The Denver Bunco Ring.
True Detective Mysteries Magazine, March, 1932
Unmasking The Denver Bunco Ring, Part I
By Detective Andrew Koehn, formerly of the St. Louis Police Department
Trimming the tourists brings millions to the clever "con" artists. How it is doneand how detectives trapped the biggest band of these vultures ever caught in the law's drag-net
It was dusk on a Tuesday in June,1921. The place: Denver, Colorado.
Frank Donovan, a seventy-three-year-old retired contractor, from Dallas, Texas, was strolling about the state capitol grounds enjoying the cool of the evening which was a welcome relief from the heat of the Southland. Mr. Donovan had, some few days previously, landed in Denver for a vacation.
A well-dressed man on the sunny side.of thirty approached Donovan and in a most disarming tone said:
"I beg your pardon, sir, but could you direct me to the California Building?"
"No, I can't," drawled Donovan, "I am a stranger here."
"Oh, is that so?" beamed the other man. "A tourist here just on a pleasure jaunt I take it?"
"Yes, I'm from Dallas, Texas."
"Dallas? How interesting. I have some very close friends in Dallasthe Gillmans. They're in the produce business; surely you know them?"
Donovan replied politely that he didn't, but that didn't hamper in any way the volubility of the stranger.
"I am very fond of Dallas," he continued enthusiastically. "My home is in Milwaukee, but I've been in Dallas on several business trips. In fact,"a note of sadness crept into the stranger's voice"I was in Dallas when I received word of my-my father's death. . . ."
There was a respectful silence for a few moments, broken when the stranger, with an air of discovery, blurted out:
"Say, do you know you look enough like my father to be his twin?"
"You don't say," replied Donovan.
"Yes indeed. He was about your age, your build and he had the same kind face. . . . May I ask your name, sir?"
"Donovan's the nameFrank Donovan."
"My name's Bagleyshake!"
There was a warm handclasp. "Well, well, well, Mr. Donovan, this certainly is a great moment for me. . . . To think that I should meet a man who is my father's double just at a time like this when I feel lonely . . .
Mr. Donovan reacted in a very natural manner, being duly impressed at the coincidence of the whole thing. With his voice still tinged with sadness, the stranger went on:
"I'm here all alone, Mr. Donovan, and I have a nice car. How would you like to take a ride through the mountains with me tomorrow? I'd be glad to call at your hotel for you in the morning and pick you up if you would care to go; that is, unless you have your plans all made for the day."
"Not at all," said Mr. Donovan.
"My time is my own; I'm here on a vacation."
"Fine and dandy. I'll call for you at nine then . . . Oh, by the way, where are you stopping?"
The name of the hotel was supplied.
"All right then Mr. Donovan, I'll see you at nine."
The arrangements were carried out as scheduled the next morning, and, after a pleasant ride through the mountains in the vicinity of Denver, Donovan and Bagley, at the latter's suggestion, decided to take a walk around the beautiful grounds surrounding the capitol building. They had been strolling only a short while when Bagley grasped Donovan by the arm.
"My word, Mr. Donovan, look, a wallet!" said Bagley excitedly.
Mr. Donovan followed Bagley's gaze and, sure enough, there was a black wallet lying on the sidewalk a few feet in front of them. Bagley picked it up and an examination revealed that the wallet contained several one-hundred-dollar bills, some letters and some legal papers. Bagley and Donovan noticed that the name on all of the letters and papers was T. J. Greyson. The letters revealed that Mr. Greyson was stopping at a local hotel.
"Imagine a man being so careless as to lose a wallet with all this money and all these important papers in it," said Bagley to Donovan.
"What will we do?" asked Donovan.
"Oh there's only one thing to do. We'll look up this Mr. Greyson at his hotel and return the wallet."
"A fine idea," said Mr. Donovan. "I've always said that honesty is the best policy and that honest people are repaid in the end."
"That's what my father taught me" said Bagley, soberly, "and I've always followed his advice . . . ."
The two men were still near the spot where they had picked up the wallet when a dapper-looking gentleman of middle age approached them in a state of great excitement and asked:
"Have either of you gentlemen found a black wallet around here? I must have just dropped it! It contained a lot of money and some papers. I don't care anything about the money, but the papers are very valuable."
Bagley and Donovan exchanged glances, whereupon Bagley turned to the third man and said:
"Yes, we have just found a black wallet and if you can identify its contents we will be very glad to turn it over to you."
The third man mopped his brow in relief.
"My," he said, "but I was frightened when I discovered that I had dropped it. I cannot thank you enough for your honesty in returning it."
"But I have not yet returned it," said Bagley cordially, but with a note of sternness in his voice. "I said I would turn it over to you if you proved to me that it was your wallet."
"Oh, yes," smiled the third man, "of course! My name is T. J. Greyson"produced a card from his pocket bearing that name"and you will find valuable papers and several letters in the wallet bearing my name."
"Right you are," said Bagley, handing over the wallet, "T. J. Greyson's the name on the letters."
"I don't know how I can ever thank you gentlemen," said Greyson. "Here, probably this will help to straighten matters out."
And Greyson proffered each of the men a crisp one-hundred-dollar bank note.
"Oh, really," said Bagley, "we cannot accept this money; we're only too glad to return the property which rightfully belongs to you."
"But I insist!"
"No, Mr. Greyson," said Bagley, "we cannot take this money." Then turning to his elderly companion: "Can we Mr. Donovan?"
"No, I'd rather not take it. We have done nothing but return this man's pocketbook."
"Well, all right, if you gentlemen don't like money," said Greyson, smilingly taking back the bills.
Greyson fumbled through the wallet and extracted a large piece of colored paper.
"You see this bond here?" he asked, displaying the paper. "I couldn't afford to lose that! I'm, with a big New York stock syndicate and I'm under this bond. I",
"Say," interrupted Bagley, "you're not the T. J. Greyson that I've been reading about in the newspapers?"
Greyson modestly admitted that he was.
Well, for heaven's sake!" exclaimed Bagley, turning to Donovan, "can you beat it? Here we are, Mr. Donovan, standing face to face with one of the cleverest stock market operators in America today!"
"Oh," said Greyson, rather shyly. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that. . . ."
"Go on, you can't fool me" said Bagley, good-naturedly. "I've been reading about you and your operations for the past ten years! Why, I saw a piece in the paper only a few weeks ago about how you nearly ruined a few brokers with your winnings."
At this remark Mr. Greyson grew somewhat concerned.
"You know," he said in grave tones, "I'm very sorry that that story got out. I trust that it was not used in any except the Denver papers, because if my firm found out that I was playing the market out here I'd probably get into serious trouble. You see, I'm not supposed to play the market on my own at all. I have promised thousands of investors in our company that my operations would be confined to syndicate activities."
Greyson once more fumbled in the wallet.
"This," he said, handing a newspaper clipping to Bagley, "is probably the article you read about me."
The elderly Donovan and Bagley scanned the article; or rather, what was left of it, For the top of the clipping had been torn so that the face of the man whose picture had appeared in the paper could not be recognized. Under the picture appeared. a caption stating, . . . this mysterious stranger procured about $200,000 in the last few days."
"Yes," said Bagley, enthusiastically, after he and Donovan had read the rest of the clipping, "this is the latest piece that I read about you, Mr. Greyson, and if I may go so far as to say so, I'd certainly like to have a leaf out of your book and know bow you do all this."
"It's really very simple," said Greyson, "with my connections. You see I know in advance just what the market is going to do . . . the market and the horse races. Are either of you gentlemen, by any chance interested in horse-racing?"
"I am," piped up Bagley.
"Well, gentlemen," said Greyson, "the fact that you returned my wallet proves to me that you are honest men and that I can trust you. And, inasmuch as I am deeply indebted to you, I am going to let you in on a little secret."
