Monday, November 23, 2015

Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland Preview

      My new book with Theresa Griffin Kennedy, Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland, is all about the enforcement of Prohibition in Portland between 1916 and 1933.  We also look very closely at the anti-radical politics and the financial and sex scandals that riddled the administration of long-time Mayor George L. Baker. I tell you all about it in the preview posted on Weird Portland. The book is also about murder and that is what I am going to tell you about tonight.
            Claremont Roadhouse Robbery
            Walter Banaster, aka Little Dutch Herman, who ran The Wigwam resort in Olympia, Washington in the 1930s was one of the most violent and powerful northwest organized crime figures of his time.  Running a murder-for-hire ring out of his gambling and bootlegging joint, Banaster was behind several gang-land style killings in both Portland and Seattle.  He got his start in Portland. The first big splash of his career was the robbery of the Claremont Roadhouse in 1919.
            The Claremont Roadhouse was located on the Highway between Portland and the then separate town of Linnton on the Columbia River.  Roadhouses, where people would drive outside city limits for dining, drinking and dancing, had been popular since 1906 when Fred T. Merrill, Bicycle King of the Northwest and long-time city council member, opened 12-mile House on the Baseline Rd. in southeast Portland.  They gained in popularity when Prohibition came in in 1916.  Larry Sullivan, ex-professional boxer, ex-crimp and one of Portland’s earliest organized crime bosses, controlled several roadhouses in the early days of prohibition, including the Friar’s Club in Milwaukie and the Claremont Roadhouse on the way to Linnton.  By 1919 the Claremont was rivaled only by Birdlegs’ Roadhouse on the eastside.
            On November 21, 1919, just days after Leon Jenkins became Police Chief, Jasper N, Burgess, a member of the state highway commission, and George Perringer, a prominent rancher, both from Pendleton, were staying at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland on a business trip.  Portland, a wide open town, was always good for a junket, so Burgess and Perringer picked up two switchboard girls at the hotel and took them on an afternoon drive. Stopping at the Claremont Roadhouse for lunch, the party was already tipsy from drinking when three men, masked with handkerchiefs, forced their way into the roadhouse, herding the customers together in the large central room.  One of the robbers, most-likely Banaster although he blamed his companions, went into the private room where Burgess and Perringer were drinking with the women.  The robber killed Burgess and Perringer with two shots each before herding their companions into the central room with the rest of the guests.
            The three robbers, Banaster, James Ogle and Dave Smith, made off with over $3000 worth of cash and jewelry and used a safe-house, provided by a Japanese criminal gang to hideout.  Police Chief Jenkins was joined in the investigation of the crime by legendary central Oregon lawman Til Taylor, who had been friends with both of the victims.  Taylor and Jenkins made a point that the deaths of Burgess and Perringer had been the result of a robbery gone wrong, but rumors abounded that the real purpose of the “robbery” had been killing the two men.  Later developments gave credence to the rumors. The next year Til Taylor was killed in a Pendleton jailbreak and soon after Hyman Weinstein, a junk dealer from South Portland moved to Baker, OR and became the “vicelord” of Central Oregon.  Weinstein, whose brother Abe was involved in bootlegging, gambling and fencing in Portland, was an associate of Bobby Evans criminal organization.  The extension of power from Portland into the rest of the state is a strong possible motive for the killings at the Claremont Roadhouse.
The Murder of Frank Akin
            One of Portland’s oldest and most controversial “unsolved” murders is that of Frank Akin, a special investigator sent by Governor Julius Meier to investigate corruption in Portland’s Port Commission.  Akin was shot to death in his southwest Portland apartment in November, 1933, just days after releasing the findings of his Port investigation and before he had released a preliminary report on an investigation of the city’s Water Bureau, which he had just begun.  The Oregonian, which was heavily involved with the Republican establishment, scotched rumors that Akin’s investigative activity was the motive for his death, instead spreading false rumors of his womanizing and financial scams.  Although one man, Leo Hall -- believed to be the gunman, was executed in Washington state for another crime, and another man, Portlander Jack Justice, was convicted of murder for hiring him, the true motive for the crime was never discovered.
Leo Hall was executed for murdering six people at Erland's Point, WA. He was believed to be the trigger man in the Frank Akin murder.
            In the new book Theresa and I examine all the available evidence in the Akin case and present it in a clear manner.  While it is not likely that a solution to the case can be found after nearly eighty years, we are able to shed new light on the case and suggest a motive for the killing that has been long overlooked.  Historian E. Kimbark MacColl in his book Growth of a City, presents an abbreviated version of the case and speculates that the killing was prompted by Akin’s investigation of the Port of Portland.  In the new book we suggest that the Port Investigation was a red herring, designed to hide the real motive for the killing. We present evidence that suggests that his investigation of the Water Bureau, which had been run for more than a decade by corrupt city councilman John Mann, was the real motive for the killing.  In addition we connect both Jack Justice and Leo Hall to the murder-for-hire ring operated by Walter Banaster in Olympia, Washington.
