Max Meshon, 96, noted witness

Max Meshon
Max Meshon
Posted: July 18, 2014

Max Meshon, 96, of Penn Wynne, a Philadelphia lawyer whose skill with Yiddish helped crack a famous Philadelphia crime case, died Wednesday, July 9, of respiratory failure at his home.

Mr. Meshon founded Meshon & Brener, a small, but respected, law firm at 1 E. Penn Center, across from City Hall.

He was well-known throughout the legal community for his collegial attitude and friendly, witty personality. He was willing to fight for defendants from all walks of life, no matter their ability to pay.

But he earned public notice as a witness, not a lawyer. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, then a young prosecutor, credited Mr. Meshon with providing the key break in the case that made her famous.

A Jewish tailor in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia was found killed with a claim ticket in his hand. There had been a burglary at the tailor shop, and the burglars had taken clothes that were left by the defendant to be cleaned and repaired, Abraham said.

The claim ticket had been written by the tailor, an escapee from the Nazis, in an obscure Yiddish script.

"I didn't know what language it was, but because of the victim's history, I photographed the paper and showed it to my mother and father, both of whom knew Yiddish, but with no success," said Abraham. "Then I learned of a man who was reputed to be a big Yiddish maven, so I called him. It was Max Meshon.

"He agreed to meet with me, to see if he could tell what the paper said. I told him nothing about the case, just in case."

Mr. Meshon looked at the paper and read off the name and address of the accused, and the items left at the shop.

"It was Max who broke the case wide open and whose testimony proved a major part of my case," Abraham said. "We became fast friends after that. I shall miss Max very much. His memory shall be for a blessing."

Born in South Philadelphia, Mr. Meshon worked multiple jobs in his teens to support his family during the Great Depression. He enlisted in the Army during World War II, serving as a radio operator on transport planes in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, he married his hometown sweetheart, Henrietta Schaeffer. The two lived briefly on a chicken farm in Petaluma, Calif., before returning to Philadelphia. Mr. Meshon attended Temple Law School and was the editor of school's law review.

Mr. Meshon was active in the Jewish community as a past president of his B'nai B'rith lodge in Philadelphia. He traveled to the Soviet Union and China before the countries opened to the world. He also toured Romania, South Africa, and Colombia. He enjoyed playing tennis.

His first wife died in 1976 of cancer. In 1986, he married Frances L. Shankin. She died from cardiovascular disease in 2011.

Mr. Meshon is survived by sons Alan, Neal, and Jan; daughter Karen Sacks; two sisters; a brother; three grandchildren; and an infant great-granddaughter.

Services were Friday, July 11.

Donations may be made to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, 2100 Arch St., Philadelphia 19103, or via


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