Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Murder Hotel

            Portland has always had a large population of transient workers who pass through the city at various seasons; in addition a portion of the transients stay in town year round.  Transient and resident hotels have always served this population in the North End and in the downtown area, creating neighborhoods with a fairly high incidence of alcoholism and violence.  The Read Hotel, located on SW Salmon between Third and Fourth from 1909 until 1967, was one of these residence hotels, but it stands out because of its unique history.  By the 1930s the Read Hotel had become a haven for ex-convicts and a hideout for wanted fugitives.  Connected to a powerful ring of bootleggers the Read had protection from the local police and often served as the headquarters for burglars, armed robbers and kidnappers who operated in Portland and throughout the northwest.
Attorney I.G. Ankelis was a member of the Ex-Newsboys Association.  Through his contacts in that group he was able to offer protection from the police for the Read Hotel.
            Located across the street from Lownsdale Square and directly between the Multnomah County Courthhouse, half a block west, and the Lotus Café and Cardroom, half a block east, the Read was directly in the center of a neighborhood notorious for crime, vice and drinking.  Violence against women was a common occurrence and there were at least two murders of women that are connected with the history of the Read Hotel.  Jean Miller, daughter of a prominent Portland family who became addicted to heroin in the 1920s, ran the hotel.  Miller had a long criminal record that included narcotics charges, the standard charge of “being an immoral woman” as well as a conviction for harboring a federal fugitive in 1938.  Miller’s relationship with corrupt lawyer I.G. Ankelis and bootlegger John Lowe helped protect the hotel from the police and there is evidence that the hotel was paying for this protection as early as 1918.
            The hotel served as a residence for many ex-convicts and other low paid workers. The history of the hotel in the columns of the Oregonian shows that even with protection from the police there were several arrests for bootlegging and prostitution associated with the Read.  At least twice young women were forced out the windows of upstairs rooms and injured in falls while attempting to get away from rapists.  There were also several beatings of women in rooms at the Read, some of them very severe.  Obviously we don’t know all of the crimes that were planned or committed at the Read, but we know of a few that can serve to illustrate.
Fay B. Wise has a long police record for burglary and served many years in both the Oregon and Washington state penitentiaries.  He had a long association with the Read Hotel and was involved with crimes there for more than ten years.
            The first high profile crime that can be definitely associated with the Read Hotel was the robbery of Birdlegs Road House in December, 1926.  Birdlegs was a popular roadhouse on Base Line Road near Rockwood owned by James “Birdlegs” Reed.  Reed, a well known blind African American gambler/club owner, had run the famous Union Club on North Park Avenue before prohibition.  After a high profile fight with Police Chief Slover and a series of raids against the Union Club, Reed relocated to the suburban roadhouse location, where he continued to sell high quality bonded whiskey to his customers.  Protection from the police didn’t protect Reed from other bootleggers.  On the night of December 20, 1926, two armed men held up the roadhouse, binding and gagging the customers before relieving them of cash and jewelry.  One of the customers tied up and gagged in Birdlegs that night was John Lowe, another black bootlegger who had been a rival of Birdlegs for many years. 
            A few days after the robbery Fay B. Wise and Neil Anderson were arrested as the robbers who had hit Birdlegs and several other roadhouses.  Anderson was a resident at the Read Hotel and was recently released from the Washington State Penitentiary.  Anderson had a long record for burglary and had been serving a sentence in Walla Walla after a violent shootout with police in Seattle.  Fay Wise, also recently a convict at Walla Walla, had a long record as a burglar as well.  After his 1926 arrest Wise claimed that he had been trying to go straight, but that bootlegger John Lowe had coerced him into the robberies.  Wise pointed to his wife and child in Portland as evidence of his desire to go straight, but his later record shows that he was never successful at “going straight.”  Wise and Anderson implicated John Lowe in the robberies and it soon became evident that Lowe was the “mastermind,” planning the robberies and serving as the “inside man.” Lowe was sentenced to twenty years in the Oregon State Penitentiary, ending the career of one of Portland’s most interesting and colorful bootleggers.
            Wise and Anderson both got four year sentences for robbery. Wise returned to the Read Hotel after his release in 1930 and then went back to prison on a burglary charge. After his release in 1935 Wise became a suspect in another violent crime connected to the Read Hotel in 1936.  Ada Haskins was a woman down on her luck who lived at the Read Hotel.  Little is known of her life, but she had gone through a painful divorce involving a sexually transmitted disease and her ex-husband had recently committed suicide.  When she was found garroted to death with a piece of baling wire in Washington Park on Sunday morning, July 25, 1936, the police thought she might have been depressed enough to commit suicide.
