Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More Bootleggers and Speakeasies Raided in Pelham in 1929 During Prohibition

Congress implemented the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by enacting The National Prohibition Act of 1919, also known as the Volstead Act. The law became effective, along with the Eighteenth Amendment, on January 16, 1920.  

Thus, prohibition became the law of the land.  As I have written before, however, it was a law meant to be broken.  Private bootleggers and speakeasies sprang up everywhere to meet the seemingly insatiable desire for alcoholic beverages.  Pelham was no different than other suburban communities near New York City.  It had its share of bootleggers, moonshiners and speakeasies.  

I have written a number of times about bootleggers, moonshiners, speakeasies, Prohibition and earlier local prohibition movements in Pelham before national Prohibition.  See:

Fri., May 23, 2014:  How Dry I Am -- Early Prohibition Efforts Succeed in Pelham in 1896.

Thu., Apr. 03, 2014:  The Prohibition Era in Pelham:  Another Speakeasy Raided.

Tue., Feb. 18, 2014:  Pelham Speakeasies and Moonshiners - Prohibition in Pelham: The Feds Raid the Moreau Pharmacy in Pelham Manor in 1922.

Thu., Feb. 07, 2008:  Village Elections in Pelham in 1900 - New York Athletic Club Members Campaign Against the Prohibition Ticket in Pelham Manor.

Thu., Jan. 12, 2006:  The Beer Battle of 1933.

Thu., Aug. 11, 2005:  How Dry I Am: Pelham Goes Dry in the 1890s and Travers Island Is At the Center of a Storm

Bell, Blake A., The Prohibition Era in Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 25, June 18, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes two articles published in The Pelham Sun in November, 1929 -- only weeks after the stock market crash and the onset of The Great Depression.  The first article describes excellent detective work by Village of Pelham Manor police who uncovered a massive 50 gallon still in the basement of 580 Monterey Avenue only days after the new "owner" of the property installed the still.  The second article describes two speakeasies raided in the Village of North Pelham -- one at the "North Pelham Checker Club" located at 574 Seventh Avenue and the other at an unspecified address in an unnamed "cafe" located at Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street.

The first article is notable for its description of the police work used to capture the owner of the still.  The second article is notable for its detailed inventory of the alcohol that was discovered during the two raids in North Pelham.  Both articles demonstrate that, by 1929, in some locales Prohibition was more honored in the breach than the observance.

"Police Rout Bootlegger From Manor; 50 Gallon Still Found
Chief Of Police Gargan Does Excellent Work in Locating Illicit Liquor Plant In Heart Of Residential District.  Bootlegger Has Criminal Record.  Thought To Be Counterfeiter Also -- Came Here A Week Ago

A well laid plan to veil with a cloak of respectability a series of small distilleries in the center of residential districts of suburban communities was nipped in the bud Sunday when Chief of Police Philip Gargan routed a bootlegger our of his first plant in Pelham Manor.  Thomas Craven, owner of a dwelling house at No. 580 Monterey avenue, was arrested by Federal Prohibition officers, Monday night as he stepped into the house where the officers had laid [sic] in wait since a 50-gallon still was discovered in the basement of the residence the previous night.  Craven was released on $1,000 bail pending hearing of his case before the Federal Prohibition Commissioner.  

Chief Gargan has since been informed that Craven has a lengthy criminal record and is suspected of being a counterfeiter as well as a bootlegger.  Assistant United States District Attorney Robert Watts will prosecute the case.

Chief Gargan found the still while investigating vacant houses in company with Sgt. James McCaffrey Sunday night.  The officers found a window open at the Craven residence, which has been vacant for three months, and suspecting that there had been a burglary, they entered the house.  

A strong alcoholic odor permeated the atmosphere and on going into the cellar the officers found a complete distillery which had apparently been in action.  The still was warm, and a quantity of rye mash inside it.  In cans beside the still were fifteen gallons of newly run alcohol.  Around the basement room were arranged bottling apparatus, ,laboratory utensils and other liquor making paraphernalia.

Chief Gargan notified Prohibition Director Maj. Maurice Campbell, who was at his home on Prospect avenue.  Members of his staff were summoned and the trap set for the bootlegger.  
The remainder of the night and all the next day, detectives camped in the vacant house.  Early Monday evening Craven and Albert Georges, who gave his address at No. 2788 Kingsbridge Terrace, New York City,. from where Craven is also booked walked into the arms of the waiting Federal men and were placed under arrest.  Georges professed innocence.  He was released after he had satisfied the police that he was not implicated.  Craven arranged bail and was released late that evening.  

