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Max Uchansky


On January 28, 1939, the Lemberger Synagogue in New York City was held up by five men who stole $450 cash, rings, and watches from a group of approximately fifty men.
 
Three days after the crime, 19-year-old Max Uchansky (sometimes referenced as Matthew Uchansky) and his friend, Benny Amatsky, were arrested for the robbery. The two men had previously been sent to reform school for carrying a gun. Amatsky admitted his guilt and soon pleaded guilty, but Uchansky denied his involvement in the crime. However, three of the victims identified Uchansky as one of the robbers. Uchansky was tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten to thirty years in a New York state prison.
 
After Uchansky was convicted, Amatsky wrote a letter to the District Attorney stating that Uchansky had not been involved in the crime. To support this claim, Amatsky eventually provided the names of his four accomplices: Joe Gordon, Sigmund Wisnowski, Manny Wasserman, and a man he knew only as “Mal.”
 
Tony Scanlon, the investigator assigned to look into the case by District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, sought out these four alleged accomplices. He soon learned that Joe Gordon was dead and Wasserman and Wisnowski were in jail. Both Wasserman and Wisnowski denied that Uchansky had been involved in the synagogue robbery, as did Joe Gordon’s widow.
 
However, Scanlon could not be fully convinced Uchansky’s innocence without speaking to “Mal.” Amatsky claimed he had only met Mal on the night of the crime and that although the group had convened at Mal’s apartment after the robbery, Amatsky did not remember the location of the apartment beyond the general area. Amatsky could, however, describe the view he had seen out of Mal’s window – it included a specific church spire and blinking electric signs – and Mal’s girlfriend, a partially deaf waitress named Dottie. With those clues to go on, Scanlon was able to locate the apartment Amatsky had described. It was vacant, but a neighbor said it had last been occupied by Millian Kovarick, who had recently been convicted of robbery and was serving time in prison. Amatsky was then shown many photos and was able to identify Kovarick’s photo as “Mal.” Scanlon visited Kovarick in jail, where Kovarick admitted he was a part of the synagogue robbery and confirmed that Uchansky had not been involved. Scanlon located Dottie as well, who also confirmed Uchansky had not been with the group at Kovarick’s apartment when they divided their loot after the robbery.
 
Based on Scanlon’s findings, District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey moved to reverse Uchansky’s conviction. The motion was granted and the charges against him were dismissed. On July 30, 1940, Uchansky was released after 16 months in Dannemora Prison.
 
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:NY
County:New York
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1939
Convicted:1939
Exonerated:1940
Sentence:10 to 30 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID