The Kidnapping of Zeke Caress

E. L. “Zeke” Caress is perhaps best remembered today as the victim of a bungled kidnapping in 1930 but he was also a master odds-maker with close ties to the Spring Street Gang. 

Born in Canada in 1881, Caress was named for his grandfather, Ezekiel Logan Caress (1837-1906). By the early 1900s the younger Caress had migrated to Los Angeles, where he was picked up for bookmaking in December 1908 and again in 1916. In 1918, with the Angel City’s own version of federal Prohibition about to close all the saloons, Caress took over 326 S. Spring St., the Jeffries Bar owned by former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries, operating it ostensibly as a pool hall.

Caress was arrested on bookmaking charges several more times between 1918 and 1923. By 1920 he was known as “The King of the Bookies,” a title the press would also apply to Caress’ protégé, Milton “Farmer” Page.

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In 1928, Caress became part owner, with Baron Long and others, of the new Agua Caliente gambling resort and race track in Mexico (1).

Aqua Caliente Gold Bar and casino

Liquor and gambling were available – and legal- in the Aqua Caliente Gold Bar and casino.

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June 1929 ad for Agua Caliente hotel and casino, “America’s Deauville.”

On December 20, 1930, Caress, his wife Helen, and their Japanese servant were abducted from their Hollywood Hills Home at 2230 Hollyridge Drive (2) and taken to a house at 4700 Templeton St. in Alhambra. The three masked men demanded $100,000 ransom, but Caress bargained them down to $50,000, which he agreed to pay if the kidnappers would take a check. It was arranged that Caress’ friend Les Bruneman would accompany the masked men out to the Rose Isle, one of the gambling ships anchored off the coast of Long Beach and partly owned by Farmer Page. There- vouched for by Bruneman as to their authenticity- they could cash the checks. The kidnappers met caress at the corner of Sixth and Spring streets and the party drove out to Long Beach. Near the P&O dock where passengers boarded the speedboats that ran customers out to the ships, Long Beach police officers William H. Waggoner and C.A. Jenks stopped the men. Bruneman coolly explained that they were gamblers bound for the Rose Isle. But one of the gang panicked and pulled a gun, firing at Jenks. Waggoner rushed to his aid and was struck by a bullet. When other officers, hearing the shots, rushed to the scene, they found Bruneman attending to the injured Waggoner and arrested one of the gang who gave his name as James J. Sherman. He and Bruneman, who had Caress’ checks on him, were taken into custody. Waggoner was rushed to the hospital with a bullet lodged near his spine. He survived but was partially paralyzed (3).

Zeke Caress kidnapping

L.A. police working the case determined it to be the work of eastern gangsters. Sherman was soon identified as Ralph Shelton, a onetime Al Capone lieutenant. The other two men were Louis Frank and Ray Wagner. In all, eight men would stand trial for their involvement in the bizarre caper, including Bruneman, though Caress himself testified that Bruneman had only acted as go-between (4).  Los Angeles County D.A. Buron Fitts used the incident as the excuse he needed to raid the gambling ships, which he decried as hotbeds of criminal activity. It was Fitts’ theory that there never was any kidnapping, that in fact the whole thing was a struggle for control among operators of the ships.

As the various trials associated with the kidnapping were still winding through the courts, Caress faced charges himself in an related matter. In October 1932 he was arrested along with other members of the Culver City Kennel Club for violation of state gambling laws. Authorities believed that the club, which operated a new dog racing track on Culver City’s Washington Blvd., had devised an elaborate scheme to take bets on the pups, and that Caress was its mastermind. Of the 23 original indictments, however, only 6 persons went to trial and all were acquitted.

zeke-caress-oct-1932

Caress kept out of the headlines for a few years after that. In 1936 he was again operating 326 S. Spring as the “326” club, assisted by fellow Spring Streeter, bookmaker Luther B. “Tutor” Scherer.

326-s-spring-in-1936

Agua Caliente race track

1920s postcard view of the race track at Caliente.

Caress remained affiliated with the race track at Caliente, which operated intermittently.  He and gambler Eddie Nealis were co-operators of the turf club from 1943 to 1944, when it was seized by the Mexican government.

On June 20, 1947, hours before the execution of Bugsy Siegel took place a few miles away in Beverly Hills (5) the 66-year-old Caress was arrested at his Hollywood apartment, 1750 N. Serrano Ave., for bookmaking. He was released on bond and absolved of the charges. Reports of the incident appeared in the papers June 24, 1947 alongside stories reporting that Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill had taken an overdose of sleeping pills back on May 5.

1750 N. Sorrento, the Trianon Aparments,

1750 N. Serrano- the Trianon Apartments,

In July 1948, the county grand jury investigated rumors that the Dincara stock farm, at 806 S. Mariposa St. in Burbank was the headquarters of gangster Mickey Cohen. The ranch, which was owned by a retired LAPD detective, Jack Dineen, and his wife Emma, had been raided at least twice, in 1946-47 and 1948, for gambling activity. The jurors were curious as to why the gambling equipment discovered during the raids had not been confiscated.

