How a cafeteria owner took on the underworld and brought down a mayor.
Gambling ships began operating off the Southern California coast regularly in the late 1920s. Local, county, state, and federal authorities tried various means to get them shut down, even dredging up 18th century piracy laws, without any real lasting effect. Earl Warren, as California A.G., successfully raided and closed the last four ships in 1939 and World War II put a damper on any new such ventures starting up. But there was still no state or federal statute outlawing them. Everyone may have thought the era of gambling ships had passed. Everyone except Tony Cornero.
Much of what is written about Charles Crawford and his Los Angeles crime syndicate today comes from a series of articles written in 1939 for Liberty magazine’s, based on information from cafeteria owner Clifford Clinton’s citizen-led vice investigations. Clinton’s work was sincere, but by that time Crawford was long dead and he was relying on secondary sources for information about him. The following is based on my original research.
Clinton’s efforts led to the voters of Los Angeles ousting Mayor Frank Shaw in 1938, often cited as the first mayor of a major U.S. city to be recalled. However, Seattle’s Mayor Hiram C. Gill beat him to it. Gill 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.
For all the energy expelled in expunging from Los Angeles that most dreaded of species, the gangsterous easternicus, one of the most invasive specimens of all of them was a hometown boy. Milton Bernard Page, known as “Farmer,” was born in the city in 1887. Though the gambling den was his natural habitat, he also dealt in liquor and prostitution. Continue reading
It was “Tutor” Scherer who launched the first known floating casino off the Southern California coast. He also had a large bookmaking operation and was affiliated with gambling clubs in Palm Springs as well as Hollywood’s Clover Club and the Airport Gardens in Glendale. Like fellow Spring Street Gang gamblers Guy McAfee and “Farmer” Page, he ended up in Las Vegas, where late in life he blossomed into a poet. Continue reading
“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.
The Clover Club Continue reading