Madame St. Clair came to America after a rough life in France only to find a rougher life in the U.S. Battling abusive boyfriends, Stephanie St. Clair would make her fortune in gambling and build on that by building her own criminal empire in Harlem.
The Roots of An Empire
Numbers was a big racket in Harlem with several gambling bosses of varying sizes running games. St. Clair’s operation was based in policy banking which served as the banking and investment option for Black Harlem residents. During the 1920s, Madame St. Clair’s operation generated what would amount to almost $250,000 annually today.
Her racket also employed many people in the community who were unable to find work. In addition to this, she used her financial and social influence to inform Harlem residents of police corruption and brutality.
She also made sure Black residents knew their rights in relation to dealing with law enforcement and pushed for Black people’s right to vote. As expected, none of this sat well with law enforcement. In short order, St. Clair was tossed into a workhouse for most of a year.
Queenie would strike back by offering her testimony to the Hofstadter Commission in 1931, telling them about how she bribed the police. This Commission would investigate police wrongdoing including unlawful arrests, gambling, extortion, and imprisonment.She also gave up names of cops who were involved in numbers.
The Harlem Numbers War
Madame St. Clair continued running her numbers racket throughout the 1930s but the mob was starting to muscle in Harlem. This was a result of Prohibition being over and the Italian American and Jewish crime groups had both seen a drop in funds. One of the only rackets that proved too reliable to sink was rackets.
Bronx-based Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz began to muscle his way into Harlem. First Casper Holstein was on his way out as he didn’t have the want to fight the mob. St. Clair would keep her operation afloat even as Schultz employed the police to attack her businesses and parlors. She would fire back with her enforcer Bumpy Johnson and do the same.
The back and forth saw Schultz’s businesses and house raided by law enforcement. In this gangland war, a number of his workers were locked up and he lost what would equal about $150 million today.
She never actually gave her business to Schultz. Wanting to get out of business and parlay her wealth and influence into a positive image, she gave the business to Bumpy Johnson. St. Clair snubbed a dying Schultz with a telegram in 1935. Schultz had been the victim of a Lucky Luciano-ordered hit.
Retirement From The Game
She spent her time away from crime as an activist and socialite in Harlem. A short-lived marriage with “Black Hitler” Sufi Abdul Hamid saw her shoot him in 1938. Of course, this came after Hamid and his mistress tried to start a business using Madame St. Clair’s wealth.
Queenie was sent to Bedford Hills for 10 years and resumed her work. St. Clair became a columnist for Black publications for many years afterwards. Towards the end of her life, she took in her best friend and former enforcer, Bumpy Johnson–the King of Harlem.
At 72 years old, St. Clair passed away in December 1969, some 18 months after Johnson passed of a heart attack. Unlike many involved in organized crime for years, she would die rich.