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.

Details about Albert Marco are sketchy. He claimed to have been born in 1887 in Trieste (then part of Austria) and came to the U.S. in 1906. His real name was said to be Marco Albori, or Mario Albori, or Martin Albori, but he also went by Martin John Zuelle and John Zuelle. He lived in New York, Seattle and San Francisco and may have had a wife and two kids along the way (1).

It’s believed that Marco met saloon owner Charles Crawford in Seattle. Crawford relocated to L.A and set up his Maple Bar at 5th & Maple streets. Marco himself was in Los Angeles by 1916 and affiliated with the Crawford and the “Spring Street Gang,” handling prostitution and liquor (1). In February 1925 he was a witness in the trial of fellow Spring Streeter Milton “Farmer” Page, who had shot and killed a man at the notorious Sorrento Club, 1848 W. Sixth St. Marco backed up Page’s claim of self-defense (2).

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Later that year came Marco’s own legal troubles. 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 Marco’s felony assault had been reduced to a misdemeanor. The detectives who had freed him on the lesser charge (3) 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, three federal dry agents raided his North Side Pleasure Club, a “bootlegging dive” at 130 S. Spring Street. 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 his (4). 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 (5). 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 Gang 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 (6).

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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 LA 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. The Illustrated Daily News alleged that Marco controlled brothels in Los Angeles (7). 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 (8).

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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 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 (9). 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 (10).

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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.

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Notes

Top image: Albert Marco, 1925. LAPL

(1)    Los Angeles enacted its own dry laws prior to national prohibition.

(2)    Page was acquitted.

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

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

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

(6)    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.

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

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

(9)    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.

(10)  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.

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