On March 20 1953 I told the papers that slot machine stamps would not be issued for 1954. Soon thereafter I had a direct encounter with a mobster.
Costello’s man from New York City took me to lunch at Bob and Jakes Restaurant in Baton Rouge. I had no idea what he wanted but decided to hear him out. He had what I considered a Brooklyn accent, or that of many from New Orleans. He told me he represented Frank Costello and that they still had 7,000 slot machines in Louisiana and was authorized to offer me $1.00 per machine per month. I of course refused and he said “How much will you take?” I said “No amount of money will cause me to put them back in.” He then said “I’m sure I can get an OK on a higher amount.” We were finished eating so I got up, thanked him for the meal and left.
It might interest you to know that after I left the New Yorker at the restaurant I went back to my office and issued the order to destroy the machines.
From the book My Wars: Nazis, Mobsters, Gambling and Corruption by Francis Grevemberg and Thomas Angers.
Francis Carroll Grevemberg was born in Biloxi Mississippi on June 4 1914 at his maternal grandmother’s home and was the youngest of four children. Growing up in New Orleans he held jobs as a service station attendant and as a finance officer and manager and was married in 1937 to a New Orleans native, Dorothy McGuire. Grevemberg had joined the Army National Guard at 18 years old and was assigned to the 108th Cavalry. With war looming and a distinct possibility he went on active duty status on January 11 1941 as a Second Lieutenant. After the outbreak of World War 2 his unit was converted to an anti aircraft artillery unit. They left the States in July of 1942 and landed first in Scotland not too far from Glasgow and then moved on to Tidworth England. Grevemberg and his unit joined the war in Operation Torch, landing near Oran in French North Africa in November 1942. After about 8 months in North Africa Grevemberg was once again landing on a beach, this time in Sicily in Operation Husky. Ha had been promoted to Captain by this time. After Sicily was secured Grevemberg saw action in Salerno (Operation Avalanche, September 1943) and was part of operations planning for both Anzio (Operation Shingle) and the Battle of Monte Cassino on the German’s Winter Line. By the finish of Anzio Grevemberg was 29 years old and a Lieutenant Colonel. After some time in France and in a supporting role during the Battle of the Bulge Grevemberg was sent back to the States. He stayed on in the Army until February 1946 and then went back to the Army Guard. When he returned to civilian life he want back to his old job as a manager of a finance company. In 1947 he and his wife decided to make an investment in real estate and, along with another couple, bought the Miramar Hotel in Pass Christian Mississippi. This lasted until 1949 when they moved back to New Orleans. Grevemberg was still working in real estate and had added the insurance business to his resume as well. In 1950 he became a full bird Colonel in his National Guard unit in a ceremony at Jackson Barracks, in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.
In 1952 Robert F Kennon was elected as 48th Governor of Louisiana (he served in between Earl Long’s 2nd and 3rd terms). Grevemberg tells of his appointment as Superintendent of State Police as an accident. Wilburn Lunn had been a full Colonel at the battle of Anzio and Grevemberg had served under him. Lunn had served as campaign manager for Kennon and shortly after the election called Grevemberg to offer him the position of Adjutant General. After thinking about it briefly he accepted and the newspapers covered the appointment.
A General Flemming was Chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington D.C. and had apparently been promised the position previously by Kennon. Flemming was unhappy in Washington and called Kennon to remind him of his promise. It seemed Flemming was unhappy in his position because there was too much crime in the nation’s capitol. After losing the spot Grevemberg was again contacted by Lunn who now offered the position of Superintendent of State Police.
“I don’t want to be a policeman. I don’t know anything about police work.”
was Grevemberg’s initial reply.
Lunn’s reply was that he didn’t need to know anything about police work as he would be an administer and that it was similar to an Army unit and Lunn knew he could handle that job. Lunn added that what was also needed was honesty. The State Police was known as a private army in the past for sitting Governors and that things in the force were in pitiful shape.Before accepting the position Grevemberg wanted to take a tour around the state to the different State Police units to see exactly what he was getting into and by the end he agreed that things were truly pitiful. He agreed to accept the position as long as he could run it without any political interference. Lunn agreed.
