The official at Mount Hope Cemetery, in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, was emphatic: no one under the name Vivian Gordon was buried there—not in February 1931, when she died, nor at any other time.

That news was surprising to me, because it was clear from news accounts of the time that Gordon, an infamous New York City sexual extortionist who had been murdered during Prohibition, was buried, shortly after her demise, at this cemetery. There were even old news photos to prove it.

How could there be no record of her burial at the cemetery? I tried using Gordon’s maiden name, Franklin, but again, the cemetery found nothing.

I was pretty close to finishing my new true-crime biography, Vivian Gordon: The Lady Gangster of Jazz Age New York, and wanted to see for myself her grave to paint a picture of the scene. But now I was puzzled. There didn’t seem to be any record of Gordon’s burial.

Diamond, New York’s notorious Irish-American gangster, circa 1928.

I had stumbled upon Gordon’s story by chance while doing research about Prohibition. She went from being a convent-educated woman to a struggling Broadway actress and, later, a racketeer who dealt with legendary gangsters of the period such as Jack “Legs” Diamond, Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein, and Charles “Vannie” Higgins. Gordon ran a peculiar racket in which women she worked with enticed men—usually rich and high-status folks—into liaisons. The men then became easy pickings for their extortionate demands of cash, jewelry, or other favors to keep their indiscretions secret.

Of course, a woman like Gordon made a slew of enemies, and some of the lesser criminals knew all about her dealings. It was predictable that her story wouldn’t end well. Sure enough, days after she decided to become a cooperating witness for a giant public-corruption probe in New York City, she was found strangled to death in Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx, aged 39. Her death sparked calls for an investigation of Mayor Jimmy Walker’s administration and the lawless atmosphere that pervaded Prohibition-era New York, ultimately leading Walker to resign.

New York City mayor James Walker with Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt in more convivial times, before Roosevelt held a special hearing into Walker’s questionable financial transactions, in 1932.

Newspaper accounts from the time told us that Vivian Gordon was indeed buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. So where was she?

I eventually got my hands on some old court records that detailed Gordon’s meager financial holdings at her death and discovered she was officially known by her old married name, Benita Bischoff, which she had replaced with the stage name of Vivian Gordon.

Sure enough, the Bischoff name was in cemetery records, and the officials at Mount Hope gave me the location and section number. I went to the exact spot and found … nothing.

There was no indication that anyone with Vivian’s name was buried at the spot, a grassy patch surrounded by other grave markers and tombstones. It turned out that Vivian Gordon had lain for nearly 100 years in a completely unmarked grave. Her late brother had purchased the plot but nothing else.

As I stared at the grassy grave, I realized how truly forgotten Vivian Gordon had become. She was a notorious murder victim in New York City history whose death contributed to political upheaval. I thought she deserved something tangible to show that she had lived and died. So I decided to come away from my role as biographer to do something I had never before done: buy a grave marker to commemorate her short, tragic life. It was the least anyone could do.

Anthony M. DeStefano is a New York–based journalist specializing in crime and is a noted historian of the American Mafia. He is the author of 10 books about organized crime