The Torso Murder
            The gruesome Torso Murder case, which saw several packages of human body parts in the Willamette River over several months of 1946, has captured the imagination of murder mystery fans for nearly seventy years.  The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department and the Oregon State Police never got anywhere in trying to solve the case, mainly because they were never able to identify the victim.  Seventy years later new evidence has been unearthed that points at the possible identity of the victim and a possible solution of the case, along with an explanation of why the police never identified the victim.
Anna Schrader came to Portland in 1910 and became a thorn in the side of Mayor Baker and Chief Jenkins near the end of Baker's administration.  Her mysterious disappearance in 1946 coincided with the unidentified body parts found in the river.
            If you’ve been following the podcast Murder By Experts, then you already know about Anna Schrader, secret-police private detective, lover of Police Lt. William Breuning and outspoken opponent of Mayor George Baker’s administration and Police Chief Leon Jenkins.  Theresa and I have been researching Schrader’s life and career for more than a year and in the book we present all the evidence we have found.  The book makes a compelling case that Schrader is the victim in the Torso Murder and that the motive for her death lies in the secret bootlegging operations carried out by the Police Bureau in the 1920s.  The hatred and anger that fueled the brutal murder were most likely created during the so-called Schrader-Bruening scandal of 1929, which rocked the city and forced major changes in the Police Bureau.  If Schrader is the victim it is very likely that Bill Breuning was the killer.
            With all of the suspects long dead and all of the physical evidence missing, we can only speculate on a solution for the case, but we present compelling evidence not only for who the victim and killer could be, but of the machinations of Police Chief Leon Jenkins and Police Captain James Purcell that covered up Breuning’s involvement in the murder and derailed the murder investigation.
            All of that and more will be available when the new book Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland is released by the History Press in February, 2016.  See you there.
Welcome to George Baker's Portland.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Honor Among Thieves

  I am very close to being finished with my new book about Portland during Prohibition. Here is a little more on the career of Roy Moore -- King of the Northwest Bootleggers -- just one of the characters you will be able to read about when it is released by History Press in February, 2016.

An auto camp like this one was used as headquarters by Roy Moore and his gang when they pulled off the Brownsville Triple Robbery in December, 1945. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
          In 1846 a group of pioneers crossed the Oregon Trail and filed land claims in the lush valley of the Callapooia River, southeast of Corvallis.  Most of the year the river was low enough to cross easily, but at the end of the summer the river rose and the settlers opened a ferry that could be hauled across.  Soon the new settlement of Kirk’s Ferry evolved into Brownsville and by 1860 the new town had a grist mill, a woolen mill, a lumber mill and a furniture factory.  The 300-preson town became the center of business and banking for a large agricultural community in eastern Linn County.  In December 1945 business was booming and the vaults in the Pharmacy and Hardware store were stuffed with cash and War Savings Bonds.
            Before dawn on Saturday December 22 a group of highly experienced robbers hit Brownsville.  They dynamited the safe at the Carlson Hardware Store, peeled the safe at Graham’s Pharmacy and rifled the cash register at Chambers Grocery. Peeling a safe is a specialized technique that removes the outer skin of a safe in order to get at its contents. It worked best on safes of a specific shape, often older models used in small towns.  The robbers got over $8000 in cash and more than $20,000 in War Savings Bonds.  The papers didn’t say anything about stolen drugs, but it would have been out of character for the gang to leave opiates behind; especially with the high prices available in narcotics-hungry Portland.  It was the biggest robbery in Linn County’s history up to that time, and one of the largest to ever occur in the state.  The Brownsville triple robbery was the most memorable job pulled by the armed gang run by Roy Moore, King of the Northwest Bootleggers, who had first gained notoriety after the robbery of the Sells-Floto Circus in Vancouver, WA in 1921.
             Roy Moore and his partner, S.D. McLain (aka Douglas O’Day) drove from Brownville to Portland that night, checking into an “auto camp” at SE 82nd Avenue and Powell.  For the last twenty years, Moore and his gang had been committing robberies all over the northwest and using Portland as its home base.   Moore was well-known in Portland for his arrogant court appearances in 1926 when he testified in the trial of two Oregon State Prohibition Enforcement officers who were charged with accepting bribes.  Moore testified in Federal court that he was “Portland’s leading bootlegger” and described how he had personally been involved with bribing the two officers.  Two years later, when indicted for conspiracy to violate federal Prohibition laws, Moore testified that the liquor “racket” had been good to him and he had earned enough to retire.  The so-called “King of Bootleggers” claimed that he had been involved in the racket from November, 1924 until late in 1926.  He said he earned more than $20,000 ($250,000 in 2015) during that time and since then had “been doing nothing.” Moore dismissed the testimony of Ernest K. Specht and George Mays, government witnesses who claimed to be his partners in the liquor business, saying he “didn’t need any partners.”
