Albert Marco

albert-marco

Christmas Day, 1925, an LAPD beat cop responded to a report of a fight at a bungalow court in the fashionable Westlake district. He found two men having a heated argument, but no sign of fisticuffs. Still, one of the men pulled a revolver on him. The officer arrested him and took him downtown to the city jail behind Old Central at 1st & Hill, where he was booked on an assault with a deadly weapon charge. Then, suddenly, the charge was reduced disturbing the peace. Albert Marco, one of the city’s top bootleggers, was back on the streets within hours, released on $100 bail. Marco didn’t know it yet but it was a short-lived victory. The incident placed him in the sights of a vice crusading city councilman, which eventually led to his downfall.

According to information Albert Marco himself provided in official federal records, he was born Mario Albori on April 17, 1887 in Trieste (then part of Austria-Hungary). He claimed to have come to the U.S. from Italy in 1906, arriving at the port of New York. (1)

Marco was using the name Mario Albori and living at 9 Hancock St., NYC in June 1911 when he first applied for naturalized citizenship, giving his occupation as “hatter.” (2)

Under yet another name, Giovanni Albori, Marco married Aderline (Lena) Gardella in New York City in August 1911. In September 1911, a man named Martin Albori (another of the names Marco was known to use) was arrested in New York for infringement of trademarks, accused of fraudulently passing off inferior liquor using brand-name bottles, corks and labels.

As of 1912, Marco, using the name Martin Zule (sic) and and Lena were living in San Francisco, California, where a daughter, Evelyn was born in August 1912. A son, named Martin Albori, was born in San Francisco in April 1914. (3)

By his own account, Marco himself was living in Los Angeles by that time. Curiously, he  was able to establish the date of his arrival in the city exactly: March 28, 1914. Although the Times would later assert that Marco “began as a bartender in an obscure beer joint on Main Street,” it is unlikely that he arrived in LA without connections. 1914 was also the year saloon/brothel owner Charles Crawford relocated to Los Angeles. Unverified sources have suggested that Marco and Crawford had worked together before, in Seattle. (4)

In any case, in Los Angeles, Marco was affiliated with Crawford’s “Spring Street Gang,” handling prostitution and liquor, coordinating the latter part of the time with Milton “Farmer” Page, who headed the syndicate’s “bootleg trust” in the early days in addition to running gambling operations. Adopting the name Albert Marco, from 1916 to 1918 he lived at the Fort Hill Apartments, 425 North Hill St., tooling around in a brand new Scipps-Booth auto and giving his occupation variously as “hat maker” “unemployed hatter,” “clerk” and “traveling salesman.” He was granted naturalized citizenship in May 1916

Albert Marco in 1921, from his U.S. passport application. National Archives.

For a while he ran a saloon in the St. Elmo Hotel (formerly the LaFayette and the Cosmopolitan) at 343 N. Main St, as well as other locations. A passport application Marco completed in 1921 indicates that he had been staying in the Tacoma area for the last couple of years, but was back in Los Angeles by the end of 1921 after an extended European vacation.

The St. Elmo Hotel c. 1920. Albert Marco briefly operated a saloon at this address. LAPL

In August 1923 Marco was operating out of 130 S. Spring St.. The place was full of customers one night when the police showed up and caught a waiter disposing of the evidence by attempting to pour it down a hidden drain contraption. He needn’t have bothered: leading the raid was Charles Hoy. Hoy was one of the 38 high ranking officers “purged” from the LAPD in 1938, suspected of being on the syndicate’s payroll. Marco and the waiter were duly arrested for violation of the Wright Act, the State version of the Federal Volstead Act. It made a good story for the papers, especially with Hoy “hurling a pan of steaming raviolli” through a transom and hitting the steal doors that secured the back room with a bang. But Marco’s pleasure club at 130 S. Spring was not shut down, much to the annoyance of reformers on the city council.

