George Contreras

Though primarily remembered as a deputy sheriff, George Contreras (in white hat, above, center) began his law enforcement career in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office during the administration of DA Thomas Woolwine.

Contreras was born in Los Angeles in January 1888, the second-youngest of several siblings. Though he often stated his father was born in California, Francisco (Frank Contreras was in fact born in Mexico. His mother, Martha Jane, came to California from Illinois. Martha and Frank were married in Los Angeles in 1869. Martha died in 1890 soon after giving birth to George’s younger sister. Frank died in 1909. In 1910, George was living in Denver, Colorado, where his maternal aunt and her husband had resided. He returned to his home town about 1914. Although newspaper accounts would assert that he began working for the DA’s office that year, city directories and voting registration records indicate he had a part interest in a confectionery shop/soda fountain located at the corner of Sixth & Hope streets in 1914-1915.

Sixth & Hope streets in 1912, around the time George Contreras operated a confectionery at 634 W. Sixth St. LAPL photo.

George was working for DA Woolwine’s office as an investigator by 1916, however, though his service was interrupted by World War I. He enlisted in the Army on June 1, 1917. In August 1917, his unit, the Los Angeles Company of the Medical Enlisted Reserve Corps (MERC) was ordered to report to Monterey Presidio. When the rest of his unit left for training at Camp Grant, Illinois, he remained in California due to a foot injury. Later, his obituary would state that Contreras served with  the Army Intelligence Service in France; however no records confirming this were found.

LA Evening Express 8/11/1917

LA Evening Express 9/11/1917

In any case, Contreras was discharged from the Army on July 15, 1919 and resumed his career with the DA’s office, working swindles, fraud and murder cases such as the Louise Peete case in October 1920.

Contreras (2nd from left) with Louise Peete (center). LA Times 10/28/1920.

Although the Peete case was notorious, the most memorable case, perhaps, to Contreras personally may have been the shooting of McCullough Graydon on Labor Day, 1920. McCullough, his wife and his sister-in-law got into a squabble with another couple, reportedly over possession of a summer rental cottage at Venice beach, during which Graydon was shot at close range and later died. A woman, Maybelle Roe, and a man, Oscar Bowers (McCullough’s onetime business associate) were tried for and convicted. During the investigation and trials, Contreras became acquainted with one of the participants and a main witness, Joan Marshall, whose sister (now a widow) had been married to the dead man. Marshall and Contreras were married in Riverside on September 28, 1922.They divorced in 1927.

LA Evening Express 9/29/1922

At midnight, December 20, 1922, the Wright Act went into effect. The state law allowed local law enforcement to uphold the federal Volstead Act, which had been the law of the land outlawing the sale and manufacture of alcohol since 1920.It would change the focus of Contreras’ career. He was put in charge of the DA’s newly-formed dry enforcement squad- soon nicknamed the “Booze Squad.”

LA Record 12/21/1922

Contreras wasted no time launching raids on moonshiners and illegal stills. Images like the one one below depicting the detective surrounded by stills, barrels and gallons of confiscated liquor and liquor-making supplies would become commonplace in local papers.

But the parties the Booze Squad raided were for the most part small timers- mom and pop operations, home brewers and hip pocket bootleggers. In 1922, Farmer Page, under the protection of Charles Crawford’s syndicate and aided by his minion Albert Marco, was the head of LA’s liquor rackets. Page’s operations were not bothered by the DA’s raids.

LA Evening Express 12/29/1922

In June 1923, DA Thomas Woolwine resigned from office due to his failing health. His Chief Deputy DA, Asa Keyes, immediately succeeded him. In March 1924, Harry Raymond was appointed as DA Keyes’ Chief of Detectives. Raymond was a former sometimes special investigator for the LAPD and had served a brief term as Venice’s Chief of Police. Raymond and Contreras often teamed up on liquor raids, sometimes with federal prohibition agents.

