Frank Shaw of Los Angeles is often cited as the first mayor of a major U.S. city to be recalled, as Shaw was in 1938, but Seattle’s Mayor Hiram C. Gill beat him to it. He was booted out in 1911 after less than a year in office, when the public learned that he and his Chief of Police Charles “Wappy” Wapperstein were collecting a large percentage of the receipts from the Northern Club, a saloon-gambling hall-brothel run by a syndicate that included Charles Crawford.
Born in Ohio in 1879, by the summer of 1910 Crawford had a thriving saloon on Sixth Avenue in Seattle’s tenderloin district and enjoyed steaming around Puget Sound in his private yacht, the Princess Chimay. Gill had been elected mayor earlier that year, having openly campaigned on an “open town” policy toward saloons and brothels. Within months however, the Gill administration had gone too far for even the most tolerant citizenry, when it became public knowledge that Wappy, more or less acting as the mayor’s bagman, was collecting a hefty per-girl profit from the Northern Club. The club’s brief but profitable 54 day run came to a close and a petition calling for Mayor Gill’s recall circulated in October 1910, calling Gill unfit and incompetent for the office, accusing him of having made improper appointments, failing to enforce the law and giving harbor to criminals.
Undaunted, Crawford and another Northern Club partner, Gideon Tupper, opened a new club across from the golf and country club. “They are of the opinion that there will be some mighty rich pickings thereabouts during the winter season. It will be a joy ride that you read about, when things get under full head way, for the women of the town to flock out there by automobile loads to spend a few hours in a resort conveniently close to the man with the money.” The Seattle Republican wrote on December 9, 1910.
In February 1911, Gill was duly recalled. He blamed his downfall on the women’s vote, women having been granted suffrage in Washington State the previous year. Wappy indicted on seven counts of bribery related to the Northern Club profits. Tupper faced some time in the hot seat, but not Crawford. Wappy was ultimately found guilty but the case was appealed.
Some sources say Gill’s recall send Crawford scampering to Los Angeles. He still listed his address as Seattle as of September 1911, when he married his second wife in Salt Lake City. He had relocated to Los Angeles by January 1914 for sure, however, and took over an existing saloon, the Maple Bar.
Frank DeMonde had opened the Maple Café & Saloon, 230 E. 5th St. at the corner of Maple Avenue, in 1899. In March 1905, the Los Angeles Herald, in a survey of the city’s saloons, called it “one of the most popular places of good cheer in Los Angeles…spacious and well arranged.”
It was in January 1914 that Crawford applied for a permit to make $2000 worth of improvements to the place. Some say these included gambling in the back room and a brothel upstairs.
In November 1917, Los Angeles voters passed the Gandier Ordinance, which closed saloons in the city limits, banned sales of strong liquor and severely limited where and when beverages containing even a minimal percentage of alcohol could be sold. With national prohibition on the horizon, Congress passed the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, effective July 1, 1919, which forbade the sale of intoxicants with greater than 2.75% alcohol. In Los Angeles, chaos reigned among saloons and law enforcement as it was not clear whether the federal law took precedence over local law, or if not, whether 2.75% “war brew” beer was considered an “alcoholic liquor” forbidden under the Gandier Ordinance.
City police made frequent raids of establishments that sold war brew and arrested the proprietors. Charles H. Crawford and the Maple Bar were a frequent target. Crawford emerged as a spokesperson for the other “café” owners who opposed the Gandier Ordinance as well as the Anti-Saloon League’s suggested solution (ultimately rejected by the City Council) that LA adopt a “bone-dry” ordinance banning alcoholic beverages altogether, regardless of the percentage. At midnight, January 16, 1920, however, Los Angeles went “bone-dry” along with the rest of the country.
Crawford’s outspokenness in the Gandier Ordinance may have attracted the attention of Kent Kayne Parrot, the USC-educated lawyer who helped propel George Cryer to the office of mayor in 1921 and was said to be the real power behind the administration. In any case, Crawford formed an alliance with Parrot. Protected by City Hall, he ran a vice syndicate with affiliates Albert Marco, Farmer Page, Tutor Scherer, Guy McAfee and others.
