Monday, March 15, 2010




Peorians were fortunate over the years to have been served by a brave, well-run police department. People that are familiar with my work know that I found five officers that died in the line of duty and were only just recently honored on police monuments. At one time we elected five Constables to augment our police protection and the downtown merchants hired merchant police officers as well. Constable Arthur Smith died in the line of duty as did Officer Otto Hoffer, a store detective. I would like to tell you of two brave railroad detectives that lost their lives here in Peoria protecting boxcars and railroad property. During the police memorial services here in May they are not mentioned nor honored in any way because they were not Peoria Police Officers. They died in the line of duty, were buried and forgotten.

It was June 28, 1922, when Special Officer Alfred Gifford, a detective with the Rock Island Line lost his life. It was well into Prohibition and the cargo that he was hired to protect was alcohol. Down near the river, there at Spring Street and Rock Island Street, a tremendous number of boxcars waited for locomotives to move them across the United States. Booze, good old Peoria whiskey, stored in our warehouses, was shipped all over America.

Naturally, these cars became targets of bootleggers and violent men after their very prized cargo. Bad guys tunneled under warehouses, came in through the roofs and attacked freight trains on a regular basis. Detective Gifford’s job was to protect his railroad’s property here in Peoria, Illinois.

He came upon a suspicious man that was nosing around one of the boxcars on the early morning of June 27, 1922. “Hey…hey over there where you going?” The man stopped as the detective caught up to him. “What’s your name and where are you from?” The man whirled around to face the officer, a deadly .45 in his hand. Without warning he fired hitting Detective Gifford in the hand. Gifford immediately pulled his weapon and returned fire. The second shot from the intruder slammed into the detective’s stomach.

The detective was now on the ground but still firing. He saw the man crumple and fall to the ground from his third shot. Both men got off a few more shots as the man got up and began to run off towards the river.
Gifford, sitting up now, continued to fire at the escaping trespasser. A massive manhunt was launched in the city and the county, but to no avail.
Detective Alfred Gifford of 108 Fredonia died at Saint Francis Hospital during the evening of June 28th. 1922. He was buried in Maquon Illinois.

It was a cold December evening in 1929 here in Peoria, Illinois. Prohibition was going strong and now Peorians faced something called The Great Depression. Two police officers had just left a restaurant when they heard the sound of gunfire coming from the river down near the bridge.

They took off running and when they got down near the water’s edge they heard a man’s voice. “They got me!” The officers yelled back and finally located a man lying on the railroad tracks. He looked up and gasped his final words. “They got me in the chest…three of ‘em.”

The officers bent over the dying man, but he failed to respond. Both officers knew the dead man as a railroad detective named Emmett Keen. The officers called for help and put the detective’s body on the front of a locomotive, which carried it to the Griswold Crossing. From there an ambulance took Keen to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A citywide manhunt began early the next morning as detectives gathered footprints, shell casings and of course they rounded up the usual suspects. The body of John Horn was found dumped in a vacant lot, and before the day was out police connected the dead man to Keen’s death. The medical examiner supplied slugs from both bodies and a ballistic expert testified that the slug from Keen’s gun had killed Horn. He also verified that the slug from Keen’s body had come from Horn’s gun. A button torn from Horn’s coat was also found at the scene where Keen had been shot and the busy detectives even traced footprints to two other men. The cops rounded up well over thirty men, and using tactics of the day ended up charging two men, Dunbar and Norton with murder.
So that was all the talk here in town after that strange double shooting just before the New Year’s celebration that would ring in the brand new year of 1930. Detective Emmett Keen was buried and forgotten just like his friend Detective Alfred Gifford.

Editor’s note: Norm is a local historian and has written 8 books about Peoria’s spicy history.
Next month: Norm will bring us another story from Peoria’s distant past. Write him at

Peoria’s Prohibition: 1917

Peoria’s Prohibition: 1917

New Year’s Day dawned bright and cold that first day of 1917 in Peoria, Illinois, located in what some folks called the ‘heart of Illinois.’ The ice harvesters would be busy that week cutting the ice slabs from the river,
Once folks could pretty much walk across the river from East Peoria to Peoria, the harvest got under way. The coal gatherers remained busy from early October through the bitter winters folks faced here in the middle of America. Peoria folks were used to weather of all kinds, and the winter of 1917 would prove to be as bitter as the other winters around these parts.

Peoria began as a trading village, then grew into a town, and in 1845, it became a city. There were a lot of villages and towns that sprung up along side the Illinois River, at least 30 others, but it was Peoria, Illinois that grew head and shoulders above all the rest. Early on, once our first distillery began making whiskey, the growth was truly astounding.

Although the government census was taken every decade the progress of Peoria was marked not only by it’s human population but it’s buildings as well. Our town was only 9.1 square miles tucked in along the river and busy as a bee. The county was 629 square miles and 28 miles wide, that is East to West and 32 miles North to South a vast rural, farm area that fed off the growth of the city as the city fed off the county’s growth. The census, according to government figures in 1910, showed 66,950 folks lived within our city limits, increasing to 76,121 in 1920. Peoria, “The gem on the Illinois River” was on the grow and quickly became the main attraction between Chicago to our north and Saint Louis to the south. The city was also known as the “Alcohol capital of the world.” As I mentioned the city’s growth was connected closely with the growth in the county and just look how it grew. According to the 14th. census 111,710 souls lived out there within the vastness of Peoria County. Since I brought up alcohol, I’ll fill you in a bit on why we were so closely connected to whiskey.


During my twenty-eight years of researching my favorite town I have heard a lot of explanations as to why Peoria had so many breweries and distilleries. My favorite answer is the ‘water’ Yes, sir it was Peoria’s deep and clear well water that brought these makers of booze and beer to our fine shores.
Another is “the Illinois River.” Now that made me laugh when I considered the fact that the Illinois River flowed past a number of cities, not just Peoria, Illinois. There were numerous other reasons, all interesting of course, but like so many things told about Peoria a thin red thread of truth ran through those statements, however most of what was said was simply not true.

The reason that the breweries and the distilleries came to Peoria was so simple that it was over-looked. Keep in mind that early on in America’s history, and I mean way back in the middle of the 1800’s a lot of Americans
practiced some type of temperance. That’s right Prohibition. The grand state of Maine is an example that comes to mind since in 1851 they became a dry state. The temperance and anti-saloon people were active from that moment on with only one goal and that was to leave America completely DRY and free of old John Barleycorn. ( Amen brother.) Believe me when I tell you that the grass roots movement to abolish every saloon in the land was effective in many areas of America. Temperance groups, initially made up of religious women, rapidly grew in America and many other church leaders were out to make America dry. As this movement became more and more successful the makers of beer and booze were on the run. Not so here in Peoria, Illinois. Our local government was here with open arms to any and all the beer and whiskey makers that cared to come here. The city fathers offered not only incentives, like cheap sites, our diverse work force looked like a dream come true for these distillers and brewers and the men were eager to have the jobs. So they headed for Peoria, Illinois and we were mighty glad to have them. An example was the Leisy Brothers of Iowa. As soon as that state went dry the boys packed up and moved to Peoria, Illinois. Think they came here because we had ‘water?’

So, look no further for the answer because it was simply this. The beer and booze makers came here because we wanted them here. Truly, folks it was that simple. Of course we had the water, hell the Illinois River is a pretty long body of water and certainly we had some wells but they played no major role in the selection of Peoria as a site to make their products. Alcohol in Peoria was well established…it defined us early on, and together the city, its people and booze thrived.


Keep in mind by 1850 we were heavily into the whiskey business and the beer in Peoria was made by German brewers beginning in 1836. Mr. Cole returned to town in 1843 and opened up the Cole Distillery. During the eighteen hundreds we had as many as 17 distilleries perking away along our riverbanks and they distilled incredible amounts of whiskey. I won’t bore you with those stats, but they were impressive. The names ranged from Atlas to Corning to Woolner Brothers. That large number stayed with us, employing men, buying farm goods, causing growth and employment here in Peoria, Illinois and most importantly…population growth for the city and the county. No one really came to Peoria for the view…they mainly came for the available jobs. Peoria folks could see the haze, smell the mash up and down the river and that meant employment to many of them.
I can imagine that it was an environmental nightmare…can’t you?

The number of breweries and distilleries declined and fluctuated for reasons that are too numerous to discuss here, however by 1900 the number of distilleries dropped from 13 down to 10 in 1904. By 1912 there were only 8, and by 1917 there were six. American, Clarke, Corning, Great Western, Standard and Woolner. So I think it is safe to say that we were indeed the ‘Alcohol Capital of the World.” Even though the actual numbers declined these distilleries grew in size absorbing others as they grew. Keep in mind that throughout America there were as many as 700 distilleries and of those 100 made booze for other reasons than drinking. They were scattered about America but nowhere did they have a concentration like we had here in Peoria. Later many folks said that we were the “Alcoholic Capital of the World.” Peoria was always the butt of jokes throughout most of its history.


Initially our mayors were presidents and held the office for one year.
Mayors held the office for first one year then two and finally four years.
We had some strong mayors, some weak, some useless and others probably not worth mentioning. The ones we named streets after were:
Gale, Bestor, Cooper, Barker, Reynolds, Brotherson, Kinsey, Clarke, Bryan, and those that I failed to mention because I forgot them. We named a bridge after McCluggage, a high school after Woodruff, and the civic center after Carver. But of all those men, and they were all men, the one that in my opinion had the most influence on Peoria, Peorians and who we were was Edward Nelson Woodruff.

Woodruff was first a mayor, our 45th. in 1903, for a two year term. He would go on to win a total of eleven times and would be our mayor through twenty-four years. In the following years he would lose to Tolson and O’Connor, winning again in 1909. Now just think of this: After that he would battle politician after politician for the next six elections, winning every time. In 1919 he lost to Michel, but won the following election. He won the election in 1935 then lost the next two elections to Dave McCluggage before he took over again in 1941, the crucial war years. Triebel took over after the war was over, thus ending Woodruff’s political career. Triebel stopped gambling in Peoria, but it was Woodruff that had the major influence on how the city grew and what reputation we would have over the years. A lot of what you read depicts Triebel as some grand reformer. Well, he wasn’t and I could use his on quotes to prove it. As an example he took office in May of 1945, but it was not until September of 1946 that he made his big “stop gambling” speech. Does that sound like an impatient reformer to you eager to change Peoria, Illinois? Woodruff was a tremendous influence during Prohibition and World War 11 here in Peoria, Illinois. I could prove that to you but this narrative is about Prohibition in Peoria. Woodruff’s role in that era will be enough proof of his influence.

World War 1

So Peoria, Illinois survived the winter of 1917, our population was growing, our businesses were thriving and people lived a normal, reasonably happy life right here in the old river city. There was talk of war, but Americans, and Peorians were optimistic that the war would stay where it belonged, which was “Over there.” Some Peorians were joining the service, and women were joining the Red Cross while some nurses left to go to Europe. These were super patriotic people who just wanted to help. There was no call for massive troops and life stayed pretty normal as the promise of spring
nodded its sweet head in April of 1917.

Here in Peoria the deadly headlines that April 6, 1917 about America declaring war on Germany did not come as a shock, but it was the most upsetting news they had ever heard, that is collectively as a town. Immediately the “boys” began lining up to “fight the Hun,” and the local papers followed each and every bit of the devastating news. In all, according to reports, over 5,500 of our men went off to places unknown. It was all about saving Europe and supporting the Doughboy, as the soldiers were called. Peoria, Illinois excelled in doing both.

For Peoria that meant a loss of manpower and as the men moved out of their jobs, especially in the distilleries and breweries, men with their families moved in. Our factories, Avery and Holt, along with many others began producing war products from gloves, to tractor treads for the war effort. The town was buzzing with the electrifying news and Peoria, Illinois was at war. During the war manufacturing firms both large and small produced just over 1000 different products of one kind or the other, not all for the war effort, of course. That meant employment for a lot of new men that moved in to our city. Truth is that during the first ten years of Prohibition our population grew by just slightly more than 18,000. Pretty impressive if you consider the circumstances we found ourselves in here in Peoria.

As the summer began many of our young men were long gone, and a new Peorian was in town. The work force was a bit older, but the town never skipped a beat. Our downtown courthouse was the center of attraction as folks migrated down there just to talk over the war. “Old men” sat around the courthouse talking and watching the crowd go by. Peoria was a hub bub of activity and the news from the newspapers about the war was the topic from early morning until dusk. In the evening when the men came home they had no TV or radio to sit around, instead they talked…that’s right they talked over the supper table and they worried and prayed for the safety of our boys in Europe. Some Peorians were ham operators and some managed to put together “home made radios” which were starting to become popular. Bradley Polytech had a small radio station of some kind, and the radio began to spread as the years went on. Finally in 1927 Enos Kohler went on the air right out of his home in the Peoria Heights, with WMBD. Weren’t those early radios called crystal sets?

The town flourished, the factories hummed, the stores in downtown were busier than ever, and our restaurants were full. We had 220 taverns that packed folks in and the beer and whiskey flowed. We had over 100 churches that cashed in as well as prayer groups met to pray for our troops and their safe return home. Peoria took on an even friendlier “hometown feeling,” and life was good. After all what Peorian did not have a relative, loved one, neighbor or friend in the Army? Very few, I would say.

You know it was a funny thing, but unless you had a loved one in the service, life seemed to pretty much go on as usual. It was not until later, after our troops really entered the trenches, that reports of casualties began to appear in our paper. For most folks it was an exciting time, but the reality struck them hard when names of their sons, friends and relatives brought the fear or death and injury home to Peoria.


Now remember, many of the employees of the distilleries and brewers left their jobs here in Peoria to fight the war to end all wars. Well, that’s what Peoria believed along with the rest of America. Those jobs were filled by the men that stayed behind and by those that arrived in Peoria for the express purpose of getting a job either in the booze business or perhaps in one of the many factories we had in Peoria. In August of 1917 some secretary of something or other announced that the distilleries and the breweries would all have to shut down by September 8, 1917. WHAT? Shut down? Now you can talk about outrage, because the men in this town who fed their families off the paychecks from these places were stunned. Their shock turned to anger and the place, as they say, was up for grabs.
I don’t want you to forget about the temperance people…the so-called DRYS. They were busy, busy as could be. It was not lost on them that the war was a perfect time to attack once again. Conservation was the theme they hid behind and they went on an all out campaign to the people of America to Conserve. Why? Why to send bread and food to the troops. And Peoria, like most of American, I suppose, fell for that pitch as well. They handed out pamphlets, went door-to-door and bought newspaper ads as well. We did have a few billboards here in Peoria and more than once the
“Progressive Drys” as they liked to call themselves, had colorful ads placed
on them. You might be asking what it was they were selling? Well remember their agenda has always been “National Salvation,” in other words
“ A Dry America.” If they had to crawl before they ran…well they understood that and they were experts at it. The ads, which included a patriotic picture, said things like this: “Food Will Win The War.” The ads
always referred to wheat, some were about corn and always about SAVING food for the war in Europe. Another campaign of signs and ads had a picture of our Doughboys running over snow holding rifles with bayonets fixed. The caption in large letters asked this question: “THEY ARE GIVING ALL. WILL YOU SEND WHEAT?” Hell, that sounds fair…but according to the local farmers there was more than enough wheat and corn and everything else to see us through this war. It would be a hard task to find a prominent Peorian that would tell you the war would last ‘forever’ Fact is folks here thought that it would last maybe a year…or “something like that.”

The net result was the closing down of the breweries and the distilleries so that America could preserve the precious agriculture assets to feed the troops in Europe…the Europeans and of course America herself. How noble was that? Sounds great except the real reason for doing it was simple enough…to shut down America’s distilleries and breweries and get on with the DRY’s Temperance Movement. It was led by their leader Wayne Birdwell ( birdbrain) Wheeler. Honestly…it was that simple. Now when you get the United States Government on your side the job could be done…and it was. Peoria, Illinois, as of September 8, 1917 would lose jobs, taxes and security to the “Drys.” It made the temperance folks politically strong and just as happy as they could be. Next step was to dry up the entire United States permanently and believe me folks that triumph was just around the corner. The tax from beer and whiskey was massive…and now the government…because of these religious people, was being forced to close down the breweries and the distilleries. Talk about biting the hands that feeds you. That was the sentiment of most Peorians…and they let the newspaper reporters know it.

Peoria had always had its temperance groups, marching, meeting on the streets, marching, marching in and out of taverns. Most Peorians…well the Wets, thought they were comical. Even when Carey Nation came here at the turn of the century, they were not impressed. The Red Ribbon Club, a group of ladies here in town, was constantly rallying and marching in the streets decrying “John Barleycorn.” Prominent speakers, mostly ardently religious men and women came in to town to decry the evils of booze. These people were positive that the real root of all evil was alcohol

Even our local newspapers warned the ladies that they were “biting the hand that fed them,” since some of their husbands and sons were employed in the beer and booze making business. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. After all, the temperance people were doing “God’s work” that is all that mattered to them. So, President Woodrow Wilson and the men of the Congress and the Senate, pushed by Wheeler, decided that America was not doing enough for the “War Effort,” and in their wisdom they decided to do something about the problem.


Remember folks this is long before the ‘real’ Prohibition Act was on the lips of every American citizen. This act was really an attempt to conserve food- stuffs…or so the president said. What it said in plain English was this: No foodstuffs could be used to make booze or beer…it was really that simple. Of course there were whys and wherefores and a lot of this and a lot of that. But…to the dismay of the working folks in Peoria it meant the end of the jobs that were connected with the making of beer and whiskey. And…that meant the loss of jobs in related occupations as well. Just think of it all of the brewery and distillery workers would be out of a job in one short month. Hundreds of other jobs were indirectly connected to these breweries and distilleries and I can tell you it was doom and gloom here in town. Farmers that were used to selling everything they grew to Peoria…were devastated. So the United States Government gave the owners of these businesses one month to shut down. Of course that meant all over American but no single city was to be devastated like your hometown…Peoria, Illinois. I mentioned there was anti-German sentiment in America and I can tell you that the temperance people leaped on that sentiment like a fish on a worm. Immediately the beer makers became the first victims. The DRYS made it clear that most of the breweries were owned by Germans…and that ploy worked. The implication was this: “Look at all that money being sent back to Germany.” The breweries were gone even more quickly than the distilleries. Some of you may recall that the Japanese fared little better during WW 11.

The Lever Act was a so-called conservation act aimed at saving our resources, which included everything a farmer grew or raised. We had meatless Tuesdays and sugarless Thursday and Sunday there was no gas to be bought for those lucky people who had motorized vehicles. Of course the government raised taxes on almost everything. Wilson was determined to remind the people that “We are at War.” As I mentioned most folks went about their daily tasks here in town, talking about the war but not allowing it to bother them too much. Believe me this Food Conservation/ Prohibition Act caught Peoria’s attention and in the worst possible way…the pocketbook and the stomach.


That’s a strange looking word and usually means a bunch of Mongolians running over your land. Of course that is spelled horde. No wonder we have such trouble learning how to spell. But here in Peoria, Illinois during that month before the distilleries shut down it had a whole new meaning. I guess you could be kind and just say Peorian’s were just saving a bit of booze for the uncertain future. The local liquor distributors took a view of it that sent folks tearing off to the local stores for beer, wine, beer, whiskey of every sort and anything else they thought might be scarce. And…buy they did. The newspapers got into the act by selling large ads to these businesses and the race was on. Of course the local beer and booze makers understood the problem and they added every worker and bottle line they could to meet the demand. It reminded one alderman of ants gathering food for the winter. To drinking Peorians it was simply the smart thing to do. I can tell you that many people…even those that did not drink hoarded for the investment possibilities and it paid off big time.

Later reports of complaining wives made the newspapers and of course the religious leaders chastised the men that spent grocery money for booze instead of food. Hell, many of the men thought they were doing what any sensible drinking man would do…hoard the stuff…and they did. Believe me during WW 11 hoarders turned that act into the art of the black market…but that is another story.

In good old America and certainly in Peoria the demand went up and you guessed it so did the price. In the end that month proved to be a boom to the local economy and certain state, local and Federal taxes. See how all that worked out?


We had well over two hundred taverns in town and perhaps 75 out in the county. Many Peorians worried about the fate of these businesses. Among them the drinker…the cooks…the waiters and waitresses…the farmer…
the whores…the gamblers…the drunk…the pickle man and the peanut man, were all worried for many different reasons. Landowners that owned the buildings, truck drivers and cleaning people, you name it, Peoria’s very social and economic life revolved around these taverns and their fate was very uncertain. What would we do without our taverns? City and county officials were among the major worriers as well as they clearly could see that their tax base was about to erode…and politicians hate that fact like a thief hates bright lights.

In Peoria we had the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Lebanese and many, many other ethnic and diversified groups living here in Peoria, Illinois. The local tavern or the neighborhood tavern came about as these ethnic groups settled in different parts of the city. Now remember…we are only 9.1 square miles of city, so when I say different parts of the city that meant they were still pretty close together. The southend…the northend…the west and east bluffs and of course the downtown and near downtown area. So far these taverns were not affected, nor were they told to close down. But to many local folks the handwriting was on the wall.

Averyville was a village of 5,000 or so folks and they were always “in the way” so to speak. When Peoria talked about the bridge we call McCluggage there was a lot of politicking going on. Let’s face it the Peoria politicians wanted to annex Averyville and the battle was on. When the new bridge was to be built, Peoria politicians wanted some control over that area…but they had to annex Averyville to get it. Finally in 1926 or so the deed was done…it was a battle…physically and politically and finally the Supreme Court ended the battle. Averyville was ours. That meant the folks there…the businesses and of course the taverns would be in the control of the City of Peoria. I brought up taverns because they played a special role in our history. Not only before Prohibition but all during our history and Averyville had their fair share.