It is believe that Craven had installed the still in the Monterey avenue residence within the last week, as the house was inspected two weeks ago, and nothing found amiss.  

According to information gained through District Attorney Watts, Craven has been sought for several months.  He is suspected of operating an extensive liquor trade, preferring to scatter his small plants in several localities rather than to risk detecction through a big plant in one location.  

Attorney Watts also stated that Craven was convicted on a charge of conspiring to  violate the Prohibition Amendment in Massachusetts early last year and served a prison term at Atlanta, after which he was paroled.  He is believed to have been convicted under the name of Thomas C. Wallace in 1928 on a counterfeiting charge.  Watts said that he has [illegible] when they prove that Craven and Wallace are the same person."

Source:  Police Rout Bootlegger From Manor; 50 Gallon Still Found, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 15, 1929, Vol. 20, No. 83, p. 1, cols. 6-7.  

Undated Image, Circa 1921, Depicting New York City Deputy
Police Commissioner John A. Leach, Far Right, Watching Agents
Pour Liquor Into Sewer Following a Raid During the Height of Prohibition.
Source:  Photographic Print from the New York World-Telegram and
the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection Held in the Library
of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540
Reproduction No. LC-USZ62-123257 (b&w film copy neg.).

"Federal Agents Raid Speakeasies Seize Liquor; Three Arrests Made Capture Pelham Man In Mamaroneck
Charles Brockman, John J. Sims, and Bartender Face Federal Prohibition Charges of Selling and Possessing Liquor.  John Ruperto Arrested In Raid In Mamaroneck.  Colored Agents Raid Pelham Checker Club.  All Released In $1,000 Bail

Two speakeasies were raided by federal prohibition agents this week in North Pelham and a large quantity of beer, whiskey and gin seized.  Charles Brockman, proprietor of the North Pelham Checker Club, No. 574 Seventh avenue, John Sims, proprietor of a cafe at Fifth avenue and Seventh street, and Lazarus Dalfus, of No. 556 Willow avenue, the Bronx, barman for Sims were arrested on charges of violation of the Volstead Act.  All were released in $1,000 bail pending their appearance before Commissioner O'Neill in New York City.  Brockman and Dalfus will be tried December 4.  No date has been set for Sims' appearance.  

John Ruperto, who gave his address at No. 133 Sixth street, North Pelham, was arrested last Friday after a raid on a speakeasy in Mamaroneck.  Ruperto is alleged to have been one of the two men who fled through a rear door of the establishment when the police entered.  Ruperto's case will also be heard December 4.  

The raids at Brockman's on Tuesday and Sims' on Wednesday came as a surprise.  The former establishment was among those which were entered by federal men last March.  A quantity of beer was seized at that time, but the case was dismissed when it was learned that the raid had been made on a faulty search warrant.  Sims' place was also entered at that time, but no liquor was found.  

During the last few months many complaints have been registered with the police about disorder at Brockman's place, which it is said catered mainly to a negro clientele.  Mayor Edward B. Harder and Chief of Police Michael Fitzpatrick presented this case before Major Maurice Campbell a month ago, and since that time negro federal men have been visiting the place to establish evidence on which to secure a search warrant.  

On Tuesday, two negro agents visited the Checker Club, and called for a pitcher of beer.  According to their story they received it without any hesitation, and then served the warrant on Brockman and Dalfus, who acted as bartender.

Chief Fitzpatrick was summoned and with members of his department carted away a large quantity of veer in the street department truck.  Much of the liquor was destroyed on the premises.  

The Checker Club is a three-room bungalow, two rooms of which were piled high with empty bottles of every description.  A portable brewery had been installed in the kitchen and a fifty gallon barrel of beer mash stood beside the stove.  

The booze list of the federal agents was as follows:  one 5 gallon jug of beer; 35 one gallon jugs of beer; 800 quart bottles of beer; 1,800 pint bottles of the same beverage; a quart of whiskey and a quart of gin.

The raid at Sim's place was conducted by four agents under the leadership of John T. Murphy who conducted the raids here last March.  With Meyer Goldberg, Ernest Goldbach and Edwin O'Brien, Murphy entered the cafe, armed with a search warrant.  Murphy told the press that one of the agents had purchased a drink before serving the warrant.  

Search of the place yielded the following:  7 half barrels of beer; 4 cases of ale; four bottles of gin; 10 quarts of whiskey and 3 pints of rye, according to Murphy.  This was also taken to police headquarters in the village truck."

Source:  Federal Agents Raid Speakeasies Seize Liquor; Three Arrests Made Capture Pelham Man In Mamaroneck, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 22, 1929, Vol. 20, No. 34, p. 1, cols. 6-7.  

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