If you’ve lived in Owensboro for any amount of time, you probably know that George “Bugs” Moran, the Chicago mobster whose gang was wiped out in the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” lived on Littlewood Drive from November 1945 to March 1946.
That’s been our claim to a spot in the nation’s crime annals for years.
And there were reports that Al Capone himself may have had business interests in McLean County.
On March 15, 1931, the Messenger-Inquirer ran a front page headline that said: “AL CAPONE HOLDS LEASES IN LOCAL OIL FIELD, REPORT.”
The subhead says: “Chicago Gangster Flies To McLean County Well Shooting From Chicago, With Interested Party.”
The story went on to say that Capone, a 32-year-old “big-shot Chicago ‘business’ man,” had flown into a field near Island the week before to watch an oil-well “shooting” — a nitroglycerin explosion at the bottom of the well.
Now, add another Prohibition-era gangster to our connection to the “Roaring Twenties” of a century ago.
In “The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius,” Bob Batchelor writes that Remus, a successful Chicago lawyer, saw the loopholes in the federal legislation that outlawed liquor, moved to Cincinnati and began buying Kentucky distilleries to get at the bourbon aging in their warehouses.
One of them was Hill & Hill, aka Rock Springs Distilling Co., which was east of town near the current water plant.
It was started by brothers W.H. and T.C. Hill in 1881.
In April 1920, bandits broke in and stole two barrels of bourbon valued at $4,500 — the bootleg price was then $15 a quart.
That’s the equivalent of $202 today.
In July, Remus and his partners bought the distillery for $320,000 — $4.3 million in today’s money — to get control of 2,050 barrels of bourbon, which they said they planned to bottle and sell for “medicinal purposes.”
In three years time, historians say Remus made $40 million off illegal bourbon — worth more than $500 million today.
He was said to be one of the inspirations for “The Great Gatsby.”
He eventually got caught and spent two years in prison.
Remus died in 1952 at age 74 and is buried in Covington.
The point of this is tourism is a big part of Owensboro’s economy these days.
And people are still fascinated by the “Roaring Twenties.”
Mentioning our connection to some of the leading crime figures of the era can’t hurt.