“This is just another attempt to blame everything on me that ever went on in the Los Angeles underworld” Guy McAfee would grouse in 1940 after his name was linked once again to yet another vice racket. One of his enemies would call him the “Capone of Los Angeles,” an overstatement perhaps, but one not without foundation.
McAfee was born in Winfield, Kansas on August 19, 1886 or 1888 (McAfee cited both at different times; 1886 is more likely to be correct. His father, Miller, does not seem to have been much in his life. Young Guy was raised by his mother Jessie in Kansas City, Mo., and by relatives back in Kansas and Iowa.
In 1907, Jessie and Guy were both living together again in Seattle. McAfee married in May 1907 that year to his first wife Eva. They had one child, daughter Alice, born in 1908. Jessie remarried in 1909 and became Jessie Smith. In 1910, McAfee, Eva and Alice were in Silverdale Washington, where he listed his occupation as farmer. But later that year, the couple divorced and went their seperate ways.
McAfee settled in Los Angeles and worked as a locomotive fireman for the Southern Pacific Railroad before joining the LAPD on July 11, 1913. He was assigned to the central Metropolitan Squad vice detail, also known as the “Purity Squad.” His contemporaries included future Chief of Police James E. Davis who started out walking the Chinatown beat. Some of McAfee’s exploits garnered headlines- like the time he went chasing after three suspected opium smugglers unarmed, or when he swung on a rope through a rooftop skylight to bust up a fan tan game. But his law enforcement career was interrupted by suspensions, dismissals and reinstatements.
In November 1914, McAfee was demoted and sent to Hollywood station, the LAPD equivalent of Siberia, after being caught gambling- but his exile didn’t last long.
On January 16, 1915, he and two other ousted officers pulled off a raid of a gambling den at 229½ E. Fourth St. and arrested six men. “The fact that the alleged gambling house was located in the very center of the city where the present Metropolitan Squad would have cognizance of it is regarded at central station as an effort on the part of the old squad members to ‘show up’ the new Metropolitan Squad” the Los Angeles Evening Herald reported. McAfee was soon was not only back at headquarters but the acting head of the Purity Squad.
Some accounts of McAfee say that he used to tip off his gambler friends in advance of a raid. He did participate in numerous raids on illicit gambling dens, including one October 24, 1919 at the Star Social Club, 223 S. Spring St., operated by “king of the turf, Milton “Farmer” Page.
Page was part of the Crawford syndicate, with close connections to City Hall. Underworld boss Charles Crawford began to cultivate McAfee.
McAfee was suspended by the LAPD again in September 1916 while the grand jury investigated allegations that he offered to “fix” a robbery and assault case against a wealthy college student (1). The D.A. ultimately exonerated McAfee of any wrongdoing and he was put back on the job, only to be suspended and subsequently dismissed from the force on in August 1917 for running a game of craps in the basement of Old Central.
During this break in his police career,McAfee spent 18 months in France in voluntary service with the American engineers.
On October 14, 1919, McAfee was quietly reinstated to the detective unit of the LAPD, only to be removed once again in January 1920 along with ten others on the basis of a city ordinance that required reinstated officers who had been fired “for cause” to take the civil service exam over again. The officers fought their dismissal and were re-reinstated on April 19, 1920. McAfee resigned a week later.
It was a good time to go. In 1921, the new mayor, George Cryer,was under fire from citizen reform groups over vice conditions in the city and allegations of police corruption, with particular focus on vice cops who had worked in Chinatown. Kent Parrott, who had helped propel Cryer into office and was said to be the real power behind his administration, was a crony of Charles Crawford. McAfee was now under Crawford’s wing. Newspapers reported that ex-officer Guy McAfee operated a “flourishing gambling establishment” on the third floor of a building only a stone’s throw from City Hall.Cryerdismissed the claims as an “underworld plot” and theorized, with somewhat twisted logic, that McAfee himself had probably circulated the rumors as “revenge” against the Chief of Police, who regarded McAfee as a “sworn enemy.”By 1925 McAfee was described as a “gambler, high in the councils of Milton Farmer Page.”
McAffee, with Page, was likely involved in prostitution activities. Not long after leaving the police force, hehad married for the second time, to a woman named Marie Conaty.