"Oh, that's unnecessary, Mr. Greyson," Bagley remonstrated.
"I'll hear none of it!" retorted the suave Greyson, with a sweep of his hand. "I'm going to take you two gentlemen to a place right where I'll be able to repay you for the great kindness you have done for me. Shall we go now?"
"But I don't quite understand," said Bagley.
"Well, here's the idea: There's a small private brokerage office not far from here where I'm very well known. They also handle racing bets there. All of my horse-race bets here have been made through them because they keep everything a secret.
"Now here's what we'll do: We'll go over theretheir office is in the Denham Buildingand I'll put up some money on a horse race and we'll split it three ways. In other words, you gentlemen will not be risking one single solitary penny; but if I win I'll split with you. I think that's fair enough, and it's my way of reciprocating for what you have done for me."
"Well" said Bagley, "if you insist, it's all right with me, if it's all right with Mr. Donovan."
Mr. Donovan agreed, now being thoroughly sold on the fact that Mr. Greyson was a big shot, despite the fact that he had never heard of him until a few minutes previously.
When they arrived at the Denham Building, the three men entered the main room of what appeared to be a suite of brokerage offices. In the place were several blackboards with marked quotations, and on the wall were marked racing sheets. A number of men, talking excitedly in an adjoining room, gave the place an air of frenzied activity.
A rather sharp-looking individual was talking on the telephone and the tone and tenor of his conversation hinted that he was in the midst of a gigantic deal. When, at length, he hung up the receiver, he spotted the three visitors and ran over to Mr. Greyson, hand extended.
"Why how do you do, Mr. Greyson! Glad to see you again. Have you cornered the market lately?"
Greyson took the sally with his characteristic modesty and then said: "Mr. Zachery, meet a couple of friends of mine-Mr. Donovan and Mr. Bagley. They want to place a bet."
"Very well, gentlemen," said Zachery, "make yourselves right at home. You can go into our customers' private roomMr. Greyson knows where it isand confer privately."
The trio then adjourned to a small room where Greyson took the floor.
"Now, here's how we'll work it: They know me here and they know I'm good for any amount of money. But I never place bets in my own name. So, while you gentlemen will not be required to put up any money, I'll have to ask you to make the bet in your names."
"That's quite satisfactory," said Bagley, speaking for Donovan as well as himself. "Just what are we supposed to do?"
"Just go in and place a bet of fifty thousand dollars on Deenen to win in the third race. Mr. Zachery will put your names on the ticket."
The two men followed instructions, signing their names to a pink ticket.
"The third race starts in a few minutes, gentlemen. I'll call you when the horses are at the post and give you the result," said Zachery.
Bagley and Donovan then returned to Greyson in the next room whereupon the latter admonished:
"Now, remember gentlemen, not a word to anyone about this bet. If it ever got out that I was playing the races, my business connections in New York would be ruined."
Just then Zachery entered the room.
"The horses are at the post gentlemen; better come in and get the returns."
The trio followed Zachery to a ticker. Zachery grabbed the tape which was issuing from the instrument and began to give a running account of the race:
"They're off! . . . they're now at the quarter . . . Silver Grain first; Redwood, second, Mike Jordan, third . . . they're at the half now, gentleman, they're at the half . . . Silver Grains still in first place, Mike Jordan now in second place, Redwood falls back to third . . . looks like you're out fifty thousand, gentlemen; Deenen's name doesn't appear on the ticker . . . oh, excuse me I . . . they're at the three-quarter turn and Deenen's second, Silver Grain still leading . . . they're coming down the stretch . . . down the stretch, gentlemen! . . . Silver Grain, first, Deenen, second, Redwood, third . . . just a minute now, just a min ... here's the finishDeenen wins!"
A tense silence fell over the room.
"MR. GREYSON," said Zachery at length, "I don't know how you do it but you certainly can pick the winners. Deenen was a three-to-one shot and the fifty thousand dollars which these two gentlemen placed has netted them one hundred and fifty thousand dollars!"
Bagley and Greyson were shouting joyously and patting Donovan on the back. The vision of fifty thousand dollarsone third of the winningscleaned up in one afternoon had so stunned the old Texan that he hardly knew what was happening.
"Just a minute now, gentlemen," said Zachery, "until I get confirmation of the result from our main exchange."
Zachery called a number on the telephone, asked the winner of the third race, and then clicked up the receiver.
"Correct," he announced. "Deenen is the winner. Here's your money."
Zachery thereupon opened a drawer and extracted several packs of greenbacks. Each of four bundles contained a bank wrapper bearing the words "twenty-five thousand dollars" while on five other bundles the wrappers bore the words "ten thousand dollars"representing one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in all.
Greyson picked up the money and went into the private room with Donovan and Bagley.
"Now then, gentlemen," said Greyson, leas per our agreement I'll take fifty thousand of this and each of you take fifty thousand."
Mr. Donovan was almost too overcome to accept the money, and Greyson had, to help him stuff it into his pockets.
The trio now was about to leave the office when the clerk, Zachery, entered and said to Bagley and Donovan:
"This slip you signed, gentlemen,' be waved the pink slip¹"will be sent over to our main exchange and your accounts will be credited with the fifty thousand you signed for."
"What account are you referring to, asked Bagley.
"The account you and Mr. Donovan have with our firm."
"But we have no account," said Bagley.
"You don't man to stand there tell me that you haven't an account with us!"
"Why erno," said Bagley, rather confused,
"And haven't you an account, either?" demanded Zachery of Donovan.
The Texan admitted that he hadn't.
"Well this is a hell of a situation," said Zachery angrily, "playing on credit when you have no credit!"
"But I don't understand," said Bagley.
"You don't, eh?" snapped back Zachery. "Well, I do! When Mr. Greyson brought you men in here I was under the impression that you had established accounts at our main office; that's why I allowed you to sign this pink slip instead of making you turn over fifty thousand in cash when you made the bet. Supposing Deenen had lost; how do I know that you two would have turned over the fifty thousand dollars?"
"But," broke in Mr. Greyson, "these two gentlemen signed their names to the slip at my direction. If Deenen had lost you know very well, Mr. Zachery, that I would have made good the fifty thousand dollars."
"Well," shot back Zachery, "that may all be true; I know you're a multi-millionaire, Mr. Greyson, but I certainly can't let this money go out of the house until these two men show me that they themselves could have paid this fifty thousand dollars if Deenen hadn't won. Why, if I paid this bet I'd lose my job!"
"But isn't there any way we can adjust this thing?" pleaded Greyson.
"There's only one way," answered Zachery. "Return that money to me and I will hold it until either Mr. Donovan or Mr. Bagley produces fifty thousand dollars to show me that this bet could have been paid to us if the horse lost."
"All right," said Greyson, "I suppose that can be arranged easily enough."
All of the greenbacks were then turned back to Zachery and the three men left the office. Once outside, Mr. Greyson advised Bagley and Donovan to produce fifty thousand dollars between them to be shown to Zachery so that the winnings on the bet could be collected.
Bagley stated that his money was all tied up at the moment, whereupon Greyson asked Mr. Donovan if he thought that he could scrape up fifty thousand dollars merely to show Zachery in order that the three of them might collect their winnings of fifty thousand dollars each.
Donovan replied that he could get fifty thousand dollars back in Dallas.
Both men urged him to do so at the earliest possible moment.
Accordingly, Donovan left on the noon train for Dallas the next day, with instructions to wire Bagley at the Adams Hotel, Denver, advising him when he would return with the money.
Three days later Bagley got a wire from the old man stating that he would arrive two days later with a certified check for the amount.
When Donovan arrived back in Denver, Bagley met him at the station and they went to a bank and cashed the check.
