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Alias Soapy Smith

Overlord of the Underworld

Excerpted from Wildest of the West, by Forbes Parkhill (1951)

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Wildest of the West

Soapy Smith was a piker compared with Lou Blonger. Soapy's favorite racket netted him about $100 a night, and during the brief periods he was dictator of Creede and Skagway he levied tribute on all local underworld operators. But Lou Blonger, adopting methods used by Soapy, finally forced the king of the con men to pay him half his earnings for permission to operate in Denver, and some years later developed a multimillion-dollar racket of his own, with branches in Florida, California, and Havana.

From the late eighties until 1922 he held the Denver police department in his corrupt grasp. During a part of that time he maintained a direct phone line from his office to that of the chief of police, and his orders were law. For years Denver was what is known in police and underworld parlance as a "protected city." In other words, criminals were never molested in Denver so long as they operated outside the city limits. Through this system, still common in some American cities, the administration can point with pride before each municipal election to an excellent record of law enforcement within its own limits.

Under Blonger's dominance of the underworld, the members of his million-dollar bunco ring preyed upon Denver visitors but never victimized a Colorado resident. Lou was uninterested in collecting tribute from yeggmen, holdups, and others who specialized in crimes of violence, for their "take" was only a drop in the bucket compared with the revenue from the operations of his sixty-man confidence ring, which tapped its victims from $5,000 to more than $100,000 each.

To maintain protection from the law Blonger contributed liberally to the campaign funds of both parties in the municipal election, and especially to the campaign funds of the candidates for district attorney. Key members of the police department, of the district attorney's staff, and even of the Denver office of the United States Department of Justice were on his payroll. His political influence was such that his hirelings were named to almost any offices he wished to control.

Sam Blonger was a man of huge stature, fiery temper, and a weakness for beating up those with whom he disagreed. He got away with it with everyone except his wife, Sadie, who went to court and after her second try won a divorce on the ground of cruelty in 1893. Five months later Jessie Wheat sued Sam for $25,000 for breach of promise but later dismissed her suit. Like his judgment, Sam's eyes were none too good, and he coddled them with blue-tinted glasses.

Brother Lou was short, rotund, affable. His eyes were gray and drooping, his outstanding facial characteristics a huge, bulbous nose and a protruding lower lip. He liked to appear in full dress at the theater and other public gatherings.

In 1899 his wife, Nola, brought suit against him to foreclose a $2,000 mortgage she held on the Forest Queen lode mining claim at Cripple Creek. Lou confessed judgment.

From the saloon business Lou branched out into the policy-shop racket for a short time before he crashed the big time with his organized ring of confidence men. He operated the bunco organization from what ostensibly was an insurance office in the old German-American Trust Co. building.


 

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