In February 1925, Marco was a witness in the trial of Farmer Page, who had shot and killed a man at Bert the Barber’s notorious Sorrento Club, 1848 W. Sixth St. Described in the Times as “friend of Bert the Barber’s” and a “restaurant proprietor,” Marco backed up Page’s claim of self-defense, testifying at the inquest that he took a .32 caliber automatic from the floor underneath the body of Page’s victim after the shooting but claimed he hadn’t witnessed the incident itself. He’d been in the next room and heard a gunshot. Rushing in and seeing Page in the room and the the body on the floor, he cried out “Who did this?” “I did it. He tried to kill me,” Page replied, according to Marco. Marco also stated that he’d heard the victim threaten Page previously (5).

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Later that year came Marco’s own legal troubles and his arrest for assault that became merely disturbing the peace. A few days after he walked out of the city jail, newly-elected city councilman Carl I. Jacobson demanded an explanation from Police Chief Heath as to why the felony assault charage against Marco, whom the Los Angeles Evening Express called “L.A.’s political boss,” and the Times called a “cafe man,” had been reduced to a misdemeanor. The detectives who had freed him on the lesser charge (6) cited a lack of evidence, adding that Marco had witnesses who were prepared to swear that he was not the aggressor in the incident. Jacobson refused to let the matter drop, calling for an investigation by the City Prosecutor and D.A. Keyes not only into the “fixing” matter but also wider allegations that gambling and bootlegging flourished in the city limits under police protection. The City Attorney reluctantly looked into the Marco case and made a report, which the city council called a “whitewash.”

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It was then referred to Chief of Police Heath for a full-blown inquiry. The LAPD’s report, issued in January 1926, was likewise branded a cover up by Jacobson, who had since launched his own investigation with the help of citizen and church organizations.

Governor Richardson weighted in, adding his own accusations of vice protection as well as overall neglect of duty on the part of D.A. Keyes. The Grand Jury promised to investigate. Councilman Jacobson reacted with skepticism:

“If the grand jury shows that it means business, that it is sincere in its efforts to uncover the vice conditions, and who is responsible for the protection which our reports indicate those in charge of the traffic in women, gambling houses and bootleggers, pay and receive, then we shall work with the grand jury.”

Nothing came of any of it. Councilman Jacobson continued to rail about citywide vice conditions. Marco carried on as before, until, on July 28, 1927, his bootlegging dive, the North Side Pleasure Club at 130 S. Spring, having operated with apparent impunity since Hoy’s 1923 “raid.” was raided again- this time for real, by federal dry agents. Marco denied that he was owner of the establishment, but it was noted that the phone in the office was registered to him, and guard dogs on the premises wouldn’t respond to anyone’s commands but Marco’s (7). The prohis later noted that two LAPD officers were present at the time of the raid and made no effort to help; in fact, they had tried to hinder the proceedings.

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Councilman Jacobson crowed none too quietly about Marco’s arrest at the city council’s meetings of August 3, and 4, 1927, noting that he had repeatedly complained to the Police Commission about Marco’s barroom with no results. He proposed a council resolution to commend the federal agents for carrying out the raid, and criticizing the local police for their failure to do so. He also insisted that police investigate a gambling club going full-blast on South Main Street that he alleged was run by Farmer Page.

The next night, on Friday August 5, Jacobson was arrested on morals charges following what came to be called the Red Flannel Raid. Details of exactly what happened vary by source, but the basic story was: Jacobson called at the cottage of an attractive woman constituent, “Hazel Ferguson,” (Callie Grimes) ostensibly to discuss a city tax situation. Grimes offered him a drink, which the teetotaling councilman refused. She gave him a tour of the house. When they got near the bedroom, the lights suddenly went out. Jacobson later testified that he was roughly shoved onto a bed and stripped down to his underwear, which may or may not have been red flannel (8). When the lights went on again, the place was crawling with police and reporters. Detective Lieutenants Dick Lucas and Harry Raymond (who, like Chief of Police Davis, had been colleagues of LAPD vice squad officer-turned Spring Street insider Guy McAfee), and Captain Bert Wallis testified that they’d gone to the home in response to a report of a “wild party.” Watching through a window, Lucas and Raymond observed Jacobson enter Grimes’ bedroom and start to disrobe. They rushed in and arrested him. Questions arose, like why such high-ranking officers had gone out on a mundane call, and had a reporter with them (9).