From 1913 to 1922, Marie managed furnished rooms at 444½ S. Spring Street– “furnished rooms” in this casebeing code for “brothel” and manager meant madam. In July 1914, the Metropolitan Squad raided the rooming house, arresting three women using the aliases Sarah Jones, Anna Carlton and Maria Garcia. Jones was charged with conducting what newspapers then euphemistically called a “disorderly house.”(2) McAfee and prostitution would later be linked to this address.
By 1930, scandals and shakeups within City Hall were undermining the influence of Charles Crawford. McAfee’s power seemed to be expanding. Callie Grimes had accused him of being in on the fame-up of vice-crusading city councilman Carl Jacobson along with Marco, Crawford, and McAfee’s former LAPD colleague Harry Raymond, but unlike the others McAfee was never indicted. It was now McAfee not Crawfordwhom the press called the “political boss and lord of big gambling interests in the city.”
One of the most outspoken opponents of McAfee was Critic of Critics, which denounced the former Purity Squad officer as leader of the underworld, calling him the “Capone of Los Angeles.” The publication was run by ex-newspapermen Mike Schindler and Herbert Spencer.Crawford bragged that he was bankrolling Critic of Critics. If so, he motives were not to expose and abate vice and graft, but to expose and abate his protoge turned rival Guy McAfee. Crawford made a big show of finding religion and reforming. He was really plotting his comeback.
Then on May 20, 1931, Crawford and Spencer were shot to death in Crawford’s Sunset Boulevard “real estate” office. McAfee, questioned at his exclusive Fremont Place home and later taken into technical custody for about half a minute. He admitted there had been “bad blood” between him and Crawford, but insisted they had since made up. Moreover, he had an alibi: he was at the Hall of Justice at the time of the shooting.
Attention turned away from McAfee when former Deputy D.A. David “Dave” Clark confessed to the double murder, claiming self-defense.It was Clark who in 1928 had successfully prosecuted Crawford minion Albert Marco for assault with a deadly weapon. A woman named June Taylor was sought as a witness, believed to have been with Clark the day of the shootings. Taylor had been a madam for the Crawford syndicate and now presumably worked for McAfee. Questioned, Taylor said she could shed no light on the matter. The name of another syndicate madam, Lee Francis, was also mentioned in the case, but could not be located.
D.A. Buron Fitts asserted that McAfee had taken over the “underworld reins” in Marco’s absence. Special Prosecutor for the case W. Joseph Ford argued that Clark was in league with McAfee and shot Spencer and Crawford in an argument over the attacks in Critic of Critics.
After his first trial ended in a hung jury, Clark was retried in October 1931.
As the State was resting its case, the LA Evening Express (Herbert Spencer’s former paper) reported that McAfee had recently opened The Beacon Club, a deluxe gambling casino and bar occupying the entire top floor of the Bendix Building at 1237 Maple Avenue- only a stone’s throw from Crawford’s old stomping grounds at Fifth and Maple. “Bert the Barber” Busterno, was a dealer there. Chief Roy Steckel, the self-proclaimed “man who got Marco” himself, huff and puffed: “Show me Guy McAfee. Show me where he is operating. I will get him.” They did, and he didn’t. It had been open for two months, the Express found. Police and members of DA Fitts’ staff were counted among its patrons according to the Express‘ investigator.
Even after this report came out, the club continued to operate through the end of the year at least, when it was raided by federal prohibition agents.
After being acquitted for the murder of Herbert Spencer, Clark returned to private law practice. Neither he nor anyone else ever stood trial for Crawford’s murder. Though he and McAfee claimed during the inquiry to barely know each other, the two retained business and social ties for several more years. (3)
When federal alcohol Prohibition ended in December 1933, many out-of-work bootleggers began taking more of an interest in gambling. According to the LAPD, it was around this time that Los Angeles crime family boss Jack Dragna tried to muscle in on McAfee’s bookmaking operation, which along with Tutor Scherer’s was one of the largest in town. “Who the hell is Jack Dragna?” McAfee is supposed to have said. But after meeting McAfee’s initial resistance with force, Dragna got his cut of the take. (4)
Still, things were looking up in the underworld. McAfee’s candidate Frank Shaw was handily elected mayor in 1933 and his secretary/brother Joe quickly let it be known that Los Angeles was again open for business.McAfee’s influence reached new heights, but legal troubles plagued him throughout much of 1935-1939.
