For the first time in nearly 50 years, 1920 Lincolnshire is on the market. Unlike Palmer Woods homes known for their architects (Frank Lloyd Wright, Minoro Yamasaki, Albert Kahn), scale (35,000 square feet) or vintage (1885), 1920 Linconshire has a colorful history of Prohibition-era life and love.
Most Purple Gang members made their mothers proud by marrying Jewish women and following the precepts of their Hebrew faith – on the surface anyway. One notable exception was 28-year-old Joseph Burnstein who married a 19-year-old Catholic show girl from Kenosha, Wisconsin, named Marguerite Ball.
After graduating from dance school, Marguerite began her show business career in vaudeville with the Paul Ash Revue performing live musical skits on stage in Chicago movie houses before the evening's silent film was shown. These small productions were broadcast over local radio from 7:15 to 8:00 pm.
|Marguerite (Ball) Burnstein|
Marguerite performed in short musical pieces named May Time Jazz Carnival, Oh, Teacher, Shanghai Dreams, and Paul's Hot Ashes. She was talented enough to capture the notice of George White, a show business impresario of variety shows called the George White Scandals – along the line of the more famous and elegant Ziegfeld Follies. Marguerite performed on Broadway in "Manhattan Mary" and "Helen, In the Scandals" as an uncredited cast member.
The details of Joe and Marguerite's courtship are unknown, but it can be safely said that theirs was a whirlwind romance culminating in marriage on March 23, 1929, in Detroit. Their newspaper wedding notice described Joe as the vice-president of a Detroit motor company – a lie designed for the benefit of the Ball family who surely had reservations about Marguerite's hasty Justice of the Peace marriage to a man they knew little about. The newlyweds moved into a custom Tudor-style home said to be valued at $100,000 in the exclusive Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods.
|Joseph Burnstein's mansion, replete with B emblems on the awnings.|
Joe was the most business-minded of the Burnstein brothers and owned a number of legitimate businesses used to launder gang money and provide fronts for other gang activities. He owned an auto parts business, a men's fine clothing store, a three-chair barber shop (on the site of the current Fox Theater), as well as oil wells in Mt. Pleasant and Clare, Michigan. Outwardly, Joe had all the trappings of a prosperous and legitimate businessman – including a trophy wife.
|Edward Kennedy Jr. and Joseph Burnstein.|
A scant year passed before Marguerite gave birth to a healthy daughter. Her married life with Joe seemed idyllic until fate reared its ugly head. One week after Marguerite gave birth to their child, Joe was fighting for his life in the same hospital. One of his business partners – while on an opium binge – shot Joe in the midriff hitting his spleen.
Joe almost bled out, but Purple Gang members lined up at Detroit Receiving Hospital donating blood to help save his life. True to the gangster code, Joe refused to testify against his assailant Harry Kirschenbaum. They were friends and Joe said all he remembered was bumping his head and passing out. Kirschenbaum was acquitted in Detroit Recorder's Court but was convicted later on a federal narcotics charge for possession of opium.
When Joe recovered sufficiently from his stomach wound and returned home from the hospital, Marguerite gave him an ultimatum – Either quit the gang or say goodbye to me and your daughter.
Leaving the day-to-day gang life behind, Joe cast his eyes west and eventually settled in El Dorado, California where he became a consultant to Reno and West Coast gambling concerns. After his brother Ray was convicted of first-degree murder and sent to Marquette Prison for life, youngest brother Isadore moved to California also, leaving oldest brother Abe to run the gang's gambling rackets.
Joe and Marguerite remained married for 55 years until he died of heart failure at the age of 84 on February 28, 1984. Marguerite died on January 9, 1992, in El Dorado, California at 81. Of the four Burnstein brothers, Joe was the only one with a lasting marriage – and two daughters to show for it.
Gregory A. Fournier was born in Trenton, Michigan, in 1948. He grew up in the Downriver Detroit area and graduated from Allen Park High School in 1966. After teaching at Ypsilanti High School for seven years, he moved to San Diego, California, and taught Language Arts in public school for another thirty years.
His books include The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel, Terror in Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked, and The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder: Ypsilanti's Depot Town Mystery.
This piece originally ran at fornology.com and is republished with the author's permission.