Because of federal Prohibition brokers, Jim Ferguson was in and out of jail and jail in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Courtesy of Robert Stoldal.
Final of three elements
On June 20, 1929, Jim Ferguson, the king of the Las Vegas bootleggers, took the stand in federal courtroom and denied wrongdoing. He additionally denied speaking to the federal government’s undercover brokers.
However two undercover federal brokers stated that they had negotiated a cope with Ferguson to provide them with bonded liquor. The brokers stated Ferguson informed them they didn’t want bonded items to do enterprise in Las Vegas because the individuals there had been fairly properly educated to drink his moonshine. The brokers additionally testified that Ferguson confided he had shipped vital portions of alcohol into Los Angeles to go together with a sizeable liquor enterprise in different elements of Nevada.
The testimony and proof was damning on the vice king. When the case went to the jury, the decision arrived solely 40 minutes later – responsible on all counts.
U.S. District Decide Frank Norcross delayed his sentencing of Ferguson in order that he might hear the federal case towards Mayor Fred Hesse, Metropolis Commissioner Roy Neagle and former Police Chief Spud Lake.
Whereas Ferguson didn’t take the stand, the federal government’s lawyer stated he would present that Ferguson, as chief of the Las Vegas unlawful liquor ring, collected safety cash from different bootleggers with full information of the Las Vegas officers, and that the town liquor ordinance was used as a membership to drive all liquor retailers to pay Ferguson cash for cover.
Charles Bradshaw, the bootlegger whose Eight-year-old son had been killed by a police officer’s gun, took the stand to testify about Ferguson’s bootlegging ring. He informed the courtroom he questioned Ferguson about Lake’s appointment as police chief. Bradshaw said that Ferguson then replied, “If Lake wasn’t all right, we wouldn’t have him.”
Bradshaw stated he paid Ferguson $50 per thirty days for cover on the first day of every month, from January 1927 to June 1928. He claimed that after he stopped paying the payment, Las Vegas police arrested him 3 times inside a short while span. Following his third arrest by (then Police Chief) Lake, he requested metropolis officers for an evidence and was advised there have been orders to maintain arresting him till he both give up the liquor enterprise or paid Ferguson.
Joe Might, a Las Vegas police officer who as soon as served as appearing marshal beneath then-Police Commissioner Roy Neagle, testified that Neagle as soon as ordered him to “lay off” implementing the regulation towards the Inexperienced Lantern Saloon after the enterprise had reopened following a raid.
Might testified that when he knowledgeable Neagle he had a search warrant and was on his strategy to raid the Inexperienced Lantern for promoting unlawful liquor, Neagle went to the saloon earlier than he did, and when the officers raided the place, they discovered nothing incriminating.
Might and one other Las Vegas officer testified that when every of them advised Neagle that they had info that liquor was being bought on Block 16, Neagle advised them to go away the alleged violators alone “as long as they don’t go too strong.”
Undercover federal Prohibition agent Harry Drew took the stand and, as soon as once more, associated his dialog with Ferguson whereas posing, together with one other agent, Roland Godfrey, as Canadian rumrunners. Drew testified that Ferguson bragged of getting the best stills in the nation and was “manufacturing huge qualities of alcohol for the California market.” He said that Ferguson advised him he doubted if the individuals of Las Vegas would take very kindly to smuggled bonded items, as they most popular his moonshine whiskey.
This postcard exhibits a west-looking view of Fremont Road in the 1920s. The photographer is standing close to the intersection of First and Fremont. Courtesy of Robert Stoldal.
Ferguson, Drew added, informed him to not fear concerning the metropolis police, that he himself employed and fired the officers in Las Vegas, and held the stability of energy in elections.
Agent Godfrey corroborated Drew’s testimony.
After listening to the testimony, Decide Norcross ordered a directed verdict of acquittal on Hesse and Neagle on expenses of conspiracy to violate nationwide liquor legal guidelines. Norcross stated the proof introduced towards Hesse and Neagle was not incriminating sufficient to carry them.