In May 1935 the IRS hit him with a lien for nonpayment of taxes amounting to $307,028.56, dating back to 1921- the year after he left the police department. McAfee was believed to have made a “fortune in various gambling activities,” but lost most of it in the Crash.
In June 1936 the State Assembly Audit Committee launched an investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption of State Board of Equalization officers over issuance of liquor licenses. Guy McAfee and Kent Parrott were reputed to be deeply involved.Nothing came of it, but in 1938 the state Assembly Committee on Public Morals, reviewing the vice and gambling situation in Los Angeles, asked to examine tax records for McAfee and Parrott. In 1939, SBE member William G. Bonelli was indicted on multiple bribe solicitation charges. Bonelli asserted that the whole thing was a conspiracy by McAfee, Parrott, and other underworld figures to ruin him. (5)
Between scandals, Guy, a widower since 1932, remarried in 1936. The third Mrs. McAfee was Kathleen Elizabeth Anderson, 21-years his junior, was an actress known by the stage name June Brewster. A veteran of Broadway musical theater, she appeared in a few minor roles in Hollywood films between 1933 and 1938.
In the summer of 1937 McAfee and others described as the “captains of the Los Angeles underworld” including Jack Dragna, Farmer Page, and Tutor Scherer,were sought by the Grand Jury in a sweeping investigation of the Los Angeles underworldin the aftermath of a failed gangland-style attempt to “rub out” bookmaker-gambler Les Bruneman. Bruneman had been a bodyguard to Farmer Page in the early 1920s when Page headed the Crawford syndicate “bootleg trust: and remained part of the organization when McAfee took it over.
While the official query went nowhere, church and citizen-led reform groups had vowed to probe the city’s vice conditions, most notably the Citizens Independent Vice Investigation Committee (CIVIC), organized by cafeteria owner Clifford Clinton (See my previous post, The Angels Take A Bath).
In September 1937, the Grand Jury finally did launch an investigation, not into vice conditions but into allegations by gamblers that the vice crusaders were shaking them down. CIVIC member and leader of the Federated Church Brotherhood Dr. A.M. Wilkinson was questioned about a $4400 check he’d accepted from Guy McAfee back in June 1936 for the staging of a church pageant, “The Last Days of Pompeii” at the Coliseum. Wilkinson insisted the money had been a donation with no strings attached. “Even a gambler has a heart” he quoted McAfee as saying, and asked Wilkinson to pray for him.
McAfee’s name entered into another legal case in September 1937- bankruptcy proceedings against a former police commissioner, Harry E. Munson who had been appointed by Mayor Shaw in 1933. Now authorities were investigating contributions made to Shaw’s campaign by Guy McAfee. A witness in the bankruptcy case testified that in 1933 Munson had worked McAfee and that through Munson, McAfee “dished out money by the fistful” to Shaw’s election. McAfee was subpoenaed but never testified.
Tension built through the fall/winter of 1937, until in January 1938, a scandal literally blew the lid off corruption in City government. Harry Raymond, now a private detective, was nearly killed when a bomb rigged to his car exploded. Raymond had been investigating the Munson-Shaw-McAfee campaign contribution angle.
The bomb was traced directly to LAPD special investigator Earl Kynette, who got a stretch in San Quentin. The episode led to the recall of Mayor Frank Shaw and the election of his replacement, reform candidate, Superior Court Justice Fletcher Bowron, on September 16, 1938. Bowron Chief of Police Jim Davis retired in November 1938.
Just after Christmas 1938, the “gambling overlord” was sought for “immediate grilling” along with Farmer Page in the murder of bookie Weldon “Duckie” Irvin, who had been found shot to death behind the wheel of his car in the 6000 block of Selma Ave., Hollywood on December 28. Nothing came of it and the murder went unsolved.
In February 1939, the LA Daily News reported rumors that McAfee was preparing to pull up stakes in LA and moving to Los Angeles.