"Let's get over to the Denham Building without fail," Bagley then suggested, "so that we can collect our money. I have phoned to Mr. Greyson and he's going to meet us there."
Arriving at the exchange, Mr. Donovan, after greeting Greyson, turned his money over to Zachery.
"Oh," said Zachery, "I'm sorry you brought cash, Mr. Donovan, because now I'll have to go to the trouble of having it counted, and this is a very busy day."
Zachery shoved the fifty grand aside carelessly, and picked up the telephone.
"Hello ... main exchange? ... Zachery speaking . . . Send over the one hundred and fifty thousand dollars on that Bagley and Donovan transaction of last Wednesday. The gentlemen are here to collect their money now and it's all right to pay it over because Mr. Donovan has just proved to us that he would have been good for the fifty thousand dollars."
While the three men were waiting around Greyson handed Bagley a one-thousand-dollar bill and told him to go into an adjoining room and bet it on a horse called Charles Paine in the first race.
"And bet it on the nose because Charles Paine's coming in first."
Ten minutes later Bagley rushed back into the room excitedly waving two one-thousand-dollar bills.
"You win again Mr. Greyson," he said, turning the money over. "What's a sure bet in the next race?"
Greyson consulted a little blue book which contained many mysterious notations.
"Ed Ball is a sure win in the next race," said Greyson.
Bagley thereupon went into the room where the bets were placed.
A couple of minutes later he returned and announced to Greyson and Mr. Donovan:
"Well, boys, I bet the whole works on Ed Ball and we'll all be rich after this race!"
"What do you mean the whole works?" asked Greyson. "You don't mean to say that you bet my money and Mr. Donovan'sour winnings from last week and the fifty thousands dollars that Mr. Donovan brought here today!"
"Sure," replied Bagley, a look of astonishment creeping across his countenance, "you said that Ed Ball was a sure win."
"But why did you risk everything, you idiot?" snapped back Greyson. Then turning to Donovan: "Come on, Mr. Donovan, let's go in and cancel that bet!"
Rushing into the room where Zachery was stationed, Greyson shouted: "Stop that last bet, Mr. Zachery!"
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but the bet has been sent through and the race has already started ... just a minute now and I'll give you the returns . . . here they are: Naomi, first; Wildfire, second; Thornton, third."
"Did they scratch (not run) Ed Ball?" asked Greyson breathlessly.
"No, Ed Ball wasn't scratched. He came in fourth."
"My God, Mr. Donovan," shouted Greyson. "That crazy fool Bagley has lost all of our winnings and the fifty thousand that you brought here today! Wait 'till I lay my hands on that."
Just at that moment Bagley entered the room and Greyson leaped upon him, throwing him to the floor. Greyson pulled out a pocket knife and was just about to apply it to Bagley's throat when Zachery stepped in and stayed the man's hand. Donovan, stunned by his loss and astonished at the sudden turn of events, stood transfixed.
Zachery succeeded in wresting the knife from Greyson, whereupon he shouted:
"This will never do. I thought you were gentlemen; I'm going to call the police!"
"No, don't do that!" pleaded Greyson. "My reputation is at stake!"
Zachery ignored the plea, picked up the telephone and asked for police headquarters. Greyson then grabbed Donovan by the arm and said:
"Come on, Mr. Donovan, let's get out of here before the police arrive and we get pinched."
Once outside, Greyson reassured the old Texan in a convincing manner:
"Now, Mr. Donovan, don't let this worry you. I'll stand good for this loss and personally reimburse you, but we haven't time for all that now. You just check out of your hotel and go to Kansas City and stop at the Baltimore Hotel there. I'll send you a wire advising you when I can join you there.
"I've been playing this game for years, Mr. Donovan, and have cleaned up a lot of money, but never have I encountered anything so irritating as this. We'll play the game in Kansas City and I guarantee you that you will more than clean up."
Donovan, thoroughly reassured, took the next train out for Kansas City and registered at the Baltimore Hotel as per Greyson's instructions. After waiting there for several days he finally received a telegram from New York reading as follows:
MR FRANK DONOVAN BALTIMORE HOTEL KANSAS CITY MISSOURI
HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED FOR THIRTY DAYS PENDING INVESTIGATION OF DENVER TRANSACTION YOU GO HOME AND I WILL WIRE YOU-WHEN I CAN RESUME OPERATIONS
T J GREYSON
Then, as the movie sub-titles used to have it, came the dawn. Donovan realized that he had been taken for fifty grand and that Greyson, Zachery and Bagley were three past masters in the fine art of taking the suckers.
Donovan proceeded back to Denver where he found, of course, that those who had occupied the little office in the Denham Building had flown the coop.
He reported the matter to the District Attorney, only to receive the sad news that he was but one of more than a hundred wealthy tourists, in Denver, who had been taken over the hurdles to the tune of a cold million during the preceding three years. And Heaven only knows how many additional victims there were who, finding themselves fleeced, refused to squawk for the sake of their pride.
As full of loopholes as this particular swindle is, it is still being pulled on some members of the vast army of gullible tourists in this country now and then. It's a strange thing, but it seems that the smarter they are the harder they fall. Many of the victims of this game have been outstanding figures in their respective professions and fields of business. But, as I explained previously, the lure of gold temporarily robs them of their power of reasoning.
Philip S. Van Cise had been elected district attorney of Denver in late 1920, when the operations of the bunco ring were going full blast, and some time prior to the swindle of Frank Donovan. Van Cise, like the honest official that he was, had high hopes of rounding up the ring which was openly operating in the streets. However, much to his dismay, Van Cise found that he was up against a stone wall from the start. For the bunco ring, their money talking, had fixed certain crooked law-enforcement officers, including several members of the police department, enabling them to carry on their nefarious activities virtually unmolested. On the face of it, this sounds impossible, but when you take into consideration the fact that only touristsnot the citizens of Denverwere mulcted you may more readily comprehend just how the gyp artists were enabled to play the game.
Van Cise, desperate in his desire to smash the ring, regardless of obstacles, concluded after more than a year in office that he needed outside help. And so it was that in January, 1922, after I had served eight years with the St. Louis Police Departmentfour years of which I was a city detectiveI proceeded to Denver at the request of a friend who advised me that my presence was required on a matter of vital import.
Arriving at my friend's office, I was introduced to Van Cise.
Van Cise explained to me that he had arranged the meeting in the office of our mutual friend inasmuch as he wanted to keep it secret. He then told me in detail of the Donovan case and of other similar swindles, and otherwise acquainted me with the known details of the bunco ring and their shady operations. Van Cise then asked me if I thought I could succeed in getting the goods on the gang and sending them to prison.
I replied that there was nothing I would rather attempt.
"Well," said Van Cise "there are certain crooked police officials and other authorities here who have been bought off, but thank God we still have some honest citizens to serve on juries. So, if you can get the lowdown on this gang, we'll wipe them out in spite of the protection they have!"
During the course of our conversation Van Cise had told me that he had learned that the master minds of the bunco artists in Denver were two prominent and well-respected citizensLou Blonger and Adolph Duffreal estate operators on a big scale.
"Supposing I get a line on Blonger and Duff right off the bat," I suggested.
"That's just what I had in mind," replied Van Cise.
My investigations, it was agreed, were to be carried on with the utmost secrecy. For, while Van Cise knew the identities of some members of the ring, he didn't know the identities of all of them. And it was my job to find out so that when the moment came to strike, we would make a clean job of it. And this could be accomplished only through secrecy.
Late that night, I walked down Fourteenth Street past the American Bank Building where Blonger had his office over the bank. A hasty survey of conditions in the vicinity convinced me that things were ideal for the plan I had in mind. There was a small building directly across the street from the American Bank Building containing several empty offices, one of which was on the top floor almost on a level with Blonger's private office. I noted, too, that some telephone wires stretched across the street from one building to the other. I felt that the Fates were playing into my hands; it was almost too good to be true.