Food, beer and whiskey…that’s what our taverns sold and they were a major business in our town. Now the Irish and all the other groups I mentioned had a tendency to go to their own local taverns. They went to their own neighborhood taverns not only for the ethnic food that they craved but for plain old social reasons. They knew the owner, the bartender and of course most of the folks that patronized the places.. It reminds me of “Cheers’ and the song that went along with that TV program, “where everybody knew your name.” Also the police, called Rounders in the 20’s who patrolled these taverns knew every living soul that frequented these places. If he did not know you he would come up and ask who you were. Now, don’t you see how that system worked to preserve peace and quiet in these tavern and our neighborhoods? It worked like a charm. Peoria, although diversified, had its own prejudices and believe me these systems of local taverns did more to preserve the peace than another hundred cops would have done

So that was the picture during the month of August and early September of 1917. Where would it lead us? What would happen when the breweries and the distilleries shut down? What would happen to all those wonderful taverns? Of course, some of them were despicable dumps…but all of them had their customers…the good, the bad and the ugly. Could Peoria, Illinois really survive all these changes that were coming down the pike? Peoria, Illinois…no beer… no booze… no life? Well, history has recorded those events and I will reveal them as we move into 1918.


Remember how big our county was, and those vast rural lands out there? Well, for over six decades the farmers in Tazewell, Peoria, Woodford and surrounding areas had it made in the shade…as Peorian’s used to say. Think of it. As many as 17 distilleries and five to eight breweries waiting here in Peoria for the farmer to bring in his harvest. A ready market…just think of that. Now…the farmer for the first time was in a political/temperance bind that he had no way out of at all. Some folks even thought that the temperance movement really began in the rural or farm area. They thought it was a rebellion against the citified folks and there is some historical truth to that theory. Few Peorians had the capacity or desire to get at the root of all these issues. They had a job, a family and a wonderful home…they wanted to keep it. The farmers certainly wanted their farms to grow, their families to thrive no doubt about that. Why on earth would they want Prohibition? Religious beliefs drive people in compelling ways and believe me that passion was what was driving the anti-saloon and temperance people here in Peoria at any rate, so I am sure some farmers had ambivalent feelings about Prohibition.. It amazes me how they could care less about America and towns like Peoria, Illinois and their very financial survival, but they were doing God’s work. It was truly a religious movement, and who could stop it? Apparently no one and certainly not the elected officials who were put in office by the temperance people to push and vote on Prohibition in America.

One important thing that people here in Peoria, Illinois bought hook, line and sinker was that the prohibition of food products for the making of booze and beer was just a “Temporary Law.” That’s what we believed here folks…just a temporary thing. Why as soon as this war is over the ban would be lifted and our breweries and our distilleries would be back in business. The returning doughboys would be home, they would have their jobs back and life would be fine. WRONG.

PEORIA: 1918

Peoria was getting used to the fact that their breweries and distilleries were
sitting in the dark. Actually a couple of lines were open in one of the
distilleries to produce alcohol for the government and for “Medicinal Purposes.” Some men maintained maintenance jobs in the distilleries and breweries to be ready when the food ban was lifted. Many of the men managed to get jobs in the factories that made wartime products and Peoria began to realize that they could indeed endure this temporary setback. After all we were at war, and Peoria could be and was just as patriotic as any other American city. So, Peoria moved ahead. However…what was going on in Washington, DC that would change their lives forever seemed to be hidden in the war headlines and articles here in Peoria, Illinois. Prohibition…with a capital “P” was looming its monstrous head again…and this time it looked like there was going to be real trouble “Right here in River City” and that did not bode well for Peoria, Illinois.

So here we were…it was 1918, Peoria had survived the initial shock of the beer and booze makers closing and things were settling down to normal. The war raged and now our troops were in the thick of things. Peorians endured the minor irritation of the conservation going on and things got back to normal. Remember the farmer continued to suffer…of course they sold their products but the day of the easy…ready market here in Peoria was gone. They managed to survive because people have to eat. But as far as a ready market, in fact an eager market that was all a thing of the past. How long would all this last? How long could they endure? Even the most optimistic Peorian had no real idea. It was in the hands of the government ‘And that “ain’t good.” The only people content with the situation were the DRY.

In downtown Peoria huge crowds would gather as our men were sent off to the war, parades would snake through the town, flags were waved, soldiers marched and bands played. Now some of these men were draftees and not exactly happy to be among those chosen, but Peoria was at its patriotic best, and the band played on.

Most of the men folk retired to their favorite saloon after these rallies and they were happy that at least those places were still open. The hoarders could still hold onto their cached booze as long as the taverns had supplies. They were dwindling of course, and the price was higher but at least they were still there. Again, they were open for the food, the beer, the booze and the gathering of the “bar talkers.” We had our share of liquor stores as well and so far their doors were still open. All was not lost...yet.


Just before they closed our distilleries Peoria made roughly one third of all the whiskey produced in the United States. They paid something like 35 million in taxes annually and virtually supported the City of Peoria, Illinois for 67 years. The whiskey trust led by Mr. Greenhut, living here in Peoria, was working to keep a few lines open in two of the distilleries . A small amount would be used for medicinal purposes and some would be used for making alcohol that was called denatured. The United States Government authorized as many as 16 toxins to be distilled with this alcohol. Of course that made the damn stuff poison…pure and simple. Not to worry it was branded with warnings…big black letters…no less. Later too…the phrase “Rot Gut Booze,” was all too common here in Peoria, Illinois. Of course that killed people…mainly the poor alcoholics in town that would literally drink anything…anything at all that even hinted at having alcohol in it.

Peoria always had a few men that loved to brew their own whiskey…yes we had some that was called White Lightning…and White Mule…but whatever it was called it was still almost s potent as the denatured alcohol.

Peorians were being told through their local newspapers that the government had estimated that this temporary prohibition would save forty million bushels of grain, thousands of tons of coal, and countless other savings. All of this would benefit the war effort. Of course all Peorians…well the WETS wanted to hear was this news: Reports indicated 232,404,870 gallons of whiskey was already stored in America’s warehouses. Peorians were happy to know that thousands of those gallons were stored right here in Peoria, Illinois. The government never mentioned the thousands of jobs that were being lost…but the local papers did carry quotes from folks making that complaint known.

I mentioned J.B. Greenhut, a man that came to Peoria in 1856. He became a very wealth man, and certainly made himself known here in Peoria and within the alcohol business world. Actually he dealt in tin while he lived in Austria, but got in the much more lucrative business of booze when he came here. He soon headed up the Peoria Cattle Feeding Company and led the Whiskey Trust that included distilleries all over America. A highly respected man in this town I can tell you that.


I am not going to tell you that my relatives…and yours were ignorant of the ways of Congress…but I suppose that is probably close to the truth. Keep in mind the turmoil in Peoria during 1917 and 1918. What with the war, the loss of our loved ones, Food Prohibition and the closing of our source of income, things were pretty chaotic…to say the least. So, when the 66th. Congress convened in Washington, in 1919 they pretty much did it without the knowledge of the typical, hard-working Peoria.

Keep in mind that the anti-saloon people, along with the temperance people had finally consolidated their efforts and by the end of 1917 there were 25 DRY states in the United States. Now that was quite an accomplishment indeed. Now the final goal…for some their lifetime goal was near. All they needed to do was to get the Congress to agree to amend the Constitution of the United States. Just vote ‘Yes’ for the 18th. amendment and God would have been served.

Here in Peoria with the war news, small articles about this new Congress were printed and I am sure some folks read them. I certainly know for a fact my relatives did not read them. But this was America and all of us are represented and if there were going to be an amendment change surely there would be a tremendous debate over it and the representatives from Peoria and this area would protect us. That’s what a majority of Peorians believed. And…don’t forget we had the whiskey lobby and our own J.B. Greenhut. They would fight for the right of Peoria to make whiskey…surely they would. Right? Wrong!


It’s over over there and the war to end all war makes the world a safe place once again. In Peoria the news was received at 1:52 A.M. in the news rooms of Peoria’s newspapers. It was now November 11, and the war had been over since 11-11-1918 they just did not know when the last shot had been fired. What glorious news. The men that first received the news were a bit skeptical because there had been one hoax on them…and they were cautious. This hoax was perpetrated on THE STAR and they fell for it like a ton of bricks. As soon as the news came over the wire that morning of November 7, 1918 the men went into action. Soon young men were running around down town holding newspapers and yelling…EXTRA, EXTRA WAR IS OVER! Well the outcome of all that over eagerness cost the paper some trust from Peorians to say the least. They quickly sent a check to the local Red Cross for $375.00 after admitting their mistake.

After some phone calls and contacting the newspaper bigwigs the news was judged accurate.…and their excitement began to boil over once again.. They thought of waiting for a decent hour to tell Peoria, but quickly telephone calls were made to their own homes. The newsroom workers gathered together with the pressmen and the news spread. Secret stashes of booze suddenly appeared and in between telephone calls the men celebrated.

Of course once the folks at home were up and awake the calls all over town were made. The system was quickly overwhelmed…remember this is 1918.
Before sunup folks from Peoria and out in the county began to gather downtown around the courthouse square. They walked and biked and rode every kind of vehicle that had wheels. Horse and buggy, carriages, and men and boys on horseback. As the crowd grew the noise increased as they greeted each other. I don’t think they hi-fived in those days, but there was a lot of hand shaking and hugging going on.

At 7:30 that morning Mayor Woodruff threw open the doors of the city hall and summoned every politician he knew along with his many friends. He notified the police and the fire department and ordered them to notify the taverns in town that they were not to open until he told them to do so. The mayor proclaimed the day a holiday and left it up to the local business men to decide if they wanted to open or close. The crowds were pouring off the streetcars carrying every kind of noisemaker they could find. Toy drums, garbage cans, metal cans and pots and garbage lids. Some people brought every kind of instrument except a piano with them as they jammed the area around the city hall and the courthouse. It was pandemonium with a huge smile…”My God! The War is over!”

The mayor then tacked a huge sign on the door of the city hall. This time he made it a proclamation. All stores would close at noon and he ‘ordered’ ALL Peorians to come on downtown and celebrate.


By 10:00 AM thousands of folks were jamming the downtown area. Slowly the streets filled up and people were elbow to elbow, yelling, screaming, banging on everything they could find. Cars that had driven downtown were now hopelessly stalled and people were sitting all over them like park benches. Although the taverns were closed…Peorians were now in the habit of carrying flasks and the alcohol began to flow. People that lived close-by quickly supplied their friends with some libations and things were really getting to be fun…if you get my meaning.

The word spread that the mayor was going to speak and the crowd crowded in even tighter waiting to hear from their favorite mayor. Of course no politician worth his salt was going to pass up and opportunity like this so they too battled their way to the courthouse steps. By now local bands were finding each other and impromptu parades…led by these musicians wound
through the streets. The crowds managed to make way for each new group playing the patriotic songs of WW 1. Peoria had a few buildings that rose up above the street, a couple as high as ten stories, and as the bands strutted by tons of shredded fell down upon the heads of the band and the people that lined the streets.

Reporter from the newspapers recorded the mad scene, reporting that one long line of about 1,500 kids held hands and snaked their way round and round the courthouse square. At noon every church anywhere near downtown began to ring its bells, mesmerizing the crowd. Religious groups stood together, their hands in the air, thanking God for the end of the war.
The folks wanted no part of the speeches after all and were delighted by the arrival of military bands that formed groups before marching off down Main Street and then around the courthouse. Once the band passed, folks fell in behind them only to be followed by another band. It was a wonderful, magic time that lasted until late that afternoon.

