Text Copyright © 2016 Bill Gutman
All Rights Reserved
Murder on Murderer’s Row – A Novel
Death of a Flapper – A Novella
Murder on Broadway – A Novella
Seven Days to Murder – A Novella
A Mike Fargo Trilogy – All Three Novellas
Roaring Twenties Cop – Mike Fargo’s Own Story
Mike Fargo Mysteries website:
Contact the Author At:
Cover Design by Jennifer Strang
Roaring Twenties Cop is a book that combines real people with the fictional. The real people are represented as they were. With the fictional characters, any resemblance to those living or dead is purely coincidental.
To Ben Croft, a wonderful man whose
murder at the hands of a sleazy coward
led to me to become a cop who hated murder
more than anything else.
– Mike Fargo
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why do I do what I do? Damn, three “do’s” in one sentence. Guess I ain’t supposed to write like that, but then again, I’m no pro. I’m just a cop, a flatfoot. Oh yeah, a detective to be exact, one step above a cop to some. But we all do the same thing. So, then, why do I do what I do? Simple. I hate crime. Always have. I hate it when good people are victimized. And what I hate most of all is murder, especially when the victim had no business being killed. No one should lose his or her life to a piece of garbage.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. You probably wouldn’t expect a guy born in rural Staten Island in 1887 to be nosing into the deepest hellholes New York City had to offer in the 1920s, but that’s where I ended up. It would have been a lot easier to have become a local constable at home, looking for stray cows and chasing kids for stealing apples. But you know what they say about bigger and better things. That’s what everyone wanted in those days. Bigger things for me just meant being a cop in a bigger town. In fact, the biggest town there was.
My father worked construction, long hard days, and died in a job-related accident when I was just eleven. My older brother, Joe, became a fireman and never left home, not even for a day. My younger brother wasn’t so lucky. He wanted to go to college but ended up one of the doughboys in the trenches of France in 1918. He never returned. Now only my mother is left. She still lives in the old place and I try to get out there from time to time, but it’s not always easy because the job always has to come first.
You might say I was a wild kid growing up in the 1890s. There was some electricity on the Island, but we didn’t have running water in the house. You had to fetch water from a hand pump out back, and it wasn’t far from the outhouse. Try that on for size in the winter. There were no cars then, but horse-drawn wagons everywhere. Me and my friends took a few for some crazy rides through the streets now and then. Told you I was wild. But to us that was fun and we didn’t think about the danger or that we were taking someone else’s property. Luckily we were young and the only trouble we got into was the whippin’ when we got home. A criminal record could have stopped me from becoming a cop.
I can still remember people celebrating when Staten Island became part of New York City in 1898. They were setting off fireworks and some were even shooting guns in the air. Of course, there were also those who didn’t like it much. They were afraid the city would come to the country and corrupt everyone. Fat chance. But it served as an early lesson for me. You’ll never find a situation where everyone wants the same things and that can lead to trouble for a simple reason. There will always be some who think about their own wants and needs first, their motivation usually being either power or money.
That was also the year my father was killed, so there wasn’t any celebrating in our house, just my mother fretting about her boys going bad without a daddy. She needn’t have worried. We may have been wild, but we weren’t bad. And once my old man was gone we knew we’d have to chip in to keep the family afloat.
As a kid, New York City might as well have been a million miles away. Never went there, nor did my friends. When we were young, we didn’t want to. Our whole world was on Staten Island. But we heard stories about all the people, the shows and bars, the coming of gasoline engine cars. It always seemed that Staten Island back then was way behind the times. Not that we cared. Life was fun. None of us was much into school. That wasn’t fun. Sure, we had a couple of nice teachers as well as some mean ones. But to us the definition of school was just waiting for the bell at three o’clock so we could go out and play. And when June came, we were free for a summer of more crazy fun.
Childhood came to a screeching halt in many ways when my father was killed. Two years later everyone was celebrating the turn of the century, but I wasn’t. That’s because a few days before some guy had come into old Ben Croft’s candy store just before he was closing, pulled a gun and demanded money. Ben gave it to him and then, for no reason, he gave it to Ben. Right in the head. I had known old Ben since I was about six. Me and my buddies always hung out at his store and he always gave us candy and a friendly smile. Never asked us for a penny. I even did a few odd jobs for him – ran some errands, delivered some candy to people and he would slip me a dime and give me a wink. I really liked that old man.
I remember when I heard about the robbery and shooting the day after it happened. I ran down to the store as fast as I could. There were cops all over but they didn’t seem to be doing much, just hanging around because they were supposed to be there.
“Did you catch the guy?” I asked one of them.
He just looked down at me and smiled. “You the Fargo kid, ain’t ya?”
I nodded. “Well, kid,” he said. “Dese things happen. Ain’t much we can do about it. The mug what shot old man Croft is probably long gone. For all I know he came from the city for some easy pickins.”
“You mean you ain’t even gonna try to find him?” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ll give it a go,” he said, re-lighting his cigar. “But something like this, well, like I said, it happens.”
In the end, they really didn’t give it much of a go. I was old enough and smart enough to see that. Guess they asked a few questions of people in the neighborhood then said the hell with it. Within a week or so everything was back to normal, only old Ben wasn’t around anymore. I didn’t quit on it as quickly as they did. I hung out in the neighborhood for a couple of nights, checking other candy stores to see if someone tried to rob any of them. It was kind of stupid of me. I was a twelve year old kid with a homemade slingshot. What would I have done against a mug with a gun? But I couldn’t stop thinking about old Ben Croft and tried to imagine what he must have felt when that mug pointed the gun at him. Ben was probably at least 65 or 70 years old. He would tell us stories about the Civil War and even about the old west, always with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. That some guy would walk in, take his money and then shoot him, well, I just couldn’t let that go. I think it was right then and there that Mike Fargo became a cop. It wouldn’t be official for another 10 or 11 years, but I remember thinking if I was a cop I would catch that guy, no matter how long it took.
By the time I was eighteen I was working on the docks – hard, backbreaking labor that was getting me nowhere, just putting a couple of bucks in my pocket and letting me help out at home. If nothing else, it made me bigger and stronger. I could eat like a horse then and it seemed that everything turned into muscle. I’d had a few fights in my time and once I reached 20 or 21, I noticed that no one wanted to mess with me anymore. They told me I had one helluva right hand and that was even before I knew a damned thing about Jack Dempsey.
Then came the day that changed everything for me. It was the summer of 1909. I was 22 then and a couple of friends and I decided to take our first trip into New York City. We knew by then that there was a whole world outside of Staten Island, so we took the ferry to the city on a warm, sunny day, then walked into the heart of Manhattan.
What a place. I’d never seen anything like it. I kept looking up at the tall buildings until my neck hurt, gawked at the horse-drawn wagons sharing the road with the early cars and the rail-riding, crowded trolleys. Then there were the people. They were everywhere. It seemed there were more people on one block in Manhattan than on all of Staten Island. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry – men in suits, others working on buildings or on the roads, those making deliveries from wagons, and more good-looking young women than I’d ever seen before. Everyone was busy; everyone was going somewhere, doing something. Looking around, Staten Island seemed a world away, different, old and out of touch.