In 1928 Roy Moore faced charges of conspiracy to violate the liquor laws. He claimed that he had been a "big time" bootlegger but had made a lot of money and retired more than two years before.  The jury didn't buy it and he went to McNeil Island Penitentiary for two years.
            Moore certainly felt that his partners were dispensable.  D. Rasor, the never captured “third man” in the Sells-Floto Circus robbery was allegedly shot during an argument in the getaway car and seen by witnesses limping away on what appeared to be a wounded leg.  Police speculated that Moore probably shot him in order to increase his cut from the nearly $30,000 haul.  After his release from McNeil Island Penitentiary on the liquor conspiracy charge, Moore returned to Portland in 1930. Unpopular with the police-run liquor racket in Portland because of his violent record, Moore returned to his roots with a series of armed burglaries in remote Oregon towns.  He followed the same modus operendi as the Sells-Floto robbery, two veteran armed robbers/safecrackers, known as yeggs, who recruited local accomplices as combination muscle/fall guys.  The local accomplices were expendable and not infrequently killed.  That is most likely what happened to Ernest Bowman on the Brownsville job.
            Bowman, an unemployed logger from Kelso, WA, had been making frequent trips by bus from his daughter’s home in Longview to Portland.  His daughter said that she thought he was looking for work.  He may have been looking for work and he may not have been choosy about its legality.  His search for a job took him to the auto camp in southeast Portland that was headquarters to Roy Moore’s gang of cut throats.  In fifteen years Moore had turned himself back into a Portland big shot, with a gang of hired muscle that kept up a brisk business in protection and safecracking.  Like most professionals Moore usually didn’t pull jobs in town and used Portland as a place to lay low while the heat died.  Vending machine man, Jim Elkins, and gambling attorney Al Winter were getting the town back under control after the underworld free-for-all of the late 1930s.  The cooperative city government led by Mayor Earl Riley and the newly re-emergent Police Chief Leon Jenkins, who had been demoted to Chief Inspector in 1933, made Portland a safe place for professional criminals, as long as they didn’t get violent in town and kept their professional activities outside city limits.
            Bowman met up with Moore-associate Douglas O’Day (real name S.D. McLain) and “local talent” Jack Orville Mann.  Mann was an unlucky burglar from Sweet Home, OR who had managed to be arrested seven times before he was 28 years old.  Mann would be the “third man” in the Brownsville job and all the details of Bowman’s murder would come out at the trial.  Bowman had been interested in earning money from robberies and McLain had been eager to recruit him for a “third man” spot.  Mann didn’t trust the ex-logger, though and warned McLain that he could be “dangerous.”  It is unclear whether McLain believed that Bowman might have been working with law enforcement, but it is clear that he lured him into a car driven by Mann on the evening of December 18, 1945 with the offer of a job in Corvallis that would net the three of them at least $1800.  Mann was at the wheel with Bowman in the shotgun position; McLain sat in the back seat as the three men headed out of Portland.  According to Mann they hadn’t even gotten out of the city before McLain shot Bowman in the back of the head.
            The two criminals drove to a spot just south of Camp Adair, a wartime Army base near Corvallis, where they slit Bowman’s belly open so he would sink easily and dumped the body from a bridge into a large creek.  They drove on to Brownsville and cased the businesses in town before returning to southeast Portland.  Two days later Mann, McLain and Bowman drove back to Brownsville and pulled off the triple robbery.  The day after the Brownsville job Linn County Sheriff Mike Southard spotted Jack Mann walking down the street in Brownsville. Recognizing the ex-con and knowing there was a warrant for him in Albany for a motel robbery; Southard arrested him to see what he might know about the triple robbery.  McLain and Moore probably wished that Mann had joined Bowman in the rushing creek, because Mann told it all.  Not only did he tell the police all about McLain and Moore and where they were hiding, he told all about the shooting he had witnessed.
            Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputies swooped down on the auto camp on SE Powell and caught McLain and Moore with almost all of the money from the robberies.  McLain argued that $110 of the cash found in his pocket was his own from before the robbery. McLain was charged with murder and tried to show the police where he had dumped Bowman’s body, but he got lost in the unfamiliar rural surroundings and never found the right place.  Bowman was finally discovered in January 1946 when his body washed up near Philomath.  McLain plead guilty to Bowman’s murder and he and Mann both received stiff sentences for the burglaries.  Moore was convicted on robbery charges as well, but the veteran criminal managed to stay out of jail until 1947; plenty of time for Jim Elkins and the boys to throw him a proper going-away party.  Showing up for his third stay in the Oregon State Penitentiary in November of that year; Moore was released in January 1949 when outgoing governor John Hall pardoned the hardened criminal for “health reasons.”
In 1953 Moore was brought back to Oregon to serve a life sentence as a habitual criminal.  He retired to the Oregon State Penitentiary where he taught safe-cracking and extortion to the next generation of young criminals. Historical Oregonian Archive.