Finally, the politicians got their chance to speak, but by then the crowd was a bit subdued and ready to listen. Well those that had not consumed too much of old John Barleycorn, at any rate. The crowds were invited to the Coliseum, which held 7,000 people and to the Shrine Mosque as well for patriotic music and of course speeches from the local politicians and religious leaders. Many of the older folks were glad to have a place to head for that promised a seat and maybe a little less noise.

Now all Peoria wanted was to bring their doughboys back home. Next they wanted the breweries and the distilleries opened up and their town back to work and a normal life. They got most of their doughboys back home safely, but their breweries and distilleries were going to have to be listed “Missing in Action.” For a lot longer any single person in Peoria could even imagine. That nightmare would include their taverns as well. But that was down the road and right now the war was over and that was all that counted. Sadly the real truth was about to be revealed to the City of Peoria, and believe me it was not going to be good news.


When the Senate got the proposal to ban alcohol in America and vote on the Eighteenth Amend it took 13 hours to pass in a one-sided vote in favor of the bill. Not to worry we did have a House of Representatives and a President…didn’t we? Someone will stop this stupid bill…just you wait and see.
Wrong again.

When Congress got their hands on the Senate bill they debated all of one working day, minus breaks and lunch of course. They then voted in favor of the amendment overwhelmingly. So…there it was. The next step was to send it to the state governors for ratification or defeat. They gave the bill 7 years…that’s right…seven years to be law or just another failed bill. Less than thirteen months later the bill had easily won ratification and it needed three-fourths of the States to agree. Hell…it was not even a contest. The DRYS had conquered.

Remember at least twenty-five states are already dry…different varieties of prohibition in one county…perhaps different in another. Now, all counties in all states in all 48 states would be dry as a bone. That’s what the temperance folks had prayed for and with God’s guidance they had one. Hallelujah! Well it did not take the People in Peoria and the rest of the world to find out just how insane this new law was. It also brought to America the most corrupt, dangerous, gangster-ridden thirteen years in its history. The DRYS had won the battle…now the war was just starting. Hallelujah indeed.

So the Prohibition Act…the 18th amendment was sent off in a bill to be rejected or approved. It took One year and 8 days to be ratified. Here in Peoria the folks still thought that Prohibition would be rejected. Or…according to some quotes in town. “The dang thing won’t last more than a year or so.”


Now all of this was done with the guiding hand of the temperance woman…and get this…she never even had the right to vote. That would come with the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Gender neutral as far as voting was concerned was the goal and a majority of Peorians were all for it. Believe me when I tell you that here in Peoria, Suffrage was a lot more heatedly debated than Prohibition. Now we had both. Harding died and Coolidge became President of the United States. Maybe he would do something about this damn Prohibition Law. Wrong again.

On January 1, 1919 Mississippi was the first State to ratify the new Prohibition law. Nebraska and Tennessee seemed to have tied were the 36th, and that is all they needed. Poor little Rhode Island never ratified the Act and people here in Peoria bragged about them and their defiance. Now the laws would prevail upon the land and peace and tranquility would permeate the very souls of all the sober Americans. That’s what the temperance idiots preached. Just look what Billy Sunday said, the great preacher who helped lead his disciples on the long journey to Prohibition. By the way he never came to Peoria, Illinois until 1934. He was greeted and treated like a major hero even though the fools that adored him had just lived through thirteen years of financial difficulties and the most corrupt, violent times of our history.

The preacher said: “ The REIGN OF TEARS IS OVER. The slums will
Be a memory. We will turn our prisons into
factories and our jails into storehouses and
corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will
smile and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for

So the “Noble Experiment” was just down the road. Peoria had managed to survive through the Temporary Prohibition and now what? The Prohibition law would not begin until January 16, 1920 and that meant that there was still time to either adjust or move to another city. With that thought Peoria began to agitate over the fact that the distilleries and Breweries were still closed. They began to contact politicians to get something done. The doughboys were coming home to the horrible fact that not only were their jobs gone the booze was too. Many of them stated that what they dreamed about was sitting around the taverns here in Peoria and just talking. Just “Hanging Out” as we say today, but now what? The jobs were gone and now they were certain that their taverns would also bite the dust. What a hell of a mess they faced. Some of them told the press…”We should have stayed in Europe.’’ It was bleak here in town and the returning veterans seemed to take it worse than the rest of Peoria. Perhaps they had more to lose? Right at that moment the only hope they had was to have the distilleries and the breweries open up. At least they would have six months of a job, and the taverns and the liquor stores could replenish their supplies of beer and booze. Was that too much to ask? They’d risk their lives for America at least she could give them this one break. Wrong again.


New years Eve was a wild, wild scene here in Peoria, Illinois and the folks here decided that this just might be the last really Happy New Year. There was plenty of beer and booze in town and the WETS tried to drink it all. The DRYS were happy…since I don’t know what they do for New Years Eve let’s just forget about them.

What I am going to do here in 1919 is really show you what Peoria was all about. I might bore you a bit on some of the statistics, but if you have a true interest in our town I’ll try to paint you a picture.


What is cereal beer? Peorians joked that they thought it was like something you were supposed to pour on cereal. Most folks scoffed at it even when they found out that this product was so-called near beer. I guess we could relate to a product available today that smells like beer…even taste a little like beer but has little or no alcohol in it. Only one I can think of is O’Doul’s. But since the government allowed the product breweries did began to produce it. One brewery had BEVO. The Pabst plant produced PABLO and the great Schlitz organization brought out FAMO. Stroh’s produced a line called LUX-O. All of these near beers were frowned upon and one reporter here in Peoria stated that the consensus in Peoria was that the stuff was just colored water and was not worth the glass it was bottled in. Other near beers popped up and then faded. Still the local taverns as late as 1919 still had some supplies of decent beer and some whiskey. No real beer drinker would drink this colored water when and if the real stuff was still available. Beer was much shorter on supplies than booze was and beer drinkers were “Learning to accept the hard stuff.” Does that surprise you?

So as we jump into 1919 the final year before the real Prohibition hit us I will tell you that some of our bars were pretty tough back then and were controlled only by our tough cops. In 1916 Officer Enos was accidentally
Killed and Officer Norman Gray was killed inside one of our bars in 1917.
1917 saw the death of Sam Moffatt and Officer Carr was killed in 1918.


1919 was a pretty typical year when it comes to describing the downtown area of this marvelous city. So I might bore you with this, but to me it was always fascinating to me how really huge Peoria, Illinois really was. Again, not in miles but for shear entertainment, employment opportunities and our fascinating downtown area. Keep in mind we were IT. Peoria was surrounded for miles by small towns, vast open space and farms that dotted the landscape. To visit Peoria, Illinois was something to look forward to and believe me people came from all over to spend time here. They were fed, they drank, they gambled, ladies of the evening, live entertainment and of course ‘moving pictures.’ We had our seedy, bawdy and dangerous side but that just added to the over all entertainment of this great city. We had prostitutes, madams, gaming table, booze, beer and as the kids say today, ‘whatever.” This was the place to be and Peoria grew as a result of that reputation s being a wide-open bawdy town. Still some folks never drank, never gambled and certainly had nothing to do with the “ladies of the night.” Some visitor told the press that even though Peoria had some rough spots, it was the “Jewel along the Illinois river.” Now we faced Prohibition…what would that bring to Peoria?


Since I have spent the last twenty-eight years in research of Peoria one thing dawned on me rather early. With all the great history books and the historians the one real historian over-looked was the newspaper reporter.
Just think of what they have recorded over the years. Certainly here in Peoria they did their jobs day in and day out, year after year. Ever wonder how many newspapers were here in town? I bet most of today’s Peorians would tell you about the STAR and The JOURNAL, but there were many, many more. Just look what newspapers were here in 1919. Some were small, some daily, some weekly, but they all employed people and they all recorded out history. Some were biased and one-sided but most were just trying to survive financially as they brought the news to the people of Peoria, Illinois.

Located in our downtown area were these newspapers: Please excuse me but I have no desire to italicize all these newspaper names…so I’ll just use a capital letter here and there.

Peoria Morning Transcript Daily Bulletin The Family Friend Illinois
Journal of Labor Sunday Journal Transcript The Polyscope Retail Merchants Journal Illinois Retail Merchants Journal Peoria Evening Journal The Tech Peoria Evening Star Peoria Labor Gazette. One or both of these papers were printed in German: Peoria Sonne and the

Here is a question that I have never been able to answer…from any source. Why did we have so many Notary Republics in town? We had 428 of them and they represented every type of employment from lawyers to the guy next door. Think of that. They got anywhere from a dime to a quarter to notarize someone’s signature but it just struck me as strange that they would all be listed. I was a notary and believe me “I guarded my seal with zeal.” That’s humor son…in case you over looked it.


The answer to that was an astounding ‘Yes.’ I am only going to name a few products available here. I can tell you that well over 1000 different kind of ‘things’ were made here and in 1919, in spite of our setbacks, people seemed to be getting along fine. Unemployment has always been a problem because so many able-bodied men and women move into Peoria looking for a job, but most of them found one.

We had numerous companies in town dealing in lumber, steel and tin. A dozen or so printing firms and three huge paper mills grew up here in Peoria, Illinois. Machine shops of all kinds competed with the small manufacturing companies here in town. We made mattresses and cigars along with tire and car and truck makers. Horses and horse racing were big in town and many companies made every kind of rig connected with a horse
possible…including the carriages and buggies and sleds. We were the center of bicycle events and people came from all over to the horse and bike races held here. Voss Brothers could sell, repair and build any kind of bike that was imaginable at the time.

Hungry? In the downtown area we had 14 ‘lunch rooms’ which would prove important here in Peoria once alcohol had to really go ‘underground.’
Seventy-eight restaurants were available as well as 82 meat markets, scattered around and convenient to patrons.

To process that meat we had 8 wholesale meat processors including Armour’s and Swifts and a huge stockyards that employed hundreds and grew to be a massive business in town. All that success spawned other businesses, and here it was trucks to move all that material, Of course we did not just sell all of these things locally, and that begot trains. Peoria was extremely important where trains were concerned when it came to shipping our products across the nation. We had 14 steam driven train companies visiting Peoria, along with three electrical rail companies. They all moved freight and people and were a vital link to Peoria’s success.

The farmers in Peoria…some were actually within the city limits…were blessed to have this eager market so close to them. Eight milk dealers were in town and home delivery was made mainly by a horse drawn vehicle. Two large milk companies included Church’s and Roszell.

Downtown included a cluster of stores that brought people from all over this area to Block n’ Kuhls, Bergners and countless other businesses called millinery stores. Szolds was a store located in the southend and stayed here in Peoria many, many years. I think there is a Szolds now over near Sunnyland.

Men’s stores were busy places and we had twelve of them. Early Peorian’s were not quick to discard anything…especially shoes. Here in town we had 57 shoe repair shops and if you wanted your shoes shined you had 16 shoe shine parlors to pick from. (Ladies Welcome.) Music was big and we had 12 music stores and 43 music teachers and a music conservatory.