Acting on a “tip,” on March 21, 1924, Harry Raymond and Contreras raided Ford’s Castle, a nightspot on Washington Boulevard. The Ship Cafe, nearby at Venice Pier, was not raided. Venice Evening Vanguard 3/22/1924

Two night later, Contreras, Raymond and federal agents raided the notorious Log Cabin Inn on Washington Boulevard, run by Tommy Jacobs, a syndicate front man. I would assume the raid was initiated by the federals, not the DA’s office. LA Record 3/24/1924

On October 15, 1924, Harry Raymond and 15 DA investigators were forced to resign. Contreras stayed.

In December 1927, Contreras was temporarily assigned to the Hickman case. Edward Hickman had murdered a child, Marion Parker, then had somehow slipped out of Los Angeles. With Hickman caught, Contreras returned to the Booze Squad detail.

On July 1, 1928, Contreras’ dry raiders, along with sheriff’s vice squad officers and Long Beach police, boarded the Johanna Smith gambling ship anchored off Long Beach, intending to raid and padlock it. The “amusement steamer” had just opened the night before, on June 30. However, Contreras concluded that the ship was not carrying liquor and in any case was beyond the 3-mile limit and therefore outside the jurisdiction of LA County.

Opening of the Johanna Smith. Long Beach Press Telegram 6/30/1928

The floating Monte Carlo was subsequently shut down however, on July 4 when local authorities arrested the water taxis operators. Federal Marshals seized the ship, which was sold at auction on December 14, 1928. Meanwhile, another gambling ship began operating off Long Beach- the Monfalcone. Contreras and Deputy DA Dave Clark boarded the vessel on November 26, 1928, hoping to find evidence they could use to shut it down. They didn’t. Despite numerous raids and other attempts to close them, various gambling ships would continue to blight the California Coast for another decade.

LA Evening Express 11/24/1928

On September 7, 1928, Albert Marco was convicted on assault with a deadly weapon charges. Already convicted in federal court in 1927 for violation of the Volstead Act, Marco, who had been at liberty while appealing that conviction (which was, after all, upheld) had gotten into a brawl at the Ship Cafe in Venice and beat another patron with a gun. Joe Moore, Marco’s driver, had tried to take the rap, claiming it was he who’d committed the assault. Dave Clark, the Deputy DA prosecuting the case, had accused Moore in open court of lying under oath. Following Marco’s guilty verdict, Contreras promptly arrested Joe Moore for perjury. On September 26, however, it was reported that Moore had been released on September 12, on orders of DA Keyes.

Venice Evening Vanguard 9/26/1928

The LA County jury investigated, part of a larger, sweeping probe of bribery allegation of public officials, including the DA’s office. At the same time, it was discovered that Albert Marco had been enjoying a number of outings to his brothel/nightclubs and other privileges while a prisoner in the LA County jail.

On October 31, 1928, DA Asa Keyes was indicted on multiple counts of bribery linked to the Julian Oil scandal. The tailor shop of Dave and Ben Getzoff was said to be the spot where county officials met to “fix” certain cases. Former Deputy DA Buron Fitts, who’d been serving as California’s Lieutenant Governor under Governor C.C. Young, resigned his post to serve as a special prosecutor in the Keyes case and successfully convicted his former boss. On Dec 3, Fitts was sworn in as the new DA.

Fitts’ first action was to call for the resignation of seven investigators who’d served under Keyes- including George Contreras. There were newspaper reports that Contreras was one of the county officials seen frequently at the Getzoff tailor shop, which Fitts would be fully aware of- though Contreras wasn’t charged with anything. The Booze Squad’s duties would thereafter be fulfilled by the sheriff’s vice squad.

Pasadena Evening Post 12/3/1928

Contreras was reported as having made visits to the tailor shop of Ben and Dave Getzoff, where bribes were arranged to “fix” County criminal cases. LA Evening Express 12/17/1928

By November 1930, Contreras was working as a deputy sheriff in the Homicide detail under Sheriff William Traeger. Eugene Biscailuz succeeded Traeger as sheriff in December 1932.

