ALSO IN 1934
*The liner Morro Castle burned off the Jersey shore near Asbury Park, killing 134 passengers as the crew fumbled in panic and confusion. Among the survivors of the Sept. 8 disaster were a seaman from Princeton, Gerald Dunn, and 16-year-old passenger Lewis Perrine IV, scion of a prestigious Trenton military family. In a newspaper interview at the time Perrrine said he floated four hours in the surf before being hoisted aboard a lifeboat. Then he passed out.
* Outside a Chicago movie theater, bank robber John Dillinger — the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1 — was gunned down by federal agents. A few months later, the member of his gang who succeeded him as Public Enemy No. 1, Baby Face Nelson, also was killed in a shootout with lawmen in Illinois.
* The most famous set of quintuplets in medical history was born in Corbeil, Ontario: Annette, Marie, Cecile, Yvonne and Emille Dionne. Conceived without today’s fertility drugs and surviving against all odds, the Dionne quints astonished and delighted the world. When the Ontario provincial government took charge of their care, it invited tourist to watch — and more than 3 million gawkers came.
* Rutgers professor Lyman Scheremerhorn developed the Rutgers tomato, which is often regarded as New Jersey’s juciest, tastiest, most outstanding variety of tomato.
* A record-breaking cold wave blasted through the Northeast, sending temperatures in New Jersey tumbling to low points that have never been reached since. On Feb. 9 the low was 13 degrees below zero in Trenton; 20 below in White Horse; 23 below in Hopewell; and a unofficial 47 below in High Point State Park.
|1934: The top cop is 'king of rackets'|
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian|
|The fix was in. Didn't the cops know that? Yet here they were, busting one of Trenton's biggest illegal booze distilleries, hauling the hoods and wiseguys down to the station and seizing $30,000 in bootleg liquor.
It was Sept. 22, 1930, in the middle of the Prohibition era, and the giant hooch plant behind the bricked-over windows of the old Globe Rubber Co. plant at Prospect and Frazier streets was so brazen, with trucks rumbling in at all hours of the night, that it practically invited a police raid.
When Lt. John Kelly led his lawmen into the place, however, he came upon a shady man in the front office named Cooper who assured him that it was all a mistake.
"We have the OK on this place," the man kept saying.
Then, an offer: How about $5,000 if you and your men leave now, no questions asked? No? How about $10,000?
Kelly had heard plenty of desperate men pleading that the fix was in, and this sounded equally desperate. Naturally he ignored this one.
What Kelly didn't know, however, was that the fix really was in.
The 11 men arrested at the Globe Rubber plant walked out of police headquarters without being booked or fingerprinted. Even their rum-running trucks got returned.
In 1934, the incident at the Globe Rubber plant would help touch off the Trenton Police Department's worst corruption scandal, ripping the cover off underworld ties to law enforcement and eventually sending the chief of police and his racket squad sergeant to prison.
When he first became police chief in 1925, however, Chief William Walter was untouchable.
Bluff and burly, Walter had risen in the ranks over 25 years from beat cop to sergeant to lieutenant to captain to chief. He was streetwise, knowing every squealer, pimp and two-bit hustler in town. He had the loyalty of his officers and the respect of the City Commission.
Walter probably never thought there was anything particularly crooked about taking an occasional graft payment. Trenton, was a workingman's town, with its share of illicit drinking and gambling. But that didn't hurt anyone.
For up to $500 a week, as an investigation, later revealed, Walter would go easy on any of the gangsters who ran the booze and numbers rackets. But since they gave him their word they would avoid violence, that didn't hurt anyone either, did it?
Dozens of sports, swells, toughs and gamblers were probably in on the action with the chief's blessing. John Arbitel, an ex-boxer who once gave his occupation as "professional gambler," controlled much of Trenton's bootlegging. Harry "Muggsy" Rednor had numbers operations in every ward. Dapper, bespectacled, but vicious Jeff Taylor ran the city's laundry "protection" rackets.
Biggest of them all, in physical heft and in power, was Victor Cooper, the beefy "beer baron" of Trenton.
Cooper owned a network of stills and booze warehouses in the West Ward, but always avoided prosecution with the money and friendship he gave Walter. (Whether he was the same Cooper who tried to bribe Lt. Kelly was never explained.)
When federal dry agents tried to scope out a
suspected beer warehouse at Market and Broad streets in 1927, Walter had the agents arrested. The city thought it was hilarious. As long as Prohibition was in effect, and the times were prosperous, an easygoing chief like Walter could go ahead and not enforce the law.
But the Great Depression brought grim times to town, and less tolerance for shenanigans.