The next day I rented the office directly across from Blonger's. I had some cheap furniture moved in and ordered some signs indicating that I was in the mail-order hosiery business. I also went to a printer and had some cards printed to this effect. On the second day following, I arranged for the distribution of these cards throughout the building which I was in, and also throughout the American Bank Building. I figured that the distribution of these cards would divert any suspicion among Blonger and his friends as to my real mission.
When I got settled in my new surroundings, I pulled down one of the dark green shades which I had ordered for each of the three windows in the office and cut a small peephole in it which enabled me to look into Blonger's office, but which prevented anyone there from seeing me.
This was a most important precaution, inasmuch as I figured that Blonger, having a powerful drag with Denver's crooked officials, would have little trouble in slapping me in jail or running me out of town, once he got wise to my mission.
I wasn't ready, however, to play my ace in the hole while Blonger still remained in Denver. I knew that he expected to leave any day for a short visit to Florida where he was to lay the groundwork for the operation of a gang in Palm Beach, Miami, and other resorts during the winter months.
In a few days Blonger left. A notice in one of the newspapers heralded his departure "for a short vacation in the South," and I was at the railroad station to "see him off" the day he left. His co-conspirator, Duff, of course, was with him.
That night an electrician, whom I had taken into my confidence, accompanied me to the American Bank Building where we bribed the janitor into furnishing us a key to Blonger's office. This was about 8 o'clock. In an hour or so the janitor left the building and the electrician and I hid in an empty office until one o'clock the following morning, when we stole silently into Blonger's suite, content that we would be unobserved. We had to be mighty careful not to make any noise, as the bank was directly below us and the keen-eared bank watchman, we knew, would waste no time in getting in an alarm to police headquarters in the event that he heard us. In that event, jail would undoubtedly be the penalty. For, if we did not explain our presence in Blonger's office we would naturally go to jail; if we did explain our presence the crooked police would see to it that we were railroaded. In short, we were in a hot spot and we acted accordingly.
Our purpose was to plant two dictographs. Aided by the light of street lamps immediately outside, the electrician and I had little difficulty in getting the lay of the office. After due deliberation we decided to plant the dictographs in the copper bell-shaped covering that fitted against the ceiling over a chandelier. This was an ideal spot because there was a space of about two inches between the upper part of the copper covering and the ceiling itself. Not only that, but this spot enabled us to run wires through the ceiling, something which would have been almost impossible to do, without detection, had the dictographs been planted in any other part of the room.
The instruments successfully placed, and the wires shot through the ceiling, the electrician and I stole up to the attic of the building which was immediately over Blonger's office, and from that point concealed the wires and ran them out to the roof. Next, we ran the wires under a cornice on the roof and then dropped them to the street.
We then stole out of the building like a couple of burglars so as not to arouse the suspicion of the bank watchman. We went across the street to the building where my office was located, and while I waited on the street below, the electrician proceeded to the roof. It was now after 3 o'clock in the morning and the street was deserteda situation which was necessary, as you will presently see, to the success of our operations. From the roof, my companion lowered a hundred feet of heavy twine, holding on to one end. I took the other end of the twine, walked across the street, and fastened it around the dangling dictograph wires. At a given signal the man on the roof across the street pulled his end of the string and drew the wires to him. He then twisted them around a telephone wire which was strung between the two buildings, thus concealing the wires to anyone not possessed of superhuman eyesight.
The next step in the operation was simplicity itself. The wires were run through the roof into my office. But here the disguise did not stop, for I was taking no chances on any prying visitors discovering the trap from my end of it. The wires were concealed and connected to a plug in the wall which was covered by a fake telegraph messenger call box. From this call box, we ran two blind wires to the ceiling Thus, whenever I wanted to listen in, all I had to do was to remove the call box and plug into the dictograph wires with a pair of ear phones.
The next night we tested the instruments. The electrician stole into Blonger's office and uttered a few words in an ordinary tone of voice. Across the street I was plugged in and heard every word he said, very distinctly. The planting of the dictographs was a success and, feeling sure that Blonger would not discover them, I was now ready to begin active operations on getting inside dope to be used in smashing one of the most nefarious confidence rings in the history of American crime annals.
In two weeks Blonger and Duff returned from the South. On the morning after their return they had a conference in Blonger's office. I saw this much through my peephole in the green shade. But, unfortunately, I couldn't hear anything that they saidthat is anything of valueas they talked in whispers. And whispers don't carry over a dictograph unless the dictograph is right next to the speaker.
Several days passed. During this time I made a note of everything that I could possibly overhear of the conversation between Blonger and Duff. Among other things, I noted all telephone numbers that they called and all addresses that they mentioned but, after running these things down, I was unable to obtain anything of value insofar as the smashing of the bunco ring went. I felt that I was on the fringe of discovery, but I couldn't force things to too great an extent for the simple reason that if I overplayed my hand the game would be up.
Remember, I wasn't shadowing the average criminalthe man that the police department is anxious to hang something on. I was shadowing two of the most prominent men in the city; two powerful individuals who had many influential friends and who were kingpins of the gang of intrigue specialists that throttled the Colorado metropolis.
One morning I was listening as usual. There was a visitor in Blonger's officean elderly man whom I had seen there on several previous occasions.
My heart thumped when Blonger suddenly said to the visitor: "You know, I've got a tip that I'm being watched. A friend of mine has told me that Van Cise has had my phone tapped and that he has a detective in that room across the street."
With a turn of his head Blonger indicated my office. I saw everything through the peephole.
"What does Van Cise want to do that for?" asked the elderly man of Blonger.
"Damned if I know. I've notified the telephone company and they're going to send a man over here to inspect my phone wires."
The shock of this discovery hit me with startling suddenness and tremendous force. There was only one answer, I was surea leak somewhere.
I didn't ponder the matter long. Some impulse cautioned me to immediately take my dictograph plug out of the wall and cover up the connection with the fake telegraph messenger box. And it was a rare and fortunate impulse that so guided me.
I had left the door to my office unlocked and I had just finished covering the dictograph connection and turned from the wall when I received a sudden shock.
The door of my office had been quietly opened and there stood. . . .
Has Detective Koehn, the trapper, been caught red-handed?
Who is the intruder who has crept quietly into the office?
And has he discovered the hiding place of the dictograph?
The second, and concluding installment of this thrilling chronicle is packed with surprises that you can't afford to miss. Read it in the April issue of True Detective Mysteries
True Detective Mysteries Magazine, April, 1932
Unmasking The Denver Bunco Ring, Part II
By Detective Andrew Koehn, formerly of the St. Louis Police Department
The Story So Far:
A well-organized bunco ring, with headquarters in Denver, Colorado, was fleecing many tourists of large sums by getting them interested in fake stocks, phony stock market and race track tips.
The Gang was headed by two prominent men in Denver and, consequently, enjoyed protection not usually accorded a public enemy. At the time this story opens, they had been in existence for some time but through powerful connections had managed to evade the law. In June of 1921, after Frank Donovan, a retired contractor from Dallas,Texas, had been taken for a cool fifty thousand in cash, Philip S. Van Cise, district attorney of Denver at the time, became desperate and called on Andrew Koehn, then of the St. Louis detective force, to aid him in ridding Denver of the bunco ring that preyed on visitors.
The two immediately laid plans to trap the ringleaders, Lou Blonger and Adolph Duff, while the pair were in Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, organizing a similar gang to fleece tourists there during the winter months. A dictograph was planted in Blonger's office with connections in an office just across the street, where Detective Koehn had established himself under the disguise of manager of a mail-order hosiery business.
