Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hot on the Trail

When I saw the image prompt for this week's Sepia Saturday challenge, I was dismayed. The image was a 1902 photo of a man arrested for False Pretences holding a placard with his name and the charges. As far as I know, I don't have any criminals or con man skeletons lurking in my closet. About the best I could come up with is a photo of great-uncle Lee (star of That's No Lady…) holding up a "Just Married" sign with his new wife standing on one side of him and his mother (of Great-Grandma was a mischief maker fame) on the other.

As I started to write the disappointing blog post, I remembered this newspaper clipping. I saw it in 2003, framed and hanging on the wall in one of my aunt's homes near Chicago. I have been unsuccessfully looking for the source in various newspaper archives ever since.
U.S. AGENTS RAID 200 GALLON STILL AND ARREST TWO
    "Vincent Heinz, 28 years old, and Steve Rubino, 30, were arrested yesterday by agents of the federal alcohol tax unit. They were charged with possessing and manufacturing untaxed alcohol after the agents raided a 200 gallon still in Heinz's home on Skokie road near Simpson Street, Skokie.
    "Heinz is a cousin of Theodore Heinz chief of police in Skokie, who recently testified before the grand jury investigating gambling in Cook County. Chief Heinz said he knew nothing of the activities of his cousin.
    "United States Commissioner Edwin K. Walker continued the case against the two men until Tuesday and released them on bond. Rubino lives at 3039 Lexington Avenue and operates a gasoline station at Washington Road and Dempster Street, Morton Grove."
Vincent Heinz was my grandfather. Based on his stated age of 28 years, this arrest happened between November 10, 1942 and November 9, 1943. I figured it was again time to try to find the newspaper in which it was published and fired a shot in the dark by sending an email via the Ask a Librarian feature at the Skokie Public Library. Jackpot! A copy of the clipping was in my email inbox the next morning. The article was published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 30, 1941. It seems either grandpa lied about his age, or the newspaper reporter got it wrong.  

My mother, who would have just turned 8 at the time, remembers that the door to the basement in their home on Skokie Road was kept locked and they were told to never go down there. She also remembers some men with axes going down to the basement one night when she and her sisters were home with a sitter. 

I don't have any mug shots of Grandpa Vince, but here is one of him with wife number 2 a few years after the arrest. They are in a bar, probably the one that he leased in Chicago.
He must not have spent any time in prison because Mom doesn't remember him being absent for any length of time. She seemed to be as surprised as I was when seeing the newspaper clipping hanging on that wall 11 years ago. Even though Grandpa operated taverns his entire adult life, and apparently made his own alcohol which he presumably sold in those taverns, Vince never drank the stuff.  

Now that I know when this arrest was made, I am hot on the trail to find his arrest and trial records. This is going to be fun! It's an entirely new learning experience for me to obtain records from the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). There is a fascinating press release from 2008 that tells the history of ATF through the badge changes here. And a whole lot more history on their website here. I had wondered why anyone would make their own liquor after the Prohibition ended. Turns out that it was much cheaper because of the taxes levied on alcohol and that the reason it was illegal was the non-payment of those taxes. Sometimes I am stunned by my naiveté.  

Now skedaddle over to this week's Sepia Saturday blog to see the criminals, spies, con men, and others operating under false pretenses found in their families.

Oh, you're disappointed that you didn't get to see great-uncle Lee with his sign? Well, I wouldn't want that. Here it is. Isn't Grandpa Vince's arrest a much better response to the challenge?




Thanks for dropping by.



24 comments:

  1. That doesn't seem like the kind of newspaper clipping you'd frame and display on the wall. Unless you just thought it was funny. Cute photo of your grandfather -- he certainly looks harmless enough.

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    1. It was either one of his sisters or one of his nieces that had it hanging on her wall. And they did think it was funny, because he got caught! If finding that a little bootlegging wasn't all that unusual in those days. But it certainly wasn't something they talked about when I was a kid! At least not in my hearing.

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  2. It never ceases to amaze me how people (especially politicians!) figure they can get away with stuff & never be found out? Some manage it, of course, but most eventually find themselves caught. Is it worth the risk? Those who do it must think so. I'm afraid the stress of worrying over whether I would or wouldn't get caught would eventually wear me down, however.

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    1. Grandpa wasn't a politician, he was just a tavern keeper. And you have to remember that he grew up in the vicinity where Al Capone was operating. I imagine a little bootlegging didn't seem all that bad compared to that.

      His cousin was a politician, however. I don't know if he knew what Grandpa was doing, but it looks like he had his hands full with the gambling situation to worry much about what Cousin Vince was doing.

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    1. Thanks! I'm looking forward to finding out a little more about this. Wish me luck. :)

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  4. Grandpa Vince's story is more interesting, but I was glad you put the just married sign at the end too.

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    1. I did feel kind of bad rejecting great-uncle Lee, but he's had too much of my attention lately. BTW, Grandpa Vince and great-uncle Lee are brothers-in-law.

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  5. Interesting, and I especially like your ending with the just married sign!

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  6. Isn't research so much fun?! I love every bit of your post. You did a great job.

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    1. Yes, I love research. At least, when I get results. It gets a little frustrating when you keep coming up empty.

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  7. What a great story Sherri. I think I’d have rather liked grandpa Vince!

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  8. Good luck with extending your family records search in a new direction. Everything that was written down about people seems to still be available someplace. It's fascinating.

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  9. Those men going down to the basement with axes sounds a bit sinister! Good luck with your further research into your grandfather's past.

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    1. Mom's sister also remembers those men, except she called them hatchets. I don't know what the difference is. They must have been the federal agents busting up the still. The poor little girls didn't know what was going on.

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  10. I used to make my own beer and wine in UK, but it is illegal to do that here in Lanzarote. Fortunately, the commercial stuff is much cheaper than in England, so there isn't the incentive to become a criminal!

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    1. I made Kahlua once. It didn't taste very good, but maybe that's because I don't drink. :)

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  11. I didn't know that about Grandpa! I love all the interesting stories you discover about our family.

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  12. Looks like the Chicago Tribune Archive is all online too - http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1941/11/30/page/24/article/u-s-agents-raid-200-gallon-still-and-arrest-two
    That's a great story about your grandfather! It might be worth flipping through the archives till Tuesday or Wednesday to see what came of the case!

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  13. What kind of alcohol do you think they were making? Grain, vodka, brandy? Prohibition was over, so maybe they were concocting a counterfeit of something expensive.

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