Anything for a Bust

February 6, 1927
rumsquad Over the weekend, the District Attorney’s crackerjack Prohibition task force proved beyond the shadow of a doubt their devotion to the cause.
Then again, after the theatrical busts they staged, it’s also possible that rum squad head George Contreras and his men simply craved adventure, danger, or an excuse to wear women’s clothing.
The fun started when Contreras and two of his agents entered a home while dressed as telephone repairmen.  When they were unable to find the hooch inside, they flung open the chicken coop in the backyard, and were greeted by three full-grown lions.
Yes, three full-grown lions.  In a chicken coop.
All three men promptly vaulted over the fence, and sought shelter across the street.  Here, they discovered A. Hernandez’s 25 gallon still, and arrested him.
The lions were pets, they later discovered, though “not particularly fond of strangers.”
After the lion incident, Contreras dressed two more of his agents up in women’s clothing and took them joy-riding to 217 E. 61st St..  Here, he pulled up to the home of a suspected moonshiner, Raymond Manley, and asked for “some liquor for the girlfriends.”  When Manley brought out a bottle, police raided the place and discovered an enormous still, 180 gallons of whiskey, and 39 barrels of mash.
So, to sum up:  a man crafts a tasty beverage by hand, and goes to jail for his trouble, while the man who raises adult lions, in a chicken coop, no less, walks free.  And our rum squad seems to enjoy playing dress-up a little more than the average adult probably should.
Up is down, left is right.  Sheesh.

Of felines, gas grates and tipsy transit

January 18, 1927
Los Angeles

Lovers of the purring class will be down at 720-32 South Main Street this weekend to tour the 23rd annual Los Angeles Cat Club exhibition, which this year highlights the pug-nosed Persian and water-lovin’ Angora breeds. But we reckon the biggest draw is San Francisco champion Princess Zenina, who recently escaped death when a salmon can became stuck on her head, cutting off her air supply. Happily her mistress discovered the distressed puss and cut an air hole in the can before carefully cutting it away. That leaves Princess Z with eight lives, in case anyone’s counting.

Just one block south at #856, the one-man taxi business of ex-cop Emil N. Scott has been shuttered after Scott was branded in Municipal Court as a bootlegger. It seems he sold hooch to passengers who knew to hail his cab when thirsty.

In less sunny news of L.A.’s animal citizens, casting director Hugh S. Jeffreys, 46, was found dead in his breakfast nook at 1475 Wenzel Avenue, Palms, along with his little dog and a caged canary. A gasping parrot was saved by the negro maid, who had served Jeffreys’ breakfast just an hour before. The room was poorly ventilated, and the gas fire that burned in the grate had somehow filled the room with carbon monoxide.

Death Potion No. 5

January 7, 1927
Los Angeles

Death Potion Headline

Bending the Volstead Act to the breaking point is de rigeur among the smart set, with an evening of drinking rarely resulting in anything worse than a queasy stomach and a screaming headache the next day.

Dennis J. Cavanaugh (22) and his companions Walter Scott and “Tex” Scott went out last night to do a little carousing. The young men began their evening by stopping off to buy a couple of pints of rum at a store on East Ninety-Second Street, run by the Henkins brothers, Clay (46) and William (48).

Where the young men went to party after purchasing the hooch is not known, but by this morning Walter was in critical condition at his home, “Tex” was very ill, and Dennis had been found dead on the front lawn of a house at 1847 Roosevelt Street – his body reeking of alcohol.

Whether they knew it or not, the Henkins brothers had sold the boys poison liquor. They are currently in jail facing manslaughter charges.

Buying illegal booze is dangerous – it’s like playing Russian roulette. But it becomes even more frightening when people like Wayne B. Wheeler, advocate of the Anti-Saloon League, come out in support of allowing the government to use poison to enforce Prohibition.

On January 1st of this year, the new government formula (“Formula No. 5”) for denaturing industrial ethyl alcohol went into effect. The formula doubles the amount of poison which manufacturers are required to use. Bootleggers sometimes buy industrial ethyl alcohol and substitute the original label with one of their own. Only three drinks of the libation may cause permanent blindness.

Many in Congress have demanded that the government stop legalized murder. The Secretary of the Treasury recently announced that he is opposed to the use of poison to enforce the law, but that “Formula No. 5” will remain until a non-removable, non-poisonous denaturant can be found by government chemists.

Pass the Bromo, Please

January 1, 1928
Los Angeles

A year ago prohibition agents observed that "last-minute calls for holiday cheer" skyrocketed on New Year’s Eve, so this year detective chief George Contreras and his men staked out area roadhouses. When "suspicious-looking characters" drove up, they were searched. Five flivvers were confiscated and thirty bootleggers arrested—and yet heads are splitting all over Los Angeles this morning for, despite the last minute roundup, the hooch flowed freely last night.

