Snow Flakes on Black Thursday

By Clarence George on September 7, 2015
Snow Flakes on Black Thursday
They got away with $96, leaving Joseph Friedman dead on the floor. Flakes shot him.

Executions took place on Thursdays at Sing Sing. “Black Thursday,” they called it. And so it was for heavyweight Henry “Snow” Flakes…

“Thanks.”—Henry “Snow” Flakes’ last word

Heavyweight Henry “Snow” Flakes was born on February 27, 1927, in Opelika, Alabama, but fought out of Buffalo, New York, from 1947 to 1948. An awfully short period of time in which to squeeze 27 bouts, winning 24, 13 by knockout, losing two, one by knockout, and drawing once. And that knockout shouldn’t be taken too literally. What happened was that Flakes twisted his knee and couldn’t continue the fight against Charles Lester at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium on April 23, 1947, thereby losing by fourth-round TKO. His other loss came by way of Colion Chaney, who outpointed him at the Armory in Akron, Ohio, on January 20, 1948. Flakes drew against Chaney at the Armory on March 24 that year.

All that’s on the one hand. On the other, Flakes twice beat Pat Comiskey (fourth-ranked by The Ring in 1947), first by unanimous decision at the Armory on February 4, 1948, then 15 days later by fifth-round TKO at the Armory in Newark, New Jersey. The only other man to stop Comiskey in his 88-fight career was Max Baer. Flakes also beat, in his last two fights, Lee Oma, second-ranked by The Ring in 1949. Both wins came via unanimous decision, the first at the Memorial Auditorium on May 11, 1948, the second 10 days later in his only fight at Madison Square Garden. Said Oma, “He’ll make trouble for anybody.”

Oma wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Wrote Oscar Fraley shortly before the second bout with Oma (“the poor man’s Maxie Baer”), “In a little more than a year he has proved rather conclusively that he can fight — and the road stretches far ahead.”

It wasn’t his road that got stretched.

The boy from Alabama, who grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was sure tough. Taught how to fight by his father, reports Fraley, “They couldn’t afford gloves. So the elder Flakes used burlap bagging, stuffed with rags and gathered at the wrists with rope. There came a night, however, when the lessons ceased abruptly. Henry threw a right cross which stretched the old man cold for 10 minutes.”

Flakes lied about his age, reports Fraley, and joined the Navy, winding up at Pearl Harbor. “On his nose is a scar suffered when a Jap plane crashed on the deck of the Nassau, a converted airplane carrier, that fateful Sunday.”

“That was the only time in my life I’ve been knocked out,” said Flakes.

But, however tough, there was nothing Flakes could do about cataracts, and he was forced to abandon his promising ring career following the second Oma bout.

“And that was where it all started going horribly wrong,” writes the Cornish Robert Walsh in his article on the fighter.

“After his enforced retirement,” Walsh continues, “Henry held down a few low-wage jobs to pay the bills. Unfortunately several other problems arose. He lost his right eye to the cataracts, having to have it removed in an expensive operation he couldn’t really afford to pay for. He was in surgery again having his appendix removed (according to his autopsy report) and he also had some skin grafts taken. Surgery in the US is very, very expensive and also often involves large amounts of drugs. Drugs that Henry (according to his prison admission report) had become addicted to. He scraped some vague semblance of a living out of being a car mechanic, spent most of it on drugs and by 1958 he was in desperate need of both cash and dope. An associate, Walter Green, suggested a quick means of gaining both; Armed robbery.”

Green and Flakes entered a men’s clothing store in Lackawanna, New York, on November 7, 1958, while getaway driver DeWitt R. Lee Jr. waited outside with his former school teacher and current girlfriend, Beatrice Beckman, who denied any knowledge of the crime (and, in fact, she was never indicted and was the prosecution’s chief witness). They got away with $96 (about $800 today), leaving proprietor Joseph Friedman dead on the floor. It was Flakes who shot him.

Lee got life in prison, while Green and Flakes were sentenced to die in Sing Sing’s electric chair. According to newspaper accounts of the time, upon hearing the jury’s verdict at midnight on February 18, 1959, “Flakes’ head dropped sharply to his chest. Lee slouched in his chair and stared blankly. Green’s right hand went to his head.”