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Jacobson called it a frame-up and vowed not to give up his fight against Albert Marco and protected vice. The case went to court, but after the first trial ended with the jury unable to agree, the charges were quietly dropped on October 18, 1927. Jacobson continued to serve on the city council as he had throughout the ordeal.

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The same month, Marco, described in the Times as the “asserted king of Los Angeles’ so-called underworld,” was made to stand trial on his July 1927 liquor charges, and in arraigned in federal court on the Volstead Act violations. It was revealed that he had a prior arrest here for liquor possession, dating to 1923, which the Times should have already known since it reported it at the time. The Illustrated Daily News alleged that Marco controlled brothels in Los Angeles (10). On November 16, 1927 he was found guilty of possessing contraband liquor and maintaining a nuisance. He received a six months sentence and a fine of $1000. Marco remained free on bond while the case was appealed. The U.S Circuit Court denied the appeal on May 22, 1928, but as of June 1, Marco still hadn’t surrendered to U.S. Marshals to begin serving his time.

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The Ship Café in the 1920s. It was managed by Tommy Jacobs, who like Marco had been a witness in Farmer Page’s 1925 murder case.

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The Ship Cafe, Venice as it looked in 1928. LAPL

Interior of the Ship Cafe, 1920s

Interior of the Ship Cafe, 1920s

Then, on June 27, Marco was arrested at the Ship Café in Venice after shooting at fellow patrons in a brawl. One of the men took a bullet to the back but lived. Marco ditched the weapon and his bloody clothes and was trying to escape when police arrived at the scene. The charge was assault with intent to commit murder. This time there was no knocking it down to a misdemeanor. Though his first trial ended, typically, with a hung jury, on retrial, Marco was found guilty on September 7, 1928 and sentenced to 2 to 20 years. The clincher came when Captain of Detectives Dick Steckel, who’d been in charge at Venice Division that night, testified that Marco had offered him “a grand” if Steckel would give him a “break.”

Marco in court, 1928. LAPL.

Marco in court, 1928. D.D.A. David Clark at left. LAPL.

Marco was held in the County Jail while the case was appealed. He still faced his six-month sentence for the Volstead Act violations; the U.S. Court issued orders that Marco should serve his state term first and be placed in federal custody upon his release.

Marco had other troubles. In November 1928, Callie Grimes resurfaced. Marco had ceased to pay the monthly stipend he’d promised her. In need of cash, she sold her story to the papers. She also went to the Grand Jury, confessing that the debacle with Jacobson back in the summer of 1927 had indeed been a frame up, devised by Albert Marco to “muzzle” the councilman. Grimes also implicated D.A. Keyes (then under indictment for bribery), Charles Crawford, Guy McAfee, Lucas, Raymond and three other police officers.

Meanwhile, it was learned that Marco was being given special privileges in jail, like extra blankets and had been allowed out on numerous “jaunts” to conduct “business.” Once, he had even treated his two jail escorts to lunch at a cabaret (11).

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At the beginning of 1929 Marco was implicated in yet another scandal: in January, two prisoners, John Hawkins and Zeke Hayes, somehow got hold of a gun and while being transported from the jail on the top floors of the hall of justice, Hawkins shot at a deputy, who returned the fire, killing Hawkins. The men were serving time in Folsom Prison on armed robbery charges but were extradited to Los Angeles supposedly to tell the acting D.A., Buron Fitts, what they knew about alliances between certain police officers and the local underworld. Questions arose as to how they got a gun in jail custody. A witness reported seeing Albert Marco with a gun in his cell. Marco insisted it was just a bottle of wine, not a gun.