            Roy Moore had sense enough to get out of Oregon, because the Linn County district attorney wasn’t done with him.  A habitual criminal case was filed against Moore, who was convicted in absentia in 1951.  Moore didn’t stay out of jail long.  He was arrested in North Carolina in late 1949 and convicted of another safe burglary; this time with his brother as an accomplice.  Moore was released from prison in Raleigh, NC in January, 1953 and delivered into the arms of Ellsworth Herder, guard captain of the Oregon State Prison.  He was brought back to Salem where he served out the rest of his life.  The veteran armed robber, safe cracker, still operator, protection racketeer and professional killer would have been a valuable professor in the Oregon State Crime College.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Murder and the Wobblies

Wobblies (members of the IWW) used street speaking as an effective tool of persuasion.  The corner of SW 6th and Stark was often crowded with transient workers during the "rainy season" who made up large, rowdy audiences for street speakers. University of Washington Library Special Collection.
            The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were a new kind of labor organization for the twentieth century.  After the harsh bloody fighting between labor and management in the 1880s and 1890s, it was time for a militant, confrontational group to take on the issues of the most oppressed workers in the country, women, children, transient workers and the unemployed. The racist, exclusionary policies of American labor unions of the nineteenth century had limited the power of labor and provided a divided front that could be easily sidetracked and defeated by management.  The IWW scrapped those old ideas and was an inclusionary group that organized across the lines of race and gender; anyone who identified as working class could become a Wobbly, as IWW members were known.
            The IWW represented only a small part of the working class, but their militant tactics of “cultural resistance,” use of popular music and slogans to get across their simple message of class consciousness and solidarity and their commitment to direct action made them highly visible.  Because of these tactics they became the most visible targets of anti-union feeling.   The IWW represented an important trend in the labor movement in Portland; pulling the lower levels of the working class to the left they helped labor leaders like Will Daly and Mayor Allen Rushlight to build power closer to the center of the political spectrum.  It was the alliance of the labor movement and the Progressive Party, symbolized by Daly’s career, which allowed them to create a highly organized labor movement in Portland.  Labor support helped William U’Ren, and other progressive leaders, push through the Oregon System and expand democracy to the working class.
            As the most visible and radical elements of the labor movement the IWW drew the attention and the anger of employers like a lightning rod.  Because of the power and organization of Portland’s Central Labor Council, even the most intransigent employers in Portland found it expedient to appear to be pro-union.  The radical IWW, who were even seen by average union members as too far to the left, made an easy target that the employers could hit repeatedly in an effort to drive a wedge between the upper levels of the working class and the lower levels.  The main tactic that employers used against labor was “divide and conquer.”  The employers were constantly pointing out the differences between the various elements of the working class and giving advantages to select groups, such as men with white skin as a way to keep the working people distrustful and competitive with each other.  It was a common practice for employers to use race as a wedge, often hiring Japanese, Hindu or Black workers as strikebreakers to keep the working class divided along racial lines.  A very clear example of this tactic is the 1910 strike at the St Johns Lumber Mill.  In February 1910 the lumber mill imported 200 Hindu workers as strike breakers, leading to several violent confrontations, the forcible expulsion of the Hindus from St Johns and an even more racially divided working class.
            Between 1910 and 1914 the labor movement in Portland reached the height of its power. With Oregon Federation of Labor president Will Daly as the city’s most popular commissioner and likely next mayor, it seemed as if the coalition of union members and small business owners that dominated the east side of Portland was on the verge of taking power.  The radical IWW saw that hope as a chance to pull things even further to the left and they capitalized on the opportunity by supporting a series of strikes and instituting a “free speech movement” in Portland.  Free Speech Movements were militant fights over public speaking laws in an effort to build IWW power and reduce the power of the city in which the fight was held.  Street speaking was the standard method that political activists and candidates had to get their message in front of voters in these days before TV and radio.  Most cities had limits on where and when such speaking was allowed.  IWW free speech fights were campaigns of civil disobedience against such restrictive laws.  Their usual tactic was to break the law openly and get their activists arrested in an effort to “fill the jails” and overwhelm the city.  Such fights had taken place all over the west by the time Portland’s turn came in 1913.
            Allen Rushlight, an eastside plumber, union supporter and progressive politician, was elected mayor in 1910 to replace Joseph Simon, the longtime leader of Oregon’s Republican Party Machine.  Simon, although he did a lot for the development of Portland as a city, had become the symbol of corrupt “ward politics” government and as such was as responsible as anyone for the adoption of the commission government that took over the city at the end of Rushlight’s term of office.  Rushlight, elected with high hopes by union members, proved a disappointment.  His progressive plans for the city were not achieved and he spent most of his time reacting to criticism and trying to suppress vice and the radicals of the IWW.  Rushlight like most of Portland’s mayors used the police force for political purposes: one of their most effective political uses was as a weapon of propaganda.  It was standard practice to use police raids for various crimes to divert public attention or to direct it into a specific channel.
Enoch Slover, Portland Police Chief was accused of being on the payroll of North End brothel owners.  He was always happy to use police raids to divert public attention.  In 1913 he tried to frame IWW organizer Gordon Napier for the murder of John A. Brown. Portland Police Historical Society.