Indeed, by 7 o’clock this morning, the Coroner’s Office and Receiving Hospital listed two dead, eight critically—perhaps fatally—injured, and another seventy people slightly hurt in booze-fueled traffic accidents, including a pedestrian who was "partially scalped" in a hit-and-run at 39th and Vermont.

Over at 1827 W. 78th Place, Justus Gunn woke up after the party he and his wife hosted for their friends and discovered that his wife was missing. Gunn told police he "retired [or passed out?] as the guests were leaving" and didn’t notice the little woman was gone until this morning. Friends didn’t know where she was, and Gunn declared there had been "no quarrels or disagreements which might explain her sudden departure." There was no further mention of Mrs. Gunn in the pages of the Times, so whatever the cause of her disappearance, it probably wasn’t criminal.

More ominously, 14-year-old Florence Ellison left her father’s house (723 Bonnie Beach Place) yesterday afternoon to visit her mother (522 Clifton Street). Around 7:30 last night, Florence rang the doorbell at 620 South Wilton Place and told C.R. Morrison she was lost. Morrison drove Florence to the streetcar, gave her directions, then returned home and called Florence’s mother. But Florence never arrived.

Epilogue: Florence Ellison was found, fatigued and possibly drugged, on January 2. She told police that after becoming lost, she joined the New Year’s celebrations downtown where she met cabdriver Edmund D. Kearney at about midnight. They had drinks, and after a drive through Chinatown, Florence spent the night at his apartment. Kearney was held on suspicion of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. No information was given as to just how Florence spent New Year’s Day.

Matthew 5:16 Goes Electric

 shedslight

captfixitDecember 16, 1927
Sawtelle

 

Los Angeles Police Captain W. L. Hagenbaugh feeds more juice into the stills of Sawtelle than he gets from them; after he raids the moonshiners and chops up their contraptions of copper and coil, he fashions fixtures and floor lamps for his new nine-room Spanish job up on Comstock in Westwood.

 

 

Recently, materials from three forty gallon bootleg stills, lined in some very fine silver, have been reclaimed from their sinful ways and turned toward this honest enterprise.

 

This writer’s inquisitive interests now satisfied—yeah, you’re green, I get it—my acquisitive interest takes over:  where are these shades now?

 

 

Ho, Ho, Ho and a Case of Scotch

case of scotch headline

November 12, 1927
San Simeon Marion Davies

Federal Agents John H. Vail and Charles E. Cass received an anonymous tip about two mysterious vessels moored off the coast of San Simeon. The agents were told that each of the ships was carrying a large supply of illegal liquor. The informant either didn’t know, or wouldn’t say, to whom the liquid holiday cheer was supposed to be delivered. Could the booze have been intended for a party at Hearst Castle hosted by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and his actress companion Marion Davies? If so, it would never arrive.

After nightfall the agents went down to the beach and hid themselves behind some boulders. Their evening’s surveillance was rewarded when they observed several shadowy figures hauling crates off of one of the ships and stacking them on the sand. Moments later, the concealed feds heard two cars roll down from the road to the waiting cargo.

The cops believed that the first car to leave the beach was meant as a decoy, and allowed it to proceed to the highway unmolested. However, before the second automobile could get very far it was overtaken by police. Inside was known bootlegger Earl Simpson with his passengers…thirty-two cases of scotch.

Simpson was arrested on the spot and taken to jail, but was soon released to an enigmatic stranger who posted the necessary $2000 ($23,964.37 USD 2007) cash bond. 

The ships are believed to be on their way to San Pedro. Maybe they’ll make a successful drop this time. We hope so – holiday shopping is thirsty work.

Hit Records Make a Splash

August 11, 1927
Los Angeles
blasts

 

 

 

Three terrific explosions ripped through the Hall of Records to-day!  Who could have committed such a dastardly act?  Anarchists?  Bolsheviks?  Theosophists?  Vegetarians?
hor
The twelfth-floor room in which the blasts took place were stained and dripping a deep crimson red.  Surely the blood of the innocent!  Splattered across our noble governing offices by devious dynamiting moustachio’d malcontents!
kegs
On further investigation, all that dripping gore was discovered to be just red wine…for the Hall of Records, it seems, is a pretty swell place to stash some wine kegs. 

Until they burst.

