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.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The Massive Illegal Still Discovered at 137 Corlies Avenue During Prohibition in 1932

The fourteen-room home at 137 Corlies Avenue in Pelham Heights was a beautiful place.  Once owned by Town Justice Anthony M. Menkel, it was the last place one might expect to find one of the most massive illegal stills ever discovered in Pelham during the Prohibition years.

New tenants moved into the home in about February or March of 1932.  One can only imagine how the three men from New York City who began frequenting the lovely home were able to smuggle past the watchful eyes of their Corlies Avenue neighbors all the equipment necessary to build a five hundred gallon copper still and fermenting tubs large enough to hold five thousand gallons of fermenting mash into the home.  Smuggle successfully, though, they did.  They built a massive still on the third floor of the old Menkel place.

On Saturday, April 9, 1932, Federal Prohibition agents swooped down on the home in a raid that startled the beautiful neighborhood.  They found and arrested three New York City men in the raid:  60-year-old Hyman Brooks of 647 East Fifth Street in New York City; 28-year-old Vencenzo Russi of 2520 Gravesend Avenue in Brooklyn; and 30-year-old Ralph Scheim of 208 Roger Avenue in Brooklyn.  Hyman Brooks was the brains behind the operation.  The two younger men, Vencenzo Russi and Ralph Scheim, were employed by Brooks to operate the massive still.

I have written about the raid at 137 Corlies Avenue before.  See Mon., Jul. 06, 2015:  Police Raided a Massive 300-Gallon Illegal Liquor Still on Corlies Avenue in 1932.  Indeed, the photograph below shows two of the massive mash tubs seized along with the still during the raid. Today's Historic Pelham article, however, adds a piece to the puzzle and reveals the punishment that the brains of the operation, Hyman Brooks, received after the raid.

in Corlies avenue house. Patrolmen James Tierney and Ellsworth Totten
inspecting liquor fermentation vats. Photo by Frutkoff." Source:  LIQUOR
300 Gallon Still Seized: Arrest Three, The Pelham Sun, Apr. 15, 1932,
p. 1, cols. 4-5.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The Prohibition agents who raided the home estimated that the giant still had only been in operation for about two weeks and that it likely only took a "few days" to set up the still.  After the raid, the three men were taken to a lock-up in Town Hall on Fifth Avenue in Pelham.  Bail was set at $3,500 pending their appearance in Federal Court.

On December 9, 1932, The Pelham Sun reported on the fate of the three men captured in the raid.  The two younger "employees" who operated the still for Hyman Brooks had pleaded not guilty to the charge of operating an illegal still.  Both were convicted and received suspended sentences for the actions.

Hyman Brooks pled guilty before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to a "charge of operating a still."  He paid fine of $150.00 (about $2,800.00 in today's dollars).  

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Hyman Brooks Fined in U.S. District Court; Charged With Operating Liquor Plant in Corlies Avenue House.

Hyman Brooks of New York City paid a fine of $150.00 in United States District Court, on Monday after pleading guilty to a charge of operating a still at No. 137 Corlies avenue in Pelham Heights.  Brooks was arrested in a raid on the house by Federal Prohibition agents on April 9.  The agents found a 500 gallon copper still and 5,000 gallons of fermenting mash on the third floor of the fourteen-room house, which was at one time the residence of former Town Justice Anthony M. Menkel.

Vincenzo Russo, of No. 2520 Gravesend avenue and Ralph Scheim, of No. 208 Rogers avenue, Brooklyn who were charged with being employees of the liquor plant received suspended sentences.  They had pleaded not guilty to the charges."

Source:  PAYS $150 FOR OPERATING A STILL IN PELHAM HEIGHTS -- Hyman Brooks Fined in U.S. District Court; Charged With Operating Liquor Plant in Corlies Avenue House, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 9, 1932, Vol. 23, No. 38, p. 1, col. 1.

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I have written extensively about Pelham's struggles with Prohibition and the enforcement of the unpopular laws that it spawned. See: 

Wed., Jun. 21, 2017:  The Infamous Ash Tree Inn of Pelham Manor and its Prohibition Violations During the 1920s.

Thu., Feb. 02, 2017:  Bootleggers Began to Feel the Heat in Pelham in 1922.

Mon., Dec. 26, 2016:  Pelham Stood Alone in Westchester When It Voted to Go Dry in 1896

Mon., Aug. 22, 2016:  Pelham, It Seems, Became a Hotbed of Bootlegging and Illegal Stills During Prohibition.

Mon., Jul. 06, 2015:  Police Raided a Massive 300-Gallon Illegal Liquor Still on Corlies Avenue in 1932.  

Fri., Jun. 19, 2015:  More Liquor Raids in Pelham During Prohibition in the 1920s.

Wed., Jun. 17, 2015:   Prohibition Rum-Runners Delivering A Boatload of Booze Were Foiled in Pelham in 1925.

Fri., Apr. 24, 2015:  The North Pelham "Speakeasy Section" Created Quite a Stir During Prohibition.

Tue., Nov. 18, 2014:  More Bootleggers and Speakeasies Raided in Pelham in 1929 During Prohibition.

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.

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.

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At 4:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Who knew the old "Copper Still" bar that used to be where Prime-16 is had some historic significance!

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Jim said...

If they moved in Feb or March of '32 and were busted by the Feds in early April of the same yr, how can one think they escaped surveillance?
... the Revenuers were right behind them and no doubt, at least one Corlies compatriot called the coppers to cover their real informant.
There must be more to this story even in headlines.
(Oh and "two jews and a guinea", as Olde Pelhamites might have characterized them, had they known.)


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