Harry Gross, once the kingpin of a $20-million-a-year bookmaking ring in New York, was found dead in his Long Beach apartment, apparently the result of a suicide, police said Thursday.
Long Beach Homicide Detective George Fox said Gross, 71, indicated in a hand-written note that he had slashed his wrists because he feared "going back to jail and dying there."
Gross and Najib Daoud, 56, of Newport Beach were arrested last month in Los Angeles after they allegedly gave federal drug agents $100,000 as a down payment on 13 pounds of heroin, police said.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Gross on Tuesday, charging him with one count of conspiring to possess narcotics with intent to distribute them.
Testifying at the 1952 departmental trial of five New York City police officers, Gross admitted paying $250,000 a year to officers to protect his bookmaking operations. He identified more than 100 policemen who he said took his payoffs--from beat patrolmen to top brass.
After receiving a 12-year prison sentence in New York for conspiracy and bookmaking, he was paroled in 1954 and moved to California.
Gross, clad in pajamas, was found Wednesday morning in the bathroom of his apartment, Fox said. His note, addressed to his family, "apologized for what he was about to do," the detective added.
Before slashing his wrists, Gross "consumed an unknown quantity of a prescribed painkiller," Fox said. "He also placed his birth certificate and army discharge papers on the same table with the note to help survivors settle his affairs.
"There is no reason to believe his death was anything other than a suicide as a result of being despondent over going back to jail at his age, but the official cause of death is pending results of an autopsy."
Gross, whose criminal record for illegal gambling spans more than three decades, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Los Angeles for the 1959 beating and shooting death of his then-wife's 84-year-old grandfather. He was paroled after serving three years of a 10-year sentence.
Gross was arrested in California in 1973 and 1978 for bookmaking. In 1978, the California Organized Crime Control Commission identified him as one of 92 Californians with ties to organized crime.