A typical reaction from anyone who reads Geoffrey Homes’ hard-to-find 1946 novel Build My Gallows High (basis for the film noir Out of the Past) is: how on earth did he come up with a name like Mumsie McGonigle? The short answer is: he didn’t. There was a real Mumsie McGonigle, and she was much in the news in early 1940s Los Angeles. Her story involves depravity and corruption to equal any hardboiled fiction plot.
How a cafeteria owner took on the underworld and brought down a mayor.
The story of Paulie Gibbons’ life typically begins with his death– on the streets of Beverly Hills on May 3, 1946– punctuated by an “amusing” anecdote about his funeral. But Gibbons’ had a long criminal career in Los Angeles dating back to his youth in the bootleg era.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in November 1932, defeating the 1-term incumbent Herbert Hoover, who four years earlier had won in a landslide partly on a platform of retaining the Volstead Act. Since then his failed economic policies had sent the stock market into a tailspin and plunged the country into an economic depression. Millions of Americans were out of work and couldn’t even legally drown their sorrows. After his inauguration March 3, 1933, Roosevelt wasted no time in making good on his campaign promise to repeal national prohibition. Continue reading
Los Angeles papers had been reporting the antics of Edward “Spike” O’Donnell for years. Noted for his many brushes with death at the hands of his rivals, the nattily-dressed O’Donnell was always good for a pithy quote or too.
The year that Bugsy Siegel arrived in Los Angeles to be the New York mob’s man on the West Coast varies from source to source. Siegel himself claimed in a legal document that he had been a resident since 1935. It’s known a that he visited at least twice before that, starting in 1932.
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.
Leo Parnell Bergin was not a gangster or a bootlegger, nor a professional gambler, but a chance encounter with all of the above led to his untimely death in 1931 and exposed the fact that the city had become, in the words of the city’s leading newspaper, a “mecca for gangsters and gamblers from the East.” Continue reading
The LAPD’s survey, Gangland Killings 1900-1951, documents five local gang-related murders for the year 1931. Chicago would call that a slow Tuesday. For Los Angeles it was a “bootlegger’s war.” Twenty year-old Paul Crank was its third victim. Continue reading