On May 20, 1931, LA crime boss/fixer Charles Crawford was shot to death at his Sunset Boulevard “real estate” office along with journalist Herbert Spencer. Contreras’ former colleague, Deputy DA Dave Clark, confessed to the crimes, claiming self-defense. Guy McAfee, a onetime Crawford protege and former LAPD vice squad detective until 1920, took on Crawford’s role as political fixer and boss of the underworld rackets, though he faced competition for the latter from Jack Dragna, who took over as LA’s Italian crime family boss from Joseph Ardizzone. Both McAfee and Dragna would be referred to as the “Capone of Los Angeles.”

The sale of beer and low alcohol wine became legal again on March 22, 1933 (effective April 6) and five days later, Los Angeles County repealed its “Little Volstead” Ordinance 650. Full repeal of national Prohibition would not occur until December 1933.

Hollywood Citizen News 4/27/1933

Reflecting the legalization of beer, in April 1933 the sheriff’s office  reorganized its vice and liquor squad, which would now be headed by Deputy Walter Hunter, assisted by George Contreras. The two men would later switch roles, Contreras serving as head.

Raids continued apace as the end of Prohibition did not mean there were no more lawbreakers with regard to alcohol. Just as before national Prohibition there had been saloon operators who flouted liquor laws such as having a license to serve alcoholic beverages, observing closing hours, and not serving liquor to minors. There were also those who preferred not to pay taxes on liquor and got around that by serving bootleg stuff.

The sheriff’s vice squad, which had jurisdiction over unincorporated county territory. The LAPD had jurisdiction within the LA city limits. Sometimes the lines were conveniently blurred.

The new vice squad wasted no time acting on orders from Sheriff Biscailuz to “rid Los Angeles County of its present vice conditions,” launching a series of sweeping raids on speakeasies, casinos and brothels, including the fashionable former Pom Pom Club at 8835 Santa Monica Boulevard and the Colony Club at 1131 North Alta Loma Drive.

LA Times 3/15/1933

“The vice clean up of Los Angeles County is just starting,” Hunter warned. “Speakeasy proprietors who believe the legalization of beer and light wines and the repeal of many of the liquor laws gives them free reign to operate are going to be badly surprised.”

Well, not that surprised.

In June 1933, a group of religious leaders and other concerned citizens, led by Sunset Boulevard property owner Bob Coyne, complained to DA Fitts about vice operating in West Hollywood (then unincorporated) under the protection of the sheriff’s office. Coyne used his property at 8383 Sunset Boulevard to erect anti-gambling billboards aimed primarily at the Clover Club at 8477 Sunset. Contreras shrugged off the accusations, attributing them to sour grapes- that Coyne was fronting for an underworld group that merely wanted to use the sheriff’s office to close up his competition and had “duped” the religious leaders into supporting his effort.

Hollywood Citizen News 8/21/1934

While that may have been true, Contreras’ glib response did not address the basic fact that Bob Coyne was right- there was flourishing vice in the county and the sheriff’s vice squad, despite their showy raids, had failed to shut them down. The Colony Club on Alta Loma Drive, was still in business.

On November 19, under pressure from Hollywood parent-teacher organizations, Biscailuz issued another “clean up” order. Contreras and Hunter duly went to the Colony Club with a cease and desist order but found it closed. It had “recently” moved to a new location within the city limits (3083 Motor Avenue), and therefore outside the jurisdiction of Contreras. Strangely, no gambling equipment was found at the other upscale clubs they visited- including the Ballyhoo at 8429 Sunset, and Club Seville at 8428 Sunset.

LA Post Record 11/20/1933

Sheriff Biscailuz declared victory, telling reporters he’d warned the popular clubs to “close or expect a raid.” (I’m sure they appreciated the warning). “I got tired of hearing people talk about these places running wide open, I instructed Captains Walter Hunter and George Contreras of the vice squad to serve notice on them that if they were not closed within 24 hours, they would be raided.” Warnings also went out to the Clover Club and Airport Gardens in Glendale. All of the places were McAfee-Farmer Page establishments.

