PEORIA’S GANGSTER REPUTATION
Peoria became a city in 1845 and we quickly rose head and shoulders above all the other river towns.Booze and beer propelled us along, and we grew like no other town, thanks to our location along the Illinois River. Never, and I mean never, was Peoria considered a gangster town nor were we referred to as a bawdy, wide-open town during our early history. Peoria was a great place to live, raise a family, and find a job.Prohibition hit Peoria, Illinois harder than any other city because of our dependence on the breweries and distilleries. 1920 spawned the Roaring Twenties and gambling and prostitution really took hold here in the old river city. Our reputation began to change from a Metropolitan, liberal town into a wide-open bawdy town. A place where a man could get a drink and dabble in the other vices the city provided. Still, you will never find any history of gangsters, nor was that label ever attached to the great town of Peoria, Illinois. Peoria had 79 murders during Prohibition and only two of them were connected in any way to bootlegging.It was not until 1946, one hundred and one years into our history, that the word ‘gangster’ began to appear in the newspapers. That year brought us three ‘gangland style’ murders and the out of town reporters ripped into us with a vengeance. On the evening of February 21, 1946, Frank Kramer a local tavern owner was working inside his glassed in porch. A gunman, armed with a rifle, fired three shots, killing the well-known businessman. On a Saturday in September the ‘bullet ridden’ body of Joel Nyberg was found on a golf course in Lacon, Illinois. He was a local small-time hoodlum who was out on bail pending his manslaughter conviction. On the evening of October 25, 1946, another gangland style murder hit the newspapers with major headlines. Phillip Stumpf, a gangster wannabe was driving on Big Hollow Road when a car came up behind him carrying four men with guns blazing. Police found eight holes in Stumpf’s car, and one in the back of his head.
In 1947, there was the kidnapping and murder of Flavel Feuger, a Bradley student which caused major headlines locally, and brought in at least a dozen reporters from large cities. In 1947, George McNear was shot near his home by a lone gunman firing a shotgun. McNear was a very prominent Peorian and that murder was in the newspapers in many large cities in America. In July of 1948, Peoria’s own pet gangster, Bernie Shelton was shot down in the parking lot across from Hunts Drive In. Reporters had a field day on that murder, and every story about Shelton that was ever written was reprinted.