            Enoch Slover, who served as chief of police for Rushlight’s entire term of office, became a symbol of the corrupt institution that the Portland Police Bureau had become.  Slover joined the Police Bureau in 1903 and distinguished himself as an officer during the Lewis & Clark Exposition, where his first beat was located.  He rose through the ranks quickly, promoted to sergeant before the end of 1903 and becoming Captain in 1905. Slover was accused of corruption and bribery many times in his career, the earliest recorded accusations against him came in 1904.  After serving as chief between 1911 and 1913, Slover intended to continue as a Police Captain, but he was fired from the Police Bureau for “conduct unbecoming a police officer.” Slover had been identified as the leader of a ring of corrupt cops who were on the payroll of brothel owners in the North End.  More than a dozen officers were fired at the beginning of Mayor H. Russell Albee’s term of office.  The mass firing was used as evidence that the Police Bureau had been cleaned up; once again Slover served a theatrical roll in a propaganda performance.
            All through the spring of 1913 the Wobblies were building power and agitating among the women workers who dominated the canning industry on the east side.  Mayor Rushlight and Chief Slover, responding to pressure from downtown merchants and eastside factory and mill owners, went after the IWW. The first propaganda police attack came when the wobblies were accused of killing John A. Brown, teamster foreman for the C.J. Cook Co.  The Cook Co. was one of the biggest excavation and demolition companies in the city and had been capitalizing on Portland’s growth as the crumbling old buildings downtown were replaced by new buildings.  The second propaganda attack against the wobblies came a few months later with the raids on the Monte Carlo Poolroom and the Fairmont Hotel, meeting places for homosexual men, and the resulting Greek Scandal.  The homosexual scandal, in the aftermath of the 1912 YMCA Scandal which created a strong anti-gay feeling in Portland, was used to harass and breed mistrust of immigrants and migrant workers, who made up a large percentage of IWW membership.
            The murder investigation, although unsuccessful, was used to discredit the wobblies and to try and discover the names of its members.  Murder was a typical weapon that was used against the IWW in two ways: some IWW organizers and members were murdered outright; others were framed for murder; either way effectively destroyed the leadership of the IWW. From the attempted frame up of IWW leadership for the murder of Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 to the execution of Joe Hill for a murder he didn’t commit in 1914, frame ups were an effective weapon against the IWW.  In 1913 Chief Slover tried to frame Gordon Napier for murder.
            It started with an argument in the Elkhorn Café on NW 6th & Davis.  The café was next door to Wobblie Hall, the IWW headquarters and was frequented by IWW members as well as Teamsters and other union members.  Over the previous decade, as Portland unions fought employers on the issue of the “open shop” – a work place that allowed union members and non-union members as part of the workforce, conservative AFL unions such as the Teamsters and the International Longshore Association had grown more radical in their demands and methods and built solidarity with the IWW.  The “open shop” is a method that employers use to dilute the strength of unions and pit workers against each other – Portland unions and employers have still never settled this issue conclusively.  The Elkhorn was a place that you could always find support for the “Revolution.”  It is curious that John A. Brown, foreman for the C.J. Cook Co. and an outspoken opponent of unions would stop there for a drink.
            He did just that on the evening of March 24, 1913.  His companion on that occasion was Alfred Carter, a man who claimed to be a close friend of Brown’s.  Carter, who also worked for C.J. Cook on the excavation for the new Pittock Building, claimed that he and Brown stopped in at the Elkhorn for a couple of drinks after work and that he got into an argument with wobbly Gordon Napier.  According to Carter, Napier left the café and when Carter and Brown came out he led a group of wobblies who attacked them on the sidewalk.  During the fight Brown received a blow, possibly from a heavy salt cellar, which fractured his skull and killed him the next day.  Napier and Carter both got away after the fight, most likely with help from the wobblies, but several IWW members were arrested.  None of them would admit anything and stayed in jail rather than talk.  Carter was quickly found and although he was the original murder suspect, he accused the wobblies and the police went along with it.  Napier was picked up in The Dalles a couple of days later and returned to Portland to face a murder charge.
IWW demonstrations were often met by violent oppression, as seen in this photograph from San Diego.  During the Portland Free Speech Fight Dr. Marie Equi became enraged at the brutal methods the police used to clear the streets.  She often credited that experience for her commitment to political radicalism. University of Washington Special Collection.
            It seemed like an open and shut case, Napier confessed to the argument with Carter and the fight on the sidewalk, but he said that he had been after Carter and hadn’t fought with Brown at all. One of the witnesses, Ernest Lindsay, a Teamsters’ union member, was identified as the man who hit Brown, but he denied that he had been involved with the fight.  Lindsay’s testimony was so unbelievable that he was charged with perjury.  Napier was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but police couldn’t get enough evidence to charge him with murder. The Grand Jury didn’t buy any of it and they returned “not true” bills on both Lindsay and Napier’s charges.  With no other suspects, the police dropped the investigation.  Solving the murder was less important than discrediting the IWW.