He additionally discounted the testimony of two Las Vegas cops who stated they have been ordered to “lay off” sure saloons. The officers, the decide dominated, didn’t present proof that Neagle or the mayor had been referring to trafficking unlawful liquor, and that Neagle’s orders doubtless indicated a metropolis coverage, not a conspiracy.
Decide Norcross stated the one proof provided by the federal government to hyperlink Mayor Hesse with a conspiracy was the truth that he requested to switch federal unlawful liquor instances to the town courtroom.
Norcross, maybe giving the town of Las Vegas broad latitude, stated he was not ruling on whether or not this was good metropolis authorities, however that it was evidently a income measure for the town of Las Vegas.
Though the instances towards Hesse and Neagle have been tossed out of courtroom, the decide stated there was sufficient proof to listen to the case towards Lake. On June 26, 1929, a jury heard the conspiracy case towards the previous police chief, together with testimony from Mayor Hesse. Jurors took simply 50 minutes to return a not-guilty verdict, exonerating Lake.
With the instances towards the three Las Vegas metropolis officers now out of federal courtroom, the one factor left was Ferguson’s sentencing. A report from the U.S. lawyer for Nevada included three key questions and solutions about Ferguson:
• “What is his principal business or trade? Bootlegging.”
• “What is the character of his associates? Bad.”
• “What is your opinion as to the criminal tendencies of the prisoner? Do you regard him as a menace to society, a habitual criminal, or as a man who had made a mistake?” The U.S. lawyer’s reply to the third query: Ferguson was a “Habitual Criminal.”
After studying the report, the federal decide sentenced Ferguson to serve one yr and someday in jail. However in a transfer that stunned many, the decide added a provision permitting Ferguson to be launched in a couple of months if he paid a positive. Ferguson would have been out of jail earlier than Christmas.
However days earlier than Thanksgiving 1929, the Justice Division stepped in to quote a earlier courtroom ruling stating that whereas federal judges have the authority to grant probation on the time of sentencing, they don’t have the “authority to sentence a man, and then provide for future probation.”
On Friday, Might 17, 1930, Ferguson walked out of jail, 41 days early based mostly on time without work for good conduct. In his absence, new faces had taken over the bootlegging and vice operations Ferguson had as soon as managed.
When he returned to Las Vegas, he discovered that his spouse nonetheless ran the Double O brothel on Block 16, and some members of his previous gang have been additionally in city. However whereas he was capable of transfer again to his previous haunts, he came upon that the stability of energy in the town’s underworld had modified.
Mobsters from Southern California had begun to make strikes in Las Vegas. People with cash and energy from Ely had arrange store. Locals, such because the Stocker household, had turn out to be robust sufficient to battle again towards “protection” charges. And native regulation enforcement was not as simply corruptible because it had been.
For a couple of months, Ferguson laid low and took time to determine what his subsequent step can be. Then on Christmas night time, December 25, 1930, at one in every of Ferguson’s previous booze lounges, the Inexperienced Lantern, one of the crucial daring holdups staged in Las Vegas in a few years befell. Witnesses noticed Ferguson’s blue Cadillac in the parking zone on the time of the theft.
4 days later, an area newspaper reported that the “Las Vegas underworld was rocked to its very foundations with the arrest of Jim Ferguson, former liquor king and ex-convict.” The new sheriff of Clark County, Joe Keate, arrested Ferguson and two different males in reference to the theft of the Inexperienced Lantern. The sheriff arrested Ferguson on suspicion of being the “mastermind” behind the theft.
Following a preliminary listening to in Las Vegas, a decide dismissed the fees towards Ferguson however sure the opposite two males over for trial.
A couple of weeks later, police arrested Ferguson once more when one of many defendants claimed he had helped plan the theft. However the brand new cost didn’t maintain up in courtroom and as soon as once more Ferguson was launched.
Within the native press, Ferguson’s infamous place had fallen to that of “one-time reputed King of the Las Vegas Underworld.”
Sheriff Keate informed a information reporter that, “There’s no fooling around this proposition, this town is going to be cleared of undesirables pronto, and we’re starting in today.”