According to Walsh, Snow Flakes’ last meals were nothing short of bountiful. “His dinner consisted of barbecue chicken with sauce, French fries, salad, bread rolls, butter, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream, 4 packs of cigarettes, coffee, milk and sugar. Supper was equally generous: lobster, salad, butter and bread rolls, ice cream, a box of chocolate candy, four cigars, two glasses of cola, coffee, milk and sugar.”

Executions took place on Thursdays at Sing Sing. “Black Thursday,” they called it. And so it was for Flakes, who was put to death on Thursday, May 19, 1960, at the traditional hour of 11 p.m. “Thanks,” said the 33-year-old to prison chaplain Father George F. McKinney before guards strapped him into the chair. Dow B. Hover, New York’s last executioner, pulled the switch. He followed the procedure developed by former “State Electrician” Robert Elliott, as described by Landis MacKellar in his book on murderers Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray:

“Elliott had perfected a system of repeated shocks. First he hit the condemned with a full two thousand volts for a few seconds, then he lowered the voltage for a minute while the body heated up. Then he applied a second full surge of current and, if necessary, repeated a third and fourth time. The heart could not withstand the repeated shocks, but the body never became hot enough to undergo severe burning. As to minor burning of the hair and the flesh where the electrodes were attached, Elliott had finally concluded that it was unavoidable.”

“Henry ‘Snow’ Flakes,” writes Walsh, “who could and possibly should have been one of the all-time great American heavyweights, died with a smile on his face and not a penny in his pocket. The day after he died his family had to inform Warden Wilfred Denno that they didn’t even have the money to bury him. Like so many of his fellow convicts he lies in Sing Sing’s ‘Potter’s Field’ reserved for those deceased inmates left unclaimed by their relatives.”

And all because of cataracts.

“And if thy eye scandalize thee…”

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  1. Robert Walsh 10:15am, 11/18/2016

    Hi, nice to see my blog being put to good use. I’ve got a couple of other scribble on well-known boxers if anyone’s interested:

    https://robertwalshwriter.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/bill-richmond-boxer-trainer-socialite-and-hangman/

    And:

    https://robertwalshwriter.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/bob-fitzsimmons-boxings-first-triple-world-champion/

  2. Clarence George 01:40pm, 09/10/2015

    Excellent post, Nicolas, thank you.  Good research on Colion Chaney.  You’d never heard of him?  Me neither.  That he has his own Facebook Page is as impressive as it is unexpected.  One can only speculate on where Flakes would have wound up.  But, while Walsh is arguably too optimistic, I think he would have accomplished even more than he did.  Not to mention not getting fried.

  3. nicolas 09:09am, 09/10/2015

    One of the men Flakes lost to, and had a draw to, was an African American fighter named Colion Chaney. The Man died in 2005 at the age of 81. I think he might have become a police officer, ironic, at least worked with the PAL. There is a Facebook page dedicated to him. He fought and lost to the best, though he had a winning record. these articles are always interesting, because I will go to BOXREC, and learn about other boxers of the time. One wonders with this boxer Flakes, where he might have gone to had he not gotten cataracts.

  4. Clarence George 05:40pm, 09/07/2015

    I think I’ve mentioned “The Harlem Coffee Cooler” (Frank Craig), a moniker that’s hard to beat.

  5. Chessman 03:10pm, 09/07/2015

    I had no idea Bosco was still around. It was a treat at grandmas house in the sixties. Went well with Stella doro. Nice memories. Love the name snow flakes. Not as good as big train, but sounds good.

  6. Clarence George 02:40pm, 09/07/2015

    Nothing against Bosco (which my brother is addicted to), but it’s not malty.

  7. Caryl chessman 02:26pm, 09/07/2015

    I prefer bosco to ovaltine which tasted like those instant breakfast drinks of the 1960s.

  8. Eric 01:25pm, 09/07/2015

    KB…Sounds all good, except for the anchovies.  hehe.

