Harry Millman was a member of a predominately Jewish Detroit organized crime group called the Purple Gang. The Purple Gang rose in the 1920s, challenging Al Capone’s operations there during Prohibition and became notorious for their violence and their brutality. During Prohibition, the Purple Gang caused Capone so much difficulty that he arranged accommodation with them, and the Detroit gang controlled the flow of Canadian whiskey to Capone’s Chicago saloons and brothels. By the end of Prohibition, the Purple Gang was the most powerful group in the Detroit underworld, controlling nearly all gambling, loansharking, extortion rackets, and other criminal activity.
Detroit was too big of a market to be ignored by the Five Families of the National Crime Syndicate, and in the 1930s William Tocco aligned the Detroit Partnership with the Profaci crime family in New York, and established alliances with other crime families including in Los Angeles and Rhode Island. Tocco also hired Joseph Bommarito to serve as the street boss of the Detroit Partnership. The increasing influence of the Italian mafia placed it in direct conflict with the Purple Gang. Abe Bernstein, the head of the Purple Gang, attempted to prevent violence but growing tensions remained. Harry Millman, anxious to increase his standing in the Purple Gang, repeatedly attempted to confront Bommarito.
Millman had previously been involved in disputes with another member of the Detroit Partnership, Pete Licavoli, a close friend of Bommarito’s. When Millman and Bommarito met in a Detroit bar and words degenerated into a fight, Bommarito was severely gashed across his face, after which Millman began calling him Scarface. A few days later Bommarito was getting a shave when Millman spit in his face as he reclined in the barber’s chair. The Detroit Partnership informed Abe Bernstein that Millman was to be killed and that a contract would be put out to accomplish the fact. Anxious to avoid total war with the Italians the Purple Gang leader concurred.
The first attempt to kill Millman was through a bomb in his car, which detonated, blowing out the windows and leaving the car’s roof on the roof of a five-story building, but Millman was not in the car at the time. Bommarito, through the Profaci family in New York, asked for professional hitmen from Murder Inc. to be dispatched to Detroit to kill Millman. Buchalter gave the contract to Harry Strauss and Harry Maione, who went to Detroit and followed their target after making contact with local hoods who informed them of the Purple Gang member’s usual habits and the restaurants and saloons which he frequented.
On the morning of November 25, 1937, the two Murder Inc. killers found Millman at Boesky’s Delicatessen, on the corner of Hazelwood and 12th street in Detroit. Strauss and Maione shot Millman multiple times before leaving the scene. The use of Murder Inc. by the Italians and the relative lack of resistance of the Purple Gang signaled the end of the latter as the dominant element of the Detroit underworld, and from that time on the Syndicate assumed control of the criminal element in Detroit. Abe Bernstein became an associate of Meyer Lansky and the Purple Gang operations were quickly absorbed.