Not one to quiet down but, Ferguson once more put himself in scorching water. Police put him in handcuffs after an altercation on Block 16 throughout which he allegedly threatened the lives of 1 or two people. Keate declared that he would have Ferguson charged with vagrancy because the opening spherical in a drive by native regulation enforcement to purge Las Vegas of “troublemakers and undesirables.”
Ferguson paid his nice on the vagrancy rap and commenced in search of new territory past Las Vegas. He discovered it in Utah. A gang of protected crackers started hitting communities all through that state. On October 18, 1931, authorities in Logan Metropolis, Utah, nabbed Ferguson, who used the alias “Sam B. Harris.” Officers arrested Ferguson and two others after they broke right into a protected in Logan Metropolis and stole a automotive. Ferguson confronted auto theft and housebreaking fees.
After he pleaded not responsible, prosecutors provided Ferguson a plea discount – they might cost him solely with third-degree housebreaking if he would plead responsible. He accepted the deal. A decide sentenced him to at least one yr and someday in the Utah State Jail and required him to pay a advantageous and courtroom prices totaling $1,820.58.
On November 7, 1932, the jail launched Ferguson. This time, he headed to the far Northwest.
Not lengthy after he set foot in Spokane, Washington, native regulation enforcement made it clear they weren’t joyful together with his presence. On the finish of April 1933, the regulation charged him with vagrancy and he spent 30 days in jail.
Ferguson headed again to Southern Nevada and rejoined what was left of his gang. However native police and federal brokers have been on his tail, believing he and his gang have been chargeable for a current crime wave that hit Lincoln County, Nevada, and southern Utah.
He continued to pay the results for his persevering with lifetime of crime. On October 25, 1933, Utah officers arrested Ferguson and accused him of robbing a railroad boxcar at Lund, Utah, every week earlier. Based mostly on Ferguson’s arrest, a newspaper credited Southern Nevada regulation enforcement officers, working with railroad police, with “breaking up one of the most dangerous gangs of criminals operating in Nevada.”
Earlier than the yr was out, a federal courtroom indicted Ferguson on theft expenses, discovered him responsible, and, on December 12, 1933, despatched him to federal jail. Two days later, Ferguson arrived on the U.S. penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington, to start a stretch of three years and 6 months.
After his launch from the federal jail, like a damaged phonograph document, phrase unfold that Ferguson was headed again to Las Vegas. Ready for him was his spouse, Magness, who in any case this time nonetheless managed the Double O brothel on Block 16.
However the recognized launch of the town’s most notorious profession felony in 1936 introduced hassle for Magness. On February 25, the Las Vegas Metropolis Fee met to debate pulling all of the licenses issued to Magness. Officers charged her with permitting underage women in her “sporting house.”
Ferguson and Magness acquired some sudden native help. Metropolis Commissioner M.E. Ward stated the fees towards the Double O have been merely a “frame-up” job as a consequence of an “old political feud between Sheriff Joe Keate and James Ferguson, one-time Las Vegas underworld king.”
At a Metropolis Fee assembly, Ward suggested his fellow commissioners that Ferguson can be launched from the penitentiary shortly and doubtless can be again. However Ward defended Las Vegas as a spot for guests who take pleasure in taking their youngsters to native bars.
“This is a supposed to be a wide-open town and we attract tourists on that basis,” Ward stated. He requested whether or not the town would inform its vacationers that “they can’t take their children into the taverns while they buy a drink?”
Ward stated he had visited the taverns in Las Vegas and had seen mother and father with their underage youngsters in all of them. The metropolis commissioner closed his arguments by saying he had seen mother and father in these taverns feeding infants beer.
Regardless of Ward’s plea, his fellow commissioners voted to shut the Double O. Magness would quickly be again in enterprise, however the finish of her lengthy profession on Block 16 was close to.
As for Jim Ferguson, one-time King of the Las Vegas Underworld, there isn’t any document of him ever returning to Las Vegas.
What occurred to them?