            A quick check of the history of Alfred Carter, the main witness against the wobblies, points to a different theory of the crime.  Carter, who sometimes was a union member and sometimes scabbed, was part of a burglary ring that stole building supplies and tools from construction sites. When Carter was arrested in 1910 for stealing tools police thought they had finally captured the ring that had been operating in Portland for a couple of years.  Carter and his nephew, Fred Haynes admitted that they were working for prominent contractor Edward M. Neylor.  Suddenly the investigation was dropped and no charges were brought against Carter, Haynes or Neylor.  The abrupt end of the case suggests that protection was involved, as it often kicked in before criminal cases could go to trial.  Haynes’ involvement with local burglary and bootlegging rings for the next two decades also provides a clue that the family had connections in the underworld.  Carter claimed to have been close friends with John Brown, but no one ever backed him up on that fact and there is no evidence that the two men were close.

            The basic question of the John Brown murder is: what were Brown and Carter doing at the Elkhorn Café?  Carter was not a union supporter and was a “known scab,” Brown was the foreman of a construction company that had been fighting with the Teamsters’ Union for at least the last two years.  Why would these two men choose a bar frequented by radical union members, right next door to Wobbly Hall, for a couple of drinks after work?  It is not surprising at all that Carter got into a loud argument with Napier.  Napier, who had a long record for radical activity in both Oregon and British Columbia, would have been a natural enemy of both Carter and Brown.  Carter would have been certain of finding a fight at the Elkhorn and he could easily have provoked a wobbly enough to get him to go for reinforcements, as Napier seems to have done.  Is it possible that Carter chose the Elkhorn because of the possibility of a fight and he used the fight as cover to kill Brown? Brown could have discovered Carter’s illegal activities, or he could have been involved in a deal with him, either situation could have provided a motive for murder.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Shooting At Birdlegs'

            Before his death in 1929 James H. “Birdlegs” Reed became one of Portland’s most legendary bootleggers.  He wasn’t a “moonshiner” – who made illegal liquor – and he wasn’t a “rum runner” – who smuggled it in – he was a nightclub proprietor who sold liquor and helped people have a good time.  Most of the time he was in business – at the Union Social Club on N. Park Ave and later at Birdlegs’ Roadhouse on the Baseline Rd (now Stark St.) – he was supplied with liquor by the Pullman Porter Bootleg Ring, which brought bonded liquor into Portland on the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The steady supply of high quality liquor and the protection provided by “fixers” such as Al Wohlers and later Tom Johnson allowed Birdlegs to operate without interruption for nearly two decades.
The Pullman Porters on the Southern Pacific Railroad, which made regular runs between Portland and Oakland, Ca., kept Birdlegs' Union Social Club, and a large part of Portland, in high quality bonded liquor all through Prohibition. Photo by Jack Delano. U.S. Library of Congress.
            Birdlegs, a blind man and an African American, opened the Union Social Club sometime before 1912.  Soon the Union was known as Portland’s highest-class “negro resort” that provided an elegant environment for drinking, gambling and interaction between the sexes.  Although Portland’s first jazz performance most likely took place at the Golden West Hotel, a few blocks away, music was popular at the Union and after 1914 it was not unusual to hear jazz there.
            The Union Social Club attracted a diverse crowd, although the majority of its customers were black, and it became a favorite hangout for African American prostitutes.  The old North End pastime of “trick rolling” – stealing money from drunks and prostitution customers – brought the heat down in 1912.  After several reports of men being robbed at the club, Police Chief Enoch Slover “declared war” on the club and staged several harassing raids there.  Ex-policeman, saloonkeeper and pimp Al Wohlers, the most powerful North End “fixer” of that time, provided protection, so Birdlegs never faced serious punishment, but the raids weren’t good for business and sometimes they seemed personal.  Like the time the Union was raided while Birdlegs was away.  The next day he bragged that it wouldn’t have happened if he had been there.  Within days the place was raided again and the police arrested more than a dozen people, including Birdlegs, who was there this time.
Police Chief Enoch Slover seemed to take a personal interest in Birdlegs Reed and staged several harassing raids on his Union Social Club in 1912. Portland Police Historical Society.
            After Birdlegs moved outside the city limits in 1919 his roadhouse became a focal point for violent crime.  Its prosperity attracted robbers and rivalry with other bootleggers caused several violent incidents, but the Union Social Club kept a low profile, with only one known incident of violence there.  The violence occurred in 1913, three years before Prohibition began, and it was the result of rivalry over a woman.
            Lena Smith, an attractive African American woman and part-time prostitute, was the cause of the rivalry between Allen Clarke and William “Mack” McPorter.  Smith would achieve greater notoriety in 1914 when she had cocaine smuggled to her in the city jail inside hollowed-out walnut shells.  She was not only a cocaine addict; she was a promiscuous woman who was loyal to no man.  Her simultaneous relationship with Mack McPorter and Allen Clarke created bad blood between the two men and they fought over her on more than one occasion.