In addition to this, Koehn's office was so that he could watch unobserved all comers to Blonger's through a peephole cut in one of the dark green window shades. One morning when Koehn was listening in on a conversation across the way, be was astonished to hear Blonger tell a visitor that he was sure that he was being watched.
This immediately put the detective on his guard. He hastily covered all evidence of the dictograph, wondering where the leak could be, And not a minute too soon; for, as he turned around, he received another shock. The door to his office had been opened quietly and there stood. . . .
Detective Koehn Continues The Story:
Duffthe friend and co-conspirator of Blonger. I covered my surprise as best I could. For a moment, Duff said nothing. His eyes were devouring me and there was an expression on his face which clearly indicated he was trying to place me. I thought fast and tried to act naturally. I pretended I did not know the man and said:
"How do you do, sir? Can I interest you in some silk hosiery this morning?"
"No," replied Duff. "I'm taking subscriptions for the Denver News. Thought you might be interested."
"Oh, I see," I replied. "I'm only here for a short while and it would hardly pay me to subscribe.`
While I was talking, his eyes were not focused upon me but were darting into every nook and cranny of the room.
When I'd finished talking he did not press his false objective. He merely said: "Very well, sir, I'm sorry to have bothered you," and left.
After he had made his exit, I hurriedly locked the door in order to prevent a possible surprise return visit and then peered through the peephole down into the street. Presently I saw Duff. He stood on the sidewalk near the entrance of the building for several minutes, apparently undecided as to what to do. He then walked up the street and five minutes later came back on the other side of the street and entered the American Bank Building. A minute or so later I saw him in Blonger's office. I had, of course, plugged in on the dictographs and was ready for the following conversation:
"What did you find out?" asked Blonger.
"Nothing," replied Duff. "Thewon't talk."
"Well," said Blonger, "I have a plan to find out what his game is. I'll get a couple of bulls to go over there and put him on the mat."
I realized that Blonger, in some mysterious manner, was wise to me in spite of the fact that I had taken great precautions. There was, therefore,
only one thing to dovacate, and vacate quick!
And so it was that at 3 o'clock the next morning I returned to my office, removed the dictograph wires and plugs and all clues that could possibly reveal where they had been. Later in the day I had the furniture removed from the office and officially vacated it.
Simultaneously however, I rented an apartment on the third floor of the building that adjoined the American Bank Building and that night, with the aid of the electrician, connected the dictograph wires there. I was unable to peer into Blonger's suite from my new headquarters, so I was forced to rely doubly on the dictograph.
Meanwhile I had met Van Cise at the office of our mutual friend and apprised him of the sudden turn of events. Van Cise thereupon decided upon a swift move to throw Blonger and Duff off the scent.
He sent for Blonger and informed him that he (Van Cise) knew that Blonger was running some gambling joints. The district attorney told Blonger to close up the places, under threat of prosecution. And, as smart as Blonger was, he fell like a ton of bricks for the District Attorney's ruse. For the next afternoon while I listened in, I heard Blonger say to a man who I figured was Duff:
"Say, we got all hopped up over nothing. That guy across the street wasn't on to us at all. Van Cise called me in yesterday and said he had found out I was running some gambling houses. He told me to close them up, and I said I would. The poor sap isn't wise to our racket at all."
"Well that's a relief," said Blonger's companion. "If he thinks that all you're doing is running gambling houses so much the better."
Suddenly, it occurred to me that in spite of all my hard work and the several weeks spent in Denver I was making no real progress. I realized, of course, as did Van Cise, that the smashing of this ring was no laughing matter and was something that couldn't be accomplished in a day. However, a detective who takes his work seriously and who knows that he is on the right trail naturally likes to get the goods on his quarry at the earliest possible moment. Thus, impatience is natural.
And so it was that I decided to take a chance, come what may.
That very day I heard a man whom I believed to be Duff make a call to room 316 of the Shirley Hotel. Getting connected with his party, Duff mentioned no name but from bits of his conversation"Did you get a line on that party yet?" "Do you think you can make him?"I figured that the bird in the hotel was one of the gang.
My next move, therefore, was to call the hotel on the phone at which time I said to the telephone operator:
"Give me room three hundred sixteen. By the way, that's Joe Smith's room, isn't it?"
"Who did you wish to speak to?" asked the operator.
"Room three hundred sixteenJoe Smith."
"I'm sorry, sir, but there's no such party in room three sixteen."
"Of course there is," I replied feigning indignity. "I was up there last night."
"I'm sorry, sir, but room three sixteen is occupied by a gentleman named George Dover."
This was the information I wanted! But I couldn't stop here; I had to disarm suspicion so I asked: "This is the Adams Hotel isn't it?"
"No. This is the Shirley Hotel."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," I apologized. "I have called the wrong number. I thought I was talking to the Adams Hotel."
"It's quite all right," said the operator.
That night, disguised as a taxi driver, I went to room 316 of the Shirley Hotel and knocked on the door. A rather sharp looking individual of about thirty-five answered my summons with a rather surly "What is it?"
"I got a letter for a G. F. Dover and it says 'Try Shirley Hotel'. Is it for you?" I asked, handing the man the envelope which I had addressed myself an hour previously.
While he was scrutinizing the handwriting on the envelope, I was studying his features. At length he looked up and said:
"No; it's not for me."
"Thanks," I replied. "Sorry if I bothered you."
When I left the hotel I took a trolley car and rode to within a few blocks of Van Cise's home. Making sure that I was not being followed, I slipped up to the district attorney's residence, rang the bell and was greeted by the official personally.
We were soon in conference, during which I told Van Cise that I had gotten a good look at one man I believed to be a member of the bunco ring.
For the next hour Van Cise and I studied photographs that he had secured of well-known confidence men and at length I came across a picture of the man who was occupying room 316 at the Shirley Hotel under the name of George Dover! The records revealed that his real name was George ("Tip") Belcher, and that he was one of the slickest propositions in the American confidence racket!
So far, so good.
The next day, while at my usual post at the dictograph plug, I overheard a rather interesting conversation in Blonger's office. A visitor came ina man whose voice I didn't recognizeand during the course of the conversation Blonger said:
"Do you see that window over there with the green shade? (I knew he was referring to the office I previously occupied). Well, Van Cise had a detective over there watching my office and he had the phone tapped."
"How did you find that out, Lou?" asked Blonger's visitor.
"Oh, I was leaving my house one morning and a guy came up to me and said, 'Mr. Blonger, I will give you some valuable information for five hundred dollars.' I gave him the horse laugh and he said, 'Don't laugh at me; I know what I am talking about. Van Cise is after you!' I tried to get in my car and shake this guy and he said. 'All right, if you don't believe me, take a squint at those two new black wires on the telephone pole in the alley by your office Van Cise. has your phone tapped and he's got a detective in that room across the street from youthe one wilh the green shade pulled down. He's watching you and he listens to all your phone calls.'"
"I told this guy I didn't give a damn about what Van Cise or anybody else did and he said, 'Well, Mr. Blonger, I can tell you a lot more if you will pay me because I am the electrician that strung those wires for Van Cise!'"
Blonger bad a hearty laugh at this juncture of his narrative and then proceeded:
"I didn't let this guy take me for the five hundred, but I had the phone company investigate. They said the phone wasn't tapped at all. But just the same that bird over there must have been a detective because Duff went in and questioned him one day and the next day he flew the coop."
Rather interesting to say the least! My electrician friend had been willing to sell out on meand Blonger wouldn't listen to him! He had given Blonger an inkling of what he knewbut had not told all. The result was that the phone company employees had looked for a tapped phonenot dictograph wires!
My next clue of importance came over the dictograph when I beard Blonger call a certain telephone number. Connected, he called for apartment so and so and then asked for Jack. The conversation itself wasn't illuminating, but the fact that Blonger had asked for Jack led me to suspect that he might have been talking to one Jack Frenchone of the cleverest confidence men in the country and the man whose photograph had been identified by several victims of swindles in Denver.