Hollywood Citizen News 11/28/1933

The Hollywood Citizen-News editorialized on November 21, 1933, “One hopes that the sheriff’s raids on some of the West Hollywood joints mean business. But one does not become too enthusiastic over raids when many of them have in the past amounted to no more than slight interruptions in the business of robbing suckers of their money.” The paper went on to say that the owners of these clubs were part of gang “which is said to now be in complete control of the police department, sheriff’s office and the DA’s office. None of the joints would operate unless they were assured they would not be visited by raiders… no joints operate for long that don’t contribute liberally to political manipulators.”

Sure enough, the Colony Club was soon back in business at 1131 North Alta Loma and on January 28, 1934, was “raided” again by Contreras and Hunter along with the Clover Club at 8477 Sunset and La Boheme at 8614 Sunset (soon, re-addressed as 8610, to become the Trocadero).

LA Times 1/29/1934

 

Contreras (right) and Walter Hunter during the January 28, 1934 raids. LAPL photo

Later that year, the County Grand Jury launched an investigation into organized vice and gambling and allegation of official protection. Farmer Page, his associate Nola Han, Guy McAfee and others were called on to testify but Contreras was unable to locate them and the inquiry went nowhere.

LA Evening Post Record 2/2/1935

On November 25, 1935, yet another a prostitution (aka “white slave”) ring was brought to the attention (cough) of Contreras’ vice squad when the mother of a 17 year old girl named Marie Birchfield reported that her daughter had been held prisoner in a house at 1320 Harper Street for 7 days, during which she was forced into prostitution. Biscailuz ordered an “investigation and Contreras subsequently “found” the syndicate had been in operation about six months. Another girl working for the operatives had been recruited previously in the same manner. On December 5, brothers Olin and Carl Whitaker were arrested along with the madam, Ada “Babe” Carson (also identified as Edith Carson in some news reports). The trio were tried and convicted.

LA Illustrated Daily News 12/6/1935

As with the raids on nightclubs, arresting some expendable low-level employees of a brothel did nothing to stop the underworld’s machinery. It rolled right along.

On January 15, 1937, yet another “girl syndicate” came to light. Much like the so-called Hollywood “Love Mart” case of May 1931 (handled by the DA’s office), this case got started with a diary listing the names of 22 girls who Contreras said were “supplied” for parties attended by film stars. The sheriff’s vice squad had secretly “investigated” the ring for two weeks before the news was made public. Although Contreras threatened, “it is quite possible that we shall subpoena prominent persons listed in the diary,” that never happened.

Pomona Progress Bulletin 1/16/1937

On February 3, 1937, Contreras and the vice squad raided the Clover Club, which like the Colony Club, had never closed. The asserted operator, Joe. E. Fox was given a fine of $250 in Beverly Hills court, while the handful of employees arrest paid $10 each. As the Hollywood Citizen News opined, the raid “turns out, as many surmised, to be merely a conspiracy between the Sheriff and the underworld gangster to cause the people to think that the gangsters do not control our law enforcement machinery…We would call the whole affair on the part of the sheriff and the judge just a big hug and kiss for the gangsters. The Clover Club racketeers are assuring their public that they still control the sheriff and all other public officials necessary.”

Hollywood Citizen News 2/3/1937

On July 19, 1937, after Les Brunaman was shot outside his Redondo Beach gambling club in a failed attempt on his life, 1937 grand jurist and cafeteria owner Clifford Clinton and others organized a citizen-led committee called C.I.V.I.C. to investigate vice and gambling conditions in Los Angeles. Contreras’ adversary Bob Coyne was one of its informants.

In September 1937, Bob Coyne was accused of shaking down Sunset strip nightclub owners in exchange for not turning them over to Clinton’s committee. Coyne pleaded not guilty and fought the accusations, then suddenly changed his plea to guilty in a surprise move. He was given a jail term and fined. It was part of wider effort to discredit the C.I.V.I.C. investigation.

