Menu
Image 1 of
Zoom In
Zoom Out
Fullscreen

Women and Young Girls Entering Movie Theater to See Free TV of Kefauver Senate Crime Hearings, photograph by Michael Rougier, 1951

The committee’s televised hearings in New York on March 13–15, 1951, were the highlight of the investigation. Though previous committee hearings had been televised, the telecasts of the Kefauver Committee hearings, sponsored by Time, Inc., were the first to gain widespread attention. Business halted while up to 30 million viewers nationwide watched mobsters such as Frank Costello testify.

Michael Rougier/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Women and Young Girls Entering Movie Theater to See Free TV of Kefauver Senate Crime Hearings, photograph by Michael Rougier, 1951

Gambling and Racketeering

Facing a crime surge after World War II, local officials requested help from Congress. To determine the extent of organized crime and whether it could be handled by the states, the Senate created a five-member Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce. In 1950 and 1951 the committee investigated gambling and organized crime in 14 cities. Its televised hearings, particularly in New York, raised public awareness of crime syndicates, led to more effective local law enforcement, and enhanced the political profile of its chairman, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.

Through the country the crime committee became. . . . a national crusade, a great debating forum, an arouser of public opinion on the state of the nation’s morals.

Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Crime in America, 1951