Guy McAfee

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“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.  

Born in Winfield, Kansas on August 19, 1888, McAfee came west as a young man, settling in the Seattle area for a few years before relocating to Los Angeles about 1910, after he and his first wife divorced. 

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Guy McAfee in uniform. UCLA-L.A.Daily News collection

In Los Angeles McAfee worked as a locomotive fireman for the Southern Pacific Railroad before transferring to the LAPD’s 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, which spanned 1913 to 1920, was interrupted by suspensions, dismissals and reinstatements

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1-16-1915. Los Angeles Herald

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., said to be operated by “king of the turf, Milton “Farmer” Page.

McAfee was suspended 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 in the summer of 1917 for running a game of craps in the basement of Old Central.

7-3-1917

7-3-1917

During this break in his police career, and with the U.S. entry into World War I, McAfee is said to have spent 18 months in France in voluntary service with the American engineers.

On his return, McAfee was reinstated to the detective unit of the LAPD, but was ousted 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, political fixer of the Los Angeles underworld. Newspapers were reporting 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. Cryer dismissed 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,the gambler king whose club officer McAfee had once raided.

McAffee may also have been involved in prostitution. Not long after leaving the police force, he had married a woman named Marie Conaty.

From 1913 to 1922, Marie managed furnished rooms at 444½ S. Spring Street “furnished rooms” in this case being 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. (3)

Raid on 444 S. Spring St., 7-25-1919

Raid on 444 S. Spring St., 7-25-1914

By 1931, with Albert Marco in prison and scandals and shakeups within City Hall having undermined 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 Crawford whom the press called the “political boss and lord of big gambling interests in the city.

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A page from Critic of Critics depicting “vice king” McAfee as an octopus outside 326 S. Spring St. a bar (owned by gambler-bookmaker Zeke Caress) with his tentacles around city hall, the police department, liquor and gambling profits as well as Las Vegas’ legalized red light district. It was rumored that L.A. money had poured into Clark County during the last election. UCLA-L.A. Daily News collection.

One of the most outspoken opponents of McAfee was Critic of Critics, which denounced the former Purity Squad officer as leader of the underworld and the “Capone of Los Angeles. The publication was run by journalist Herbert Spencer, reputedly with financial backing from Crawford. On May 20, 1931, Crawford and Spencer were shot to death in Crawford’s Sunset Blvd. office. McAfee, questioned at his exclusive Fremont Place home, 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.

In any case, former Deputy D.A. David “Dave” Clark confessed to the double murder, claiming self-defense. It was Clark who in 1928 had successfully prosecuted Albert Marco for assault with a deadly weapon. D.A. Buron Fitts asserted that McAfee had taken over the “underworld reins” in Marco’s absence. Special Prosecutor for the case 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.

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Special Prosecutor Joseph Ford believed Dave Clark had shot Charles Crawford and Herbert Spencer over attacks against Guy McAfee in Critic of Critics. Madera Tribune, August 17, 1931.

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David H. Clark on the stand during one of his trials for the murder of Herbert Spencer, 1931. UCLA-L.A.Daily News collection

After his first trial ended in a hung jury, Clark was retried and acquitted for the murder of Herbert Spencer and returned to private law practice. Neither he nor anyone else ever stood trial for Crawford’s murder. Though Clark and McAfee claimed during the inquiry to barely know each other, the two retained business and social ties for several more years at least. (4)

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. (5)

Still, things were looking up in the underworld. 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. (6)

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Guy McAfee and June Brewster. LAPL

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.

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June Brewster had a minor role in Earl Carroll’s annual Vanities show on Broadway for 1930.

The Undieworld, a 1934 2-reeler featuring June Brewster, was a comic gangster tale.

The Undieworld, a 1934 2-reeler featuring June Brewster, was a comic gangster tale.

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 underworld in the aftermath of a failed gangland-style attempt to “rub out” bookmaker-gambler Les Bruneman.

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.

9-9-1937

9-9-1937

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.

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Dr. Wilkinson tells the Grand Jury about his donation from Guy McAfee , 9-8-1937. UCLA-LA Daily News collection.

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 Fletcher Bowron, on September 16. Chief of Police Jim Davis retired in November.

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.

Page questioned in the Duckie Irvin case. Arcadia Tribune 12-29-1938

Wanted for questioning in the Duckie Irvin case. Arcadia Tribune 12-29-1938

By June of 1939, it was reported that McAfee had quietly upped stakes and left town.

june 1939

A year later, the papers revealed where he’d gone: 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.” (7)

guy-mcafee- 91club-las-vegas-1939

Guy McAfee posing for a ceremonial breaking ground on his 91 Club, located on the Los Angeles Highway (Highway 91) just outside Las Vegas, 1939. McAfee expanded an existing gambling club, the Pair-o-Dice.  UCLA-LA Daily news collection.

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Ad for Guy McAfee’s 91 Club on Highway 91 in Las Vegas. March 20, 1940.

