When you think of the criminal element in New York City in the late 1800s, portly immigrant ladies rarely come to mind.
But 250-pound Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum, who arrived in Manhattan from Prussia in 1849, became one of the city’s most infamous thieves, a kind of mother hen to organized crime in post–Civil War New York.
After moving to the U.S., Marm and her husband opened a dry goods store at 79 Clinton Street, which quickly became a front for her various illegal activities. Marm fenced stolen goods, financed gangs, assisted con men and blackmailers, and even taught pickpocketing to kids on Grand Street.
This godmother also had a ladylike side. She gave lavish dinner parties mixing New York’s elite with crooks. Supposedly she tried to improve the manners of her criminal cohorts, and she was a queen bee to other female swindlers of the time.
Finally arrested in 1884, she took off for Canada with a million bucks. She died there in 1894.