I checked the number called by Blonger by calling it myself and asking, "Is this the Adams Hotel?" and receiving the reply, "No, this is the El Tovar Apartments."
The El Tovar Apartments, I knew, was one of the most fashionable apartment houses in Denver.
That evening about 6 o'clock, I stationed myself at a vantage point across the street from the El Tovar apartments and gave the once-over to every one entering and coming out of the place. I continued my vigil for several hours but saw no one resembling French.
This continued day after day until late one afternoon I spotted a handsome-looking devil making his exit from the apartment house. He was dressed like an English nobleman and I immediately recognized him as French. I walked across the street and brushed right by him as he was getting into his car and made certain of the identification. I was in a peculiar position. Here I was, within arm's length of a man who was wanted for swindles in cities in various parts of the United States and Canada! There were large rewards out for himbut still I couldn't nab him. To have done that would have seriously interfered with my carefully-laid plans.
Accompanying French was a beautiful woman who looked like a Paris fashion plate. Later I learned that she was the wife of a prominent New York millionaire. She was not, of course, involved in the swindles: in fact it is doubtful if she was aware of French's true identity.
I now had definitely spotted two of the men who were working in collusion with Blonger and Duff. But, as I have previously explained, there was other work to be donea great deal of workbefore I could lay my hands on these two well-known crooks. I was after the whole gangnot just a few of them; I wanted the babies that Van Cise hadn't got a line on.
Meanwhile, I was continuing to listen in on the conversation which took place in Blonger's office. And one day, about a week after I had spotted French, I got one of the hottest clues of the entire investigation. I heard Blonger telephone a number which I subsequently traced to room five of the Union Pacific Building on Seventeenth Street. I immediately went to Seventeenth Street and stationed myself where I could keep my eye on room five of the Union Pacific Building. I stuck to this angle for several days and during the course of that time I spotted several well-known confidence men leaving the Union Pacific Building and making their way to the state capitol ground, which was the mecca of the ring's operations. Among these bunco artists were Denver Ed Smith, William Burke, Joe Farrell, Johnny Reynolds, George Mueller, Tom Gaffney, and "Yellow" Leeds. 1 watched some of these men pull the pocketbook gag that had been worked on the Texan, Frank Donovan, and any one else watching them could have easily seen the same thing. For the boldness and openness of their operations was astonishing. One bunco artist would approach a prospective victim and this done, the second man in the operation"the big broker from New York"would toss a wallet on the ground, without bothering to look around to see if any one had an eye on him.
Once again I was in a tough spot. I saw these men baiting prospective suckers. But to have stepped in and nabbed them would have been a tip-off for the boys we hadn't yet spotted. So I got around things by shadowing the prospective victims before the touch was made, swearing them to secrecy and telling them to lay off.
Meanwhile, several victims who had been taken during the preceding months and years unhesitatingly identified mugs of the Union Pacific Building gang as the con men who had mulcted them!
Late one night I was posted in the vicinity of the Union Pacific Building keeping an eye on several of the con men who were clustered on a street outside of the building. I figured they were waiting for someone and this belief was shortly justified when Duff came along. Upon his arrival the party began walking up the street.
I shadowed them to the Melton Hotel and saw the room they entered. I immediately engaged the room adjoining, removed my coat, hat and shoes and walked out into the corridor and applied an ear to the door of the buncos' room. Snatches of conversation which I caught revealed to me that the gang had several wealthy victims lined up for the touch!
As I was listening, some one suddenly appeared at the end of the corridor, walking toward me. I quickly began to stagger toward my room acting as if I were drunk. As the man passed me I got a good look at him and recognized him as William Loftus a well-known bunco artist! As I was fumbling around, apparently trying to get into my own room, I heard Loftus give three light raps on the next door to mine and he was quickly admitted.
For the remainder of the evening whenever the opportunity presented itself I tiptoed to the door of the con men room and eavesdropped. I didn't learn the identities of any hitherto unsuspected buncos who might have been in the room but I did overhear one fact of importance, and that was that another principal place of operation was the Albany Hotel corner.
So the next day I rented a room in the Hotel, across the street from the Albany, picking a room with alcove windows. Through the use of field glasses I was able to distinguish the detailed features of the men who gathered from time to time across the street and in this way succeeded, by means of the usual perusal of the records which carried photographs of well-known bunco men, in recognizing some of the group: Thomas Beech, A. H. Potts, George Burnett, Harry White, Ralph Sadler, George Kelly, Roy Farrell, Grove Sullivan, Crit Watkins, Art Cooper, William Sterns, Jimmy Carter, Eddie Schultz, Ray Yeaman, Tom Ryan, Mexico Smith, Denver Ed Smith and Lem Ramy. These birds were all notorious, each of them having a police record.
During the next few days my investigations proved to me that I had a line on just about every bunco artist who was operating in Denver. At secret conferences in the home of Van Cise, several additional swindle victims identified the various men that I had spotted as having been the crooks associated in various capacities with the bunco ring. Donovan himself positively identified three photos as those of the men who had taken him. He picked out Crit Watkins as Bagley, the steerer; Art Cooper as Greyson "the big stock operator"; and Jack French, the debonair fellow that I had spotted in the Tovar Apartments, as Zachery, the bookmaker.
And so, after making sure that we had something on every man that I had spotted we were ready for the wholesale round-up. And this, we knew, was going be a tough job. For, owing to the gang's alliance with the crooked officials of Denver we knew that we would have to pick them up singly and more or less secretly, so that the police, public and the other members of the gang would not be tipped off. We also knew that we couldn't take the prisoners to the city or county jail for the simple reason that they all had certain connections there and with the arrival of the first prisoner the rest of the gang would most certainly be wised up. Accordingly, we made arrange- to rush each prisoner to the basement ofof all place!the First Universalist Church.
And so it was that early on the morning of March 18th, 1922, several state rangers secreted themselves in the basement of the church, guarding every door and window, and waited for the first of the prisoners to be brought in.
At 7 A. M., I was parked in a car near the corner of Eleventh and Lincoln Sreets. With me was Howard Little, a state ranger, and T. R. Robinson, a deputy district attorney.
Duff was our first prospect. He lived in the vicinity of where we were parked, and I kept an eagle eye on the front door of his residence. Shortly after 8 o'clock he appeared and walked nonchalantly up the street.
"That's Duff," I said to my two companions. "Get him!"
In accordance with a plan laid beforehand, our car drove up alongside of Duff and Ranger Little, in plain clothes, alighted and said:
"Good morning, Mr. Duff. If you are going down town allow me the pleasure of taking you."
"Ah, good-morning gentlemen," replied Duff, getting into the car. He looked at me for a momentremember it was Duff who had called on me when I posed as a hosiery salesmanbut fortunately be didn't seem to recall me.
"You gentlemen have the advantage of me," said Duff smartly. "I can't place any of you."
By this time the car was speeding east, in the opposite direction from which Duff wanted to go. He began to smell a rat.
"I thought you were going down town," he said.
Thereupon Robinson displayed a badge and said:
"We are from the district attorney's office. Van Cise wants to see you."
"Why, this is an outrage!" exploded Duff. "What in the world could Van Cise want to see me about? And besides, what's the idea of the kidnapping? Van Cise knows he can phone me. I'm not going to run away. I own a quarter of a million dollars worth of real estate in this town; have been living here for twenty years and am well-respected. And you can be damned sure that Van Cise is going to suffer for this insult!"
We let Duff rave on. Finally be asked:
"Where are we going, anyway?"
We didn't answer him. A moment or so later the car stopped in front of the First Universalist Church.