Zeke Caress was not mentioned in any of the investigation. He did, however, have a family connection to the property- He and Emma Caress Dineen were cousins. Emma’s father Eugene and Zeke’s father Jerome were brothers, born roughly 20 years apart. Eugene Caress, Emma’s father, had been a linotype operator for the Los Angeles Times in the early 1900s and was among those tragically killed in the 1910 terrorist bombing of the old Times building at 1st & Broadway. The name of the ranch, Dincara, was derived from a combination of the couple’s surnames- Din- and Cara (6).

Caress kept a low profile for the rest of decade. He was widowed in 1951 when Helen died. In July 1952, he remarried a woman many years his junior. He appears to have sold 326 S. Spring around this time. He died in January 1968.

***

(1) Long operated the Ship Café in Venice and the Vernon Country Club, among other notorious resorts in the Los Angeles area. Agua Caliente closed after the Mexican government outlawed gambling in 1935. It reopened in the summer of 1937 with limited wagering, but shut down for good the following year.

(2) 2230 Hollyridge, known as “Casa Romano,” was a Spanish-style mansion on extensive grounds with a long, curved drive built in 1926 for tragic matinee idol Lou Tellegen and wife Nina Romano.

(3) Waggoner never fully recovered from his injuries. He died in December 1954.

(4) Others who confessed to having taken part were Jessie Orsatti, who’d once been partners with Bruneman in a café; James “Jimmy” Doolan, and Joseph T. “Bill” Bailey. Bruneman, Sheldon, Frank and Wagner were initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and found not guilty in April 1931. Prosecuted on kidnapping charges, Sheldon, Frank, Wagner, Orsatti, and Bailey were found guilty and sent to prison. In May 1934, Bruneman was likewise convicted for participation in the kidnapping and given 10-to-life. On appeal, he won a new trial and the case against him was dismissed at the request of his defense attorney, Jerry Geisler, in October 1935. Bruneman was gunned down in a café two years later almost to the day, in October 1937.

(5) It’s believed that Siegel had taken over bookmaking and other gambling rackets in Los Angeles from Spring Street Gang figures such as Eddie Nealis and Guy McAfee in the late 1930s. Some would claim that Bruneman’s murder was related to this.

Zeke Caress my history

Ezekiel Logan “Zeke” Caress (1881-1968)

Gambler E. L. “Zeke” Caress is perhaps best remembered today as the victim of a bungled kidnapping in 1930. He was closely associated with the Spring Street Gang as a bookmaker and had family ties to the Dincara Stock Farm gambling operation in Burbank which flourished briefly just after World War II.

Born in Canada in 1881, Caress was named for his grandfather, Ezekiel Logan Caress (1837-1906). By the early 1900s the younger caress had migrated to Los Angeles, where he was picked up for bookmaking in December 1908. In 1918, with the Angel City’s own version of federal Prohibition about to go into effect, closing all the saloons, Caress took over 326 S. Spring St., the Jeffries Bar owned by former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries, and operated it as a pool hall. Caress was arrested on bookmaking charges several more times between 1916 and 1923. By 1920 he was known as “The King of the Bookies,” a title the press would also apply to Caress’ protégé, Milton “Farmer” Page.

In 1928, Caress became part owner, with Baron Long and others, of the new Agua Caliente gambling resort and race track in Mexico (1).

On December 20, 1930 the strange sage of Caress’ kidnapping began. As was later reported, Caress, his wife Helen, and their Japanese servant were abducted from their Hollywood Hills Home at 2230 Hollyridge Drive (2) and taken to a house at 4700 Templeton St. in Alhambra. The three masked men demanded $100,000 ransom, but Caress bargained them down to $50,000, which he agreed to pay if the kidnappers would take a check. It was arranged that Caress’ friend Les Bruneman would accompany the masked men out to the Rose Isle, one of the gambling ships anchored off the coast of Long Beach and partly owned by Farmer Page. There- vouched for by Bruneman as to their authenticity- they could cash the checks. The kidnappers met caress at the corner of Sixth and Spring streets and the party drove out to Long Beach. Near the P&O dock where passengers boarded the speedboats that ran customers out to the ships, Long Beach police officers William H. Waggoner and C.A. Jenks stopped the men. Bruneman coolly explained that they were gamblers bound for the Rose Isle. But one of the gang panicked and pulled a gun, firing at Jenks. Waggoner rushed to his aid and was struck by a bullet. When other officers, hearing the shots, rushed to the scene, they found Bruneman attending to the injured Waggoner and arrested one of the gang who gave his name as James J. Sherman. He and Bruneman, who had Caress’ checks on him, were taken into custody. Waggoner was rushed to the hospital with a bullet lodged near his spine. He survived but was partially paralyzed (3).