            Mack McPorter, a bootblack at the Multnomah Hotel, confronted Clarke, a barber with a reputation for violence, over his relationship with Lena Smith in June 1913.  The argument became heated and McPorter brandished a knife.  Clarke, who was known as a “bad man,” pulled a gun and shot McPorter three times.  McPorter was hospitalized and Clarke was arrested for attempted murder.  McPorter didn’t appear in court to testify, probably because he was recovering from severe wounds, and Clarke was acquitted on a plea of self defense.
            McPorter slowly recovered from his wounds and nursed fantasies of revenge.  When he was released from the hospital in August, 1913, one of the first things Mack did was get a gun.  Late in the evening of August 18, 1913 Mack walked into the Union Social Club looking for Clarke.  Mack must have known where to find his rival as he made his way through the crowded nightclub to a back room where he was gambling.  McPorter didn’t say anything, but he fired his pistol several times, hitting Clarke and killing him instantly.  Bartender Johnny Patton tried to keep McPorter from leaving, but Mack pressed his gun into Patton’s stomach and pulled the trigger several times. The revolver clicked on empty chambers, but it was enough to make Patton let go of him and McPorter ran from the club.
            The murder of African Americans in 1913 was not a high priority for the Portland Police Bureau and they followed different rules than they did in investigating murders of Euro-American victims.  When Captain Joseph Keller and Patrolman J.W. Morelock arrived they found the Union Social Club empty except for the dead man, but there were about forty excited black people in the street.  Keller and Morelock pulled their guns and arrested the whole crowd.  One man ran and Captain Keller’s warning shots just made him go faster. He was never identified.
Police raids were expensive not only because police confiscated liquor and arrested the customers, but they often broke up the furniture too. U.S. Library of Congress.
            Standard procedure for solving a black-on-black murder at the time was to arrest all black people in the area and try and get one of them to confess.  After interrogating the forty suspects, Capt. Keller identified six who had witnessed the murder and who named “Mack Porter” as the killer.  Birdlegs Reed cooperated with the police and identified Lena Smith as the cause of the trouble.  During a “general roundup in the negro quarter” Keller arrested Lena Smith as a material witness.

            Mack McPorter was nowhere to be found.  The murder generated excitement for a few days, but when the killer couldn’t be found the police ceased investigating. McPorter had fled to Washington State where he remained at large until 1920 when he was picked up in Everett, WA on another charge.  The Everett police identified him as a murder suspect from Portland, but since no indictment existed for him no one ever tried to extradite him from Washington and the murder was forgotten.  The publicity didn’t hurt business at the Union Social Club, which continued to operate until 1918, two years into Prohibition.  After a major raid that year, Birdlegs closed the place and opened Birdlegs’ Roadhouse just outside the city limits on the Baseline Road.
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Friday, June 26, 2015

Smitty the Bootlegger

Here is another warm up exercise for my new book about Portland during Prohibition. A violent story about one of Portland's most vicious and colorful criminals.
Prohibition was an extremely unpopular law and enforcement was done so unfairly that it became very popular to resist the law.  Drinking became even more popular than it had been before it was outlawed.
            Wee Willie Smith, aka Smitty the Bootlegger, was one of Portland’s most colorful and violent bootleggers during Prohibition.  Smith, like many of Portland’s gangsters, was an athlete as a young man, but his sport was unusual – cricket.  This may have had something to do with his size. Smith was a small man who often went by the nickname Shorty.  No matter how small he was Smitty the Bootlegger was vicious, especially to cops who tried to arrest him.
            Shorty Smith often worked with Roy Moore’s gang and enjoyed the protection the “king of Portland bootleggers” afforded by his cozy relationship with the police.  Although Smith was arrested twice for assault with a deadly weapon, once for murder and numerous times for possession of alcohol and narcotics, he rarely served time in jail.  He was acquitted more than once and he usually got off with a fine if any punishment was exacted.
            Smith, who worked off and on as a taxi driver, started his criminal career with drug dealing for which he was arrested in 1920 and 1922.  By 1923 he had connected with Moore’s gang and was providing muscle for liquor distributors such as Jack Phillips and C.B. Corcoran.  Jack Phillips was Portland’s own version of Jay Gatsby; a talented and well-known student at Jefferson High School who returned from the Great War with a big thirst for booze and for money.  Phillips and Smith were sitting in C.B. Corcoran’s car near the corner of SW Eleventh and Jefferson on the night of February 2, 1924 when the first recorded violence of William Smith’s career occurred.
Wee Willie "Shorty" Smith aka Smitty the Bootlegger, part-time taxi driver, full-time criminal, was one of Portland's most colorful and violent bootleggers.
