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.


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