The NYPD’s infamous “Clubber” Williams

Alexander “Clubber” Williams was an NYPD inspector in post–Civil War New York City; as captain of the precinct on 35th Street, he’s credited with breaking up the fearsome Gas House Gang that lorded over the East 30s, then known as the Gas House District.

ClubberwilliamsIn 1876 he was transferred to a precinct on West 13th Street, where he’d have jurisdiction over a high-crime area centered around Broadway from the 20s to about 42nd Street thick with theaters, gambling dens, and prostitutes.

Remarking on his new assignment, he supposedly told a friend, referring to the protection money he was likely to receive from gambling operators and madams, “I have had chuck for a long time, and now I’m going to eat tenderloin.”

The name Tenderloin stuck for this seedy neighborhood. Formerly known by the fantastically colorful moniker Satan’s Circus, it was one of the city’s worst. Williams earned the title “Czar of the Tenderloin” for his rough and ready crime-prevention tactics.

Brought up on corruption charges several times over the years, Williams always beat the rap. And when accused of using excessive force, he replied, “There is more law at the end of a policeman’s nightstick than in a decision of the Supreme Court.”

In 1895, Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt had him retire. Williams insisted until his death in 1917 that he’d never clubbed anyone “that did not deserve it.”

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7 Responses to “The NYPD’s infamous “Clubber” Williams”

  1. The most sinful side street in 19th century New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Aside from the Bowery, no neighborhood in late–19th century New York packed in as many saloons, music halls, gambling dens, and brothels—lots and lots of brothels—as the Tenderloin. […]

  2. JoeMcGuiness Says:

    So this is something for NY to be proud of? NY should be ashamed of brutal cops. But alas we know they prop each other up and give each other awards while citizens suffer.

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    According to Edward Robb Ellis’s history of New York City, Clubber Williams, like Elmer J. Fudd, had “a mansion and a yacht,” in Connecticut.

    When Williams died in 1917, what became of the mansion and the yacht? He had two sons.

  4. The neighborhood leveled to build Penn Station | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] as “Satan’s Circus,” the area got its new colorful name after a crooked cop named Alexander “Clubber” Williams transferred to a police precinct in the […]

  5. Police were never there to protect – North Texas Daily Says:

    […] the midwestern states, so did its police force. Oftentimes policemen were considered heroes for violent action taken against citizens, for example, Alexander (Clubber) Williams who claimed to have beaten […]

  6. A woman found bludgeoned in a Tenderloin hotel sparks the trial of the century | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Police in the Tenderloin were used to gruesome crime scenes, and they were summoned to the hotel to piece together evidence. […]

  7. The final days of a 44th Street Gilded Age gambling house | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] gambling houses, brothels, and music halls that paid police and politicians to look the other way in the Tenderloin and other unsavory […]

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