D.A. Fitts hinted at another motive for the sudden departure of LA’s old guard gamblers: a new man “from the east” who had taken over the rackets. In any case, although McAfee retained ties to the area (8), he was effectively through in Los Angeles.
10-3-1941

10-3-1941

In April 1941, the profile of Highway 91 was notably raised  by the opening of the first casino resort along what Guy nicknamed ‘The Strip:” Hotel El Rancho Vegas, owned by Los Angeles hotel man Tommy Hull. In October 1941, McAfee sought permission to offer $100k worth of shares in his proposed 54-room, $250k hotel venture on the outskirts of Las Vegas, to be called the Hotel Club Hollywood. It never materialized. McAfee sold the 91 Club property, which became The Last Frontier, the second resort hotel on The Strip in 1942.
In addition to his hotel-resort plans, in 1941 Guy McAfee opened the Frontier Club and the adjacent South Seas-themed Mandalay Bar at 117 Fremont St. in downtown Las Vegas. He also owned the more rustic old West-style Tivoli Tavern at 126 N. First St., managed by William S. “Bill” Goodwin, and the Old English Tavern.
the Frontier Club Las Vegas
Guy McAfee's Frontier Club and Mandalay Bar, in Las Vegas Nevada

Guy McAfee’s Frontier Club and Mandalay Bar, in Las Vegas Nevada, “Where Gaming is Legal,” 6-20-1941.

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Guy McAfee’s business card for the Mandalay Bar, “island atmosphere on the desert.” Author’s collection.

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The Tivoli Tavern was another Guy McAfee venture. Author’s collection.

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Reverse side of the Tivoli Tavern matchbook, also promoting Guy’s Mandalay Bar. Author’s collection.

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Interior of the Tivoli Tavern. Author’s collection.

12-19-1941

Guy McAfee advertising the Frontier Club and the Old English Tavern, “Las Vegas’ newest cocktail bar,” 12-19-1941

In December 1944, the Nevada State Journal reported the McAfee planned to build a $2 million resort on the outskirts of town as well as a “swank gambling casino” downtown as soon as the wartime building restrictions were lifted. But the postwar reality was that building materials were in short supply, and the resort never materialized. McAfee did open his second big downtown casino, the $1 million Gay ’90s-themed Golden Nugget in a remodeled existing building at 2nd & Fremont in August 1946. Hollywood cafe owner Tony Lucey had sold his popular Lucey’s Cafe on Melrose Avenue in 1945 and moved to Las Vegas, where he operated a new Lucey’s restaurant inside the Golden Nugget. 
The Golden Nugget c. 1946. The 1905 date refers to the founding of the town and fit in with the old west theme of the casino.

The Golden Nugget c. 1946. The 1905 date refers to the founding of the town and fit in with the old west theme of the casino.

The Golden Nugget dining room was originally operated by Tony Lucey.

The Golden Nugget dining room was originally operated by Tony Lucey.

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Las Vegas telephone book ad for the Golden Nugget with the famous Lucey’s Restaurant, 1946.

Guy McAfee pictured inside the Golden Nugget. From Life magazine, 5-26-1947

Guy McAfee pictured inside the Golden Nugget. From Life magazine, 5-26-1947

In 1948, McAfee, Tutor Scherer and Farmer Page took over the casino of the Hotel El Rancho Vegas, the first resort on what McAfee would nickname “The Strip.” He made the El Rancho his Las Vegas home, though he and June also kept a mansion in Beverly Hills, at 1029 Chevy Chase Drive. It suffered a fire there in January 1950 while June was in residence with the couple’s adopted daughter, Kathleen.
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1029 Chevy Chase Dr. after the fire, January 1950.

McAfee continued to invest in casinos into the 1950s. In January 1950 he and partners made a bid to buy the Flamingo Hotel- opened in 1946 by his late onetime rival Bugsy Siegel. When that fell through, in May the group began negotiations to buy the Last Frontier for a reputed $5 million. June 1954 saw the ground-breaking for a $2 million ultra-modern hotel on the site. It opened in April 1955 as The New Frontier.
But McAfee never fully recovered from a fall from a horse during a hunting trip in Wyoming in 1951. A heart condition further weakened his health. He died in Las Vegas on February 20, 1960, age 71, a noted citizen and civic booster. 

***

(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 Conatay (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) In April 1940 a woman known as Ann Forrester (aka Ann Forst, real name Almedell Forrester) was arrested for her involvement in an extensive call girl operation headquartered at 444 S. Spring St.

McAfee, who had since relocated to 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.”

Forrester was convicted of pandering and sent to Tehachapi. One of the key witnesses against Forrester was Brenda Allen, who would go on to be Hollywood’s top madam until her own downfall in 1949.

McAfee was not called to testify in the Forrester case, nor did either of the people Ann named as his associates in the call girl operation: Wade Buckwald and June Taylor.

June Taylor (aka June Donovan, June Goodwin and Mary Turner; born Mabel Lynch 2-25-1898) had worked for Albert Marco in the 1920s and was believed to have spent time with David Clark shortly before the Spencer-Crawford murders.

Wade Buckwald and McAfee had been locomotive firemen together in the ‘teens and were roommates for a time. On August 24, 1942, Buckwald was gunned down at McAfee’s Frontier Club in Las Vegas by Farrington Graham Hill, a fugitive on the lam who had robbed and fatally shot a clerk at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Hill escaped from custody in Las Vegas twice and never stood trial for Buckwald’s death. He was executed in California for the hotel clerk’s murder in January 1944.

(4) 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.

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Detail of an immigration document showing McAfee and former D.D.A. David H. Clark, with McAfee’s then-fiancé Kathleen Anderson (June Brewster) and Clark’s wife Nancy Malone returning to the U.S. from Italy 7-30-36 aboard the S.S. Conte Di Savoia.

(5) Bonelli was ultimately acquitted.

(6) 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. 

(7) Look magazine, “Los Angeles… America’s Wickedest City,” September 26, 1939.

(8) 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 a home at 1029 Chevy Chase Dr., Beverly Hills.

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