In 1938, the sheriff’s vice squad led by Contreras and Hunter, made a renewed effort to shut down the gambling ship REX, operated by Farmer Page’s onetime rum-runner rival Tony Cornero, but failed.

Tony Cornero (far left) and George Contreras (2nd from left) aboard the REX. LA Times 5/15/1938

Ad for the REX. It was closing for the season, not closing for good. The REX would be back in the spring of 1939. LA Times 10/15/1938

On January 22, 1939, Contreras led the vice squad on another raid of the Colony Club, which never had closed, after all and was still running wide open at 1131 Alta Loma Drive.

LA Daily News 1/23/1939

On February 5, Contreras and his men raided a gambling club at 9165 Sunset Boulevard, located in the penthouse of a two story building, using fire ladders to enter through a window since the stairway was blocked by electrically-operated iron doors. The club was run by Al Frietas and Al Villaudy. Villaudy was said to represent Reno gambling interests. Frietas had of course operated on the Sunset strip for years.

All that spring there were also sweeping raids of suspected bookmakers. As in the old Prohibition-era raids Booze Squad days, these targets were mostly small time operators.

On July 23, 1939, Contreras, with Chief Investigator John Klein of DA Fitts’ office, raided a private home at 7269 Hollywood Boulevard. Originally built for George A. Ralphs of the grocery store chain, it was later acquired by film producer Joseph M. Schenck and his movie star wife Norma Talmadge. The couple had since divorced but Schenck still owned the mansion. He said he rented it and wasn’t aware that it was being used for illegal purposes.

LA Times 7/24/1939

7269 Hollywood Boulevard in the 1920s when it was home to Norma Talmadge

Ad for the REX. LA Times 5/29/1939

A few days after the mansion raid, the effort to shut down the gambling ships was renewed by new State Attorney General Earl Warren. Warren, with Contreras and Santa Monica Police Chief Charles Dice, Contreras visited all gambling ships off the coast of Santa Monica- the REX, the Tango and The Showboat- serving them with cease and desist notices.

Whittier News 7/29/1939

The ships ignored the notices and were raided on August 1. The Tango and The Showboat surrendered at once. The REX was the lone holdout, holding the would-be raiders off with fire hoses. Contreras visited Cornero aboard the ship to try to convince him to surrender, which Tony finally did on August 10, 1939.

Contreras (in the captain’s hat- really? And they call Tony “Admiral”?) and Tony Cornero. Wilmington Daily Press Journal 8/15/1939

Contreras (right) posing with gambling equipment from the REX, being chopped up with the REX’s own fire ax. LA Times 11/30/1939

1940 would prove to be a rocky year for the sheriff’s vice squad.

On January 17, Lee Francis, a madam who had operated under the protection of Charles Crawford and his successors since the 1920s was arrested by Charles Rittenhouse of the sheriff’s vice squad at 8439 Sunset Boulevard, where she occupied apartment 204 under the name Ruth Marion. The officers also raided an apartment at 8256 Norton Avenue where two paid escorts were taken into custody. Rittenhouse had arranged a “date” with one of the women through Francis. Francis’ lawyer Morris Levine asserted that it was a frame up- that Rittenhouse was acting on orders of George Contreras to “get something” on Francis to prevent her from getting a liquor license for her Sunset Strip nightclub, Club Versailles. While it likely was indeed a frame up, it wasn’t about the Club Versailles. Francis had already long since given up her interest in it and it had opened under different management in December 1937. Contreras had raided it for violation of state liquor laws in October 1938. 

Rittenhouse was born in New Jersey in 1891 and had settled in Los Angeles by 1913. He’d been a carpenter at Fox studios and a movie theater manager in Long Beach before joining the sheriff’s office. He had been a member of the vice squad since 1933, when it was reorganized under Contreras and Walter Hunter.

On February 7, 1940, Contreras and his men raided 8256 Norton Avenue again – this time for suspected bookmaking operations.

