Wanted: Witnesses for the Prosecution

Wanted: Witnesses for the Prosecution

Evidently, Chicago had a slew of missing persons reported during Prohibition.  It seems that it was commonplace for critical witnesses for the prosecution to go missing just before they delivered much anticipated testimony.  Coincidence?

Where was William Green?  Critical to the prosecution of Harry Rubenstein in March of 1932, William Green was a no-show when it was time to testify.  Allegedly, it was Green that instigated the raid at the Breakfast Club owned by Rubenstein that led to the seizure of barrels of beer, pints of gin, and guns.  At the time of trial, all anyone knew for sure was that Green was critical to establishing the charges and that he’d been given leave from his job.

In many respects, the Prohibition agents led lives as fascinating as the bootleggers.  “Lady agent” Laura McClaskey, for example, testified in federal court in January of 1923 that she, the Prohibition Director, and a few friends stopped at a hotel after a prohibition office dance and drank three quarts of whiskey.  Can you blame her?  A prohibition office dance?  While the Judge had strong words for McClaskey, he really wanted to hear from bail bondsman Ray O’Keefe and his role in an attempted bribery scheme.  O’Keefe actually did show up for trial, but apparently when the Judge looked away, he simply left the courtroom.  Despite the Judge ordering agents to search O’Keefe’s “haunts” he had simply disappeared.

Charles Brown had a slightly different problem—he couldn’t be found to be served with a criminal warrant.  Prohibition agent Charles Brown went missing when he was wanted for questioning of “drunken gun play” in September 1929.

Maybe it all best comes together in the case of Ralph Capone.  The less famous brother was charged with liquor conspiracy in 1931.  When the trial came around, though, Ted Moore, an important witness to the prosecution was nowhere to be found.  Moore had been involved in the Capone family business as a transporter from Canada when he was picked up by the feds and turned into an informant.  I’m sure acting as an informant against the Capone brothers seemed like a good idea at the time.  Moore might have been the luckiest man in the world and enjoyed a long, safe retirement somewhere far, far away.  That would not be said of the two other federal witnesses that were actually murdered prior to the start of trial.

While information about the missing witnesses is difficult to come by, there was definitely a pattern in the 1920’s.  The mob had far more influence, ammo, and money than the prosecution and it’s easy to see how someone would skip off the grid before testifying against anyone with the last name of Capone.

What happened in Ralph’s trial?  Missing (or dead) witnesses notwithstanding, the feds were able to convict him on tax evasion.  The IRS would later admit that prosecuting Ralph was simply practice because it wasn’t Ralph they desperately wanted to convict.

Keep in mind it’s far more difficult to just skip town and disappear in 2019 than it was in the 1920’s, so choose your business associates wisely, Chicago!

Written by Amy Williams

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