            Haskins’ sisters disagreed.  Mary Ash, of suburban Portland, and Eva Pollock, visiting from Kansas, said that she had been in good spirits and was planning to visit them on Sunday. Although their sister had suffered with health problems and depression, they insisted she was not suicidal. Some young boys who saw two men running away from the reservoir before Haskins’ body was found there and two IOUs in a desk drawer in her room at the Read made the police suspect that she had been murdered. Haskins had made two loans of $100 each to an ex-convict recently released from the Oregon State Penitentiary named William Rae.  Fay Wise, also recently released from Salem, had witnessed one of the notes and it was due on July 25th; the day Ada Haskins was found dead.
            The police picked up the two ex-cons and Captain John Keegan, chief of detectives, and Sergeant James Fleming gave them the “third degree.” Rae and Wise brought no complaints against the police and they may have been “protected” by the syndicate that handled relations between Portland’s underworld and its city government, but many arrestees during this time had complained of the Police Bureau’s abusive and harsh interrogation methods. Witnesses said that Haskins had been in a good mood the Saturday she died, looking forward to a date or “surprise party” she expected that night.  She was overheard on the phone discussing what to wear and she had her hair done in anticipation of going out that night.  She was seen talking with one man in the Read Hotel and getting into a car with another man later that evening, but witnesses couldn’t identify Rae or Wise.  After holding the two men for four days the police released them and ruled that Haskins had killed herself.  The verdict left many unanswered questions and her family was dissatisfied, but the case was closed once and for all.
            The hotel’s protection was provided by an attorney named I.G. Ankelis, a South Portland boy and member of the ex-newboys organization.  The ex-newsboys was a group of young men who would become very influential in Portland. Its membership included such people as Bobby Evans, Paul Ails and Terry Schrunk. Ankelis, a prominent defense attorney, defended many people charged with bootlegging, narcotics and burglary who worked for his fellow ex-newsboy members.  In 1934 Ankelis was disbarred after being charged with forgery and had only recently been reinstated on a probationary basis.  His probation would not be successful. In 1938 it would become clear that he was running a “shakedown” gang out of the Read Hotel.
Portland had many programs designed to help alcoholics stop drinking.  Programs like that at the Mar-dor Hospital attracted problem drinkers from the entire region to Portland.
            In July, 1938 federal agents raided the Read Hotel and arrested Anthony Garguilo and Lee Tombleson on kidnapping charges.  They were eventually convicted of kidnapping an Idaho farmer, driving him to Spokane and forcing him to pay $900 ransom before releasing him.  Jean Miller, the hotel’s proprietor, was convicted of harboring fugitives after she admitted to changing the hotel register to conceal the two men. She paid a $500 fine and received a year’s probation.  I.G. Ankelis, who was accused of masterminding and supervising the kidnapping, was convicted of harboring a fugitive and sentenced to 18 months, including six months on a federal road gang.  Things returned to normal at the Read Hotel, but the neighborhood got more violent during World War II.
            Checking into the Read Hotel on the night of September 19, 1947 was the last stop on a long downward spiral for Ethel Jane Rice. The 41-year-old divorced housewife from West Virginia had been in a spin since at least 1940 when her marriage broke up and a possibly illegitimate child was born in Glendale, CA. Ethel began to experience a severe drinking problem as her marriage broke up and the child was eventually put up for adoption.  She began a life of drifting that first took her to Seattle where she met James E. Rice.  Her marriage to Rice may have been bigamous, but she was going by his name when they arrived in Portland in June 1947.
            James claimed that he had brought her to Portland seeking a cure for her drinking problem, but he never reported her missing even though he hadn’t seen her in nearly two weeks.  Ethel had hit bottom, picking up men in the shabby hotels of downtown Portland. On September 19, Rutherford Beer, an ex-convict with a long record for burglary who worked as a janitor, walked along SW Salmon Street toward the Read Hotel.  He had been drinking heavily and probably staggered as he approached the steps to the hotel’s entrance. Seeing Ethel standing near the entrance to the hotel Beer said, “Are you waiting for me?” When she answered, “yes,” they signed into the hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Jim Courtney and went upstairs.
The Read Hotel attracted a large clientele of  of ex-convicts and criminals, like Rutherford Beer (pictured), and created a serious danger for Portlanders.

            Beer claimed that he caught her with his wallet in her hand and she refused to give it back.  That’s why he hit her “a couple of times.” Growling, “I’ll be back,” Beer stomped out of the room and went to have a few more beers at a nearby dive.  Ethel lay on the bed with blood all over her face.  She may have revived and tried to clean the blood off her face with a towel, or Beer may have done that when he came back to check on her, but she died on the bed before he got back. Beer said he was surprised that she would die from the “couple of blows” he gave her, but the coroner found multiple traumatic injuries; including a skull fracture and evidence that she had been strangled or throttled.  Beer pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to fifteen years.  He served less than ten years, dying in a single-car accident in Portland in 1957.  The hotel Read survived until about 1967 when it closed.  The building was demolished sometime after that.
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