LA Times 3/8/1940

On February 27, 1940, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hastily adopted an ordinance to license pinball games. Pin and marble games were banned or regulated in certain quarters as a form of gambling. Boy Coyne came to the meeting, shocked and dismayed that the matter had already been voted on. He told the Board that George Contreras had a controlling interest in 2000 pinball or slot machines, and had offered Bob a cut of the action if he’d lay off a grand jury investigation. Contreras denied the accusation asserting that Coyne had been “out to get” him for some time, and said he’d welcome a grand jury probe. Contreras went so far as to contact the grand jury and ask for an investigation, which proceeded in early March, Coyne giving testimony.

Hollywood Citizen News 2/27/1940

LA Times 3/5/1940

In the midst of the grand jury investigation, on March 25, Bob Coyne reported to Hollywood police that his real estate office, located in the former Casanova Club building at 8383 Sunset, had been burgled. The grand jury concluded its probe on April 10 without taking any action in the matter.

LA Times 3/26/1940

 

On March 23, William G. Bonelli of the State Board of Equalization (which issued liquor licenses) put forward a resolution that the SBE should seek the assistance of State AG Earl Warren in suppressing gambling in liquor establishments as well as illegal “bottle clubs” in the Sunset Strip area of Los Angeles County.

LA Times 3/24/1940

Fitts, who was up for re-election and faced a barrage of criticism from Clifford Clinton for his apparent lack of enthusiasm for prosecuting well-connected gangsters, blustered and deflected. His office did not do police work, he said; he would prosecute any cases brought to him by Sheriff Biscailuz.

Lo and behold, less than 12 hours after Bonelli’s resolution, on Easter Sunday, Contreras led the vice squad (including Rittenhouse) on a raid of two swank gambling clubs- the Sphinx Club at 9236 Sunset Boulevard and the Bacon Club, a gambling enclave located inside the Clover Club- still going strong at 8477 Sunset. At the Bacon Club they found some playing cards and poker chips. Five men were arrested on misdemeanor gambling charges. At the Sphinx they arrested brothers George and Maurice Goldie. George Goldie was well known to Contreras of course, having previously operated the Colony Club for the Farmer Page/McAfee syndicate. Contreras said he had no clue who ran the Bacon Club.

LA Times 3/25/1940

Contreras insisted the raids were the result of a weeks-long investigation he’d initiated after hearing “rumors” that gambling was going on in these places, and totally wasn’t because of William Bonielli’s resolve to involve AG Earl Warren in policing the Sunset Strip.

While the LA Times happily published the usual publicity pictures of Contreras & company battering down the doors of the clubs, The Hollywood Citizen News wasn’t having it.

“The raids by Deputy Sheriff Contreras on a couple of the Sunset Strip gambling joints means nothing so far as law enforcement is concerned,” the paper opined on March 26. “Contreras has been in charge of vice enforcement in the unincorporated territory for many years. For many years vice forces have operated with immunity, except for an occasional raid which Contreras puts on when the stage is properly set.This time, Contreras had reason to make a raid not because the activities of the gambling joints were any different than they have been for years under his kindly eye.”

Both locations would resume operations in due time.

On April 23 1940, news broke that the sheriff’s vice squad was investigating a “white slave ring” headquartered in Los Angeles and extending across possibly as many as 7 states. The discovery came on April 22 when two young girls called the sheriff’s office to report that a man was trying to recruit them as prostitutes at a Hollywood cafe. Walter Hunter responded and arrested the man, Charles W. Montgomery.

Hollywood Citizen News 4/23/1940

Arrested the same day was Montgomery’s associate Bristol Barrett. Ann Forrester, aka Ann Forst, reportedly the payoff woman for the operation was arrested at 444½ S. Spring Street.

Ann would later relay on the stand that George Contreras offered to let her go if she gave him $2500. Contreras denied the accusation.

The News 7/10/1940

 

The News 8/8/1940

In July Ann’s lawyer George Stahlman, a former Deputy DA, also blasted Contreras for writing an article about Ann titled “The Black Widow,” that was published in a detective magazine. The article, he said, presumed Ann to be guilty. Contreras shrugged that off too, claiming he hadn’t written the article, even if it did use his name in the bi-line.