Grevemberg took office on May 13 1952. On Grevemberg’s first day he fired the Assistant Superintendent. Grevemberg learned of a State Police Benefit Fund that was supposed to be used for the families of Troopers killed or injured in the line of duty. Each Trooper was required to contribute 50 cents a month to this fund. The Assistant Superintendent denied any knowledge or existence of this fund. When the books were gone over it was discovered that a check for $12,500.00 was written out to Carlos Spaht who lost the gubernatorial runoff to Kennon. The check was written out by Grevemberg’s predecessor who was listed as administrator of the fund. In addition the Assistant Superintendent was listed as Vice President of the fund. Grevemberg shortly got his first experience with being offered a kickback as well. The State Patrol cars were in pretty dismal shape and Grevemberg made arraignments with his auditor to order an initial six cars to replace the worst of the bunch. A few days later he was shown the bid, the only bid, from the company that the State Police had bought their cars from for decades. At $3300.00 apiece Grevemberg thought that too high and ordered 6 more bids to be obtained. A few days after the purchase was made with a different company (at a savings of $1700 per vehicle) the owner of the first company came in and told Grevemberg that he would kick back $400 for every car he bought while in office. After being told he would never again have an opportunity to put a bid in he was told to get out. He looked at Grevemberg like he was crazy. During his tenure in office Grevemberg bought 243 cars. That would have been $97,000.00 in kickbacks. Not bad for 1950’s dollars!
In 1952 there wasn’t any type of training academy for new recruits. It was all on the job training. There were also no educational requirements and morale was at a low as most Troopers felt their job was nothing but highway patrol writing speeding tickets (and that was basically the truth) and even then half of the tickets they wrote out were squashed by politicians. As previously mentioned, equipment such as vehicles were in dismal shape, uniforms were ragtag and there was no crime lab in Louisiana. Everything was sent to Washington D.C. His first few days in office were to get the ball rolling on fixing these discrepancies and every time orders were placed for some type of asset a man identical to the first would show up offering kickbacks. They were all thrown out. In time Louisiana even got it’s first crime lab started. On his fourth day in office an Associated Press reporter came into his office and asked what Grevemberg intended to do about the illegal gambling in the 62 out of 64 Parishes in Louisiana. (A Parish is the same as a county). Grevemberg had been under the impression that the Kefauver Committee which had gone around the country exposing these activities had in effect cleaned things up. They had held hearing in New Orleans in January of 1951. The reporter told him he was just the previous night in illegal casinos in Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes and that things were running wide open. After finishing the conversation with the reporter and calling his friend Lunn and discussing the situation with him he issued a statement to the press saying that all gambling statewide would be closed down. He mentioned both Jefferson and St. Bernard specifically. The next morning he got angry phone calls from Sheriff Frank Clancy in Jefferson and Sheriff Dutch Rowley in St. Bernard saying that they would abide by the order but that Orleans Parish gambling was a major problem as well and they expected equal treatment for everyone. Both men gave a list of twelve casinos operating in the open in New Orleans. Grevemberg contacted his distant cousin Mayor Chep Morrison and talked to him about the situation. Chep denied any gambling going on in the open and that he had shut things down just days after taking office. He agreed though to have the city police look into the situation and close any place down that was found to be in violation of the law. A few days later the newspapers had headlines about six clubs being raided and closed down. About an hour after his conversation with Chep on the afternoon that he gave the statement to the press on gambling, a group of men, led by Governor Kennon’s campaign finance chairman, came to see him. “You just sit down behind your desk and countermand that article you had put in the paper about gambling.” Grevemberg told him that he doesn’t take orders from him and that if the Governor comes down to tell him that he’ll go to the papers to tell them why he’s resigning. The Chairman told him of the clubs that donated to Kennon’s campaign. The Beverly Country Club and the Jai Alai Club for $50,000.00 each. Club Forest, New Southport Club, 118 Club, O’Dwyer’s and Luke and Terry’s for $25,000.00 each. He was told that if he played ball that he would be a millionaire by the time he left office four years from now. Grevemberg’s reply was that Kennon had run a campaign on giving the people of Louisiana a good clean civics type government and while he was there he would do all he could to help that promise be fulfilled. After asking if he was serious the Chairman declared that Grevemberg would last only days at most in his position.