The Crawford syndicate began losing steam in the late 1920s. Albert Marco was found guilty of violating the Volstead Act and assault with a deadly weapon. D.A. Asa Keyes, a key ally, was found guilty of bribery related to the Julian Oil scandal. Kent Parrot and Mayor Cryer had a falling out and parted ways; Cryer decided not to run for reelection. Then, on February 20, 1929, Crawford (now referred to as a “politician”) Marco and five police officers were indicted for conspiracy to frame city councilman Carl Jacobson, who had been outspoken in his criticism of Marco, Page and the LAPD. According to an investigation for Liberty magazine’s 1939 “Lid Off Los Angeles” series, Crawford ordered the plot to “get” Jacobson. He was acquitted, however, when lawyer Jerry Geisler, argued that the prosecution lacked evidence linking Crawford to the conspiracy. But, overall, Crawford’s own power and influence were on the decline.
He was back in the news again in March 1930, when Los Angeles Examiner reporter Morris Lavine and Leontine Johnson, former private secretary to S.C. Lewis of the failed Julian Oil company, were accused of trying to extort hush-money from Crawford and other “businessmen,” whom Lavine threatened with exposure of asserted “criminal acts.” At the time of his arrest, Lavine was said to have had $75,000 in marked bills that he’d received from the “politician.” Lavine told the grand jury that he believed he’d been framed, and challenged D.A. Buron Fitts, who’d taken over after Keyes’ conviction, to thoroughly investigate the case, calling Crawford out as “an underworld character in this city for the past 20 years.”
Crawford testified before the grand jury, afterward telling reporters “I am not interested in getting anyone in jail. I feel sorry for Lavine and Miss Johnson, but I did the only thing left for me to do after he and she had threatened me. They came to me with their shake-down plan and tried to make me aid their scheme to extort money not only from myself but men that I know, and several others that I never heard of. I told them I had nothing to do with the matters that they were writing, but they would not listen. I did the only thing that I could do to protect myself and my interests.”
The following month, April 16, 1930, as the Lavine-Johnson case was getting ready to go to trial, Crawford, S.C. Lewis and former State Corporation Commissioner Jack Friedlander were indicted on bribery-conspiracy charges related to Julian Oil, citing 14 specific instanaces where money changed hands between February 25, 1927 to September 1, 1929. Through his lawyer, Crawford denied the charges, proclaiming himself the victim of a “political plot.”
On April 29, Crawford, key witness in the Levine-Johnson extortion case, declared that he would not testify, only to reluctantly do so on April 30. With his lawyer accompanying him to the stand, Crawford told the court that he’d given Lavine $75,000 of his own money at his office at 6665 Sunset Blvd. He admitted meeting with Kent Parrot, Friedlander and others, but refused to state the reason, or to to explain why he’d given Lavine the money, on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. He denied framing or trapping Lavine. The trial ended in a hung jury, with a lone hold-out against conviction of Lavine and Johnson.
As new trial got underway in late June, Crawford was very publicly joined St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, run by pastor Rev. Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb. Crawford dropped a diamond ring worth $3500 into the collection plate with a note urging Dr. Briegleb to sell the ring and use the money to build a parish house Sunday school.
Lavine and Johnson were found guilty on the extortion charges July 4, 1930 and given a year in County Jail and fines of $5000.
The battle then began over the $75,000 Crawford had paid to Lavine. Currently held by the County Clerk, Lavine’s conviction theoretically meant that Crawford (still facing trial for bribery) was entitled to get the money back. However, the estate of the bankrupt A.G. Wagy & Co. investment firm sued Crawford and Lavine in U.S. court, asserting that Crawford owed the company excess of $40,000 over a Julian Oil stock deal. Crawford claimed in U.S. Court that September that he’d been receiving threats that he had better give Wagy its share of the money or else. Lavine, who was appealing his case, maintained that it was his money and no one else had a right to it.
On October 20, 1930, D.A. Fitts suddenly dropped the bribery charges against Crawford, Friedlander and Lewis for “lack of evidence.”
A couple weeks later, Crawford donated $25,000 to St. Paul’s for the construction of a new church. Located at Jefferson Blvd. and Third St., it was dedicated on May 17, 1931. The Sunday school building was named the Amelia Crawford Memorial in honor of Crawford’s mother.
Three days later, Crawford was dead, victim of a double homicide that also took the life of journalist Herbert Spencer. The two were shot to death at Crawford’s 6665 Sunset Blvd. office at roughly 4:30 in the afternoon. Spencer expired on the spot. Crawford died at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital later that evening without revealing the name of his assailant.
One of the first to be questioned was Guy McAfee, the former police vice squad detective who had once been an ally of Crawford’s. They’d since fallen out, and Spencer’s periodical, Critic of Critics, said to be financed by Crawford, had repeatedly attacked McAfee as a vice overlord. McAfee, however, had an alibi for the time of the murder.
Crawford’s funeral took place at the church he’d so recently helped fund, on May 23. Guy McAfee, Farmer Page and Tutor Scherer sent flowers.
