Hooper had repeatedly asked Kim Sigler, then special prosecutor for the grand jury, for protection. It was never given. Nor was Hooper offered a police escort on the day he was due to testify.

Five years later, in November 1949, Dave Mazroff and Morris Raider were named as the gunmen by two convicted criminals. It was said that they received $25,000 paid by DC Pettit, former deputy warden of Jackson prison. The money came from a former Benton Harbor sports promoter, now dead, who was acting as a go-between for a prominent politician. Pettit was said to have buried the murder weapon at the Jackson Prison Farm before being ousted from the prison during a shake-up a few months later.

Mazroff was identified by Charles L. Barker, assistant sergeant-at-arms in the State Senate, from a newspaper photograph. Barker later said that Mazroff approached him at the Senate door only a few hours before Hooper was slain, asking him to point out the Senator.

In October 1950, Mazroff was cleared after taking a lie-detector test at State Police Headquarters in East Lansing. "Ask me anything," Mazroff said. "I've been under a cloud and can't get a decent job." Capt. Edward Cooper of the State Police said "He answered every question satisfactorily and we explored every possible angle of the slaying."

Hooper's murder was later laid at the feet of brothers Harry and Sammy Fleisher and Myron (Mikey) Selik, who were convicted of conspiracy in the murder. The latter was a friend of Mazroff's and was best man at his wedding. [I believe Mazroff married Frances Kowarskie; they had a son, Gary Michael Mazroff, who died in May 1947 at only five weeks old.] Selik was convicted of robbery while an appeal on the Hooper case was pending, and was facing 25 to 50 years; he jumped bail and, after hiding out in Chicago under the alias Max Green, was captured two years later during an unsuccessful fur-and-jewelry robbery in the Bronx. The murder has been described as the last major action of the infamous Purple Gang, a mob of bootleggers and hijackers based in Detroit and active between the 1920s and 1940s. The Fleishers and Selik were members, and Mazroff was later described as "a hanger-on in the old Purple Gang circle."

In 1950, Mazroff may have been shown to be not guilty of the murder of Hooper, but he wasn't off the hook. Freed of the accusation of murder, he was immediately turned over to Detroit police and prosecuted on a charge of attempting to browbeat a woman into extorting $10,0000 from Lou Creekmur, the Detroit Lions footballer. Mazroff and two other conspiritors lpeaded "Not Guilty" when accused by 19-year-old Lucille Genoff that they had tried to force her to confront Creekmur and accuse him of rape. Mazroff wanted her to lure Creekmur to her apartment, but Miss Genoff purposely drove Mazroff's car into a telephone pole to alert police.

Mazroff's defence was that the blackmail plot was a practical joke against Miss Genoff. A jury failed to see the funny side and convicted him. Mazroff was sent to Jackson Prison to serve 2 1/2 to 5 years.

Mazroff was later charged with wounding William Breisacher in a shooting at Corky's Restaurant in September 1953. Mazroff was arrested at the home of Louis J. Beckerman, an auto parts dealer who employed him, before he could flee the city. Identified by the manager and one of the waitresses at the restaurant, they revealed that Mazroff fired five shots at Breisacher and his blind dinner companion, Miss Mary Ann Bellas, wounding the former in the thumb but seriously wounding the latter below the heart. The shooting followed an argument between Breisacher and Mazroff, who had arrived together. Mazroff was escorted out, but returned a few minutes later with a gun.

Mazroff was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years for the shooting and was in prison when he was charged with involvement with arson and conspiracy with his former boss, Louis Beckerman, whose garage had burned down. Insurance companies paid out $22,716, believing the fire was accidental. Mazroff later admitted setting the fire and was charged in April 1954. In a coda to this story, a police detective was cleared in January 1955 of offering Mazroff immunity, the note produced with the detective's signature being a forgery, written by Mazroff.

Mazroff was active as a writer in the late 1950s, writing articles and stories for Argosy, Adventure and Guilty Detective Story Magazine. It seems likely that he wrote under pseudonyms, as his known output under his own name is not extensive, until his association with Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine in 1968-77. 

Mazroff died in Los Angeles on 11 November 1982.

(* Header photo via Historic Images; smaller photo via eBay; Mike Shayne Magazine cover via the FictionMags Index, which has a list of Mazroff's contributions to various magazines.)

1 comment:

  1. Great article about my grandfather Steve. It has been exhausting searching 1)who was my dad's dad and 2)what was he like. I'm sure my father was better off not having known him, but having met relatives, they all seem to be such good people, that's the loss. A couple of things to add to your article is David also had a seven-month-old daughter in Nov. 1951 when Frances divorced him. I'm currently trying to locate her. And he served as the editor of the prison paper and ran a campaign to bring about prison reform to change a four-strike law the state had.
    Most definitely David was an interesting character -- and not always a nice man.
    Thank you again for this article.

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