That, however, wasn’t all that caught my attention. New York City also had a real police force. There were cops walking the streets, directing traffic and looking for lawbreakers. I couldn’t imagine these guys taking the murder of an old man like Ben Croft lightly. Most of them really looked as if they meant business. I even caught a couple of them giving us the once over. Maybe we looked as if we didn’t belong. But they were just doing their job. They were nothing like the hilarious Keystone Kops who would appear in the silent movies some years later.
We had a good meal that night, then hit a couple of lively bars and threw down a few beers before catching the last ferry home. Back on the docks that Monday I found myself bored and restless. There was just one thing that kept going through my mind. Those New York City cops. Then it came to me. After years of just floating along on Staten Island and working a nowhere job, I knew what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be a member of the New York City police department.
It wasn’t easy, but I got there. Took some hard work and a lot of intense training. For openers, I had to prove to myself that I had the stomach for it, that I was tough enough. I just don’t mean tough enough to win a fight. Like I said, I was strong and had one helluva right hand. I knew I could handle myself. But I also had some anger in me, anger I had to learn to control so it wouldn’t get the best of me on the job. I think some of that came from the killing of Ben Croft years before. I still hadn’t quite let that one go, but then again it always made me angry when innocent people were victimized. That was just built into me. I didn’t think anyone should get away with that kind of crap.
When I first started with the department in 1911 I was just 24 years old and full of prunes. I was still living at home then and took the early ferry in to the City and the late ferry home. Sometimes I had night duty and had to reverse the ride. That didn’t last long. It soon dawned on me that if I was going to be part of this city I should be living there. So I took a small apartment on the lower west side and became a full-time resident. Didn’t make my mom happy, but that’s the way it had to be.
The city wasn’t quite as wild a place before the war. Sure, there were plenty of people, and wherever there are people there’s crime. Good old human nature. So I kept busy while marveling at the way the place grew. There were so many swell joints where you could eat. Many of the bars still gave you a free lunch for the price of a beer. Couldn’t beat that, especially if you had an appetite like mine. And you could always find a friendly joint to throw down a few with your buddies. That’s also about the time I discovered my fondness for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Having a smoke relaxed me. I could think better after lighting one up and they calmed me down after a tough encounter with a bad guy. Me and Luckies kind of just fit together.
I also liked wearing the uniform. Made me feel good, like I was doing something important. By the time I joined the department we all had .38 caliber revolvers. They became standard issue in 1907. We also carried a night stick, so I didn’t have to throw the right hand that much, though sometimes I felt the fist was the better option. The same year I joined, the department had its first motorcycle squad. I hated those damned things and never rode one. By 1919 we finally had an automobile squad. The old Model T Fords weren’t great, but got us there. Tin Lizzies we called them. They lasted until 1928 when the Model A replaced them. But there were no radios in the cars until 1932, so it was difficult to stay in touch with each other or with headquarters.
The job was never an easy one. If you’re looking for a walk in the park, don’t become a cop. Sure, a lot of it was pinching petty criminals, guys robbing little old ladies, or breaking up fights. But there were times when it was much more dangerous than that. In 1915 I got my baptism under fire. Literally. I was walking on 53rd street when a mug comes running out of bank carrying a satchel. If someone is running when they leave a bank it can mean only one thing. They just made a cash withdrawal from more than one account and probably without saying please. My instincts kicked in and I began running after him, yelling, “Stop! Police!” I was very polite and courteous in those days.
When I hollered the second time, now within about 15 feet of the guy, he must have realized he couldn’t outrun me. That’s when he turned and that’s when I saw the gun. I already had my .38 out and I didn’t hesitate. As soon as he began raising his arm I fired two shots and he went down like a sack of potatoes. The mug was dead. Hooray for me. I had stopped a bank robbery, but it was also the first time I had killed someone and I gotta tell you, it didn’t make me feel real good.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t born yesterday. In this business people die. It can be a police officer as easily as a sleazebag. And there’s no guarantee it won’t be me someday. I knew that when I took the job. And I also knew there would be times when I’d have to fire my .38, so I spent a lot of time at the shooting range. When someone is getting ready to shoot at you, or has already shot at you and missed, you’d damned well be prepared to shoot . . . and shoot to kill. That doesn’t mean it’s easy and, as I found out, the first time is the toughest.
My hands must have been shaking for at least an hour as I answered my captain’s questions and then filled out a report. They told me I’d be getting a commendation – my first – but that didn’t help me sleep that night. I kept playing the scene over and over in my head. Yeah, the guy was definitely raising his gun. I knew if I didn’t act he would have shot me and it would have been hard for him to miss at that distance. In a way, I was proud of myself because I didn’t hesitate. My instincts were right where they should be. But I also kept picturing the two bullets hitting the guy’s chest and the way he fell. The medical examiner explained it by telling me one of my shots was right through the heart and he was dead before he hit the ground. That’s why he went down that way.
Of course, he wouldn’t be the last guy I shot, or killed, and I’ve taken a couple of slugs, too. Fortunately, none did much damage. But the element of danger in the job was something I was always willing to accept. In fact, I came to embrace it. It was both a challenge and a source of excitement for me. I knew I was pretty tough when I started and I only got tougher and more hardened to the job as time passed. I was a damned good cop if I must say so myself, and proud of it.
I’d be a liar if I tried to make a case for being in mortal danger every day back then. Sometimes I’d run across situations that were almost as funny as they were dangerous – or a combination of both – but still had to be handled. Like the day I came across a husband and wife throwing punches at each other right in front of their apartment building. Didn’t know they were married at first. The guy was a tall mug with a shock of messy hair and the dame heavyset and sloppy looking. The two were yelling, screaming and pushing each other. Then she hauls off and smacks him right square across the face. He gets a look on his kisser and shoves her against the stoop of the building with both hands.
“Hey, hold it,” I yell. “What the hell is going on here?”
“None of your damned business,” the mug growls. “This is between me and the old lady.”
The old lady, eh. That’s when I figured they were married, but it didn’t matter. They were still disturbing the peace. I told them to simmer down and to go inside to try to talk it out. If they couldn’t do that, one of them should leave for awhile. Not that I thought that would solve their problems, but I was trying to get them off the street and solve my problem. By then the woman had gotten up and I was standing directly between them. They started jawing at each other again and this time I raised my voice. “Knock it off,” I hollered.
With that, the woman reaches around me and slaps the guy in the face a second time. By then, I had my dander up so I grabbed her by the shoulder and pushed her back against the building.
“Now you stay put,” I said. Then, as I turned back, the husband was coming toward me and I didn’t like the look on his face.
“Hey, no one pushes my wife around like that,” he growled. Suddenly, the mug was in love again. But I was having none of it.
“Except you. Is that the way it works,” I said.
As soon as I saw him raise his hand that did it. I stepped forward and threw my right, caught him smack on the jaw and down he went, out cold. I figured that was the end on it. But before I could turn around I felt someone jump on my back. It was wifey. Now I was the enemy, your friendly cop on the beat.
“You bastard,” she said. “You killed my husband.”
That one made me laugh, but by that time being any kind of a gentleman was out of the question. I threw her off my back the way you discard a wet towel and she hit the sidewalk, then started cursing at me in language I never heard on Staten Island. I had to cuff both of them and run them in. Like I said, you always had to be on your toes. You never knew when even the smallest thing could escalate and put you in danger. And when that happened, you couldn’t play nice. It usually didn’t work.