Former Deputy D.A. David H. Clark confessed to the shootings, claiming self-defense. Rumors surfaced that Crawford possessed compromising photos of Clark taken back in 1928 when Clark was prosecuting Albert Marco for assault with a deadly weapon, and had threatened to use them to blackmail Clark, who was currently running for municipal court judge. Clark denied this, insisting that Crawford had admitted he had been planning a “comeback” in the underworld and tried to involve him in a plot to frame chief of police Roy Steckel; Clark said he refused and the two had a heated argument that climaxed with Crawford brandishing a gun.
Tried for the Spencer murder, Clark’s first trial ended in a hung jury. Crawford’s widow implored D.A. Fitts not to pursue a retrial, charging that her husband’s name was being dragged through the mud and moreover, the prosecution was asking her to help fund the investigation. Special Prosecutor Ford explained that Mrs. Crawford’s attorney had suggested conducting an independent investigation of the jury members; Ford said they would have to finance it themselves. A second trial duly went forward and resulted in Clark’s acquittal. Neither he nor anyone else stood trial for Crawford’s murder.
Crawford left an estate said to be valued at $113,724 including real property and the $75,000 given to Lavine.
Only days before the murders, the Wagy case had been settled in Crawford’s favor. The money, however, turned up missing. So did Chief Deputy County Clerk Liberty A. Hill, whose job it had been to watch over it. A nationwide manhunt for Hill ensued. He was found in Reno, arrested and brought back to Los Angeles to face 16 counts of embezzlement and 16 counts of grand theft. Hill said that he’d given the money back to Crawford two or three days before the murders, but could not produce a receipt. The prosecution, however, had evidence that the marked bills were squandered in the stock market. Hill was found guilty on July 1, 1932 and sent to San Quentin.
The matter of the “Crawford cash” remained unsettled. In September, Union Bank & Trust Co., as executors of Crawford’s estate, filed suit, demanding the County cough up the $75,000. In January 1933, a judge held the County, specifically Hill’s supervisor, liable for the money, having entrusted it to Hill’s care. The Appellate Court reversed the decision in December 1934. In May 1935, the Crawford estate sued Hill’s former boss and two bonding companies in an attempt to recover the cash, but lost the suit in November.
Crawford’s widow had a shopping center built on the site of Crawford’s onetime Sunset Blvd. offices. Known as the Cross Roads of the World, it opened in October 1936.
Top image: Charles H. Crawford on the stand, 1930. UCLA.
A Charles H. or C.H. Crawford appears in pre-1914 city directories; he is not the same Charles Crawford.
In January 1912, Gill decided to throw his hat in the mayoral ring again, campaigning on the “open town” platform as before and promising the “same kind of administration for which he was recalled.” His opponent, George F. Cotterill, though a “prohibition man” himself, assured voters that he would “not advocate such theories as mayor” (Los Angeles Herald, 3-5-1912). Gill lost. He ran again in 1914- this time on a reform ticket, vowing to turn the town dry, and was elected. In November of that year, Washington voters approve a statewide prohibition measure.
Inquiries related to the $75,000 “Crawford cash” disclosed that Crawford and Kent Parrott had a joint investment account.
S.C. Lewis was arrested in San Francisco on April 10, 1932 with Chicago gangsters Frankie Foster and Eddie Rollins in connection with the theft of $100,000 worth of jewelry from a patron of the Palace Hotel.
Lavine and Johnston were at liberty while they appealed their case. After being denied in the lower state courts, in August 1931 they got approval to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lavine and Johnson, who had yet to serve their time or pay their fines in their 1930 extortion convictions, finally gave up and entered the county jail on July 18, 1932. Lavine was pardoned by Governor Rolph in January 1934. Lavine, who practiced law, sought reinstatement to the bar. Though initially denied, he won reinstatement in March 1936. Clients included Hollywood madam Lee Francis, who had originally backed by Crawford, following her 1940 arrest; and former County Jail physician Dr. Benjamin Blank, who was let go in December 1940 after it became known that he’d allowed Bugsy Siegel to leave jail on numerous occasions while awaiting trial for murder. Along with Sam Rummel, in 1941 Lavine also represented Deputy Sheriff Charles Rittenhouse (who had arrested Lee Francis) when Rittenhouse was charged with 61 counts of bribery in a Sunset Strip protection pay-off case. Mickey Cohen was another client. Lavine was disbarred again in 1954 but the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
Liberty Hill, after his case was unsuccessfully appealed, entered prison in July 1932. He was paroled in 1937.