When I think of the 1920's and Prohibition in this country I tend to think about Chicago, Al Capone, and Eliot Ness. In my mind, Al Capone looks a lot like Robert DeNiro and Eliot Ness could be Kevin Costner's twin brother! Like most people today, my perception is totally influenced by television, Hollywood, and movies such as The Untouchables. Little did I know that my family was a lot closer to that illegal liquor, gangster filled underworld than just documentaries and reruns of gangster movies on television!
During Prohibition, in a country governed by the 18th Amendment which prohibited the production, sale, and transport of intoxicating liquors, the city of Newport, Kentucky which rests on the banks of the Ohio River, was the home of illegal backyard stills, the smuggling and selling of the product of those stills, and, yes, even organized crime. It is said that the country's major crime syndicates, including that of Al Capone, depended on Newport for some of their illegal liquor supply. Newport, Kentucky was known as Sin City.
The year was 1926. The place was Sin City. The house at 840 Dayton Street was the home of my great-great grandfather, William Wayson and his family. He was in his mid to late 50's and on the 18th day of November, he found himself standing before Oscar H. Roetken, U.S. Commissioner, in Covington, Kentucky being arraigned on a charge of conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act or, as it is better known, The Prohibition Act. Standing with him were George Green and James Wade Russell, both of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Green and Russell were the owners of an oil station in Bowling Green, and William admitted that the night before, at a house at 332 Isabella Street, he sold them 16 gallons of moonshine whiskey.
The three men were arrested by Newport patrolmen, Michael Cassidy and Morris Hodesh, after placing the illegal substance into an automobile. After the arrest, federal agents, James Wood and Rodman Russell, were called. William told the agents that he worked for Edward Becker, the "big boss", selling liquor in Newport from 5:00 pm until 7:30 am when another man would come and relieve him taking the "business" during the day. William was told that he, along with the other two men, would be given a preliminary hearing the following Tuesday.
At the preliminary hearing, George Green and James Wade Russell, were dismissed. Becker, a man named Milton Roll, and my great-great grandfather were held to the April term of court. I have not found anything that tells me what happened to William the following April, but I do know that in 1930, he, his wife Ada, and youngest son, William Jennings, were living in the small town of Gubser, very near Newport and, at the age of 89, William passed away right there in the heart of Sin City in his home at 614 Central Avenue just a hop, skip, and a jump from Isabella Street and his brush with the law.
I found the story of William and his arrest in the Kentucky Post newspapers dated 18 and 24 November 1926. Both articles, "Trio Held After Whisky Sale" and "Three Are Held", were on the front page. Copies of the articles can be requested from the Kenton County Public Library. I found many interesting web sites about Newport and her infamous reputation on the Internet. The one I used for this post can be found at Northern Kentucky Views: A Broad Collection of Images and Texts on the History of Northern Kentucky.