A couple of years later I almost bought the farm and it left me with a lasting memento. I was looking for a mug named Charlie Rosspeg. How’s that for a name? Seems that good ol’ Charlie was knocking off stationary stores and sticking a gun in his victim’s face. He hadn’t shot anyone yet, but the whole thing still brought back memories of Ben Croft back on Staten Island. After hitting about four or five stores, he made a mistake. He tried to rob the wrong guy, a tough mug who grabbed him and pulled off the mask he was wearing. Charlie had a big, pug nose and was quickly identified.
A couple of days later I was told to check out an apartment on 23rd St. where a snitch told us he was staying. I walked up to the second floor and listened by the door. I could hear water running, but nothing else. I wasn’t about to knock politely. I tried the doorknob. Lo and behold, the jackass hadn’t locked the door. Despite my size, I could always move quickly and quietly, so I entered the apartment, my .38 drawn. I headed toward the sound of the water. Maybe I’d find the mug taking a bath. That thought almost made me laugh out loud.
The place was small and a mess. I crept past the bedroom and the sound of the water became louder. He was in the bathroom. I took a deep breath and stepped directly into the doorway. There was Charlie, standing in front of the sink shaving. I played it by the book.
“Hands up, Charlie. You’re under arrest.”
The room was small and the sink was just a couple of feet from the door. Charlie looked into the mirror, saw me standing behind him and whirled around to the left, his right arm following. He was quicker than I thought and I saw the straight razor in his hand heading right at my throat. I managed to turn to the right and raise my shoulder. As I started bringing my arms up my right hand hit a towel rack and the .38 slipped out. At the same time the razor blade sliced across my left cheek and I could feel the warm blood oozing out. In this small room and with my gun falling to the floor, I knew I could be in big trouble.
I had to get that damned razor and fast. Charlie may have been quick, but I was quicker. As soon as he raised his arm to slash at me again, I lunged at his arm and got it with both hands. I knew in an instant that I was stronger than he was and that he was mine. And by then, the Fargo temper, which I usually held in check, had come out of hibernation as if a firecracker had been thrown at a sleeping grizzly bear.
First, I shoved him backwards, then slammed his wrist against the rim of the sink. The razor went flying. Then I spun him around and pushed his head into the mirror above the sink, so hard that it shattered and his face spurted with blood. He was already done when I turned him around, practically limp, but I couldn’t resist driving my fist flush into his already-bloody face. I could feel his nose break and he let out a low moan before I tossed him to the floor in the hallway, then cuffed him.
That’s when I realized I was a bloody mess, my face bleeding like an open faucet. At that point, I really didn’t give a damn about Charlie and literally dragged him down the stairs by his feet, his head banging rhythmically on each step. Once on the street I managed to get some help and within a few minutes a couple of fellow officers arrived. One of them thought Charlie was dead and, to be honest, if he was I wouldn’t have shed a tear. The first one took him to the station and the other took me to the hospital.
They sewed me up pretty fast, but the son-of-a-bitch gave me a souvenir I’d always have, a scar running down my cheek. Now I’ve got to admit I was never the world’s best looking guy. The scar didn’t help, though it did fade somewhat in time. But again, it went with the territory and I’d live with it. At the same time, the incident taught me a couple of valuable lessons. Always be ready for anything when going up against a mug who doesn’t want to get pinched. You can’t relax or assume. And I also vowed then that I would always give a lot more than I got. I think Charlie Rosspeg found that out the hard way. If you think my face looked bad, well, his looked a helluva lot worse and it didn’t bother me at all. Given a chance, he would have left me on the floor of that bathroom and gone on his merry way.
In 1920, I probably had the most sobering moment of my life. Having been a cop for nine years by then didn’t prepare me for what I encountered that day. Nothing really could. The morning of September 16, was pretty much routine. I was walking a beat in lower Manhattan and, around noon, had stopped for a pack of Luckies when I heard what sounded like a loud bang, or more like a boom. I grabbed the smokes off the counter and went outside. A saw nothing, but within a few minutes heard sirens going off all over the place. It didn’t take long for the word to spread. I was told to get my ass down to Wall Street. Apparently a big bomb had exploded right smack in the middle of lunchtime crowds.
When I got there my stomach immediately did a dipsy-doodle and I felt sick, something that rarely happened when I was on the job. I was used to all kinds of crime, including murder, but this was something else. Apparently, someone pulled up in a horse-drawn wagon, parked it across from the J.P. Morgan bank building at 23 Wall Street and took off. Inside the wagon was 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of heavy, cast iron sash weights. The bastards had set up a timer which detonated the bomb shortly after twelve noon. You don’t want to know what happened to the horse, and that wasn’t the worst of it. There were bodies everywhere – the dead and the dying, the seriously injured and those with lesser injuries. Buildings and autos were damaged and the place looked like a war zone.
My first thought was that this wasn’t what I signed up for, but I quickly realized it was. The so-called war-to-end-all wars had ended some two years earlier and had cost the life of my younger brother. Now I knew the hell he and others went through. So I did my job, helping those I could as we tried to get cars, trucks, anything, to take the injured to hospitals. It was a bloody day in more ways than one and not a time to be finicky.
The final body count was daunting – 38 dead, more than 140 seriously injured and several hundred more with lesser injuries. Talk about a disaster. But who the hell did it? That was the immediate question. The best guess was that the bomb was set off by anarchists who were protesting the arrests of Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They were indicted for a robbery and double murder at a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts in April of 1920. Many felt they were being railroaded and protests began.
The two became one of those jump-on-the-bandwagon causes that seem to bring protesters out of the woodwork. In July of the following year, both were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. This was one time the wheels of justice turned slowly and the execution was delayed by appeals for almost six years until they finally got the chair in 1927. Were they guilty? I can’t really say. It sounded as if they were, but I had other fish to fry and didn’t follow the proceedings very carefully.
What I do know is that whoever drove that wagon up to the Morgan bank on Wall Street that day was never caught and that was a shame. To cause that many innocent people to die or be maimed for life is more than a crime. It’s an abomination. And I had to look that word up. It showed me all over again what people could do to each other. As if a World War wasn’t enough. That might have been the most disheartening day of my life, but it also made me glad I had become a cop. I vowed all over again that I would do everything within my power to put criminals and murderers away. Not that I’m some kind of noble character. I’m far from a saint. I’m just a cop. But I’m a cop who wants to do the right thing and do it well.
Like I said the Great War had ended in 1918. So many lives were lost, including my brother’s, but as we’d learn in a scant 20 years, it wasn’t going to be the war to end all wars. None really is. But the world wasn’t my business. New York City was. The Wall Street bombing may have introduced violence to the 1920s, but that was just the appetizer. The next ten years would be a decade like none other. And I would be smack in the middle of it.
In the long run, it would be known as the Roaring Twenties. I didn’t think of the 1920s like that at first. Just one year moving into another. But if you looked deeper there were changes in the city everywhere and, as a cop, you had to be aware of a good number of them. But, hey, I wasn’t exactly just a cop anymore. A few months after the Wall Street bombing, in early 1921, I was promoted to detective. No more uniform. And no more promotions, either. I didn’t want to be a captain or any kind of department official. I was just where I wanted to be. As a detective I’d be working on some big cases and before long often called upon to solve the crime I hated the most – murder. Oh yeah, and no more uniform. Now I could wear cheap suits and a skimmer if I felt like it. But never a handkerchief in the lapel. Just wanted to give you a little laugh with that one. Me with a hanky in a lapel. No way. It was always in my back pocket.