We had 125 doctors…registered that is, two midwives and 9 occulists and aurists (for the ear) all located downtown. Of course we had a plethora of quacks. There are 120 nurses in Peoria and many of them are free-lance ladies, some of course work in the hospitals and doctor’s offices of all kinds, palm readers, fortune-tellers ‘Gypsies’ star gazers and cults. We had an active KKK and every other kind of weirdo you could imagine. As I said we had everything you could possible imagine…if you had the price. That was my town…Peoria, Illinois heavier manufacturing was growing with Holt, soon to be manufacturing Caterpillars. There was Avery and Keystone, however these big employers were actually outside our city limits. Any wonder why our leaders wanted Averyville and Bartonville to annex to Peoria? I didn’t think so.

We had glassmakers, newspapers depots as they called them…we called them news stands. There were veterinarians with a huge practice connected with horses and cattle. I can tell you only the rich took their dogs and cats to vets…the animals lived or died…and then another stray would stop by and it would start all over again. It isn’t because the folks did not care they simply did not have money to spend on pets. There were no dog foods like we know today. Dogs lived off scraps, bones and whatever else they could scrounge. Hell, there were plenty of men in our town that lived the same way. Life could be tough and believe me in 1919 it was not much better.

Peoria had publishers, real estate agents, fish and ice companies and tons of roofers and carpenters of all kinds. Plumbers, bricklayers, builders and excavators of all shapes and sizes. Coal was huge in Peoria and that industry employed a lot of men, that’s for sure. They dug it, hauled it and shipped it and in every yard that did not have a basement the coal was piled up. On of my jobs as a kid was to see to getting that damn coal in…and I hated it.

The making of stoves and furnaces was also a big business in Peoria along with painters and cement handlers. The town was the center of everything imaginable and people came in on the weekends by the thousands. We had
37 tailors and 11 undertakers and sometimes the two combined their talents to take the deceased to the “great beyond.” We had 4 talking machine companies and I am not certain what they did. You could hail or call a cab and even be driven around in a limo. They would rent you a touring car or a wagon for a hay rack ride.

We had thirteen theatres downtown, where “moving pictures” were shown and of course some of them had Vaudeville available for folks as well.
We had the Columbia, Garden, Empress, the huge Hippodrome at 213 S. Jefferson and the beautiful Orpheum .The imperial and Lyceum on Fulton and the palace that was located at 1203 S. Adams. Later it would be rebuilt up on Main Street. The Princess was a cute little theater along with the Majestic and the Apollo. Just think of that entertainment and then think of a town out in the Country. The draw to Peoria, Illinois was incredible. Cars were coming into their own and Peoria built an electric car called the Glide and many trucks were built here as well washing machines were big business as were jewelry stores and drug stores. Teddy Roosevelt was riding in a Glide built by Peoria Bartholomew when he uttered these famous words…well for Peorians, that is. He said the drive he was driving on was the “Worlds most beautiful drive.” Keep in mind he was a politician. But those words became famous in Peoria and later the local radio station in 19e7 was assigned those call letters. Of course to the uninformed that meant The World’s Most Beautiful Drive. This too was just another myth concerning Peoria, Illinois. Mr. Kohler remembered the great man’s name and used that phrase as his own. Rasio Station WMBD, 1470.

We had three hospitals in town and many current people have no idea that they were built by religious people. Proctor, Saint Francis and Methodist were competing religions in Peoria and believe me that carried through in these hospitals as well. Is it true today?


Population in the city was 76,120 and counting the adjacent areas the population was 91,899 with many more way out in the county. The folks in town were getting used to finding other employment and we were so diversified that the adjustment was a lot less painful than anyone could have imagined. With just 10 miles of the city 105,000 people lived and that is a lot of consumers.

We had 30 grade schools, three high schools, 8 parochial schools and Bradley Polytech Institute, which included a Horology school. We had a total of 12,313 kids in school, plus the folks at Bradley. Steam and packet boats were still coming into Peoria and they were big business. Peoria Water Company handled the growth rather well, and many people had all the conveniences of the modern home. Of course many lived in poverty, were homeless, living along the river and some were just plain bums.

We had a lot of ‘Colored’ people living in Peoria, and 30 designated ‘other races.’ We had 32,275 male voters registered and most of them actually voted when called upon. Peoria led the nation in park and beautiful parks for any city our size. There were ten parks and they were used by most folks in town almost weekly. Of course Grand View Drive was the pride of Peoria even though some of it ran into Peoria Heights. That was another village that did not want to become park of Peoria, Illinois and has not to this day. This was the drive that Roosevelt raved about.

Peoria always had a good police and fire department. They had 65 call boxes where police could report in and 388 fire alarms along many of our streets.
Of course we had too many lawyers and not enough doctors or dentists.
In Bryan Ogg’s book on Spirits in Peoria there is a picture of the steamboat David Swain. It has a long banner attached to it that said Peoria paid 35 million in annual taxes for alcohol. They tried to influence the do-gooders but that like everything else did not stop the temperance folks.

Another thing ignored by the DRYS was the fact that most of the important buildings in downtown Peoria were financed by beer and whiskey money. Did that make any difference? Hell no. The large banking business grew because of the excess millions these whiskey and beer barons had. It brought in educated bankers and finance people, but none of that had any influence once the temperance people gained some political power.

Taverns paid an average of $169,472 just for the liquor license fees in town, and of course most of what they sold, rented, leased or owned generated money for the city coffers Can you imagine how many people were employed in all these taverns, and just how many depended on the salaries from this business alone? Soon I will tell you about the Prohibition Act and the Volstead Act and how they shaped Peoria’s history.


America lost one of it’s favorite sons when Teddy Roosevelt died, he was certainly liked and admired here in town. That was sad news but the WETS cheered when the local newspaper reported that right here in Peoria there was $75,536,150 worth of bonded whiskey stored in our warehouses. That does not mean it tasted better than any other whiskey, but the taxes are paid. People who were later called ‘Bootleggers’ took note of this bit of news as well. The government is still holding to the food prohibition and the folks in Peoria have a two pound limit on sugar. They are not fooling anyone because everyone knows there is no shortage of sugar or anything else for that matter. The Feds are trying to stop men from buying vast quantities of sugar for stills. Of course that does not work. I’ll tell you more about stills when they really begin to perk and irritate the DRY agents.

Next there is a fuel shortage and that closes our high schools and all the stores in town reduce their hours that they are open. Peorians are irate and the talk is that it is just another government manipulation. Of course everyone is disgusted with local politician and the Senate and Congress for not lifting the stupid ban on the breweries and distilleries. Peoria is not happy with the president…whoever the hell he is. Remember…that law was “Temporary” and Peorians are up in arms. So…what do they do about it? Why they go to the saloons and gripe about “The damn politicians Big strike over at Keystone and police say 35 shots were fired. No body killed, and Peorians wonder if the police exaggerated the battle or those steel workers are horrible shots.


All hope is gone this June of 1919. The Senate and the Congress passed the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and it has come back ratified by three-fourths of the States. It is over…there is no hope. The hoarders were right. Now what in the hell are the WETS going to do for a drink in this town? Believe me when I tell you they manage to work it out.

Already robbers and hi-jackers are active attacking boxcars with whiskey in them. Around the state and here as well, police say there have been 37 bank robberies. Peorians tell the press these guys are getting money together to buy booze from bootleggers. From the evidence they are probably correct.

And so we say goodbye to 1919, since 1917 it has been a depressing time for the WETS as they waited to see what was going to happen to the breweries and distilleries in their hometown. By the time 1919 ended all the questions had been answered…all in the negative. Peoria now was trying to get ready for the “Roaring Twenties.” Although there was plenty of doom and gloom to contend with Peoria would survive…thrive and grow during the upcoming decade. I can tell you it surprised the hell out of everyone…especially the DRYS.



Norman V. Kelly

He said his name was Jose’ Ortiz, a descendent of the Aztecs, but everyone knew he was just a young man from Mexico. He could speak English when it suited him, but mainly preferred being a loner. He managed to get a job here in Peoria, Illinois at Commercial Solvents Company as a day laborer. In January of 1925 he incurred severe damage to his finger at work. They took Joe to the hospital and the next day they fired him. With $86.00 severance pay in his pocket, Joe bought some whisky and a small pearl- handed pistol. He didn’t need another job after that.

Ortiz lived in a tiny shack at the back of a friend’s lot within the Mexican Colony, which we now call Morton Square. When the weather was extremely cold, he made his way to the missions in town, drank his wine, and robbed people whenever he needed money. He lived more like an animal than a human, but he managed to survive.

On a warm March 12, 1925, he was cooking some fish over an open fire when he heard the voice of a young woman he had been spying on all winter. She lived just across the alley and the moment Joe saw her he claimed her as his own. Of course the young lady never even met Joe, let alone have any interest in him. Joe saw a young white man talking to her, and his alcoholic haze that was all he needed. He reached over and grabbed his gun and headed for the man that was trying to steal his one great love.

The man’s name was Virgil Hill and all he did was ask the beautiful Mexican girl, Eniliana Martinez, age seventeen, for directions. Virgil left the house not knowing that just behind him raced a crazed, jealous man intent on killing him. By the time young Hill heard footsteps it was too late. Joe Ortiz fired point blank into the young man’s face. Hill fell and rolled over on the ground presumably dead.

Smiling Joe Ortiz returned triumphantly to his ladylove expecting a hero’s welcome. What he got was a scathing condemnation. Ortiz looked at Miss Martinez in total disbelief. “Oh, You like the white man, huh?”

Ortiz then fired the .22 pistol striking Eniliana in the left arm, his second shot hit her in the right shoulder. Eniliana fell to the ground screaming as he fired a third and fourth shot into her neck and stomach. Ortiz raced to his shack where he hid his gun and was last seen running toward the river. Numerous people rushed up to the two victims, but they found that only Virgil Hill had survived.

Ed Van Sickle and Herman Truck took out after the killer and found him walking nonchalantly along the edge of the river. Together they attacked the man and took him into custody, holding him for the police. The local newspaper headlines told the horrid details as Ortiz was not only under arrest but held in protective custody. Detectives were able to take the statement of at least a dozen witnesses, and the local community was talking about hanging Joe Ortiz.

Mr. Pratt, our State’s Attorney met with Joe just once. In front of a court reporter and witnesses, Mr. Pratt got to the point. “Mr. Ortiz did you shoot and kill one Eniliana Martinez?” Joe sipped on his coffee. “Yes.” Mr. Pratt waited a moment then asked, “How many times did you shoot her?”
“Until the gun was empty.”


That was the headline in the local newspapers revealing as well that the judge had set the trial for March 23, 1925. There was a massive crowd that chilly morning the trial of Joe Ortiz got underway. Mr. Ortiz had cleaned up well, and the scruffy bum looking man the witnesses had seen kill Miss Martinez had seemingly disappeared. The only chance Joe had, according to his two lawyers was to get the judge to disallow the confession.
However, that was not to be, and by the time Virgil Hill testified, Ortiz was on his way to the executioner’s rope.

On March 26, 1925 the evening headline told the story. PEORIA SLAYER GETS MUST HANG VERDICT.

On June 26, 1925, the folks in Peoria were ready to watch killer Joe Ortiz die by hanging in the Peoria County jail. To their utter disbelieve a reprieve was handed down. As the summer went on there were more hearings, more appeals but finally they all failed. Joe’s new date for his execution was set for April 15, 1926.