            Dr. J.A. Linville, 62 year old head of federal Prohibition enforcement in Oregon, stepped out of a shoe store on Eleventh and walked toward his car with his assistant William Kellar. The two Prohibition agents saw Corcoran’s car with the three men in it parked behind theirs and recognized it as a “bootlegger’s rig.”  Approaching the car Linville stepped onto the running board on the passenger’s side and confronted Corcoran, who was at the wheel.  Corcoran jammed the car into reverse and quickly backed up about eighty feet, smashing Linville into two telephone poles and a few trees, and dragging him most of the way.  Kellar ran up on the driver’s side and jammed his pistol into Corcoran’s ear, bringing the car to a halt and saving his boss’ life.
            Linville was badly bruised and several ribs were broken.  His clothes were almost completely ripped off, but he helped Kellar take Corcoran, Phillips and Smith into custody before collapsing. Smith and Phillips claimed they knew nothing about the nine gallons of whisky packed into the car, but Smith had a pint in his pocket and all three were arrested for possession of alcohol.  In court all three men pled guilty to liquor possession and were fined $500 each, charges of resisting arrest were dropped.  The fine was hefty, the equivalent of nearly $7000 each today, but it didn’t seem proportional with the physical harm Linville suffered.
            Smitty the Bootlegger went back to making liquor deliveries and providing muscle for Roy Moore’s gang, but somewhere he met Lillian Foley and added a new scam to his repertoire. Foley aka Blondie, a down and out alcoholic with a record for prostitution, would entice men to her room with promises of booze and sex.  Smith, in the next room with a weapon, would wait for an opportune moment and burst in on the couple and with threats extort money from the victim.  It’s an old con called the Badger Game. There is no way to tell how many times Shorty and Blondie pulled their scam or how many skid road hotels they used, but they were set up at the Arcade Hotel on February 17, 1925 when Willie Smith shot police “secret agent” John Fagerlie.
            The shooting of Fagerlie, better known as Handsome Hans, may have been a deliberate attempt at murder or it may have been a misunderstanding as Smitty claimed.  Although Moore enjoyed protection from the police, the violent methods of his gang must have rubbed Chief Leon Jenkins the wrong way.  Whether Handsome Hans was out to get Moore’s gang or not, he was an obvious target for a hit. Fagerlie, a former logger who had been arrested in a speakeasy, was a very efficient “stool pigeon.”  Handsome Hans passed his time spending freely in brothels and blind pigs (illegal drinking parlors) and gathering evidence that could be followed up by the Raiding Squad.  In just the first six weeks of 1925 Fagerlie had been responsible for more than thirty arrests.
John "Handsome Hans" Fagerlie, undercover "secret agent," nearly died when Shorty Smith shot him through the lung.  He survived but retired from police work after the shooting.
            Whether Wee Willie Smith deliberately tried to kill Handsome Hans or not, he didn’t succeed. Fagerlie was badly wounded and nearly died, but slowly recovered. The wound forced Handsome Hans to retire from police work, though so in that sense the shooting was very effective.  Smith’s next murderous attack lends credence to the idea that Wee Willie worked as a hitman, but details are too sparse to say for sure.
            After being acquitted on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, Smith married Foley and they set up housekeeping in an apartment on SE Ankeny.  They continued their nefarious business and Smith was arrested several times for possession of liquor.  He paid a fine of $300 for one arrest, but seemed to still be enjoying some level of protection. 
            The police were involved in the liquor business in order to contain it and violence was not part of the plan.  Roy Moore’s gang was dismantled in 1928 and the “king of the bootleggers” went to McNeil Island for a few years.  Violent rivals, such as the DePinto brothers tried to take over Moore’s business, but the Police Bureau proved to be good at eliminating competition.
Lillian "Blondie" Foley Smith was Smitty's wife and accomplice.  Her job was enticing victims back to her place with promises of booze and sex.
            It is unclear whether Samuel Taylor was working for the police when he hooked up with Lillian Foley Smith in August 1933.  He was a logger, like Handsome Hans had been, and he was a brother-in-law of police sergeant Lawrence Russell, so it is very possible that Taylor was a “secret agent” as well.  The set up was very familiar: Just like Handsome Hans, Sam Taylor met Blondie and was lured to her premises with promises of booze and sex.  Taylor went along, most likely with the intention to gather evidence for a search warrant.  Wee Willie, as usual, was hiding in the apartment with a weapon, this time a blunt instrument.  At some point Willie jumped out and beat Taylor to death.

            Just like before Smith claimed self defense, saying that the fight started when Taylor insulted his wife, Lillian.  Smitty lied on the witness stand, saying he only hit Taylor with his fists a couple of times.  Autopsy showed that Taylor had suffered a severe beating with a heavy object. Lillian backed up her husband’s story and juries always seemed to like Wee Willie.  After a few months in jail Smith was acquitted and released in April, 1934.  By that time the old order had passed. Mayor Baker was in retirement; Leon Jenkins was Inspector of the Night Watch; a new generation of underworld characters were ready to take over Portland’s vice industry.  Things may have gotten too hot for Smitty the Bootlegger, because he and his wife disappear from public records after his acquittal. Maybe they left town.
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