Before I go into my work in some detail you have to understand the times, the New York City of the 1920s and why it was changing so rapidly. The first change can be described in a single word, one many of us grew to hate. Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16, 1919, and a year later, on January 17, 1920, the United States went dry. That meant it was illegal to manufacture, store, transport or sell alcoholic beverages. How about that one? Swilling hooch had always been a big deal in this country. Then, suddenly, no more. Just like that. Guess what most people thought about that one.
We all knew the law was a joke from the beginning. This was simply a law that could not be enforced. The Feds would try, of course, raid some joints, close some speakeasies and fine the owners, dump a lot of stored booze down the drain if they were lucky enough to find it. But by and large it didn’t work. People who wanted a drink could get one, and that included me. If I had a nickel for everyone who broke that ridiculous law I could retire to the south seas, wherever that is.
As for speakeasies, the name given to illegal bars and establishments that sold liquor, they popped up all over the place. You might find one in a back room of a restaurant, in a basement, or an upstairs dancehall. You name it. And if you think I’m kidding, someone once said that in the city alone there were between thirty and one hundred thousand speakeasies by mid-decade. Now I don’t know how true that was, but I do know it wasn’t difficult to find one and everyone had their favorites. The Feds could raid all they want, but they couldn’t stop it. Close one and another would open, or that same one would move to another location.
For a long time I didn’t know what speakeasy meant. Guess I didn’t much care then. But I learned later that the word came from the fact that they were illegal and didn’t want their locations talked about. So you spoke quietly, or spoke easy, when discussing a place where you could get a drink. Bet a lot of you didn’t know that, either.
There was one item you needed once you decided to operate a speakeasy and it’s not hard to guess what it was. Nah, not the tables and chairs, or the bar stools. You needed the alcohol – the booze, the hooch, the moonshine, rotgut, John Barleycorn or what ever else you wanted to call it. And since the manufacturing, trafficking and selling the stuff was illegal, guess what? Say hello to organized crime – the bootleggers and rum-runners. They brought it in by truck or boat, by rail and would have even used horse-drawn covered wagons if they were still available. You also shouldn’t be surprised that the expression “bathtub gin” wasn’t exactly a newspaper term. People actually mixed and bottled their own at home in the bathtub. They could be in business for themselves or working for someone else. But make no mistake, during Prohibition anything that had to do with alcoholic beverages was a huge business and the law be damned.
Organized crime jumped into the booze business with both feet, adding bootlegging to resumes that included gambling, numbers running, protection rackets, shakedowns, prostitution, and anything else you could think of. They also ran speakeasies and bought into legitimate clubs so they could provide liquor and reap the rewards. Anyone who got in their way or said no to their illegal propositions, was either roughed up or killed. And that’s where I came in.
If anything, I always thought this ridiculous law just whetted everyone’s appetite for a drink. You know how it is, tell people they can’t have something and they want it even more. So New Yorkers were drinking everywhere, not only in the speaks. Women would hide flasks under their garter belts and even in legit clubs and restaurants people could be seen taking out their flasks and pouring the contents into their coffee cups. Some of the stuff was pretty good; some was bad; and still some was downright poisonous. Numerous people became ill and even died from drinking bad, homemade booze during Prohibition.
My job wasn’t to enforce the hooch law, as I called it. I liked a cold beer as much as anyone and when I had the urge for one, hell yeah, I went somewhere to quench my thirst. And don’t think most city officials didn’t do the same thing, though they tended to be more discreet about it. One of my captains even kept a bottle in his desk. So none of us was about to lose our jobs over having a drink.
Except for the fact that it created more criminals, Prohibition didn’t change what I did to any great degree. I wasn’t in the business of chasing or finding booze, though I did deal with some of the mugs who were involved with it. Most of the people I dealt with, even the honest ones, all felt the same about the law. It was an unenforceable joke, but it would remain in place for the entire decade.
New York City was growing by leaps and bounds in the twenties, as well as becoming more complex for a number of other reasons. For openers, there were more people than ever. I even double-checked on this one. In 1920, the city was already home to more than five and a half million people, more than twice as many as second place Chicago. By the end of the decade there would be nearly seven million living there. Do you believe it? All those people didn’t make my job any easier. More people generally means more crime because there’s more money out there to be both spent, extorted and stolen. That leads to more criminals and also more people with grudges against former friends and even family. Life sure would have been a lot easier for me if I stayed on Staten Island, but it also would have bored me to tears.
Not only were there more people, speakeasies and crime in the city during the 1920s, there was more of everything. I don’t know much about the stock market, but it was no secret that people were making gobs of money in the market as the decade wore on. They were investing in both new and old companies, and Wall Street was jumping. You’d see young guys everywhere walking around in fancy suits with big smiles on their faces. You knew a stockbroker when you saw one. Wasn’t my cup of tea but, hey, these high-class swells were making the big bucks. Now there was what they called old money going up against new money. To me it was all the same thing, more than enough money for these people to think they could do anything they wanted.
But not even the market was squeaky clean. Organized crime couldn’t pass it up completely, at least not those mobs run by smart mugs. Some would invest and pretend to be legit or hook up with a legit investor. Others would try to steal money through fraud, blackmail, extortion, intimidation – whatever means they could devise. There was a special squad to keep tabs on the market unless someone big was knocked off. Then I would get a call.
New York City also wasn’t a place where they rolled up the sidewalks at night. In the twenties it became a 24-hour town, one where the partying rarely stopped. And where there are parties there’s often trouble. Not only do good people party but the bad guys were right in there, as well. If they ain’t partying, they’re looking to make a score. Sooner or later, someone is bound to get killed.
Like I said before, Prohibition seemed to spark the thirst for liquor more than ever, especially with the partying atmosphere that was Manhattan. Good times meant booze; eating at a swank restaurant meant booze; listening to entertainers meant booze; dancing the night away meant booze; and just good conversation meant booze. Simply put, the stuff was everywhere.
Much of the partying was also driven by what I heard called the liberation of women. This was a decade when women had found new freedoms and did things most young women had not done before. They even looked different, dressing in short skirts, using makeup, bobbing their hair. They drank, smoked cigarettes and loved the new dances like the Charleston, Black Bottom, Shimmy and Varsity Drag. And their attitude toward sex was like, hey, I’m gonna do what I wanna do. In other words, the way many 1920s women were acting was shocking to an older generation.
I’m gonna admit something now that you might find surprising. I liked the new women, the flappers as they came to be called. I remember years earlier when most young women, especially those from upper crest families, were prim and proper. They wore long dresses and had their hair piled on top of their heads in elaborate curls. To many then, they were considered the ideal of what a woman should be. These young women were called Gibson girls, named after an artist named Charles Dana Gibson, who drew likenesses of them.
I guess the Gibson girls began appearing in the early 1890s when I was still a kid and these so-called ideal women rolled right into the next century until the Roaring Twenties came around. Once the party started the flappers quickly joined the fray. I heard a lot of stories about where the name came from. I guess it was around for a long time, even maybe starting in England. In fact, I’m told it once was a term used to describe a prostitute, but that wasn’t the 1920s New York City flapper. I was partial to those who said the name came from women grabbing the new freedoms that were open to them and were suddenly flapping their wings. Hence, flappers. That one’s good enough for me.