Four months later, the Times confirmed the rumors, reporting that McAfee, Page and Scherer had departed for Las Vegas.
McAfee announced to the press that he was officially “through” in Los Angeles and was now operating a legal casino in the Nevada city. McAfee was reported to have told friends he was “fed up with Los Angeles because its graft is disorganized, has no central control.” (6)
In April 1940 a woman known as Ann Forrester (aka Ann Forst) was arrested for her involvement in an extensive call girl operation headquartered at 444 S. Spring Street- the same address Marie Contay Fitts had used decades earlier. At her trial in August 1940, Ann named McAfee as head of large prostitution syndicate that had included “at least” 31 brothels. Ann’s lawyer, George Stahlman, suggested that Ann’s arrest had been engineered by McAfee, as revenge for Ann’s having helped federal investigators who were (again) loking into McAfee for tax evasion.
McAfee, from Las Vegas, denied he’d ever run any brothels in a telephone interview to the Los Angeles Times, calling Ann’s story “just another attempt to blame everything on me that ever went on in the Los Angeles underworld.” He admitted having met Ann once, claiming he had been consulted by developers in connection with a residence she was having built for herself near Chatsworth.
The other persons she named as higher-ups in the syndicate were Wade Buckwald and June Taylor.
Buckwald and McAfee had been locomotive firemen together in the ‘teens and were roommates for a time before McAfee joined the LAPD.
After Forrester’s conviction in August, 1940, in hope of getting leniency or parole in lieu of prison time, she fully cooperated with investigators, telling all she knew of the syndicate’s operation and identifying houses that were or had been used as brothels. Witnesses were reportedly interviewed by authorities with a view to indicting Buckwald and McAfee but it was decided that either the statute of limitations had run out or they could not corroborate Forrester’s claims.
1886 or 1888: McAfee cited his birth year as 1886 in the 1910 census and on his WWI draft registration card. Later census documents and his grave marker say 1888. His parents were married in October 1885 and seem to have split up by 1887, with local newspapers reporting Miller’s marriage to another woman and their relocating to San Diego, CA in July of that year. Miller died in New York in December 1901.
(1) In January 1917, the boy’s aunt, prominent woman physician Dr. Virginia Smith, brought a lawsuit against Guy Eddie, the lawyer she’d hired for her nephew. Eddie had resigned as City Prosecutor in January 1913 after being acquitted in a case charging him with morals offences against a young girl. Dr. Smith alleged that Eddie had boasted of his “influence” with officer McAfee, noting that for a price he could get the robbery charges against her nephew reduced. Smith paid, and the charge was indeed reduced to one of simple assault. Smith sued Eddie for fraud after he demanded more money that originally quoted. Eddie admitted that he’d endeavored to get the charges reduced, but noted that this was “a common practice” among lawyers and that there had been no wrongdoing. Smith, however, prevailed.
(2) Marie and her first husband Dan Conaty (sometimes spelled Conati), a former bartender, both lived at 444 S. Spring Street. He is last listed in 1916. Marie died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage in May 1932. Her age at death was reported incorrectly as 38. McAfee could apparently only guess at her birth year, which appears in the California Death Index as “about 1894.” Marie herself reported it as 1898 in the 1930 census and 1886 in the census of 1910.
(3) When Marie McAfee died in May 1932, Clark handled the probate of her will for McAfee. In the summer of 1936 McAfee and Dave Clark vacationed in Europe together with their significant others, returning to the U.S. from Italy July 30, 1936 aboard the S.S. Conte Di Savoia.
(4) Bonelli was ultimately acquitted.
(5) See LAPD’s “Gangland Killings 1900-1951,” an appendix to the Final Report of the Special Crime Study Commission on Organized Crime, May 11, 1953.
(6) Look magazine, “Los Angeles… America’s Wickedest City,” September 26, 1939.
(7) McAfee’s address was listed as 14116 N. Havenhurst Ave., San Fernando Valley, when he was cited for speeding in February 1940. He had other real estate holding in Los Angeles as well, including the mansion at 1029 Chevy Chase Dr., Beverly Hills, and maintained a yacht at Santa Monica.
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