"Van Cise hasn't got an office in this church has he?" asked Duff.
"Temporarily," I replied, putting the arm on Duff and ushering him toward the basement of the edifice.
I have never seen a man so surprised as Duff when he entered the basement of the church. He lost considerable of his aplomb when he saw the uniformed state rangers, but he was positively astonished when Van Cise came forward and greeted him:
"Good-morning, Mr. Duff; glad to see you . . . I have eagerly anticipated this meeting for a long time."
Duff's anger rendered him speechless.
Robinson, Little and I then left the church and proceeded to Blonger's office. Arriving there, we found that Blonger had not come in yet, so we waited outside. Presently, Blonger appeared.
"Mr. Blonger?" I asked.
Yes," he said, eyeing my companions and me with suspicion.
"We'd like to see you for a moment in private."
Blonger then opened the door of his office and we followed him in.
"What's on your minds, gentlemen?" he asked.
"Mr. Blonger, we are from the district attorney's office," I said. "Mr. Van Cise would like to confer with you on an important matter."
"All right," said Blonger. "Anything that pleases Van Cise. Tell him I'll be over in an hour or so."
"We have a car to take you now," I replied.
Blonger was plainly bewildered.
"All right, if you insist, I'll come now," be said. "Just a minute until I use the phone."
"Not now," I said.
Blonger shrugged his shoulders. He was too bewildered to say anything more.
We bundled him into the back seat of the car and were soon speeding toward the church.
"This isn't the way to Van Cise's office!" be said heatedly.
"No," I replied, "but just the same we're traveling toward the scene of your interview with Mr. Van Cise."
Blonger's entrance into the church basement and his resultant surprise at what be found there paralleled the experience of his co-conspirator, Duff, in almost every respect.
Meanwhile, other deputy district attorneys and state rangers called at room five of the Union Pacific Building. Upon their arrival there, they nabbed five men and while they waited, five more came in. Quite a pinch!
Examination of the room revealed a large suit-case which contained bunco paraphernalia of all descriptions and bundles of greenbacks of the type which the Texan, Donovan, was handed as part of the "winnings" on the phony horse race.
The greenbacks, strangely enough, were all genuine. However, a close inspection revealed that one package, supposedly containing three hundred grand, in reality contained only three hundred dollars. It was a typical sucker's bankroll composed entirely of dollar bills with the exception of two one-hundered-dollar bills which had been placed on the top and bottom.
The ten buncos, all of whom I had previously identified, were forthwith hustled to the church basement.
Later in the morning Robinson, Little and I drove to the Albany Hotel corner, and there, holding up the building was William Loftus. We brought our car to an abrupt halt, and I dashed out, gave Loftus a hearty handshake and asked him to step into the car as I had something very confidential to take up -with him. Before Loftus or any one else knew what had happened he was in the car and on his way to the church.
Needless to say, we were all highly elated at the way things bad gone thus far. We had succeeded in making every pinch in a quiet, unobtrusive manner so that even onlookers didn't know what was happening.
During the remainder of the day, the rangers, Robinson and I descended on various other spots throughout the city, and succeeded in quietly apprehending every member of the ring I had previously spotted with the exception of Jack French. His whereabouts was unknown at the moment. He had left the El Tovar apartments the day previously.
That night our "church jail" contained thirty-five nationally known confidence men, most of whom bad been picked up in broad daylight in crowded sections of the city without one member of the police department of Denver knowing anything about the arrests.
The next day, Blonger and Duff were released on bond. As soon as this happened I went to my office in the building next to the American Bank Building and plugged in on the dictographs, figuring that Blonger and Duff would go to the former's office. Which is just what happened. No sooner were they in the office than Duff put in a long distance telephone call for Jack French at the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado. This was hot information because we were now in the possession of the whereabouts of Frenchthe only big shot that we had been unable to lay our hands on the previous day! Accordingly, I jumped to the telephone and called Van Cise.
"Duff just shot through a call for Jack French. He's staying at the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park. Maybe you can get him before he has time to pack up and leave."
Upon receipts of my tip, Van Cise, accompanied by two state rangers, jumped into a high-powered car, and began the sixty-five mile race through the mountains in an effort to get French before he vanished. It was a perilous, nerve-racking trip. En route, Van Cise watched every car coming in the opposite direction owing to the possibility that French, already tipped off, might be making a getaway.
Arriving at the hotel, Van Cise learned that French was still occupying his room, but that he was out on the golf links at the moment. The District Attorney and the rangers stalled around the lobby of the hotel and when French put in an appearance they nabbed the man who was, at that time, the biggest, cleverest and most sought after con- artist in the United States.
Needless to say, the city was stunned when news of the arrests was emblazoned on the front pages of the newspapers. Authorities of other cities, learning the names of the buncos who were nabbed, began communicating with Van Cise. The result was that Roy Farrell was turned over to the Los Angeles authorities where he was badly wanted; Harry White, William Loftus and Ralph Sadler were taken in tow by the Federal authorities of Florida, where they had been identified in a long series of bold swindles.
Within a few days, all of those who had been arrestedwith the exception of Lem Ramy, who had been a steerer for the Duff-Blonger outfit for three yearswere released under bond. Many of the buncos were bailed out through arrangements made by Blonger and Duff, but for some reason or other the two gentlemen in question maintained a strictly hands-off policy as to Ramy. This was rather mystifying, inasmuch as Ramy had done some very valuable work for the ring.
Ramy reacted in a very natural manner when his two erstwhile friends deserted him. He announced to us that he was willing to turn state's evidence and spill the works! Duff and Blonger, therefore, were not long in realizing that they had pulled a boner in refusing to bail out Ramy, for the simple reason that his evidence, coupled with the data we already had, was enough to convict the whole gang.
Preparations were soon under way for the trial. The victims of the ring who had not already arrived in Denver were coming in daily from all parts of the country. Mr. Donovan, the old Texan, who had left Denver for Hot Springs after he had identified the photos of the three men who bad swindled him, arrived back in the Colorado metropolis shortly before the trial got under way. And he brought with him an astonishing story revealing the underhand tactics which the master minds of the ring were employing in an effort to forestall conviction in the coming trial.
Mr. Donovan, while in Hot Springs, was approached by two beautiful women who had struck up an acquaintanceship with him in a very off-hand way, and asked to stay away from the trial. Mr. Donovan inquired as to what was at the bottom of this peculiar request and the women calmly admitted that they were members of the ring's "vampire squad" who were visiting various victims in various parts of the country, trying to effect buy-offs! Mr. Donovan, figuring that it was his turn to pull a double cross, told the woman that he would refuse to testify at the trial if they made it worth his while. One of the women thereupon produced five thousand dollars in cash and offered it to Donovan. Donovan accepted the money and took the next train for Denver!
At the opening of the trial, twenty of the confidence men, including Blonger and Duff were lined up on the defense side of the courtroom. Most of the others who had been nabbed had been turned over to the authorities of other cities. A few of the less important bunco artists had jumped bail.
The various victims, including Donovan, took the stand and for several weeks the spectators heard stories similar to the one which I narrated about Mr. Donovan in the beginning of this story. Each witness, too, identified various defendants as those who had been behind the swindles. Duff and Blonger, however, were not indetified by any of the witnesses for the simple reason that they had not actually participated in the swindles but merely directed them. But our ace in the holeRamy, the double-crossed buncowas to care of them!
During the noon recess each day, Blonger Duff and several other of the defendants met in Blonger's office to talk things over. I "attended" these conferences via the dictograph and learned that the were a pretty discouraged lot. They referred to the testimony of the various witnesses and considered it quite damaging.
One day something was said at one of these conferences that gave me an inkling of what was to come. One of the buncosI've never learned who he wassaid:
"They've got it on us and we're going up sure as hell. There's only one to doget to that damned jury!"