Can you say that the flapper was born out of Prohibition? Maybe. It’s probably more accurate to say they were one of the products of Prohibition, one of the few good ones. I’ve always liked women with something of an edge to them, as well as a sense of independence. Maybe I didn’t go for all the makeup, but a dame who wants to have a beer with me is definitely more my style than one who wants to go to a ballet. In a nutshell, flappers were a welcomed addition to my world, a breath of fresh air among the crime and chaos.
There were still other reasons why New York City was the jumpingest (if there’s such a word) city in the world during the 1920s, and why it really did “roar.” First of all, Broadway exploded. There were shows all over the place – dramas, comedies and musicals – and people coming into the city to see them. I didn’t have much time for shows like that and, to be honest, was more partial to vaudeville, though I could see it was slowly getting swallowed up by more highbrow stuff. But the bawdiness of vaudeville allowed me to laugh and relax, and almost forget the sleaziness and brutality that was all around me. At least for a little while.
It was the many new theaters springing up during the decade that brightened the lights on Broadway, led to more restaurants, nightclubs and joints where you could get a drink. The growth of Broadway and the Times Square area helped make New York a 24-hour town in the twenties. And that’s another reason why I never knew when I’d get a call in the middle of the night to get up and go look at a dead body. How many of you can imagine doing that – going from a sound sleep to going over a corpse in the space of 30 minutes or so? Doesn’t lend itself to pleasant dreams.
The city was also filled with music. It became a lot more than just a piano player accompanying the silent movies. Tin Pan Alley was growing and expanding during the twenties. I’m not sure where that name came from, but the bulk of the music publishers were located on West 28th street between fifth and sixth avenues. There were song pluggers banging away on pianos as they tried to sell sheet music to the general public. Names like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin were everywhere, along with other young songwriters. They were stars, those two, and some others became famous, as well. Many others tried and didn’t make it. But it was apparent the music business was becoming a real attraction even though only the biggest names made the big dough.
At the same time the music they called jazz was also beginning to grow. There were many Negro bands coming into the city with the flappers dancing to the stuff they played. Places like the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom featured this kind of music. The Cotton Club was a ritzy joint, owned by a gangster, and allowed a white-only audience with the performers usually being Negro. Wasn’t the kind of thing that interested me, but I did go there once.
It was in 1927, and I had a girl then named Lola Raymond. Lola was a songbird who did her warbling at a joint called the Amber Room. But she really wanted to be on Broadway. We met when I nailed a guy who had robbed her apartment. I gotta say we made some pretty good music together, but she knew how I felt about some of the music she liked. I will admit I liked hearing her sing. She was damned good. Then one night she asked me to take her to the Cotton Club. She didn’t want to go there to hobnob with the swells, just to hear the music.
How many times could I say no thank you. Or no, period. So I said yes, this one time. Well, Lola was happy, but I was bored out of my gourd, as they say. I just sat there smoking Luckies and sipping coffee. Yes, coffee, despite the fact that the drinks were flowing everywhere. Because the show didn’t interest me, I spent my time scanning the crowd. I was working on a big case then, a case that involved the one and only Babe Ruth. Not that the Babe did anything wrong, but he was involved.
Anyway, I’ve always said that when you’re working a case you never know when a clue will just drop in your lap. I can’t recount the whole story here, but while I was scanning the crowd I spotted something that grabbed my attention. My captain was sitting at an upfront table with a women. No big deal, right, except I never thought my captain would come to the Cotton Club. I looked twice. Yep, it was good old Gus O’Neill. Only one problem. The woman wasn’t his wife. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me, only this dame was someone who was possibly involved with the case I was working on. For her being with my captain sent up all kinds of red flags.
So that was my one trip to the Cotton Club. Lola didn’t like it when I said let’s get the hell out of here, but she understood when I told her what happened and why it could be important to my case. I didn’t want the captain to know I knew. At least not yet. Such is the life of a New York City detective.
There was one big difference between the Cotton Club and the nearby Savoy Ballroom. Both were located in Harlem. The Cotton Club put on shows for its patrons but the Savoy was for dancing. Both white and black people were allowed to come and dance. It wasn’t segregated like the Cotton Club, which was okay with me. No reason people shouldn’t be allowed to have fun and dance, any people, as long as they didn’t break the law.
And don’t forget the movies. The silents were popular, but when the movies began to talk in 1927, they became even more popular. New theaters were built and people had another place to go. See a movie, then go get a bite to eat or a couple of drinks. And then maybe go dancing. New York had it all.
Like I said, all these activities – shows, music, dancing, movies, leftover vaudeville – helped light up the city all night long. Then throw in Prohibition. Ugh. As I said, a totally ridiculous and unenforceable law. But with more people partying, more money being tossed around, more people coming to the city, it stands to reason that more people wanted a drink. And it was illegal. Come on. Did those who worked to pass this law really think people weren’t going to drink? The bootleggers had a field day in the big cities, while in rural areas, moonshiners just kept their stills producing day after day. Law or no law, booze was everywhere. Welcome to the 1920s.
Dames. There’s a subject in itself. Dames. Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em. I don’t really believe that, but thought I’d float it out there. To be honest, I never paid too much attention to the women on Staten Island. Even when I got older I spent most of the time with my buddies, working, boozing sometimes and just kibitzing. Sure, there were some who were nice to look at and we talked to others we knew from school. Like so many of us back then, we had our first real experience with a professional, a girl who “did it” for money. You know, the world’s oldest profession. I guess that’s something I shouldn’t admit, but it’s just another part of what made Mike Fargo the man and the cop that he is.
I hope I was delicate enough describing that because I don’t want to offend anyone. It was just the way it was with guys like us back then. Of course, once I got to New York it became a whole different world. The women were everywhere and I began meeting plenty of them in my work. A few were criminals and they ended up the way all criminals do, taking a vacation courtesy of a judge and jury. Some others were witnesses or friends of a victim that I had to question. As I said, I kind of went for dames with an edge, those who didn’t mind swilling a beer, having a smoke and saying what they thought. What I didn’t like were the phonies, tomatoes who pretended they were something they weren’t, or those who were so full of themselves they could float a dirigible with their hot air.
Call me fussy Fargo if you want, but I liked what I liked. I guess you could say I liked dames, not ladies. Again, my taste and I ain’t condemning anyone else’s. I even met a few on my cases that I found intriguing and attractive. I was investigating the murder of a society girl named Marjorie Reems in 1922. Only Marjorie had tossed aside the Park Avenue life and became a flapper who was jumping from man to man. Sleazy guys. She had a friend named Lily Douglas that I spotted at Marjorie’s funeral. Lily helped me with the case because she liked Marjorie and after I nailed the killer, Lily and I spent a weekend together in Atlantic City. Didn’t lead to much more, but we both enjoyed our time together. She was a good kid, a real dame.
That wasn’t the only time I spent some time with someone I met while working a case. In 1926 the one and only Texas Guinan, the hostess of a posh speak called the 300 Club, called the precinct to report that one of her hostesses, a girl named Brandi Collier, was missing. It turned out to be one of the strangest and most dangerous cases I ever caught, but before it ended I became involved with one of the other hostesses, Marla Russell, who was Brandi’s roommate. At first she was simply frightened, but I’d be lying if I said there also wasn’t some chemistry working between us. I stayed with her a couple of nights to ease her mind (That sounds good, eh?) and we spent some time together after the case closed.