The day after the visit from the Chairman, Governor Kennon called Grevemberg to tell him that slot machines could not be included in his order to close down gambling as the state legislature had made them quasi legal by imposing a $100.00 tax on each machine per year as well as a $250.00 federal gambling stamp per each machine that began on July 1 1952. Most fees had already been paid. Grevemberg agreed to leaving the machines alone but worried about the blow back from the press he would receive. “Just tell them they’re legal.” was the Governor’s response and hung up. Grevemberg, momentarily defeated, resolved that those tax stamps would not be re-issued for the following year. With or without the Governor’s help. In early June he was contacted by the editor of the Franklin Banner Tribune of Franklin Louisiana, Robert Angers, asking for an interview. They met at Grevemberg’s office and had a lengthy closed door discussion. Grevemberg related, off the record, his frustration over the slot machine issue and with the Governor and his plans not to re-issue the stamps in July 1953. Anger, happy to hear of a crime busting official, pledged support to Grevemberg if he continued on his current path. A few days later Grevemberg received a copy of the Franklin Banner Tribune that contained an editorial by Anger discussing the slots issue and that Governor Kennon could correct the stamp issue with one phone call. Governor Kennon ignored the editorial. On March 20 1953 Grevemberg issued a statement to the media that slot machine stamps would not be re-issued for the coming year. It’s at this point that Grevemberg’s first encounter with a mobster happens as described at the beginning of this piece. It’s not known who the mobster was. Grevemberg was frustratingly skimpy with real details in his book. It could have been Phil Kastel but Kastel was well known and it seem’s as if Grevemberg didn’t know who he was.
Certainly not Carlos Marcello. The Kefauver Committee had put the spotlight on him in 1951 and Grevemberg would have been a lousy cop not to know who he was. The same with Kastel really. A possibility is Mario Presta (AKA Paul Scarcelli). He’s described in government documents as being an associate of, and representing, Frank Costello in New Orleans gambling interests as well as being an associate of Kastel and Marcello.
Presta was also an attendee at the 1957 Appalachian Conference in upstate New York. He was pulled over in the vicinity of the meeting but it couldn’t be proven he attended the meeting.Soon after this meeting Grevemberg heard rumors from friends in higher places that some state officials were talking about taking away the State Police powers and relegating them to highway patrol. Their excuse was that more deaths had occurred on Louisiana highways due to less State patrols and the raids that Grevemberg had been conducting violated the laws of city governments. He punched back with data showing there were actually less deaths due to beefed up patrols which included three Cessna aircraft that worked in conjunction with patrol cars and that city governments were required to comply with state law and it was his duty to enforce the laws.
Grevemberg started raiding illegal casinos in the state early on but most were centered around the New Orleans area in parishes such as St. Bernard, Jefferson (there was a big concentration of clubs here) and Orleans itself, despite his cousin Chep assuring him the clubs had been closed down. Grevemberg would give city governments a fair chance and warning to close down the places he learned of. Sometimes they would be (most likely just to move to another location) but more often his warnings would be ignored. Chep seemed to be especially good with this. During his four years as Superintendent the State Police conducted approximately one thousand raids. Grevemberg was present for around 150 of those. Eight thousand two hundred twenty nine slot machines were confiscated and destroyed. Only four thousand of them had the previously required tax stamps.