By 9:00 A.M. The courthouse doors were locked and all the invited witnesses were surrounding the gallows on the third floor of the Peoria County Jail. At 9:45 A.M. Ortiz was led from the holding cell just a few yards from the gallows. Where was the sheriff? As witnesses crowded around, some of them now on the second floor, the sheriff had still not made his appearance. Finally at 10:11 A.M. the sheriff appeared and walked up to the gallows platform where the hangman, two deputies and Ortiz were waiting.

At 10:18 A.M. the trap door was sprung and a sickening snap was heard among the hushed crowd.

It was not until 10:23 A.M. that both physicians agreed that Jose’ Ortiz was officially dead.

Editor’ Note: Norm’s books are available in the Peoria Library.

Next Month: Norm will take us back in Peoria’s history for another tale of murder in our hometown.





For over two decades I have researched Peoria’s history, especially the seedy or bawdy side of my beloved hometown. I soon found that our history is driven by perpetual myth, half-truths and plain old bullshit handed down by our relatives and do-gooders. We have elements in town present and past that are simply ‘gangster fans,’ and we can thank them for a lot of phony information as well.

Personally I was immediately struck by how wonderfully organized Peoria was from the very beginning, and what a complete city we were way, way back in our history. After all, Peoria was not the only city that grew up along of the banks of the Illinois River, but we did it better than any other village, town or city. Of course our main ingredient for our phenomenal growth was booze and beer. The do-gooders tried to put a stop to that during Prohibition but their efforts failed. Truth is Peoria’s population increased more during that era than any other time in Peoria’s history.

This story of the murder of Special Police Officer Otto Hoefer took place in 1913. I thought that I would give you a brief idea what was going on here in town during that period of time. Our city was sixty-eight years old and as always was still on ‘the grow.’ Throughout our history we seemed to have attracted strong mayors, and the leaders of this great city worked hard to make life better for its citizens. It was now the era of Mayor Woodruff, who eventually would serve eleven terms for a total of twenty-four years. In between his terms we had a few weak mayors, but over-all they were strong leaders.

1913 found the greater Peoria area to have some 120,996 souls, with 89,429 of those folks within the city limits. We had 11 distilleries and one of them Clarke Brothers, said they were the largest distillery in the world. We also had at least 5 major breweries. Holt was here making a machine called the Caterpillar and Avery Company was making trucks and tractors. The railroads were huge here and life was good.

If you wanted a product Peoria was the place to come to shop. We also had theaters, live entertainment, 77 restaurants and plenty of hotels. Our downtown was a bustling, active place and people flocked here from all over the state and surrounding areas. Farmers had a ready market for everything they could grow or raise and they thrived. Friday and Saturday night in Peoria was the place to be and entertainment from moving pictures, vaudeville and other live entertainment played to packed houses. I read with great interest about all the businesses and products offered here in town…actually I marveled at it to tell you the truth.

Of course we had too many lawyers, 177 doctors and dentists, specializing in every kind of art known to mankind. Would you believe that we had at least 100 music teachers and 38 newspapers? Some weekly, or nothing more than newsletters, but they were here. We had 366 Notary Publics. Why? I was one myself at one time and I can tell you that I protected my seal with zeal. We had a dozen or so shoeshine parlors right downtown and 38 shoemakers. Well over a hundred churches, beautiful parks and waterways along with beautiful Grand View Drive and a river view that was breath taking indeed. About 10,000 kids were in school and Peoria was a proud, bawdy, lusty river town with a hometown flavor.

Want a cigar? We had dozens of retail places and 44 cigar makers in town. Gardeners… now who on earth would think we needed 78 gardeners in town? Hey, buddy need get a drink? Well in the city and vicinity we had 321 saloon, bars, taverns, dives, cabarets, call them what you might, we had them. Chickens, my God we had 155 poultry breeders and well over 400 grocery stores. Neighborhoods had virtually their own little shopping areas, and folks were kindly…friendly and loved their own ethnic foods.

Ninety percent of the folks here in Peoria in 1913 were born in America and we had a mix of all kinds of people. The folks here were hardworking, loyal Americans and they loved their old river city, believe me.

We had a lot of hotels downtown, some dumps, but a hotel like the Regis was absolutely regal. They boasted of a bath and telephone in every room, and steam heat provided comfort for the lucky guests. The story I am going to tell you centered around the Savoy Hotel at 310 Harrison Street. This hotel was owned by the Leisy Brothers Breweries in town and suffered a bit from its reputation. Local newspapers were quick to point out that “The Bridge Street and Harrison Street denizens frequented the place, and it was the center of criminal and prostitution activity.” You have to remember that in Peoria in this era, newspapers were extremely political and whatever administration was in power suffered the brunt of these attacks. By attacking the criminal element in town they indicated that the current administration was responsible for the crime. Woodruff was used to this and endured it over and over during his power days. And…so it was that Saturday morning there inside the Savoy Hotel on September 27, 1913. It was a little after eight in the morning when two old friends sat at the long bar in the hotel drinking champagne, laughing, arguing, kidding each other.

One of the men was William ‘Billy’ Schuster, the manager of the cabaret and bar area of the Savoy Hotel. He was also the manager of a place called Schuster’s over on Bridge Street. Leisy Brothers Breweries owned that place as well and employed Schuster as their manager of both places. Schuster was well known in town and the newspapers were quick to point to him as the man in charge of all the evilness that took place there around Bridge and Harrison Street. They offered no proof, but that never stopped them. After the murder I will tell you about two newspapers went on an all out frontal attack upon William Schuster until the clever coroner put them on the coroner’s jury.

By nine that morning the two men, one of whom was Special Police Officer Otto Hoefer, were pretty much intoxicated. Testimony would verify that but the witnesses insisted that both men knew what they were saying and doing.
By now the friendly arguments had given way to a few shouting matches, then friendly hugging, and then another eruption. Typical actions of intoxicated men would pretty much summarize their behavior.

What was Otto Hoefer doing there in the first place? Well, for starters he lived there. He’d moved into the Savoy Hotel in December of 1912 and was seen there at the hotel every day and knew virtually everyone in the downtown area. The bartender, Henry J. Lake stood behind the bar as far away from the two agitated men as he could once he’d served the third bottle of champagne to them. After all, Mr. Schuster was his boss, but he had no intention of mixing into their arguments. The other man was G.H. Coyner, a friend of both men, and a steady customer of the Savoy. He too shied away, giving knowing glances to Henry as the argument ebbed and flowed.

A little after nine a man that had stayed the night at the hotel, one B ‘Rosy’
Rosenthal, a dairyman was coming down the steps. He heard a ‘pop, like a cap pistol, then another and maybe two more.’ He stopped momentarily and walked on. Once downstairs he stepped into Schuster’s office to talk but found the place empty. A few moments later Mr. Lake and Mr. Schuster came inside and closed the door.
“Rosy, go in and see Hoefer, he had a gun in his hand.”
Before Mr. Rosenthal could utter a word, Schuster handed a .32 revolver to him. “Here, keep this.” The door closed and ‘Rosy’ was alone. He did not go in to see Hoefer, but did stick the gun in his pocket as he hurried out of the office to leave the hotel. Two officers stopped him, asked his name, and excused him. Mr. Rosenthal had business elsewhere and off he went with the murder weapon in his pocket. He did stop at a telephone before he raced off.


Police were stationed outside the barroom as Detective Cash Darnell took charge of the murder scene. The lobby was filling up with the curious and one by one the local newspaper reporters shoved their way inside trying to get a look into the bar area. They questioned almost everyone they could get to but still had little or no information. Finally they got something to report as two officers came out of the bar area with William “Bill” Schuster between them. The crowd parted as the reporters shouted questions. The officers ignored the reporters, but Schuster said to one of them, “I can’t help my case by talking.” With that the crowd followed the officers and watched as they put their prisoner in the Black Maria and took off.

Coroner Elmer M. Eckard was the next big excitement as he got out of his black car and walked briskly through the crowd and into the bar area. There he met with and talked to the city detective as both men squatted to view the body of Officer Hoefer. Twenty minutes later the coroner prepared to leave when his attention was drawn to the double doors that had just been flung open. Coroner Eckard walked toward the man that had just been admitted.

“Is he gone, Elmer?”
“Yes, Henry, he died almost instantly.”

Henry Hoefer, the brother of the deceased man was no stranger to death and the coroner’s duties. He had been a partner in the Gauss mortuary and the Peoria County Coroner himself. Henry nodded and walked over to Hoefer. Henry kneeled down next to the body, putting his arm around the dead man’s shoulder. “I always feared something like this would happen…Otto would never let up.” He stood, the man that called me told me Schuster did the shooting is that true?” Detective Darnell answered. “It was him, Henry, he admitted it to me in front of two other officers. I had him arrested and got him out of here.” Henry nodded and looked around. He glanced at his brother’s revolver. “Did he get a shot off?”
“No, his gun’s fully loaded. Henry can you identify that billy club? Was that your brother’s?” Henry bent over and picked it up taking a rather long time before he placed it back on the floor. “No. Otto had a black jack, this one is nothing but steel covered with leather.”


The Savoy Hotel was almost surrounded by the morbid curiosity seekers as the body of Officer Otto Hoefer was removed from the scene of his murder.
As the door of the black hearse was slammed shut people began to clear a path for the driver. Once the hearse left the people crowded back in together to stand again staring at the hotel entrance waiting for something…anything.

Inside Henry and the officers made their way up to Henry’s room. The place had been searched, no doubt about that. Carefully Henry went through all of Otto’s clothing in which he found a few dollar bills. “They were looking for something other than money,” he mumbled to Cash. “Did he carry a billfold, Henry?” He surely did and he had a small notebook that he was always writing in. He told me it contained the names of a lot of local crooks.” The two men searched thoroughly before they closed and sealed the door.
“Otto has a lock box over at the Home Savings, maybe his papers will tell us more.”

Detective Cash Darnell searched for two men that were said to have been an actual eyewitness to the shooting, and it was later in the afternoon when he finally took their statements. The two men stated without hesitation that Schuster had shot Hoefer but both men declared it was self-defense. Of course they were friends and employees of Schuster, but still, both men were precise and emphatic in their statements.

So before the day was out Detective Darnell and his men had pretty much wrapped up the investigation. The most irritating part of the entire investigation was one he knew he would be criticized for if he did not get to the bottom of it rather quickly. He knew the local newspapers and he dreaded the evening headlines. The truth is he had not found the weapon that Schuster had used to shoot Hoefer. He tried to talk to Schuster but was immediately turned away by State Senator John Daily, a very prominent attorney in town, and he knew that he would get no help from that end. He questioned everyone again and again about the gun and had done a thorough search, but still no gun. It was obvious to Darnell that someone had carried it off. It was also very obvious that there were sinister meanings to the search of Otto’s room. What were they looking for? Darnell felt it had something to do with Otto’s notebook…but what? The case appeared to be solved but there were many, many questions that had to be answered and he meant to do just exactly that. But first there would be the autopsy, the visitation, the funeral and the coroner’s inquest. He would see what he could develop from all that.