For awhile, that’s how it was. Some short term stuff every now and then, but always mutual. Those girls knew the job came first and that it was dangerous. I don’t think they’d want to hook up with me full time. But while I had my likes and dislikes – an opinionated son-of-a-bitch as I’ve been often called – I always had respect for women and treated them well. Unless, of course, they were on the other side of the law or bad news in some other way. What you gave is always what you got from me.
Then there was Lola. She was different. Like I said, I caught the mug who had robbed her place and recovered the stolen items. That kind of made me a hero in her eyes. Not that I took advantage of her. It’s just that we kind of hit it off. Opposites, surprisingly. Maybe they do attract. Lola was a singer, a songbird as we called them, who wanted to be on Broadway. Now you already know that really isn’t my thing, showbiz and all that. But there was a down-to-earth quality about her and she could sing. She was a regular at a club called the Amber Room and I’d often go over to catch part of her last show after my day was done. Then, depending on the case I was working and my mood, I’d decide whether to go home with her or just go back to my place. Lola understood. My job was nothing like hers. She usually slept late; I was up early. But it was working between us then and that’s all that mattered.
I remember the first time Lola saw me go after a dirtbag. The guy was bugging a women, putting his hands on her, and he tried to take a poke at me. I had told Lola I was a rough customer when necessary, but that was the first time she saw my temper and my right hand. I think it still surprised her seeing the violent side of me. But we got past it. As good as it was, I think we both knew that it would end and how it would end. It was just a matter of when. She wanted to be a Broadway star, and if she made it, there probably wouldn’t be room for Mike Fargo. And Mike Fargo certainly didn’t want to hang around show biz types. But we played it out as long as we could. In my mind, Lola was the best, a great gal.
There are a couple of other dames that were special to me. One I got to know well; the other I met once but otherwise admired from afar. The first was Texas Guinan. Boy, was she something. And yeah, Texas really was from the state of Texas. Her given name was Mary Louise Cecelia Guinan and I learned later that she was born in Waco, Texas, in 1884. She adopted the nickname of her home state and it was perfect. From what I was told, she came to New York City around 1906 and spent some time working in vaudeville, the theater, and finally the movies. But it was in the 1920s that she found her true calling.
If you’ve ever heard the expression, the hostess with the mostess, that was Texas. During the 1920s, she became a high-profiled hostess at a number of swank nightclubs, which could easily serve as a fancy name for speakeasies. The speaks catered to a high-class clientele and some of them were owned or co-owned by gangsters. The joints she ran were raided by the Feds every now and then, maybe closed for awhile with some fines levied, but Texas always re-emerged, bigger and better than ever.
There was little doubt what she wanted from her guests since she always greeted them with a raucous, “Hello, suckers!” She wanted their dough, the cabbage they would drop there, and she called the high rollers who frequented the joint her “butter and egg men.” She dressed to the nines, flapper style, and while she was past 40 when I met her in 1926, was still attractive enough to merit a second look.
What she did for a living didn’t bother me one bit since she was another byproduct of Prohibition. Yeah, I know, I was a cop and the joints she ran were not only breaking the law, but flaunting it. And in many cases, there were some unsavory characters lurking in the background. But I always had bigger fish to fry than going after someone pouring drinks. Her associations didn’t bother me because Texas was interested in just one thing – being out front, welcoming guests and encouraging them to spend. To her, it was just another form of show business. Now if someone got killed there, well, that would be another story.
A potential crime was how I met her. She was running a swanky place called the 300 Club at 151 W. 54th Street. Not only did the high rollers go there, her butter-and-egg men, but it was a stopping point for many celebrities of the day, people like Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and George Raft. In fact, Keeler and Raft started as dancers at the club. Okay, I know I’m dropping names and that ain’t my style, but I just wanted to be sure you knew the kind of place the 300 Club was and how popular Texas had become. She knew them all.
But when she called the precinct in 1926 it wasn’t just to chat. Apparently, one of the young hostesses that worked for her hadn’t been seen in three or four days. No one, including her roommate, had any idea what happened. Texas was worried and rightly so. She asked my captain for his best man, and thinking there might be a homicide in the works, he sent me. When I got to the 300 Club in the afternoon, Texas was sitting at a back table eating a corned beef sandwich and washing it down with a beer. My kind of women. She took one look at me and must have sensed I had an appetite because all it took was a quick nod and I had the same thing smack in front of me. So much for the liquor law. The corned beef was tops, too.
I won’t go into the details of the case here, but it was a tough one because not only did it put me in danger, but at the end Texas was in some danger, as well. She had guts and a lot of loyalty to the girls who worked for her. The missing girl’s roommate was Marla Russell, the gal I mentioned earlier as one I had a short dalliance with. No, Texas and I just became friends, nothing more. But I liked her a lot. What you saw what was you got. I once said he was one corker of a dame. And that says it all.
I guess nothing lasts forever. Texas left New York before the end of the decade and made a couple of films, where she played versions of herself. From what I understand she lost a great deal of her money at the outset of the Great Depression of the 1930s. I was told she tried to go to Europe but because of her reputation she wasn’t allowed to enter at any sea port. What fools. She then launched a satirical review of her plight called Too Hot For Paris. She took the show to Chicago where she came down with amoebic dysentery. Like the trooper she was she continued on the road, eventually taking the show to Vancouver in British Columbia. I was really saddened when it was reported that she died there on November 5, 1933, at the age of 49. Way too young. Ironic, too. I learned years later that her mother lived to the ripe old age of 101.
A final irony was that she died just one month before the repeal of Prohibition, the law that helped make her rich and famous in 1920s New York. It’s still hard for me to believe that Texas Guinan died just seven years after I met her. She was so full of life and was so much a part of the night life in the city. I can still hear her hollering “Hello suckers,” to her butter and egg men. She was some dame.
Then there was Mae West. Unfortunately, I really can’t say I know her. Unlike Texas, she didn’t need help with a potential crime, didn’t need the kind of cop I was. So I saw her from afar, from the audience to the stage, and to me she was quite a gal. Just something about her, the way she walked, talked, danced, smiled. She was a dame, brassy and cocky. I always had the impression she was both a fighter and a lover. Plus she got her start in vaudeville. What can be better than that?
From the time I got to New York and became a cop I followed her career, catching her in shows every chance I had. Like I said, my job can be incredibly stressful. I had to deal with bad people almost every day, some downright evil and others just scum. I saw people at their worst. When you’re saddled with that because of what you do, then you need a release – some laughter and relaxation. Vaudeville did that for me, and so did Mae West.
In 1926, she had her first starring role on Broadway. It was a show she had written, produced and even directed. So it was a Mae West production from start to finish. But it was the title of the show that shocked many people. It was simply called Sex and, not surprisingly, it offended a whole bunch of slugs, including a number of city officials. Hell, it didn’t offend me. Tell me how a play with the title of Sex can be worse than the murder of innocent people, or the intimidation of innocent people by hardened gangsters. I enjoyed the show, enjoyed seeing Mae in the flesh and it relaxed me. Unfortunately, others felt differently.
Believe it or not, the theater was raided (when I wasn’t there) and the entire cast taken into custody. I know, I’m a cop. But there was nothing I could do about it. To me, it was utter nonsense. Here in 1920s New York City, with so much of the old morals going out the window, Mae West was arrested on a morals charge. But it gets even worse. On April 19, 1927, she was convicted and sentenced to ten days in jail for “corrupting the morals of youth.” I didn’t know youths went to Broadway shows.