On Oct. 24, 1932, a truck crammed with bottles of Canadian whiskey was ambushed with gunshots as it rolled down the Bordentown-Trenton Road. From the shadows emerged two Chambersburg hoodlums, Michael "Daylight" Tramantana and "Ponzi" Cammarata, who proceeded to dump the driver's dead body out of the cab and hijack the shipment. They had barely moved before Burlington County lawmen grabbed them.
The same night, John Arbitel made a curious pilgrimage to the homes Of three cops in Trenton, including the head of the city dry squad. Arbitel later explained:"I was only interested in telling (the police) that I was trying to get these boys to go straight."
The smell of fishiness grew stronger when Lt. Kelly abruptly quit his job that November. To the Trenton Evening Times he then confided a list of shocking charges that, if true, would expose the chief as a crook bigger than any bootlegger.
Kelly told the full story of the Globe raid. He told how Walter ordered all of the prisoners released and pulled the officers off the premises. When Kelly protested, the chief allegedly told him: "Give them a break."
Kelly went further with his allegations. It was a common practice, he said, for police to tip off speakeasies or gambling joints before raids. Certain gangsters were not to be arrested. For appearance's sake, number-runners could be briefly jailed, but their tickets had to be returned to the policy bank, lest lottery players lose money.
The Times crusaded for a cleanup in the police department. Its reporters discovered that Walter had his own insurance brokerage, and had tried to buy a life insurance policy for Victor Cooper. "What is back of it all?"' the paper asked, over and over.
Mayor George LaBarre had just assumed the city's highest office after 30 years in politics. He responded to the scandal in the time-honored way politicians do when the status quo is threatened. He attacked the media.
"Ridiculous," he called the charges. "Malicious." "False." Walter's response was even weirder. There were no payoffs or graft payments to police, he insisted. If there had been, his friend Cooper would have told him.
A grand jury heard Kelly's charges, but no one else in Trenton was going to back the accuser. Taylor and Rednor, suspected of being part of the graft ring, denied ever making payments to police. So the investigation into the chief's affairs languished.
In December 1933, however, Prohibition was finally repealed, making it legal to sell beer again. The City Commission decided in February 1934 that it would grant no more than 250 liquor licenses. But since more than 800 speakeasies were in business - by Walter's own admission - hundreds of watering holes faced extinction.
Their owners, angry and desperate, began to complain openly that they had paid hundreds of dollars in protection money to stay open.
Prosecutors were, meanwhile, closing in on Taylor and Rednor. On trial for lobbing a bomb at an East Hanover Street laundry, Taylor fingered Walter as the man who allowed him to operate with impunity in Trenton.
Meanwhile, Walter had hiked his own fees from $350 to $500 to allow Rednor to keep running his North Clinton Avenue bar and betting parlor. Rednor refused and found himself under arrest. So he turned rat, too, along with two other gangsters, bootlegger Louis Alexander and
numbers syndicate chief "New York Mike" Warasky.
Rednor was now ready to change his story as he testified before a new grand jury. He claimed it was standard procedure for him to walk into the police station through a private entrance and meet with Walter in the chief's office, to discuss graft. Sgt. Willaim Marren, the rackets squad boss who served as the chief's right-hand man, would then collect the cash.
To back up his story, Rednor had Walter's unlisted phone number, and witnesses remembered him delivering a case of champagne to the chief's North Willow Street home as a wedding anniversary present.
Mayor LaBarre suspended Walter and Marren from the police department on Aug. 27, 1934, while he held his own hearing into the scandal. To no one's surprise, LaBarre found the duo innocent, since the gangsters making the accusations were "known perjurers."
But in January 1935, a grand jury handed up its own indictments. Walter, 54, and Marren, 44, were charged with malfeasance in office. To convict, prosecutors had only to show that the men had known about lawbreaking in the city and failed to do anything about it.
The chief's defense counsel tried to make it a case of the cop's word against that of known gangsters. But Prosecutor Leo Rogers had a surprise witness, a reputable doctor named Robert Phillips who lived on West State Street.
Phillips remembered the chief having a strange nighttime conference on the curb in front of his office. As the courtroom held its breath, the physician was asked to identify, the man the chief was with. He pointed straight at "Muggsy" Rednor.
In his closing argument, the prosecutor used all his powers of oratory against the chief and the
"There sit Public Enemy No. 1 of Trenton, the king of racketeers, and his chief beheader," Rogers thundered.
The jury took 4 1/2 hours to deliver its verdict -- guilty.
As punishment, Walter and Marren each got two-year sentences at New Jersey State Prison. LaBarre's own punishment was not long in coming -- the same day as the guilty verdict, Trenon voters approved a referendum to
set up a new City Council form of government. When the council was sworn in later that year, LaBarre was out as mayor.
If the chief had any consolation, it was that Trenton does not hold a grudge. When he died in 1957, at age 77, the Trenton Times ran an obituary detailing his long service as a lawman. It never mentioned his conviction.