Hollywood Citizen News 7/9/1940

For such a large, widespread operation, neither Fitts nor anyone else seemed interested in getting to the bottom of it, even after Ann named Guy McAfee as the head of prostitution in Los Angeles where he had at least 31 brothels. The only persons tried in the case were Ann, Montgomery and Barrett and a couple of minor employees. In August Ann was convicted of pandering and sentence to 1-10 years in prison. 

On November 5, Buron Fitts lost reelection as DA to John F. Dockweiler. Sheriff Biscailuz had backed Fitts; Clifford Clinton backed Dockweiler.

Dockweiler was sworn in on December 2 and named Grant Cooper as his Chief Deputy DA and Joe Dunn as his chief investigator. Within days he announced that he would be looking into graft among county officials.

Long Beach Independent 12/6/1940

The sheriff’s office was already deep in a scandal of its own making. On November 19, the public had learned though newspaper reporting that Bugsy Siegel, being held in the county jail while awaiting trial for the November 1939 “Big Greenie” murder, had been allowed out of the facility 18 times in 40 days, ostensibly to visit his dentist. One one jaunt he’d been spotted lunching with actress Wendie Barrie at Lindy’s on Wilshire Boulevard in the company of a deputy sheriff. Moreover, he was served special meals, slept in the jail doctor’s bedroom (Dr. Blank, his old pal from the ill fated Mentha Nelson cruise in 1938), wore specially tailored jail clothes and entertained women in jailer Clem Peoples’ office.

Hollywood Citizen News 12/19/1940

On December 19, 1940 George Contreras removed as head of the vice squad and was given a lateral position as head of the anti-subversive detail. Sheriff Biscailuz insisted it was not meant as a punishment for anything. 

The Hollywood Citizen News observed on December 20, not for the first time, that the scale of commercialized vice in the Sunset Strip could not operate with the freedom it enjoyed without an understanding between the DA’s office and the Sheriff’s office. With Fitts out, the DA’s office was no longer playing by the old rules.

“If DA Dockweiler proceeds with his announced plans to make the underworld respect the law, life would be miserable for Contreras if he were to continue his old assignment.”

Early in the new year, Grant Cooper was already working on a case that would prove the Citizen News’ point. Sheriff’s deputies were implicated in a case involving bookmakers and bribery. In May 1941, Dockweiler presented the case to the grand jury. 

 

Los Angeles Daily News 5/14/1941

In September 1938, two bookies, John R. Osborne and Mike Shapiro, had rented an ice plant at 1130 N. La Brea Avenue. Osborne was a con artist who’d been convicted in the 1920s of using the mails to defraud in a scam involving LA’s Valhalla Memorial Park. The bookie joint operated for 14 months before it was raided. Osborne told the grand jury that it was possible because he had paid Charles Rittenhouse $100 a week for protection through a go-between, Eddie Nealis, who got an additional $50 for this “service.” Nealis of course was long associated with Farmer Page and the Clover Club. 

On May 29, 1941 Rittenhouse indicted on 61 felony bribery counts. On June 6, Grant Cooper read from a transcript of an interview with Rittenhouse earlier in the year, in which Rittenhouse told him Contreras had given the orders to “lay off” certain bookies. Rittenhouse said the bookies hated Contreras because he was a double-crosser. He’d promise them protection, then raid them anyway. Cooper had offered Rittenhouse immunity in exchange for turning State’s evidence against Contreras but Rittenhouse refused and officially denied all charges

In the summer of 1941, Grant Cooper and Tony Joyce, an investigator for DA’s office, staked out the apartment of Augusto “Chito” Sasso at 611 N. Bunker Hill Avenue using a high powered telescope and a dictograph “bug” hidden in Sasso’s icebox. Sasso was said to have inherited Albert Marco’s brothels; whether that was true or not, he definitely did run brothels.