L.A. police working the case determined it to be the work of eastern gangsters. Sherman was soon identified as Ralph Shelton, a onetime Al Capone lieutenant. The other two men were Louis Frank and Ray Wagner. In all, eight men would stand trial for their involvement in the bizarre caper, including Bruneman, though Caress himself testified that Bruneman had only acted as go-between (4).  Los Angeles County D.A. Buron Fitts used the incident as the excuse he needed to raid the gambling ships, which he decried as hotbeds of criminal activity. It was Fitts’ theory that there never was any kidnapping, that in fact the whole thing was a struggle for control among operators of the gambling ships.

Even as the various trials associated with the kidnapping wound through the courts, Caress appeared in the police blotter on a different matter. In October 1932 he was arrested along with other members of the Culver City Kennel Club for violation of state gambling laws. Authorities believed that the club, which operating a newly opened dog racing track on Culver City’s Washington Blvd., had devised an elaborate scheme to take bets on the pups, and that Caress was its mastermind. Of the 23 original indictments, however, only 6 went to trial and all were acquitted.

Caress kept out of the headlines for a few years after that. In 1936 he was again operating 326 S. Spring as the “326” club, assisted by fellow Spring Streeter, bookmaker Luther B. “Tutor” Scherer.

On June 20, 1947, hours before the execution of Bugsy Siegel took place a few miles away in Beverly Hills (5) the 66-year-old Caress was arrested at his Hollywood apartment, 1750 N. Serrano Ave., for bookmaking. He was released on bond and absolved of the charges. Reports of the incident appeared in the papers June 24, 1947 alongside stories reporting that Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill had taken an overdose of sleeping pills back on May 5.

In July 1948, the county grand jury investigated rumors that the Dincara stock farm, at 806 S. Mariposa St. in Burbank was the headquarters of gangster Mickey Cohen. The ranch, which was owned by a retired LAPD detective, Jack Dineen, and his wife Emma, had been raided at least twice, in 1946-47 and 1948, for gambling activity. The jurors were curious as to why the gambling equipment, discovered had not been confiscated.

Zeke Caress was not mentioned in any of the investigation. He did, however, have a family connection to the property- He and Emma Caress Dineen were cousins. Emma’s father Eugene and Zeke’s father Jerome were brothers, born roughly 20 years apart. Eugene Caress, Emma’s father, had been a linotype operator for the Los Angeles Times in the early 1900s and was among those tragically killed in the 1910 terrorist bombing of the old Times building at 1st & Broadway. The name of the ranch, Dincara, was derived from a combination of the couple’s surnames- Din- and Cara (6).

Caress kept a low profile for the rest of decade. He was widowed in 1951 when Helen died. In July 1952, he remarried a woman many years his junior. He appears to have sold 326 S. Spring around this time. He died in January 1968.

***

(1) Long operated the Ship Café in Venice and the Vernon Country Club, among other notorious resorts in the Los Angeles area. Agua Caliente closed after the Mexican government outlawed gambling in 1935. It reopened in the summer of 1937 with limited wagering, but shut down for good the following year.

(2) 2230 Hollyridge, known as “Casa Romano,” was a Spanish-style mansion on extensive grounds with a long, curved drive built in 1926 for tragic matinee idol Lou Tellegen and wife Nina Romano.

(3) Waggoner never fully recovered from his injuries. He died in December 1954.

(4) Others who confessed to having taken part were Jessie Orsatti, who’d once been partners with Bruneman in a café; James “Jimmy” Doolan, and Joseph T. “Bill” Bailey. Bruneman, Sheldon, Frank and Wagner were initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and found not guilty in April 1931. Prosecuted on kidnapping charges, Sheldon, Frank, Wagner, Orsatti, and Bailey were found guilty and sent to prison. In May 1934, Bruneman was likewise convicted for participation in the kidnapping and given 10-to-life. On appeal, he won a new trial and the case against him was dismissed at the request of his defense attorney, Jerry Geisler, in October 1935. Bruneman was gunned down in a café two years later almost to the day, in October 1937.

(5) It’s believed that Siegel had taken over bookmaking and other gambling rackets in Los Angeles from the Spring Street Gang in the late 1930s. Some would claim that Bruneman’s murder was related to this.

(6) Irish-born John D. “Jack” Dineen (1891-1953) had been a member of an LAPD late-Prohibition-era gangster squad formed in the wake of a gangland-style shooting at the Bella Napoli Café in August 1933 that left two “eastern gangsters” dead. Dineen testified before the Grand Jury that he bought the stock farm after retiring from LAPD in 1943 with more than 20 years. Actually, he owned it before 1943. The city directory of 1937 lists his home as 806 N. Mariposa, as does his 1942 draft registration card, which also shows him still with the LAPD.

(6) Irish-born John D. “Jack” Dineen (1891-1953) had been a member of an LAPD late-Prohibition-era gangster squad formed in the wake of a gangland-style shooting at the Bella Napoli Café in August 1933 that left two “eastern gangsters” dead. Dineen testified before the Grand Jury that he bought the stock farm after retiring from LAPD in 1943 with more than 20 years. Actually, he owned it before 1943. The city directory of 1937 lists his home as 806 N. Mariposa, as does his 1942 draft registration card, which also shows him still with the LAPD.

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