Illegal gambling club
his 1975 memoir (1), Mickey Cohen brags of holding up, as a “favor” to Bugsy Siegel, a gambling club operated by Edward G. “Eddie” Nealis.
Cohen says he was holding a shotgun; the other men, “Hooky” Rothman among them, had pistols. One of the women patrons they robbed was a “beautiful blonde”
After the job, Rothman told Cohen that the blonde was film star Betty Grable, adding that the man with her was the bandleader Harry James.
Cohen goes on to describe another incident two years later, when journalist Florabel Muir pointed out Grable at a party. “You met her before- you took her jewelry!” Muir said, Cohen recounts. Betty “took it very nice” according to Cohen, bending over to whisper in his ear “We were insured anyway.”
Cohen is vague about other details, such as when and where exactly.
Betty Grable and Harry James were present at a gambling club on the Sunset Strip, reputedly operated by Eddie Nealis, which was held one night up by six (or so) masked gunmen.
This wasn’t the Clover Club, the nightspot Nealis and others operated at 8477 Sunset, famous for its illicit gambling rooms. It was an unnamed club located at 9216 Sunset and it happened on the wee hours of December 31, 1945.
Two of the thieves, armed with a sawed-off shotgun and a machine gun, held Betty and a dozen or so other celebrities against the wall with their hands up while the four others made off with the club’s reputed $75,000 bankroll. Betty, the only witness to go on record, insisted the patrons themselves had not been robbed.
As Hollywood nursed hangovers and welcomed the New Year of 1946, Sunset Strip was abuzz with talk of the heist. The only people who hadn’t heard about it, it seemed, were the county sheriffs. The authorities finally raided 9216 on January 4, 1946 but not surprisingly found no gambling equipment.
Because of Betty’s involvement, the story garnered national headlines. Local newspapers revealed that there had been another (likewise unreported) robbery of a half dozen prominent sporting figures at this same address “some months” previously, possibly the incident gossip columnist Hedda Hopper refers to in her column of October 3, 1945:
“That little hold-up on the Sunset Strip took $60,000 smackers away from six of our local bookies. They think they know the five masked bandits who did the trick. If they do, it’s going to be a very serious matter” (3).
Local newsmen also uncovered that Eddie Nealis received mail at 9216 Sunset. Chief Clem Peoples of the Sheriff’s criminal division noted that an “interview” with the “sporting figure” had been arranged through his lawyer, Jerry Geisler, but the outcome, if it took place, went unreported. It was noted that the unnamed gambling club was sited roughly 300 yards from a Nealis-run nightclub, The Colony House (9236 Sunset), soon to be renamed Henri’s.
Suddenly a man claiming responsibility as the club’s operator turned himself in: Jack Alexander Waer. He hadn’t come forward or reported the hold-up earlier because he’d been sick in bed with the flu, he said. He remembered the robbery somewhat differently than Betty; where Betty saw six men and a machine gun, Waer insisted there was one man with a pistol. Refusing to name his backer, he paid a fine for operating an illegal gambling club and was released (3).
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office seemed close to cracking the caper. Deputy Arthur C. Jewel stated that the gunmen were “believed to be from the East.” The following day he reported that five Kansas City and St. Louis hoodlums had been identified as the possible gunmen. But, Jewel warned, going after the gunman might spark a gang war because “Southland gambling figures are trying to reopen activities here.”
Three months later, Deputy Sheriff Al Guasti officially attributed the robbery to a Kansas City gang who had just pulled off a holdup in Denver with an M.O. strikingly similar to the job at 9216 Sunset, as well as a third robbery that had occurred in Ocean Park on June 27, 1945. From witnesses’ descriptions of the gunman, he said, he had identified four as belonging to the Kansas gang. The incident was closed.
(1) Mickey Cohen: In My Own Words: The Underworld Biography of Michael Mickey Cohen as Told to Peter Nugent (Prentice-Hall, Inc.) 1975.
(2) A third incident with a similar M.O. was also attributed to the same gang: the holdup of a card club in Ocean Park on June 27, 1945.
(3) John “Jack” Waer, born Alexander John Warchiwker (1896-1966) listed Eddie Nealis as his employer on his WWII draft registration card in 1942. He had been arrested in Los Angeles on gambling charges at least once before, in July 1943, when D.A. investigators raided an office on the fifth floor of the Lissner Building at 524 S. Spring St. and found five men, including Waer, running a dice game. In September 1948 Waer would testify in a county grand jury investigation into Mickey Cohen’s alleged gambling club operations at the Dincara Stock Farm in Burbank. Waer had by then moved to Las Vegas and worked as a dealer at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas– whose casino was at the time managed by Guy
McAfee, Tutor Scherer and Farmer Page, former partners in the Clover Club. Waer testified that he had been in charge of setting up the illicit casino at Dincara in 1946. Waer was also a witness in Cohen’s 1951 tax evasion trial, as one of the parties who had “loaned” the gangster money. He died in Las Vegas in 1966.