Of this, more later.
During another noon recess I got of the thrill of my life when one of the buncos said to Blonger:
"Say Lou, this damned detective from Saint Louis must have got an awful lot of inside information somewhere. . . Has it ever occurred to you that he might have some dictographs planted right in this office?"
Everything was silent for a moment. Although I could not see itI had little difficulty in picturing the scene. Everyone in the roomespecially Blongermust have been astonished when they contemplated the possibility that they all overlooked.
"By God," said Blonger, "I bet you rightI'll bet they've got a dick planted here!"
For the next ten minutes I certainly had an exciting time of it, for I heard Blonger and the others moving furniture and suggesting "Look behind that picture," "Look in the desk," "Look in the phone box," "Look under the wash basin," "Look inside the sofa," and so on. In fact they looked just about everywhere, and I momentarily expected discovery of the dictographs. I knew what form this discovery would takeit would mean sudden silence in my earphones.
The minutes dragged on, bringing increased excitement to me. But I finally drew a sigh of relief when Blonger and his companions completed their examination of the office, concluding that there`bad been no dictograph planted there.
The trial had been in progress for almost two months when Len Ramy took the stand. If death could have dealt through vicious glances, the frail and nervous Ramy would have been murdered by Duff and Blonger when he walked to the witness chair.
Ramy had been threatened with death if be carried out his intention to talk and he was defying this powerful gang; he had been known for years as a sort of a weakling and now the moment had come when he was going to show the world at large that he had more than his share of nerve.
Ramy's story was packed with human interest. And in it was a lesson for the youth of the land; a lesson that has often been propounded but seldom heeded young men who have started off in petty crime and later wound up in prison or the electric chair.
Ramy had been raised in a small country town. His parents had died when was rather young. He got a job on lunch wagon near a race track. Eventually despite words of caution from well-meaning acquaintances, the youth fell in with the gang of sharpers and wound up as a tout who supplied tips on the races.
Ensnared by the romance and adventure of life at the tracks, Ramy was soon traveling around the country following the races. It was only natural for him to associate with con men and before he knew it he was a con man himself.
It was in Canada, in 1913, that Ramy the first of the Denver mobGeorge Kelly. In a short while Ramy was singling out suckers and steering them to other con men who specialized in crooked card and dice games.
As the years went on, Ramy, through his travels in the Florida resorts, Hot Springs, Salt Lake City and other places, got acquainted with several other member's of the Denver mob who were now in trial. In 1918 he had come to Denver and broke into the big-time racket. His old friend, George Kelly, had introduced him to Duff and Blonger and they had outlined the plans of their operations and eventually Ramy was put to work as a steererthe man who "finds" the wallet.
During his testimony, Ramy told when and where and under what circumstances he had met every man on trial, and told in detail just what parts they had played in the various swindles! He also revealed for the first time, just bow the gang split up the loot. The steerer got forty-two per cent; the spieler"the big stock broker"fifteen per cent; the bookmaker five per cent; the tailerthe man who keeps an eye on the victim during the progress of the swindlestwo per cent; and Blonger and Duff, thirty-six per cent, split equally between them.
As Ramy came out with these startling revelations the bunco gang knew that any honest jury in the world would convict them. Their only remaining chance for acquittal, therefore, was to get to the jurors, and that is what concerned me most at this stage of the game. We suspected, owing to the conversation I had overheard in Blonger's office, that the ring had already gone after the jury. And our worst suspicions along this line were confirmed one morning when one of the jurors reported to the judge that a mysterious stranger had called at his house the night previously, and offered him ten thousand dollars for an acquittal or five thousand dollars for a hung jury!
Van Cise and the rest of us went into a huddle. We knew that if the ring had gone after one juror they would go after others. We knew also that we had the case won if the jury would base their verdict on the evidence. But the big question was: How could we force any bribed jurors to bring in a verdict of guilty?
We talked this angle over for several hours and Van Cise finally bit upon a masterpiece of strategy which we knew was certain to force any juror who had accepted money to string along with those who were voting for a guilty verdict!
I took the witness stand, ready to throw the bombshell upon which we depended for victory. 1 started off by reting how I first saw the various buncos, how I shadowed them, getting a line on their activities, how I had identified their photographs from various rogues' galleries, how they were arrested, etc. I did not once refer to the planting of the dictographs and, as my testimony was apparently nearing an end, the twelve defense attorneys were obviously somewhat relieved. Because, up to that point, I had told only what the jury already knew. Suddenly, Van Cise asked me:
"Did you hear any conversations between Blonger and Duff and the other defendants?"
"Yes," I answered.
"How did you hear these conversations?"
"Over dictographs that were planted in Blonger's office."
Silence fell over the courtroom. Blonger looked at Duff in blank astonishment and the rest of the buncos moved uneasily in their seats. The defense attorneys were immediately on their feet, objecting to any testimony that I might have heard over dictographs.
Van Cise countered by saying that he was not going to ask me to repeat any of the conversations that I had beard. He asked the court if I could be allowed to tell when I heard my first conversation and when I beard the last. The judge granted this request, whereupon I stated that I had heard my first conversation in January.
"And when did you hear the last conversation between any of the defendants?"
"Today at noonin Blonger's office," I replied.
The color left the faces of Blonger, Duff and several of the other defendants.
Just how much did I know?
That's what the boys were wondering! And from their reaction to my last statement, I was firmly convinced that during the noon conference, jury fixing had been discussed, although I had received no inkling of it over the dictographs.
I glanced at the jurors. Several of them, I had previously concluded, were above reproach. I had my doubts about others. But if any man on that jury was bribed, he certainly was in a hot spot now! He would be afraid to double cross the ring by bringing in a conviction. On the other band, he would be afraid to hold out for an acquittal or a hung jury, figuring that I had heard his name mentioned in Blonger's office and that I would send him to prison.
So much for that.
The defense was merely a categorical denial of all of the prosecution's charges.
The various buncos took the stand, denied that they had ever seen the victims, averred that they had not been in Denver at the time of the various swindles and alibied themselves generally.
The jury was out for six days! And now we knew that certain jurors had been bribed. For that was the only reason that a jury would stay out so long in deliberating over a case in which all the evidence pointed conclusively to the guilt of the defendants. We knew, too, just what was going on in the jury room. The bribed jurors couldn't make up their minds. They were between the devil and the deep blue sea.
What would they do? Frankly, we didn't know. The cat was liable to jump in either direction and the verdict was in the laps of the gods. Finally, late on the afternoon of the sixth day, the foreman announced that the jury had reached a verdict. The word spread like wildfire. Residents in all parts of America knew that the jury was coming in, for the news services immediately flashed the word over special wires which had been strung directly to the courtroom.
An air of breathless expectancy hung over the courtroom as the defense attorneys arrived and as the prisoners were marched in. And then the jury, the twelve most haggard men I have ever looked upon, ambled in.
The verdict: "We find every defendant guilty as charged."
It was a sick and disappointed looking bunch of buncos who came up for sentence. Blonger, Duff, Jack French and George ("Tip") Belcherfour of the big shotswere sentenced to from seven to ten years in prison. The balance of this wily bunco ring drew from three to ten years.
And thus was finis written to the most gigantic and powerful ring that America has ever known.
Ramy was given his freedom for turning state's evidence. He was in ill-health and scared to deathafraid to leave Denver alone. He figured he was going to be put on the spot. I, personally, escorted him to Omaha, and put him on a train for Iowa. Strangely enough, Ramy has never been so much as molested. He is now leading an honest existence under another name and has made good. In contrast to the pitiful figure was at the trial he now weighs about two hundred pounds and is as strong and fearless as a bull. So it's probably as well for members of the bunco ring they have left Ramy strictly alone.