Crawford and Marco, freed in the Jacobson case, April 1929. It was one of the few times their names would be linked.

Crawford and Marco, April 1929. It was one of the few times their names would be so publically linked.

On February 19, a few days after Marco gave testimony in the jailbreak caper, he and Crawford, Lucas, Raymond, and others were indicted on conspiracy charges related to the Jacobson frame up. Further details emerged about Marco having allegedly offered Jacobson a $25,000 bribe for his silence back in 1926. The charges against Marco and Crawford were dismissed on April 15 for lack of evidence tying them to the conspiracy (12). It hardly mattered for Marco; three days later he was en route to San Quentin, to finally start serving his time for the assault charge.

Albert Marco's prison mugshot, 1929

Albert Marco’s prison mugshot, 1929. California State Archives

By the end of the 1929, Chief Davis was demoted to the Traffic division. His replacement was Dick Steckel, the “man who got Marco.”

The former “underworld boss” kept a low profile in prison. He briefly made the news in May 1931, in the wake of the double murder of Charles Crawford and journalist Herbert Spencer, when it was learned that “June Taylor,” a onetime employee of Marco’s, had visited him shortly before the murders and was also believed to have been in the company of the man who confessed to the crime, judicial candidate David H. Clark, who as a Deputy D.A. had successfully prosecuted Marco for the assault in Venice (13).

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Marco walked free of San Quentin on parole on April 26, 1933 and straight into the hands of U.S Marshals. Prohibition was in its death throes but Marco still had his six-month federal bootlegging time to serve. He also faced deportation: one of the conditions of his parole was that he return to his “native Italy.” Back in L.A. he was housed in the Orange County Jail, where he would serve out his federal sentence. Federal authorities meanwhile worked to revoke Marco’s citizenship to prevent his returning to the U.S. after his “voluntary” deportation. Two men tried to bribe a federal officer, supposedly on Marco’s behalf, to drop the naturalization proceedings. The were caught, and Marco headed back to Mussolini’s Italy in November.

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Marco was legally eligible to re-enter the country in February 1938, and was rumored to be back in Los Angeles. Immigration authorities had been working for the last five years to cancel his citizenship on the basis that he’d lied on his 1916 petition for naturalization. In March, his lawyer produced a cablegram, ostensibly from his client overseas, reporting that Marco was “resigned” to staying in Italy. Marco’s citizenship was ultimately revoked in June 1938 and the name Albert Marco faded into history. (14)

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Notes

Top image: Albert Marco, 1925. LAPL

(1)    A federal lawsuit in 1936 sought to revoke Marco’s citizenship on the basis that he’d falsified in formation on his 1916 naturalization petition- specifically the date, time, and place and manner of his arrival in the US. Ellis Island had no record of a Marco or Albori entering New York on or about June 4, 1906 as he stated on the 1916 petition. A search of records maintained by the Ellis Island Foundation did not reveal any male person named Albori of Albert Marco’s approximate age having entered the US at the Port of New York for any month/year before June 1911 (when Marco first applied for US citizenship, in New York). A 1924 application by Marco’s son to return to the US has a question mark for the year his father emigrated to the U.S. and indicates that he’d living in the U.S. about 23 years.

Marco also falsely claimed in the 1916 petition to be unmarried with no children; at that time he was married and had 2 children. His 1917 WWI draft registration form, filed in Los Angeles, states that he was the sole provider for 2 children.

(2)  Albert Marco’s June 1911 naturalization petition, filed in New York, is signed Mario Albori in in the original handwritten version. The typed version was originally signed “Albori Martin”; then “Martin” was crossed out and “Mario” written in front of Albori. It says he arrived in New York in May 1906.