Mayor J. Fred Hesse
After a jury discovered him not responsible of all federal expenses in 1929, Hesse returned to Las Vegas to face a recall election. The mayor survived the recall, however introduced he wouldn’t run for re-election and as an alternative think about his automotive restore enterprise. “I’m (through) with politics, I’m going to devote all my time to running the new garage,” he stated.
When he died in 1941 at age 67, a newspaper remembered Hesse for his “picturesque and adventuresome career.”
A educated engineer, Hesse got here to Las Vegas in 1917 to develop plans for a personal agency to construct a dam throughout the Colorado River. As mayor, Hesse took the town’s monetary standing from pink to black and improved metropolis streets, sewers and road lighting. The income to pay for it got here largely from fines paid by bootleggers.
After his demise, the native press didn’t point out the troubles he had confronted throughout Prohibition. A front-page obituary in one native newspaper did say Hesse “established the first police department in a definite headquarters … in a residence occupying the corner of the alley” behind what’s now the Binion’s Lodge.
Las Vegas Metropolis Commissioner Roy Neagle
After his acquittal on all fees in federal courtroom, Neagle determined to dedicate full time to his retail retailer in Las Vegas. After finishing his two-year time period as police commissioner, he didn’t search re-election.
Las Vegas Police Chief Robert “Spud” Lake
After he left regulation enforcement, Spud Lake received into the on line casino enterprise. This linen postcard exhibits him operating the Massive Wheel recreation at a Fremont Road on line casino round 1935. Courtesy of Robert Stoldal.
After a jury discovered him not responsible in the dying of younger Sheridan Bradshaw, and his acquittal on federal alcohol fees, the previous police officer went to work on the Boulder Membership on line casino on Fremont Road. Along with dealing with safety on the membership, he additionally ran its Massive Wheel recreation for some time.
Native information reporters interviewed Lake over the following years. In a single case, in December 1943, a reporter requested him about “gangsters and hoodlums.” The reporter wrote that in response, Lake did “a slow burn” and claimed that Las Vegas “never has been a tough town.”
In 1978, when Lake was in his early 80s, he was requested by reporter Brad Peterson about Las Vegas in the Prohibition years. “We didn’t bother much with it,” Lake replied. “There was a fine of so much a month. The biggest part of them would come in themselves and you didn’t have to go and get them. They’d come in, pay their fine and go about their business.”
In the identical interview, Lake confirmed that Jim Ferguson and one in every of Ferguson’s companions paid the town the fines owed by bootleggers. Peterson wrote that in accordance with Lake, “None of the money … went to the police officers. It all went to the city, which tolerated a business profitable to the city coffers.”
Lake died in Las Vegas at age 87.
Vera Magness Ferguson
Magness, who might have been legally married to Jim Ferguson, operated the Double O brothel on Block 16 for greater than a decade. In 1936, although generally known as “Mrs. Ferguson” in Las Vegas, Mr. Ferguson advised jail officers on the time that he was “single.”
By 1941, the pink mild district of Block 16 had lengthy seen its greatest days and the town started a profitable effort to shut down the block’s vice providers amid complaints from the brass of the U.S. army stationed outdoors Las Vegas.
Magness served as madam of the Double O brothel till August 1941. On the finish of 1941, she married a taxi driver. Aged and close to demise in 1965, her final recognized job was as a maid at a motel in the 300 block of North First Road.
When Ferguson obtained out of federal jail in 1936, there have been unconfirmed stories that he returned to Las Vegas. However in fact the town’s former bootlegging and vice kingpin had disappeared.
After arriving in Nevada in mid-1924, Ferguson spent half of his time behind bars – inside metropolis and county jails and state and federal prisons. Whether or not he was uninterested in jail time and went “straight” for the remainder of his life, or used one other one among his many aliases, Ferguson dropped out of website. His dying, every time that occurred, was not recorded by Las Vegas newspapers.
Robert Stoldal, a longtime tv information government in Las Vegas, is a Las Vegas historian and member of The Mob Museum’s Board of Administrators.
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