Drink to the Law of Unintended Circumstance

fredthechemistJune 16, 1927
Los Angeles

Chemist Fred Paguilnati had been minding his own business in his home at 1528 Redondo Boulevard when local law enforcement came by for a visit.  Which was understandable, since Fred’s chemistry business was less about mixing Bromos and more about tending to his 200 fredhouseabovecases of assorted liquors, at his home bootlegging operation (complete with full bottling plant).  Proprietor Fred had driven the coppers away with a gun but they’d come back with full force and broken down the door.  And so before Municipal Judge Stafford went Fred, where today he was told he could pay $500 ($5,975 USD2005) or take fifty days.  He took the fifty days.  Ah, this, just a day like any other, here in Volstead-era Los Angeles.

To our left, Fred’s house, center, as perhaps a Prohis Chopper might see it. 

 

In related news…yes, we all know that Prohibition turned ordinary people into criminals, and gangsterism left corpses stacked liked cordwood on our streets, but let’s discuss something serious for once—stick this in your if-it-ain’t-one-thing-it’s-another file:
icecreamncandy

The article notes, just as one example, that cigarette comsumption was up 400%.  Thanks a lot, Wayne Wheeler, for turning us into a nation of fat, toothless, wheezing, cancer-ridden sclerotic emphysemics.   

 

Whistle While You Work

June 12, 1927
Los Angeles

Is there anything more quaint than a peanut wagon, its operator on life’s downward slope yet cheerfully awaiting only a word from you to scoop up a paper sack of delicious, salty goobers? This was the face that 72-year-old Victor Tartas presented to the world—-until recently.

To the untrained eye, the steady stream of customers at the peanut stand bore testimony only to the elderly Tartas’s business acumen and pleasant personality. But Sergeant Adams of the Los Angeles Police Department detected something peculiar in the peanut vendor’s manner: if an approaching customer whistled once, Tartas responded with a single blast of the peanut cart’s horn. Two whistles were met with two toots on the horn. A quick investigation revealed several pints of whiskey nestled beneath a false bottom in the wagon.

Despite evidence to the contrary (twenty gallons of moonshine, a small still and a “quantity” of mash were found at the peanut vendor’s home at 2118-1/2 Brooklyn Avenue), Tartas pleaded not guilty. Jury trial was set for September 13, 1927. Bail was fixed at $1,000–which, it must be stated, wasn’t peanuts.

Only Your Studebaker Knows For Sure

April 2, 1927
Los Angeles

tonyheadlineOn this Spring day in 1927, investigating officers were pavement-pounding in the Italian neighborhoods, attempting to scare up information about the April Fool’s Day discovery of one murdered Antonio (Tony) Ferraro.  But there was no talking to be had, and the crime scene revealed nothing in the way of tell-tale fingerprints or any such evidence, and so Tony Ferraro remains another unsolved Los Angeles gangland slaying.

Tony Ferraro was 34, married, and an erstwhile bootlegger.  He had given up the bootlegging game back in January when officers knocked out his elaborate still at 532 South Soto St.  Thereafter he had gone into the olive oil business–the evening of March 31 he set out from his home at 2724 Cincinnati St. with six one-gallon cans of the unctuous stuff (only to return for his funeral a week later).  On the morning of April 1 a passerby’s attention was attracted by the stream of blood pouring forth from the back seat of Ferraro’s Studebaker, parked at 659 Kohler St.  

ferraroandwifeRobbery was not the motive, as Ferraro’s diamond ring, watch, money clip and olive oil were unmolested.  Persons unknown entered Ferraro’s car, where he was beaten with a tire iron (his bruised hands indicating he put up a strong fight) and then shot in the head once with a .38 and twice with a .32.  The body was then pulled from the front seat and lain across the olive oil in the back.

Ferraro was a Matranga relative and Los Angeles bootlegger who had had some problems with his business partners.  In September of 1925, someone dynamited a vacant two-story building Ferraro owned at 2729 North Main; eight months later the home of his cousin, Victor Pepitone, 317 West 77th St., was dynamited; five months thereafter the home of Jim Mussacci, Ferraro’s business partner, 675 Lamar St., was destroyed in a dynamite explosion.  The news from April 2 hints that Ferraro may have recently talked to authorities and implicated two former liquor trade associates, resulting in their arrest, but that clue went nowhere.  Attempts to quiz the widow Constance resulted in her continued protestations that Tony had no enemies anywhere.

ferraroscarOn April 5 the Times reported a rumor that Ferraro’s car had been seen the night of the 31st in Chinatown between when he set off from home at 6 p.m. and when the car was first spotted at 10 p.m. at Sixth and Kohler, but placing the killing in Chinatown didn’t make solving the murder any more possible or probable.  That day Ferraro was released from the Coroner’s to his home once more; the cinematic mind must imagine properly florid gangland sendoff, with bouquets from those Wright Act violators Tony double-crossed.  

And up in heaven, the special cloud reserved for unsolved LA homicide victims—Harry Katz there waiting with a martini—added one more.

ferraroburial