“The Greatest Series of Crime Pictures Ever Made”


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.7)

1. First picture of series was shot as crowd pulled William Esposito away from body of Patrolman Maher (in background). Close to camera is Leonard Weisberg, taxi driver, lying on sidewalk.


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle; dead Edward Maher and injured Leonard Weisberg, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.8)

2. The wounded taxi driver and the dead policeman are momentarily forgotten by the men subduing Esposito. Most of them are friends of Maher and Weisberg.


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.5)

3. Esposito has been pushed against the wall of Altman’s department store. the taxi driver standing beside the spectator opening the policeman’s coat has the gunman’s gun in his hand.


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle; attending to Edward Maher, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.9)

4. This has happened within a few seconds. The spectators are just learning that Patrolman Maher is dead. Note the gun in his holster; he had shot Esposito but didn’t kill him.


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle; crowd above injured William Esposito, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.10)

5. A closer shot under Altman’s windows: George Baxter, doorman, who helped overpower Esposito, is keeping his grip on the gunman’s leg. The spectator is holding another of Esposito’s guns.


Max Peter Haas, [Sidewalk gun battle, 35th St., New York], January 14, 1941 (2016.4.3)

6. The police have arrived and quickly cleared the crowd away from the tragic scene. The man covering the slain patrolman’s face, arranging the patrolman’s cap, is a plainclothes detective.

“2 Killed, 3 Shot in Fifth Ave. Holdup…”

The time: About 12:30 PM – lunchtime for millions of workers, shoppers, New Yorkers.
The date: Tuesday, January 14th 1941.
The place: The crowded block around B. Altman & Co. department store, bound by 34th St. to the south, Madison Ave. to the east, 35th St. to the north, Fifth Ave. to the west, in Manhattan, New York City, New York.
The weather: Fair and cold, about 25 degrees.

Alfred J. Klausman, an office manager, withdrew $649 dollars for payroll, from the Irving Trust Company, on Fifth Avenue near 34th St., below the Empire State Building, like he did every Tuesday. He put the cash in a brown paper bag. As he was returning to Kemp & Beatley, Inc., linen dealers, 6 East 34th St., Anthony and William Esposito followed closely behind. The Esposito brothers, wearing grey overcoats, followed Klausman into the elevator. They both pulled out their revolvers and told the elevator operator, George Greve, to stop between the second and third floor. They demanded money from Klausman. Hugging the money bag Klausman refused, saying “No! No!” William Esposito shot him in the head and grabbed the brown bag of money. Klausman’s dark red blood lingered on the light linoleum. The brothers ran across the street into the large, crowded, and increasingly chaotic B. Altman & Co. department store; they ran through the store to the exit on Madison Avenue. They got in a taxi but the taxi was stuck in noontime traffic. The brothers left the taxi, leaving behind a gun, and ran up Madison Ave., then west on 35th St. Patrolman Edward Maher chased them and shot William in the leg, near the corner of Fifth Ave. As William, “the wounded bandit,” lay on the sidewalk, “playing possum,” Maher went up to him, put his gun in his holster, and bent over him. William fired three times and killed the officer. Leonard Weisberg, one of many heroic civilians, jumped on William and tried to take his gun but William shot him in the throat. Anthony ran into a crowded Woolworth’s, five-and-ten-cent store, across Fifth Ave. and was apprehended (and beaten) by the police. The Esposito brothers were arrested and taken to the prison ward at Bellevue.

Alfred J. Klausman, 55, office manager, was shot dead. Edward F. Maher, 52, patrolman, was shot dead. Leonard Weisberg, 39, cab driver, was gravely injured. William Mueller, bank guard, was shot in the left shoulder. William Esposito, 33, alias Angelo Distefano, was the younger brother and did all the shooting. Anthony Esposito, 35, alias Joseph Distefano, was the older brother and never fired a shot.

Max Peter Haas, 33, photographer, was in the third floor office of the European Picture Service, 353 Fifth Avenue, just south of B. Altman’s, a little after noon, on Tuesday, January 14th, 1941. He heard gunshots, looked out a window, saw people running, and immediately rushed to the scene below with a 35mm “loaded Leica.” Being in the right place at the right time with a camera, he risked his life, not knowing if he was going to get shot while shooting. Max Peter Haas made 12 photographs in about four minutes. The photos were published widely, including The Daily News, PM, Life magazine, and distributed by European Picture Service. The Daily News bought them for $750 (approximately $13,363 today). This blog post (and the next one tomorrow) is presumably the second time all (almost all, except number 8) have been published in sequence. The Esposito brothers had six guns and over 115 bullets. The photographer had one camera and twelve shots. Crime doesn’t pay, photography does.

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2 Responses to “The Greatest Series of Crime Pictures Ever Made”

  1. Paul Sorene says:

    I’d like to feature your work on Flashbak. Would that be ok?

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