(3)  The 1910 US census shows a Martin J. Zulle living at 1132-1/2 McAlister St., San Francisco. Martin Zulle was the same age as Albert Marco and likewise born in Austria. Zulle, however, who lists his occupation as cook, says he came to the U.S. in 1902. He does not appear to be the same person as Albert Marco, as “J Zulle” is still listed at that address in the 1914 San Francisco city directory at the same time “hatmaker” Martin Zule (sic) and Lena are listed at 108 Stillman. The couple also appears in the 1915 city directory. The 1936 federal lawsuit notes that Marco had used the name Zulle in San Francisco and that a daughter was born there in 1912 and a son in 1914. California birth records confirm this, showing the daughter with a mother nee Gardella born as Evelyn Rose Albori in San Francisco August 23, 1912, and son born as Martin Albori in San Francisco April 21, 1914. Lena Albori died in February 1920 in San Franciso. In September 1921, Marco, was staying in the Seattle/Tacoma area when he applied for passort as Mario Albori and approved passport applications for the children to travel to Italy (where young Martin remained to attend school in Fiume, in care of his aunt). Marco’s address in 1924, when young Martin applied to return to the U.S. (“if my father will decide to have me back living with him”), was still 343 N. Main.

(4)     The basis for the assertion that Crawford and Marco knew each other before in Seattle seems to be the 1939 “Lid Off Los Angeles” series in Liberty Magazine, which was based on Clifford Clinton’s 1937-1938 investigation into protected vice that led to the recall of Mayor Frank Shaw. Clinton was of course relying on second-hand accounts for this information as by that time Crawford and Marco were no longer on the scene.

Original reserach for this website established that Crawford most likely arrived in Los Angeles in 1914. Marco gave March 28, 1914 as the date of his arrival in Los Angeles on his January 1916 naturalization petition. It must have been a memorable occasion as both of his character witnesses (including “merchant” Charles Waller of 665 New High Street- a saloon) were able to attest that they’d known Marco since that exact date. Marco also claimed that he’d lived in New York, Washington State and California since arriving in 1906.

(5)    Page was of course acquitted.

(6)    The names of the police personnel involved vary in newspaper reports but it appears that the patrolman who arrested Marco on 12-25-1925 was later fired.

(7)    Marco also gave this as his address on a ship’s passenger list in 1927.

(8)    Jacobson insisted at one point that they were grey.

(9)    One of the reporters present was Albert Nathan of the L.A. Times, who gave damaging evidence against Jacobson. Nathan had written several articles on bootlegging in Los Angeles in which figures like Tony Cornero and Doc Schouweiler feature prominently. Marco is never mentioned.

(10)    One of Marco’s properties, the Dante Hotel on New High Street, was closed under the Red Light Abatement Act in October 1928.

(11)    The same scenario would play out in 1940 when Bugsy Siegel was in custody.

(12)    The case against the police officers involved were dismissed when the jury failed to agree. Wallis, who’d been suspended since February, was reinstated and later became head of Homicide. Raymond and Lucas, however, had resigned from the force back in January at the urging of the Grand Jury. Both were hired back in 1933 to lead a new gangster squad for Chief Jim Davis, himself restored to power.

(13)  One of the asserted motives for the murder was that Crawford possessed compromising photos of Clark, staged during the time of his prosecution of Marco in 1928, and was using them against now-candidate Clark for blackmail. Clark denied this, alternately maintaining that Crawford wanted him to set up Chief of Police Steckel in a scenario not unlike the Jacobson affair. If Crawford posessed such photos and intended to use them as blackmail it’s unclear why he didn’t do so- for Clark did succeed in convicting Marco of assault with a deadly weapon. Note Steckel, who was demoted after Cheif Davis returned to power in 1933, was like, Charles Hoy, one of the 38 high ranking officers purged from the LAPD following the recall of Mayor Frank Shaw.

(14) The Times identified “Chito” Sasso as Albert Marco’s successor in the prostitution line.