  9. Clarence George 12:38pm, 09/07/2015

    Philistine!

    By the way, that was supposed to be “sparkling” beverage.  And now that I think on it, I’d really prefer the Johannisbeersaft.  I have a great weakness for anything black currant.  I’ve also decided on a hazelnut frappe to accompany my hazelnut cake.  Mmmm…hazelnut.  But as no one’s asked me out to dinner this evening, all I’m going to get is a sandwich.  Well, I may make a cold Ovaltine with it.  Love malt.  My aunt used to have these malt-flavored dog biscuits that I couldn’t enough of.  I wonder if they still make them?

  10. kb 12:12pm, 09/07/2015

    CG, You order that stuff, I sense they might put you in a different wing

  11. KB 11:36am, 09/07/2015

    Eric, maple cream pie as made in Vermont .  Also, anchovies pizza per Chicago. Oysters per New Orleans—Commander’s Palace. Cheese cake per NYC.

  12. Clarence George 09:06am, 09/07/2015

    Irrelevant, but I don’t care:  I don’t know about the rest of youse, but it’s only just come to my attention that the original, 89-year-old Palm has closed its doors, apparently for good.  While not a fan (shabbily treated the last time I was there), this is nevertheless yet another huge blow to New York City history.

  13. Clarence George 08:33am, 09/07/2015

    I wanna play, too, Eric.  I would have Leberknödelsuppe, followed by either beef or veal rouladen, accompanied by an appropriate side dish or two (say, red cabbage and spätzle), and ending with a hazelnut cream cake.  I’d also like a sparking beverage, either Johannisbeersaft or Apfelsaft.  Danke.

    Ha!  Thank you, Pete.

  14. Pete 08:16am, 09/07/2015

    Bountiful, Clarence.

  15. Eric 07:40am, 09/07/2015

    Always intrigued by what prisoners choose for their “last meal(s)” I would have steamed blue crabs, steamed shrimp, maybe a dozen raw oysters, T-bone steak, plate of french fries, German chocolate cake.

  16. Clarence George 06:55am, 09/07/2015

    Very kind, Peter, thank you.  My cup runneth over this morning.  No, no film; in fact, not much in the way of photos.

  17. KB 06:51am, 09/07/2015

    Caryl, are you a relative?

  18. peter 06:47am, 09/07/2015

    Yet another intriguing piece from the past. I hope there is a plan to one day anthologize these wonderful vignettes. If so, Henry “Snow” Flakes should be your opening piece. He scored a few impressive wins. Too bad there is no video on him.

  19. Clarence George 06:45am, 09/07/2015

    Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Chessman, for your kind words and wonderful post.  Your namesake was executed only a few days before Flakes, albeit in San Quentin’s gas chamber.  A much more famous case, of course.

  20. Caryl Chessman 06:22am, 09/07/2015

    Great piece.  Was completely unaware of Snow Flakes (great name).  Mr. George is like a bloodhound on the trail of good forgotten or anonymous stories. This was a gem., as they always are.  Writer Oscar Fraley penned the original book on Eliot Ness. As an aside, on the Texas Department of Corrections web site, it lists the last meals and last words of condemned inmates. One enterprising writer cut and pasted the last meals and wrote a book called “Meals to Die For.”  Keep them coming, Mr. George. If the Journal American and the other 9 New York newspapers were still around you would be a thrice weekly human interest columnist.

  21. Clarence George 05:20am, 09/07/2015

    Valid points, Irish.  Beckman may not have been the Miss Crabtree she made herself out to be, or was made out to be.  Also, one can argue that there was really no good reason for Lee not to have gotten the chair.  And you’re absolutely right about many (though certainly not all) cold cases.  George Reeves comes to mind, as does JonBenet Ramsey.  And as far as boxing is concerned, I can’t think of a more egregious example than the Zora Folley investigation.

  22. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 04:45am, 09/07/2015

    Clarence George-Shoddy police work….Beckman provided the getaway car….she should have been charged and if she was black she would have been….she knew the score. Which reminds me….so many unsolved cold case “mysteries” are the result of incompetent investigations or downright corruption.

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