Visitation was held at the Gauss Mortuary and for three hours there was a line moving steadily forward to pay its respects to Special Officer Otto Hoefer. The Reverend Doctor Carpenter of the First Universalist Church officiated. Many dignitaries attended and all of Hoefer’s friends milled about once they viewed the dead man’s remains. Outside they gathered and there was talk about revenging their old friend. Officers reported that there was talk of “some kind of mob action to take Schuster out of the detention hall in the city hall and lynch him.” As time went on the men gathered at a few local taverns and eventually they went home. The police were ever alert with additional guards on duty but the night passed peacefully enough.

The chief of police, Peoria’s treasurer and other city officials attended the funeral services. Eighteen rank and file officers were there as well as six officers who acted as pallbearers. Captain Gus Breymeir and Sgt. Gray were there and for all intents and purposes it appeared that the Peoria Police Department was burying one of its own, a police office that had been killed in the line of duty. It was noted that the usual floral arrangement offered by the police department was not among the many flowers. What did that mean? Also, as is customary when an officer is killed the black crepe paper that adorned the city hall was missing. So was he a police officer or not? Mayor Woodruff did not attend.

The next morning the mourners met at the railroad station and the six police pallbearers loaded the body of Otto on one of the freight cars and then boarded the train. The body was taken to Burlington, Iowa where it was buried in the family plot. The six police officers and some of the higher ranking officers boarded the train and escorted the body to Burlington where they also attended the funeral. Does that sound like a non-member of the police department to you? Also, listen to what Chief Rhodes has to say at the coroner’s inquest later in this story.


The newspapers referred to Otto as a police officer, a special police officer and as a policeman. His occupation is listed as a policeman but was he really? I investigated this as thoroughly as possible and I can tell you that he was not ‘officially’ on the payroll of the City Of Peoria Police Department. Then what was he? I can tell you that he was one, a merchant policeman, two, he was a night watchman and three he was a bank guard for the Home Savings Bank in downtown Peoria, Illinois, and had been a law man for over twenty years.

Otto Hoefer’s father was the Peoria County Sheriff at one time and Otto himself ran on an independent ticket for sheriff once himself. He lost. At the time of his death he was preparing to go after his party’s nomination for sheriff and was seeking funds. He had moved to Peoria from Burlington in
1893, was married to Laura Spicknell who deserted him and ran off with another man in 1910. He had a large family but no children of his own. His brother Henry was at one time a coroner and was a prominent businessman in town, running the Gauss Mortuary.

Otto Hoefer was well known about town and always seemed to have money. He had a very special relationship with the police department, especially Chief Rhoades. In December 1912, Otto moved into a permanent room at the Savoy Hotel and there the mystery darkens. Many that knew him stated that he moved into the hotel to keep an eye on the criminal activities there and that he was doing it for the Peoria Police Department. The hotel had a pretty bad reputation and it was known as a fact that Otto talked to Chief Rhodes about the “criminals and thieves that were hanging about the hotel.” When we get to the inquests, I’ll show you what I mean. So that was the setting right after Special Officer Otto Hoefer’s funeral. The results of the autopsy and the preliminary investigation would be made public at the inquest.


Over at the Peoria County Courthouse in the large Supervisor’s room the inquest over the body of Hoefer was held. Crowds formed early on and the press zeroed in on the event like it was a capital murder trial. For two days the local newspapers had attacked the Savoy Hotel and the criminal element there, which the newspapers said was led by William Schuster. The coroner read those newspapers and being a politician himself, he started his hearing off with a major surprise. He asked two of the editors and the dead man’s minister to be on the jury. By law these men were exempt because of their occupations, but they readily agreed to serve. Here are the men that were on that coroner’s jury:

Sam Shell, a miner, Ed Wissell, a barber, Doctor Carpenter, a minister, F. Dix, a journalist, F. Stowe, an editor and A. Gable, a local businessman.
The coroner knew that if the jury exonerated Schuster, the public could blame the jury…not him.

Deputies were ordered to close the doors leaving many folks out in the hallways listening to the open transoms. The coroner sat behind a small table next to a court reporter. The other two tables were crowded with George Shurtloff from the states attorney’s office, the sheriff, a secretary and at the other table was Henry Hoefer, attorney Nate Weiss and Harry Miller for the defense. Bill Schuster was not in attendance and would not be called as a witness.

The first witnesses were the three doctors that had performed the autopsy.
Dr. Burhans, Dr Major, and Dr. Weiss, a physician hired by Henry Hoefer to assist. Carefully Dr. Burhans pointed out the angle of the bullets that killed Hoefer, stating that the initial slug went into the dead man’s cheek striking the brain. Another two slugs tore into the lungs nicking the heart and liver. The doctor said that the first shot killed the officer and that the other two slugs were fired as he fell forward. A fourth slug was found in the wall.

Harry J. Lake the bartender, a reluctant witness at best, was called to the stand. He told the jury that Officer Hoefer and William Schuster had been drinking champagne since about eight in the morning. He had just served them the third bottle when the two men began to argue. Lake stated that they had argued before but in a more friendly nature. The arguments became more vocal and threats were made. Lake said he looked over and saw Hoefer pull his revolver and the next thing he heard were three or four shots. He told the jury that at that moment he raced from out from behind the bar and ran to the lobby. Next, G.H. Coyner, a friend of Schuster took the stand and pretty much verified what Lake said. Both witnesses stated that Hoefer had pulled his gun first and that Schuster shot in self-defense. Both admitted that they did not actually see the shooting. They heard the shots and ran like hell out of the bar.

Other minor witness testified as well as Henry Hoefer who told the personal story of his beloved brother, Otto Hoefer. The coroner declared a fifteen minute break announcing the next witness would be the chief of police. Most of the crowd stayed in their seats fearing the loss of their precious views. Once back in session Chief Rhodes took the stand.

The chief told the jury that on Friday he had talked to Otto Hoefer in front of city hall. “Otto told me that there were a few criminals hanging around the Savoy Hotel and that I should have them picked up.” The chief related that he had told Henry that he needed proof of that charge and pretty much dismissed the man. The chief stated that he got a call from Hoefer while he was working in his office. The chief said that Otto sounded like he was drunk. “Otto asked me if I had told anyone about the talk we had on the street and I told him no. He then said he wanted me to talk to Bill Schuster and I waited for him to come on the phone. I waited about three minutes but he never took the phone. I hung up,”

Dr. Carpenter: “Chief, does this Savoy Hotel stay open all night?”

Chief: “I don’t know anything about the place and have never been in there
and am unfamiliar with its conduct.”

Juror: Why did Hoefer call you?”

Chief: “He was at the Savoy with Schuster and he wanted me to tell Schuster that he did NOT tell me that there were criminals hanging around there. I did not want to get him in trouble so I as willing to tell Schuster that Otto did not mention criminals and the Savoy to me.”

Juror: “You didn’t get to tell Schuster that because he did not come to the phone…is that right?”

Chief: “Yes. I was rather vexed to have Otto tell me that and him having authority and not doing his duty.” I Said to him, ‘you are a police officer with authority. Why do you not send them in?”

After a few more questions the chief was excused. The door to the room was opened and a man dressed in bib overalls was led in by a deputy. The coroner motioned him forward to take a seat. Many people recognized C.E. “Rosy” Rosenthal, and his silly garb caused some laughter. With a dramatic flair “Rosy” handed a revolver to the coroner and then took a seat.

The witness explained how he happened to be in possession of the gun. The jury was interested in why he hadn’t turned it in before and the witness calmly said, “I was busy.”

Coroner: “ Why did Schuster give you the gun?”

Rosenthal: “Because I was there I guess, When he handed it to me he said ‘I just shot Hoefer.’”

The next witness was Detective Cash Darnell who launched into his investigation bringing the jury up to date. He told the jury he was perplexed over the missing gun and was relieved that it was now in the hands of the authorities.

Caprenter: “Why did you arrest Schuster?”

Cash: “Because he told me that he had shot Hoefer.”

Carpenter: “ Was there any information to indicate Hoefer had pulled his Billy club?”

Cash: “It was there at his side, but his brother, Henry Hoefer said that that was not his Billy club.”

There was some discussion, a delay, and then a merchant policeman who had been friends with Otto for years took the stand. His name was H.G. Pearson.

Coroner: Mr. Pearson you have known Otto Hoefer for many years?”

Pearson: “Yes I worked with him and knew him very well.”

Coroner: “You have a Billy club in your hand, have you seen that club before?”

Pearson: “Yes, sir, this club belonged to Officer Otto Hoefer.”

After a few more questions Pearson left the stand and Detective Cash Darnell resumed his seat.

Coroner: You searched Mr. Hoefer’s room is that right?”

Cash: “I did. His brother and a couple of my officers were with me.” He then went on to tell the jury that the room had been searched and that according to Henry some personal things including a notebook and the victim’s wallet were missing. That caused a lot of questioning and conjecture as the detective seemed to be hesitating in his answers. Finally he explained that some of the investigation was still pending and that he would rather not reveal some of his findings.

The Coroner called back to the stand Henry Hoefer. Henry was asked about the billfold and other personal things that had come up missing.

Coroner: “I understand that Otto had a safety deposit box over at the Home Savings, is that right Henry?

Henry: “He did, Mr. Coroner, and I am very anxious to get into it. I know for a fact that Otto kept a lot of notes on criminal activity and I hope to discover that notebook.”

That caught the newspapermen’s ears and the next day the talk surrounded the bank deposit box and that little notebook. Henry assured the press that that is why his brother’s room was searched. He also feared publicly that someone had already taken the notebook and the rest of his brother’s notes. He told the press that his brother always carried a lot of cash and that was probably gone with the missing billfold.


By four o’clock the coroner had pretty much exhausted his moments in the spotlight and charged the jury. It took a little over an hour, which included a late lunch for the jurors before the six men reached a decision. Folks in town knew that no jury was going to come in unless they had their coffee or their lunch, so it was no surprise to Peorians that the verdict took some time. Folks about town also knew that William Schuster had some influential friends, and it would not surprise them if they let him off completely. Talk was that from the tone of the cops that had testified, especially the chief, letting him off on self-defense would be just about what they would expect. Of course, this was not the murder trial, so they all took a wait and see attitude.

Once the word spread, the press was in their seats, the coroner looked around and nodded. The deputies closed the doors.

“Mr. Foreman, I understand that you have reached a verdict in the inquest over the body of Otto Hoefer.”

“We have Mr. Coroner.”
“Please read it for the record.”

“Otto Hoefer came to his death in the barroom of the Savoy Hotel
about the hour of 9:20 am, September 27, 1913 from wounds caused by bullets fired from a revolver in the hands of William ‘Bill’ Schuster.”
The verdict was signed by the foreman Dan Sholl.

That was it. The coroner called this an ‘open verdict.’ Folks in Peoria in 1913 called it ‘passing the buck.’ Today I suppose we would call it a cop out. Here these two hot shot newspapermen who had been ripping Schuster, the hotel and the police had a chance to do something themselves. What did they do? Well, their verdict meant that it was up to the state’s attorney to decide to prosecute or not. It was that simple.