Here’s the kicker, the thing that really proved what a joke the whole thing was. Mae was to serve her sentence in a jail on Welfare Island. I heard through the grapevine that she would have dinner with the warden and his wife every night. A real hardened criminal was she. They released her after eight days for good behavior. So the bad girl had quickly become a good girl. What a bunch of hypocrites. The whole incident didn’t hurt her career. It just served to make her more popular and lead to more people being curious about her and wanting to see her.
Mae West continued to write plays, many with controversial themes. In other words, she kept breaking the mold. She couldn’t be tamed or shut down. She was a real tough dame. In 1928 she finally had a big hit with a play she wrote called Diamond Lil. She was also the star, of course, and this time played what they called a “racy, easygoing” lady of the 1890s. Leave it to Mae. She later starred in a number of movies and went on to a long and successful career. I saw her shows and films as often as I could.
I even met her once and, to tell the truth, it turned out to be a bit embarrassing. But since I’m not one to hold back I’ll tell you about it. Remember my girlfriend Lola that I spoke about. Toward the end of 1927 she finally got that long awaited Broadway role she always wanted. Her show opened to solid reviews, and in what I guess is a Broadway tradition, they had a cast party after opening night at a local joint, a nice club. I didn’t want to go because I felt it was her time to shine and I’d just be in the way. Besides, it just wasn’t my kind of crowd. But Lola insisted and I finally gave in.
Talk about a fish out of water. I’m standing there in my cheap suit puffing away on Luckies while being pretty much ignored by everyone. Some of Lola’s friends knew I was a cop, but probably didn’t know what to say to me. I mean, they weren’t about to come up to me and say, “Hey, Fargo, anyone get killed today?” Maybe some of them were even afraid of me. So they kept their distance. Lola hung with me as much as she could, but someone was always calling her away to meet someone else or to talk about the show. Then, after about 45 minutes or so, Lola comes up to me and says, “Mike, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Oh, boy, I’m thinking. What now? I tried to wave her off but she grabs my hand and leads me through the crowd and across the room until we were standing in front of a table with three or four people sitting there. And right in the middle was none other than Mae West. It’s hard to describe what I felt at that moment, but there was suddenly a lump in my throat the size of New Jersey and I had the kind of rush that usually came when I was facing extreme danger.
Lola made the introduction and Mae stood up. The lump got bigger.
“Hello there, detective,” she said, in that distinctive, sing-song voice. “Lola tells me you’re quite a guy, a real man. I like real men, if you get my drift.” As she spoke, she eyeballed me from stem to stern, nodding her head approvingly.
I said nothing.
“What’s the matter, big boy,” she teased, in a sexually implicit voice. “Cat got your tongue?”
Whether it was a cat I don’t know, but something had my tongue. For one of the first times in my life I was speechless. Me. Mike Fargo. The tough cop. I was facing a dame I wanted to meet for years and I felt like a ten-year-old kid in knickers. Finally Lola broke the ice by laughing out loud and punching me in the arm.
“Ya big lug,” she said. “Open your damn mouth and say hello before Mae gets insulted.”
I remember Mae just smiling at me, shaking her hips and laughing. “Bet you’d be all over me if I committed a crime,” she said.
I wanted to tell her I’d love to be all over her anytime, but that would have ended it with Lola on the spot. So, instead, I said, “Not the kind of crime they pinched you for last year. I saw the show and loved it.”
That broke the ice and we finally chatted for a few minutes. She was everything I always thought and more. Lola was my girl, all right, but Mae West was always my image of the perfect 1920s woman.
We actually met one other time. In April of 1928, New York’s bad girl opened in another show, Diamond Lil. I was in the midst of a tough case and figured this was a chance for a break, some laughs and some more Mae. I grabbed me a ticket. Lola couldn’t go because she was performing in another show, so I was solo. The show was great and so was Mae. When it ended I was just gonna get up and leave when I suddenly felt inspired. I went back stage and asked to see the star.
As expected, whoever was on guard told me no dice, just anyone couldn’t march backstage and see the cast. When he said, “How do I know you ain’t a troublemaker,” I got burned. For one of the few times in my life I actually abused the privilege of having a badge. I took it out and rubbed it in the guy’s face, telling him I had to see Mae on police business. Since Mae had problems with the law before, he let me pass. I went backstage where the cast had gathered, got a few who-the-hell-is he looks before Mae spotted me.
“Oh, shit,” she said, just like that. “It’s the law.”
Some of the other cast members got funny, frightened looks on their faces before Mae added, “Whaddaya know, my favorite cop. How ya doin’ Fargo?”
“I’m good, Mae,” I said. “Just wanted to see my favorite Broadway big shot.”
She laughed and sauntered up to me in her own way, giving me a big hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Where’s Lola?” she asked. “Not steppin’ out on her, are you?”
“She singing her heart out down the road,” I said, giving her a wink.
Mae nodded and we chatted for another few minutes. She finally had to run and so did I. But I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy every minute of our impromptu meeting.
Mae West was special. Another great dame who fit the 1920s like a glove.
I’ve already told you about some of my early work when I was a cop on the beat. As a detective, the cases tended to get bigger, especially when I became the guy they wanted on some pretty high-profile murder cases. Like I said, murder was the crime that got in my craw more than any other, especially when the victim was an innocent person who didn’t deserve to die. Some said it brought out the best in me. Others thought it brought out the worst, because when I was dealing with the bad guys – whether they be murderers, racketeers, or just dumb muscle bullies – I tended to be one mean son-of-a-bitch.
Now let’s get one thing straight before we start talking about my cases. I know I’m not a Sherlock Holmes. I never tried to pass myself off as some kind of genius who solved cases by being smarter than everyone else. It’s probably more accurate to say I was a grinder, a guy who just kept after it, talking to people and looking for leads. I always believed that if you shake the tree long and hard enough, something will eventually fall out. In other words, that big break or big clue would always come, sometimes when you least expected it. So I would keep digging until I found it. Just never quit.
There’s something else I learned early, soon after I started on the job. You couldn’t pussyfoot around with bad people. They were the enemy. So I made it my business to always go in hard, even if I was walking into one of those phony, cover-up “social clubs” full of tough mugs. I had to act and, if necessary, be tougher than they were. They may have hated me, but they also feared me and that gave me an advantage. So I never hesitated to throw a punch or push a mug around. I also loved to crack wise and try to get under their skin with words. Yeah, I acted cocky but that was also part of my demeanor. The whole thing was geared to making my adversaries perceive me as a guy they didn’t want to mess with and a guy who wasn’t going to stop until he got what he was after. That attitude probably put me in more danger than if I played nice. There were always mugs who’d like nothing better than having me in their crosshairs.
Once I became a detective I caught a couple of big cases, the first coming in 1921. A socialite named Martha Vanderhaven was found stabbed to death in her room at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The Vanderhavens lived in Great Neck, on Long Island, but whenever they came to the city they stayed at the Waldorf in a suite held permanently for them. Martha’s husband, Hollis, ran the family fur business and to say they were well-heeled would be an understatement. They’d often come to the city when he had business dealings and his wife would go shopping. At night they were fans of Broadway shows and cocktail parties with other high rolling swells.
