George Remus


George Remus

George Remus was a famous Cincinnati lawyer and bootlegger during the prohibition era. It has been claimed that he was the inspiration for the title character Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. [ cite web |url=http://www.seelbachhilton.com/history_celebrities.html |title=Celebrities & Ghosts |accessdate=2006-03-03 |publisher=Seelbach Hilton ]

Early life

He was born in Germany in 1876. His family moved to Chicago by the time he was 5. At age 14 George supported the family by working at a pharmacy, because his father was unable to work. Remus later bought the pharmacy by age 19.

Within 5 years, Remus expanded, buying another drugstore. Remus soon tired of the pharmacy business and by 24, he became a lawyer.

Legal and Bootlegging Careers

He specialized in criminal defense, especially murder, and became rather famous. By 1920 he was earning $50,000 a year. Remus divorced his wife and mother of his daughter after an affair with his secretary Imogene.

Alcohol Prohibition began on January 17, 1920, and within a few months Remus saw that his criminal clients were becoming very wealthy very quickly.

Remus memorized the Volstead Act and found loopholes whereby he could buy distilleries and pharmacies to sell liquor to himself under government licenses for medicinal purposes. Remus would then hi-jack his own liquor so he could then sell it illegally. Remus moved to Cincinnati where 80 percent of America's bonded whiskey was located, and bought up most of the whiskey manufacturers. In less than three years Remus made $40 million, with the help of his trusted number two man George Conners. He owned many of America's most famous distilleries, including the Fleischmann Distillery, which he bought for $197,000 and came with 3100 gallons of whiskey.

In addition to serving the Cincinnati community, many other small towns, such as Newport, Kentucky, began sprawling as drinking towns where gamblers opened small casinos to entertain its drunken patrons.

One of Remus' most fortified distilleries was the Death Valley Ranch, purchased by Remus from a nervous man named George Gehrum, only accessible by dirt road. Which is what the outside world thought. The actual distillery was located at 2656 Queen City Ave. The alcohol was distilled in the attic of the home then dumb-waitered below. The basement was where a trap door was located and a tunnel approximately fifty to 100 feet long and six feet under the earth. The "bootleggers" would push the products along the tunnel out to a waiting car usually making it safely away. To my knowledge the site was one of the only locations never busted in the Cincinnati area. I, Diane Gehrum lived in this home as a child. The Delhi Historical Society has more information and an exhibit. In 1920, a raid by hijackers took place, but Remus' armed guards, lead by John Gehrum at the ranch fired heavy volleys at the hijackers and, after a short fight, the wounded attackers left.

Remus was known as a gracious host in his Price Hill area where he lived in Cincinnati. He held many parties, including a 1923 birthday party for Imogene in which she appeared in a daringly cut bathing suit with other aquatic dancers with a fifteen-piece orchestra serenading the guests. Children in the area also saw Remus as a fatherly figure, including Jack Doll, later present when Remus' house was torn down. Doll recalls an episode in which Remus playfully tossed a boy into his Olympic-sized swimming pool (worth $100,000 in 1920) and gave him $10 to buy a new suit. Doll states that a full boy's suit could be purchased for one dollar in 1920.

George and Imogene held a New Year's Eve party at their new mansion, nicknamed the Marble Palace, in 1922. The guests included 100 couples from the most prestigious families in the area. As parting gifts, Remus's presented all the men with diamond watches, and gave each guest's wife a brand new car. Remus held a similar party in June 1923, during his problems with the government, when he gave each female guest (of the fifty present) a brand new Pontiac.

Legal troubles

Remus was finally sentenced to two years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for bootlegging. While Remus was in prison, his wife Imogene started an affair with prohibition agent Franklin Dodge. Dodge and Imogene liquidated Remus' assets and hid as much of the money as possible, in addition to attempting to deport Remus, or even hiring a hitman to murder Remus for $15,000. In addition, Remus's huge Fleischmann distillery was sold by Imogene, who gave her imprisoned husband only $100 of the multimillion-dollar empire he created.

Imogene proceeded to divorce him in late 1927. On the way to court, on October 6, 1927, for the finalization of the divorce Remus had his driver chase the cab carrying Imogene and her daughter through Eden Park in Cincinnati, finally forcing it off the road. Remus jumped out and shot Imogene while her daughter Ruth tried to stop him. Imogene died later that day.

The prosecutor in the case was 30-year-old Charles Taft, son of Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft and brother of the future Senator Robert Taft. Although he had lost his last big case, against another bootlegger, Charlie was seen as a man with a bright political future. The trial made national headlines for a month, as Remus defended himself on the murder charge. Remus pleaded temporary insanity. Partly because Remus was very popular in the city, the jury deliberated only 19 minutes before acquitting him by reason of insanity. The state of Ohio then tried to commit Remus to an insane asylum since the jury found him insane, but prosecutors were thwarted by their previous claim (backed up by the prosecution's three well-known psychiatrists) that he could be tried for murder because was not insane.

Remus tried to get back into bootlegging after his six-month insanity sentence, but soon retired when he found that the market had been taken over by notorious gangsters.

Later life

George Remus later moved to Covington, Kentucky (across the border from Ohio) where he lived out the next twenty years of his life modestly without incident.

Notes

References

* The Long Thirst—Prohibition in America: 1920-1933 by Thomas M. Coffey, W.W. Norton & Co., New York City 1975.
* Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America by Edward Behr, Arcade Publishing, New York City 1996.
* [http://www.citybeat.com/2002-01-03/books.shtml "All That Jazz"] , Brandon Brady, CityBeat of Cincinnati, Jan. 3 2002
*

External links

* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9500E2DD173CF934A25751C0A9649C8B63 New York Times: The Bootlegger's Wife] by David Willis McCullough
* [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,723413,00.html TIME.com: American Justice]
* [http://newporthighschool.org/gangsters.htm Gangsters In Our Own Back Yard] by Bryan Meade


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