Of course Henry Hoefer was outraged and he let them know it too. He then went to his own lawyer, they met with the state’s attorney and they let it be known that Henry would sign the murder warrant if the SA felt queasy as well. The ball was in another politician’s court.


It was Henry Hoefer that was getting all the attention the next couple of days. He assured the press that the answers were in his brother’s deposit box. Henry boasted that as soon as he was named the administrator of his brother’s estate he would show the world that Otto did have evidence of criminal activity not only at the Savoy but other areas of downtown as well.

Mayor Woodruff had ordered the closing of the bar area of the Savoy and revoked the liquor license of Bill Schuster. That afternoon he accepted the Leisy Brother’s replacement of Schuster and asked that the bar area be allowed to reopen. Woodruff, acting as the liquor commissioner, but always the mayor, agreed. A man from Chicago who had been an assistant bar manager here in Peoria, Illinois, Frank Brown would now run both of Leisy’s places, The Savoy and Schusters.

Secrets Of The Underworld To Be Revealed? That was the small headline the local newspapers ran in various themes. Of course they were referring to the safety deposit box that had Peoria talking. Henry was now the administrator and when the box was opened it was a big let down. I guess we could relate it to that TV show of Al Capone’s empty vault. So that entire theme was quickly forgotten about. Henry was wrong about the Billy club, the safety box, perhaps he was wrong about the missing notebook as well.
The estate of Otto Hoefer was evaluated at the whopping sum of $500.00.
Peorian laughed at this figure since they were hoping for a massive fortune and exciting revelations in his papers. What they got was a big fat zero.

Henry, still milking the limelight stated, “There were personal papers in the box and their content will be revealed at the trial.” So the folks in town were getting a bit weary of this story and they also asked this question, ‘what trial?’

About the only change from all the hubbub was a new law on the books. It stated that from now on the woman that worked in these cabarets would now have to stay up on the stage. No more dancing through the crowds. Just a bit of a victory for the do-gooders, other than that it was business as usual.


So since the inquest Bill’s lawyers were demanding a bond hearing or better yet a hearing on freeing their client. The state’s attorney was being urged to act as well, and there was tension in city hall. One afternoon the Leisy Brother’s put up a $5,000 bond and William “Bill” Schuster admitted slayer of Special Officer Otto Hoefer was released. He was not able to go back to his old jobs, but he was free.

The Harold-Transcript summed up the total of the events just in case the local folk missed anything. The editor stated that both men, Officer Hoefer and William Schuster were “disgracefully drunk.” The article went on to say that as far as the investigation has gone, the facts appear simple. Both men argued, they were intoxicated and Hoefer apparently went to attack Schuster and Schuster shot him. “The rest of the reams of paper written about these two has nothing to do with the facts. Now it is up to State’s Attorney McNemar to proceed. Henry Hoefer has already said he will sign the warrant and that is where the case is presently.”


There it was November 21, 1913 and the folks in Peoria read in all the local newspapers that Schuster was again behind bars. However, before the next day’s paper hit the curbs, Schuster was out on a $25,000.00 bond.
Mr. Edward C. Leisy and Peter Weast had signed the bond, which in the eyes of the court was as good as gold. So it looked like Peoria would have its murder trial and maybe another hanging?

Interest in the murder of Otto Hoeffer soared there for a week or so, but soon folks had their own lives to lead and except for family and close friends of Otto’s the entire matter had been forgotten. The killer was out on bond and most people assumed his lawyers would work something out and he end up with a slap on the wrist at most. Christmas came and went and the New Year rolled around. Then, suddenly there it was, the trial of William Schuster was scheduled for January 24, 1914. The trial calendar listed case #1720, The People vs William Schuster in Capital Court for the charge of murder. Now, finally, folks thought that Otto Hoefer would get some justice.

For the defense were Harry Miller and John Dailey, very competent lawyers indeed. Two assistants Scholes and Pratt would prosecute along with the state’s attorney himself. The sheriff’s office was busy serving the subpoenas and the newspapers were busy drumming up publicity. Three physicians, Major, Weil and Burhans, along with Rosengrant and Rosenthal were the first men served. Coyner, Wyman, Brown, and all the police officers that were involved in the case were next. The chief was also served along with Harry Lake and Henry Hoefer. So with everyone served, the jury was notified to appear and on January 24, 1914, with standing room only, the judge called his court to order and the long, tedious task of picking a jury began. Before lunch on January 26, 1914, the judge has his twelve jurors and right after lunch the opening arguments began. The murder trial of William “Bill” Schuster was underway. Most court observers felt that since the man admitted he shot Hoefer that the jury would certainly find him guilty of either murder in the first degree or at the least manslaughter.

Joe Weil took his seat at the defense table, remember him, he was the lawyer that Henry Hoefer hired to look after “the family’s interests.” He was planning on also making a closing statement on behalf of Otto Hoefer. The opening arguments were rather brief and the People opened its case by calling the physicians. Detail after detail of the autopsy, angle of bullets, blood loss and instant death were examined satisfying even the most ghoulish of the spectators. The cross examination of the physicians took up most of the morning.

A verbal battle broke out when the assistant state’s attorney presented a small envelope containing the three slugs that were dug out of the body of Otto Hoefer. The jury had to be taken out of the courtroom, but eventually all three slugs were marked as exhibits and admitted. The jury could look at them all they wanted. Strange, but not one woman was in the audience for this first day of trial.

Anyone who watches TV knows that there are little or no surprises in a murder trial. However, on the second day after a major battle, the judge allowed a ‘surprise witness’ to testify. His name was Chicago Jack Daly, a prize fighter from Chicago, Illinois. The defense objected a dozen times before his testimony was finally admitted. He told the jury that he knew for a fact that Hoefer hated Schuster and that in 1909 he saw Hoefer fire his pistol at Schuster, twice as a matter of fact.
“ I heard Otto say, ‘I will blow that Dutchman’s head off.’ “
That was sensational stuff, no wonder the defense went berserk, huh?


After A break things calmed down, well that is until the deceased man’s clothing was brought into the courtroom. Even before the State said one word the defense team was swarming over the bench. Again out went the jury and again Judge Worthington allowed the State to admit the clothing. Twenty-four times the defense objected and when the under clothing was presented even the judge stopped the proceedings. He later ruled that he admitted the clothing to show the bullet’s entry and that the jury would not be allowed to see the clothing in the jury room.

The other witnesses I mentioned before. Each and every one of them took the stand and pretty much testified as they did in the coroner’s inquest.
Rosy Rosenthal, the man that had been handed the murder weapon was probably the most interesting witness and he was drilled in cross-examination. Five witnesses stated that they had heard Hoefer threaten Schuster and things were not going well for the prosecution. To the surprise of no one, Schuster was going to testify on his behalf. The defense was anxious to get at this man, and the excitement among the jury and the spectators took a higher level.


Calmly, almost nonchalantly William Schuster took the stand. Well-dressed, confident, he smiled at the jury as his lawyer gently took him through some of his life here in Peoria. Glancing at his lawyer, then at the jury, Schuster answered the questions put to him in a sincere and friendly manner. He told the jury of his relationship with Hoefer and stated that he held no grudges against the officer. He had allowed him to stay at the hotel, and that he considered Hoefer his friend. He stated that he was a bit afraid of him, and affirmed the 1909 shooting. He told the jury that he “had no choice,” but to fire his weapon because Hofer was going to kill him. It was dramatic indeed and his testimony kept the attention of both spectator and jury. The defense scribbled notes throughout the examination and appeared anxious to attack the witness on cross.

And…attack they did. For three hours they pounded away at him, but in the end the message was pretty much the same. William Schuster had shot and killed Special Officer Otto Hoefer in self-defense.

Once Schuster left the stand the case was virtually over. A few more unimportant witnesses were presented and both sides rested. The closing arguments were next and then the instructions to the jury and the fate of Schuster would be in the hands of the jury. It was an exhausting day and the spectators had a lot to tell the folks at home as they walked out of the courtroom.


States Attorney McNemar stood and walked up to a narrow podium and stood. The judge glanced around then banged his gavel once. “ Ready Mr. Prosecutor?” “Ready your honor.” The SA launched into what he felt the State had proved over the last few days. He summarized by saying that the murder of Otto Hoefer was a “cold-blooded murder, not self-defense.”
He did a magnificent job of telling the jury that Schuster should be held accountable and stated that the State was seeking the death penalty. “Special Officer Hoefer walked the streets of Peoria for twenty-six years as a police officer. This case demands the death penalty.”

Next was the closing argument of the defense. This was always an exciting time in a trial, but this crowd was in for a surprise. Mr. Harry Miller rose and walked over to the jury. “Your honor, the defense will present the case to the jury on its merits. We waive the right to a closing argument.”
With that Mr. Miller glanced over at Mr. Weil, Henry’s attorney and gave him a quick smile. It was obvious to insiders that the last thing the defense wanted was to have the jury hear what Mr. Weil had to say. There was a murmur among the folks in the courtroom, which the judge quickly stifled. Hell…the case was over.


There were eight inches of snow on the ground when the jury notified the bailiff that they had reached a verdict. A small group of people managed to get back to the courthouse, and not all of the defense or the prosecuting teams made it. The judge called his court to order and inquired of the foreman if the jury had reached a verdict.

“We have your honor.”
“Please read the jury’s verdict.”

“We the jury find the defendant William Schuster

Schuster banged his hand on the desk then patted his lawyer’s shoulder as he rose to thank the jury. The judge warned him not to go near them until they left the box. He then shook hands, smiled as he walked over to get his coat. His wife raced up to him and the couple embraced.

Over at the jail, Schuster was cheered by the fifty prisoners behind bars as he yelled good-bye to them. A car met him out in front of the courthouse and accused killer Bill Schuster went home. That night hundreds of well-wishers had a huge party there at the Savoy Hotel. Special Officer Otto Hoefer would have loved to have attended that party because he rarely missed one that was held downtown. Unfortunately Otto was still in his grave.


Was Otto Hoefer a police officer? He certainly was if we believe what the state’s attorney said in court. The SA reminded the jury that Hoefer had ‘walked the streets of Peoria for twenty-six years as a loyal, honest police officer.’ Why did Hoefer call the chief of police about the criminal element at the Savoy? Did the chief ‘assign’ him the duty of investigating those criminals? Remember what Chief Rhodes said ‘he was vexed over the thought that Hoefer did not use his authority as a police officer to bring in those suspected criminals.’ Two major officials in law enforcement, right here in the City of Peoria, said the man was a police officer.

Look at the funeral…hell a lot of cops were there and six of them acted as pallbearers and even went to Iowa for the funeral. He was buried in his dress blue uniform of a police officer, with police honors.

So what do you think? Was he a police officer? Did he deserve to be honored as an officer that had died in the line of duty? Should his name be engraved on the police monument here in Peoria, Illinois? If he deserves that then his name should be on the Illinois State Police Monument in Springfield, Illinois and on the National Police Monument in Washington, D.C. Our new police chief, echoing his predecessors tells the public at memorial services, that “These fallen officers will never be forgotten.”
Well, I proved that five of our officers who had died in the line of duty were forgotten. Their names have now been engraved on all three monuments. Does Officer Otto Hoefer deserve to be honored in the same manner? 309-692=6587 Box 1282 61654-1282