Many things that used to be illegal, are legal today…things like inter-racial marriage, marijuana (now legal in some states), and booze…believe it or not. Booze went from being legal, to being illegal in 1920, and back to legal in 1933. During those years while it was illegal, as with any law, there were those who broke the law and did it anyway. With booze, the problem, like with marijuana…because it was illegal, was no legal source for it. Enter the Bootlegger. Bootleggers, made their own booze and sold it on the black market of the day. The booze, often called Moonshine, was probably stronger than what booze would have been if it had been regulated and made legally, but an illegal product, is made to different standards, and often contains a much higher concentration than if it were legal.
There have been a number of shows and movies that have almost romanticized bootlegging, but in reality, it was a highly dangerous occupation…if it could be called that. I’m sure there were a few non-violent bootleggers…until they had to become violent to protect their stash and their territory. Men like Roger “The Terrible” Touhy, Al Capone, and Roy Olmstead (nicknamed the “King of the Puget Sound Bootleggers”), did everything in their power to bring liquor to those who wanted it…for a price, of course. They had to make a profit and hazard pay was essential too. Early bootleggers smuggled European liquor in, but that quickly became very dangerous, so the bootleggers started to make their own. Every time the prohibition officers caught a bootlegger, the liquor was disposed of…often into the sewer drains. Prohibition officers went everywhere. They were in the cities and the country…anywhere that their intel indicated that a bootlegger had a still in the area. The Temperance Society insisted that they remove every drop of the “demon liquor” from this country. They were convinced that liquor was the root of all evil…so to speak.
The bootleggers quickly became Mob leaders with their own gangs, and crossing them quickly became very dangerous. They would even frame or kill their competition, in fact it happened often. Al Capone framed Roger Touhy for kidnapping by his bootlegging rivals with the help of corrupt Chicago officials, was serving a 99-year sentence for a kidnapping he did not commit. He was recaptured a couple of months later. The two men hated each other bitterly, and when it was finally proven that Touhy had been framed, he was released. Three weeks later as he walked into his sister’s house, Touhy was gunned down. Right before he died, he said, “I’ve been expecting it. The b*******s never forget.” No arrests were made. I wonder if anyone really tried. Those were dangerous times, and one gang often retaliated against another. Even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, bootleggers did not become extinct, because there were still counties and cities who continued Prohibition. Where there is a law, there are lawbreakers.