(I feel two ways on this. I understand why they were destroyed but wish they had stored them. These machines are rare to come by now and when you do see one in decent shape they are very expensive! Especially if linked to a certain club.) Grevemberg would famously have publicity photos of himself swinging a sledgehammer on the one arm bandits and piles of them being run over by a tractor. Needless to say this made the gamblers and the New Orleans Family very unhappy. Early on in the raids an apparent attempt was made to kidnap his twin sons. The State Police was based in Baton Rouge and that’s where Grevemberg worked out of. His family were living in New Orleans. One night when his boys were about two, Dorothy had put the kids to bed around 7PM and went downstairs to read by an open window. After awhile she heard someone walking by the house on the street and whistle. Being in full view of the street she decided to close the shade and kept on reading. A few minutes later she realized one of the boys was downstairs crying. Apparently the children were still in a crib or some type of secured bed and shouldn’t have been able to get out of them. She scooped the child up and raced to the room where the other was. He was sound asleep. Looking around the room she discovered the screen to the window had been pried loose and was hanging. Someone had entered the children’s room. Scared to death she called her husband who was on a raid. The Trooper who took her call sent another based in New Orleans over to the house who checked everything and then sat watch on the porch the rest of the night. The next day a neighbor reported seeing three men dressed in suits climb up onto the lower roof outside the children’s room and remove the screen. He then heard a scream and the men scrambled to leave.
He saw a State Patrol car pull up to the house shortly after. (Makes you wonder though why he wouldn’t come over immediately.) Was this an attempt to kidnap the children or merely scare Grevemberg as a warning to lay off? It was never found out for sure but it didn’t have that effect. The raids continued and gamblers, hoods and cops were caught up in them and arrested. Grevemberg tells of one incident when a “well known” but unnamed mobster burst into his office with another man. The well known mobster started asking him what he thought he was doing and complaining that he put Governor Kennon into office. He went on to ask Grevemberg how much it would take for him to layoff his crusade and the clubs he wanted left alone. At this point the other man pulls out a wad of $100 dollar bills and the first man tells him it’s a down payment that will be put into a Swiss bank account so there won’t be any paper trail. After Grevemberg’s none too polite refusal the man told him he would be talking to the Governor about this as he walked out of the office. I can’t help but think it was Carlos Marcello by the description of things. As far as I know though Grevemberg never gave out the details of the meeting.
Grevemberg was doing his best to clean things and though he had some folks on his side and helping where they could he met a lot of resistance. Mayor Chep was now phoning the Governor’s office several times weekly. Apparently Chep had reasoned out that a certain amount of gambling and prostitution were good for the local economy and that the tourists expected it from Sin City. Over 150 arrests were made in New Orleans alone but only one ever went to trial. A case that was from a raid on a club called the Top Hat Club which had been raided several times. The trial involved a police officer who had been caught up in the raid. the officer was found not guilty. Though an inconvenience to the operations gamblers and managers of the clubs would almost laughingly tell him he was wasting his time. that they had paid the right people. Grevemberg tells of one manager that he had gotten to know fairly well over the course of fifteen raids (most likely Luke and Terry’s) and how this man revealed to him that the Governor was being paid personally by bag men. It seemed that the Federal Authorities couldn’t be counted on either. By this time the Special Citizen’s Investigative Committee (SCIC) was formed and Aaron Kohn was heading the committee as lead investigator. Kohn (who should be the focus of a later story) was one of the actual good guys and would later be instrumental in bringing Carlos Marcello and the activities of his organization to the attention of Robert Kennedy who was then counsel on the McClellan Commission.
Marcello would bitch about Kohn for years after. In a raid on the Blue Eagle Lottery a list of ninety police officers who were taking payoffs was found with a safe. Grevemberg had been tipped off about the safe from a federal revenue man that claimed it was full of incriminating papers and about $300,000.00 in cash. Grevemberg had a locksmith present to open it.
However, a federal official who showed up shortly after the raid started slapped a sticker on it and seized it prior to being opened. Grevemberg later couldn’t get the New Orleans District Attorney to take any actions against the police officers on the list so he turned it over to Aaron Kohn who would then turn it over to federal officials. The hope being that a federal court would convict the men. The feds however turned the safe over to local police two days after seizing it. When the safe was later opened publicly it was completely empty. The men on the list were never tried. The house that was raided where the Blue Eagle was operating from was, on paper, owned by the wife of the Superintendent of New Orleans police. She was being paid $2000.00 a month rent.
