Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Portland Confidential

I finally got around to reading Phil Stanford’s excellent book Portland Confidential, and boy am I glad I did. Stanford has been one of my favorite Portland writers since I stumbled on his old Oregonian column years ago. In this book he uses his breezy style to tell the fascinating story of Jim Elkins and the corruption in Portland that brought national attention to the Rose City in 1957.

Stanford calls this Portland’s dirtiest little secret. It has been mostly unmentioned for half a century. Stanford has exposed the secret once and for all and tells the dirt on some of the larger than life figures of Portland history, such as Terry Schrunk, Jim Purcell and Jim Elkins himself.

Portland was embarrassed in 1957 during televised Senate Racketeering Committee hearings Senator Karl Mundt said, “It is embarrassing to me to think of the people of Portland, Oregon, with a mayor (Terry Schrunk) who flunks a lie-detector test and a district attorney (William Langley) hiding behind the Fifth Amendment. If I lived there I would suggest they pull the flags down to half-mast in public shame.”

Stanford gives us the story of the massive racketeering and political corruption that flourished in Portland in the 20th century. He tells his story mostly through the life of Jim Elkins, a dope-addict, pimp and armed robber, who came to Portland in 1937 and started a small whorehouse.

In just a few years Elkins was challenging the possibly mob-connected boss of Portland vice, Al Winter. Within a few more years Winter retired to Las Vegas and Elkins was the main controller of prostitution, drugs and stolen goods in Portland.

The early Fifties saw a struggle between rival powers over gambling revenue in the Rose City. What brought Senate staffer Robert Kennedy to town was the possible Teamster role in this struggle. Blubber Maloney, one of the Seattle mobsters who tried to horn in on Elkins' empire, claimed that he had contacts with the Teamsters, but when push came to shove the Teamsters backed someone else, Stan Terry and the slot machine question was settled.

This book is full of great historical color and Stanford’s interviews with people like Little Rusty, a former prostitute who had an affair with a high ranking Portland Vice cop, and the mysterious Old Vice Cop add a personal touch that goes down well.

Stanford shines a light on some of the more interesting visitors to Portland during this time: the notorious – Ben “Bugsy” Segal, Mickey Cohen; the prominent – William O. Douglas, Robert Kennedy; the famous – Sammy Davis Jr. Not many people know he got his start in show business singing with the Will Mastin Trio in Portland.

Stanford’s book puts a couple of interesting Portland murder cases into context: The Tatum murder of 1947 and the Hank Case of 1954. I will write more about these in a later post. He also tantalizes us with hints of more obscure killings like Nippy Constantino who was gunned down on October 23, 1944. I will have to look into this one.

He also added a couple of obscure locations for my Crime Map: Jim Elkins' last home in Portland, the Pago Pago Room and the Clover Club, where Sammy Davis Jr. sang.

Thanks, Phil for a great read. I loved it and will read it again. Everyone else should too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


12:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home