Cooper and Joyce observed various “public officials and politicians” visiting Sasso. The most frequent callers were George Contreras and Samuel Rummell. Tony Joyce later testified about hearing, through the bug, Sasso, Contreras and Rummel discussing recent brothel-related arrests. Sasso said “Gene” had told him D.A. Dockweiler didn’t know much about being DA and it was Grant Cooper “causing all the heat.” Contreras replied that he was well aware of that, but “after spending 17 years building up an organization, we can’t let that ________ of a Cooper tear it all down in three months!”

Rummell and another man unidentified in public reports then discussed taking steps to get rid of Cooper. The unidentified man suggested they get some of their “respectable friends” to talk to Isadore Dockweiler, the DA’s father, and tell him how Cooper was ruining his son’s political future.

On July 23, 1941 the Rittenhouse trial began. Sam Rummell was his lawyer.

On August 27, 1941 the DA’s investigators raided 611 North Bunker Hill Avenue. They were forced to move in before they were ready as Sasso had discovered the microphone.

The rundown exterior of the residence belied its luxurious interior, where the walls were adorned with the photographs- some autographed- of individuals “well known in law enforcement and civic government.”

Across town, a simultaneous raid was carried out at a “luxurious vice den” inside the Stockyards Hotel, 3327-3327 East 45th Street, in Vernon. Sasso was arrested with  Rose “Mumsie” McGonigle. They would jointly charged with 48 counts of pandering.

At the trial March 7, 1942, (Mumsie had to be wheeled in on a stretcher due to the after effects of an appendix operation), all but 8 of the 48 pandering charges against the pair were “unexpectedly” dropped due to “lack of evidence.”

On March 19, 1942 Sasso and Mumsie were tried for the remaining 8 counts. Superior Judge Clarence Kincaid (the same judge who presided  over Ann Forrester’s pandering trial) dismissed ALL charges against Sasso and 6 of the 8 against Mumsie, stating that there was insufficient evidence to prove conspiracy between the two. Further, Judge Kincaid ordered Tony Joyce’s testimony about Contreras and Rummel’s conversations obtained via dictograph stricken from the record! Judges can be bought.

The Rittenhouse trial concluded in July 1942. Rummell’s defense emphasized Osborne’s shady past and the fact that Grant Cooper had offered to give immunity to him, a criminal, in exchange for information to “smear” the sheriff’s department. Rittenhouse was acquitted of all 61 counts against him on July 8, 1942.

Asked about Contreras, Cooper said he was still investigating him for protecting vice and gambling, and though he didn’t yet enough evidence, he hoped to get it. It didn’t happen.

On January 31, 1943, John Dockweiler, though still a fairly young man, took sick and died suddenly. Fred Howser was quickly named as his successor on February 2.

Grant Cooper and Joe Dunn resigned from the DA’s office. 

On July 1, 1945 George Contreras died suddenly at his home in home in Pasadena, age 57.

With the gambling-friendly Howser as DA, Contreras’ successors on the sheriff’s vice squad would be shocked- shocked- to find gambling going on in some of the very same locations where gambling raids had occurred on Contreras’ watch in 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, and 1940.

***

Notes

Unlike other LA officials who used “poor health” as an excuse for forced resignations, DA Woolwine really was ill. He died in July 1925.

Harry Raymond also worked the Hickman case, though no longer with the DA’s office.

Club Seville, run by Al Freitas, had previously been Club Cortez, operated by onetime Farmer Page bodyguard Les Bruneman. Federal prohibition agents later raided Club Seville and in 1935 Freitas opened a new Club Seville across the street at 8433 Sunset (same property as the Ballyhoo), the future home of Ciro’s.

William Bonelli was currently on trial in Los Angeles, having been indicted through DA Fitts efforts on charges of soliciting bribes for liquor licenses.

The Clover Club had once been known as the Sphinx Club. The syndicate liked to reuse the same names.

Bob Coyne died on October 29, 1941.

McAfee had ties to to 444 S. Spring Street where Ann had the booking office for the prostitution ring. His second wife, a madam, had operated a “rooming house” there from 1914 to 1922 for sure.