Despite the lack of co-operation from city officials, other police agencies, politicians, the media, constant death threats (in fact Grevemberg actually received an old fashioned Black Hand type letter at one point) and doubts about what he was doing due to concerns about the safety of his family, Grevemberg carried on his crusade until he left office in 1955. In his time he put a major dent in gambling, narcotics and prostitution, busted up a white slavery ring that extended into eight states and turned a rag tag and corrupt agency into a modern police force. Senator Estes Kefauver credited Grevemberg for taking the most corrupt state in the Union and turning it into one of the cleanest. In 1956 he would face off with several other opponents in the Democratic Gubernatorial race finishing in fourth place. Earl Long, the previous Governor before Kennon and Huey Long’s little brother won the nomination and then the Governorship.
He again tried in 1960 but this time as a Republican, losing out to former Governor Jimmie Davis who once again was elected. After 1960 he went back to real estate, opening his own company. In 1962 after returning from a period of military duty in West Germany he opened an insurance company specializing in mortgage insurance. He won many awards from various organizations over the years and in 2002 was inducted into Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame. He and Dorothy lived in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He died on November 24 2008 after complications from a surgery for a broken hip. Dorothy died on December 9 2010 in Conyers Georgia. In 1958 a movie was made of his story during the years he was with the State Police. It was called Damn Citizen. In 2004 a book on his life was published titled My Wars: Nazis, Mobsters, Gambling and Corruption. As much as I wanted both the movie and the book to be great I honestly have to say neither is. The movie is horribly acted and edited. The book is terribly written in a haphazard way and confusing at points. Both deserve to be re-done and tell the story of this guy. Grevemberg would speak out against gambling for the rest of his days and be against the legalization of it in Louisiana in the early 1990’s. From what I hear he is still a legend and talked about in the Louisiana State Police circles.
He and his wife had their ashes interred in the family tomb in St. Martinville Louisiana.
Nope, not quite done. One more bit of info. On September 8 1935 Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long (the guy who worked out a deal with Frank Costello and Sam Carollo to bring slot machines into Louisiana) was assassinated by Dr. Carl Weiss. He was in turn shot down by the State Police group of body guards Huey had with him.
In October of 1953 Grevemberg decided to conduct a gambling raid in another parish in North Louisiana. The ride was a bit long and Grevemberg had four Troopers in the car with him. About 40 minutes into the ride two Troopers started reminiscing about their years on the force and about Huey Long. In the course of the conversation the Troopers revealed that Long had actually been killed by his body guards. When Weiss tried to punch Long someone had fired a shot. The other guards, not knowing what was happening and hearing a shot, opened fire and two slugs that ricocheted hit Long, wounding him. When the smoke had cleared the Troopers searched Weiss and found no weapon. One was planted on him to cover up the accidental shooting of the Governor by his own men.
Long would linger for two days. He died on September 10. Days after the conversation in the car and after Grevemberg had talked to other Troopers finding that it was an open secret among them, Grevemberg called his friend Wilburn Lunn to discuss the matter and what should be done. Grevemberg wanted to investigate the case further and go public with it. Forty years later in 1993 Grevemberg signed a sworn affidavit telling of what he heard the Troopers discuss in 1953. In it he explained that he had dropped the matter after his friend Lunn talked him out of going public with it. Lunn’s main argument was that he, Grevemberg, had pissed off a lot of powerful people in the state and that he didn’t have a prayer of it going anywhere. Grevemberg said he reluctantly dropped it as an issue that he was powerless to overcome. The story is much debated still.
The sources for this come from a couple of various online sources but most all information came from Grevemberg’s book My Wars.
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"I'm always learning something new," he says. "Often when I think I have the whole story down on a subject, some new bit of info will pop up and lead off into another interesting direction."
Among the tales of pirates, voodoo priestesses, and vampires, New Orleans holds a long Mafia history. Most people will automatically think of Carlos Marcello, as the father of the New Orleans Mafia. Most people will also assume that the first Mafia family was in New York City. Even many locals don't know that New Orleans has Mafia roots predating the Civil War, giving their wonderful city the distinction of being home to the first Mafia family in the United States.
So let's explore the lesser known stories, facts, and even some OC fiction in a little space of the NCS Ron calls, the Crescent Corner.
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