Then came the murder. Martha Vanderhaven was found on her living room floor on a Friday afternoon, stabbed several times. There was no weapon left behind and the last person seen with her was her chauffeur, a man named Joseph Cranwell. He had worked for the family about three years and had taken her to a hairdresser in the morning, then shopping before dropping her off about noon. Her husband was in business meetings all day, letting him off the hook.
A so-called high-society murder is kind of different in that you’re not dealing with the usual lowlife mugs. It’s always possible that some piece of slime was trying to get their money one way or another, but in this case nothing was missing from the apartment. No, chances were that this was some kind of crime of passion, someone who had a personal beef with the victim or the family. So it was time for my kind of grinding and I began asking questions.
Martha Vanderhaven wasn’t a bad looking dame. She was just 39 years old while her husband was a graying 55. That ain’t the normal dynamic of a marriage in some ways. But if someone had eyes for the wife, why not bump off the husband? Hollis Vanderhaven was no help. He couldn’t think of anyone who would want to harm his wife, said he wasn’t having any problems with business associates and had absolutely no ties to the criminal world, though the source of his furs were sometimes questionable. Yet I had the sense that he loved his wife and would tell me if anything had made him suspicious. The Vanderhavens had one daughter, a 14-year-old who was away at boarding school.
After you check out the immediate family you’ve got to look for someone who’s on the outside looking in. These are people who might know something without realizing that they do. My first stop was to question the doorman at the Waldorf, an older gent named Barclay. Turns out he’d been opening doors for the rich and famous for nineteen years. Unless guys like that have their heads in the sand they see and hear things. So I went back to the Waldorf and pulled Barclay aside. The guy was so loyal he didn’t want to leave his post. I admired that and spoke with him in the doorway as he did his job efficiently several times. Then I realized why he didn’t want to leave. Many of the wealthy guests slipped him a buck or two, or even a fin. He was packing in the tips.
At first he didn’t have much to say, citing nothing unusual. But after I prodded him to think some more he said something I found interesting.
“The chauffeur, Cranwell,” he said. “Looks at her like she’s special. If she said jump he’d ask how high. Think he was sweet on her.”
He told me he’d noticed that for quite some time, whenever they came to the Waldorf. As he put it, “Hey, she wasn’t a bad looker and Cranwell was a lot closer to her age than her old man.”
That was enough for me to haul Cranwell in and begin sweating him. It didn’t take him long to admit he was sweet on the victim, but quickly added: “Why would I kill her?”
“Maybe because she told you to get lost or that your services were no longer needed.”
“No, I knew my place,” he insisted. “She didn’t know how I felt about her.”
“They say a dame always knows.”
“Not with me. I was careful. I liked my job.”
Cranwell stuck to his story. We tossed the car and the cheap hotel room where he stayed and there was no sign of a knife or any blood. He admitted helping her carry some of the stuff she bought upstairs, but insisted she was alive and well when he left. My captain still thought he was good for the crime and wanted me to keep looking at him. Whenever a rich swell was murdered, there was pressure on the department to solve the case quickly. I hate to admit it, but there were always guys in the department that were ready to jump on the first suspect we had. Don’t know if they were lazy or wanted to look good for those above them. But any case against Cranwell would have been circumstantial at best. They wanted me to keep digging, check on his past, talk to his friends to see how he acted with women before. All part of good police work except for one thing. I didn’t think he did it.
Instead, my gut told me to look more closely at the victim. Turns out Martha Vanderhaven was born Martha Hall in Philadelphia. But unlike so many of the wealthy families of the time, there wasn’t money on both sides of the family. She came from a working class background. In other words, her family didn’t have the kind of cabbage the Vanderhavens had for generations. Did Martha not want to share? Money is one of the things that can easily lead to murder. Since several members of her family came to New York for her funeral, it gave me a chance to check them out.
Our information was pretty accurate. They were hard-working people who had their share of ups and downs. They also seemed to have their pride. Both parents and her two brothers swore they never asked her for financial help. They did admit that Martha always aspired to something more, to money. She went to New York and she found it with Hollis Vanderhaven. That didn’t help me with the case. My captain was still bugging me about Cranwell, the chauffeur. But like I said, you dig long and hard enough and something always seems to crop up.
I kept pushing the family about Martha having any problems with someone back home. Her parents insisted there was nothing. But one of her brothers mentioned in passing that Martha never got along with her cousin, Irma. Who’s Irma? Irma Keefer, cousin on her mother’s side and two years older than Martha. They were always competing with each other from the time they were kids and, according to her brother, Martha usually came out on top. Where’s Irma now, I asked and there it was.
“She moved to New York about six weeks ago.”
So while everyone was after my ass to pursue the chauffeur, I wanted to find out more about Irma Keefer. I couldn’t remember an instance in my years on the force where a woman killed another woman, but I’d already learned that with people anything was possible. In other words, not much surprised me anymore.
It didn’t take long to learn that Irma Keefer was living in a small apartment on the lower east side and working as some kind of assistant in the garment district. I didn’t want to give her a heads up, so I waited outside the place she worked and asked one of her co-workers to finger her when she came out at the end of the day. Then I just walked up and tapped her on the shoulder. When she turned around I pasted my badge in her face and an immediate look of fear came over it.
Irma Keefer was a frumpy looking woman, overweight yet with a pinched face that looked too small for her body. I sensed she was unhappy and humorless, and as soon as I mentioned cousin Martha’s name, she turned white as a sheet. Sure, she could have been upset by her cousin’s death, but my gut told me something else. It told me that a killer was standing before me.
Proving it was another story. Like every perp I’ve ever met, her first instinct was to deny and act indignant. When I asked her where she was when her cousin was killed, she had a quick answer.
“They wouldn’t even let someone like me into the Waldorf-Astoria.”
She didn’t tell me where she was but where she wasn’t. Irma Keefer was a rank amateur and probably thought she would never be even looked at for this crime. All it took was a quick trip to the station and a 15 minute interrogation to break her. Irma was one of those souls not built for murder and she had to get it all off her chest. She admitted she had a rivalry with cousin Martha for years and always finished second. Martha was prettier, smarter, more popular – the whole shebang. Then she married old man Vanderhaven and was loaded with cabbage. In a nutshell, Irma wanted to be her but knew she never could be.
Once in New York, she looked Martha up, but her cousin wanted nothing to do with her. She had come to the hotel once before and got the cold shoulder. But Martha had somehow let her know that they always had the same room. The jealousy and envy quickly began to boil over. On the fateful morning she was watching the Waldorf from across the street, saw Martha return with her chauffeur, and waited until he left. Then she walked slowly toward the entrance, waited again until doorman Barclay walked out to the curb and bolted inside.
After entering the apartment, she apparently asked her cousin for a small loan to help her establish herself in the city, whatever that meant, and when Martha turned her down she flew into a rage. “The bitch wouldn’t even give me the time of day,” was the way she put it. Then she grabbed a knife from the kitchen and did the deed. She said she then put the knife in her large purse and left. In that respect, it was a clean kill. But it didn’t take long to nail her. I guess you could call it a crime of passion, just not the usual kind.
Corralling Irma Keefer for the crime made me something of a celebrity, at least within the department, and after that I would get the call on some high profile murder cases. And I never had a partner. Didn’t want one. I was better working cases alone. It might have been more dangerous that way, but I felt I could get faster and better results. Was I arrogant? Some thought I was. To me, it was just a matter of confidence. I always felt I’d get my man . . . or woman in the case of Irma Keefer.
A year later, I caught another big one. A young socialite named Marjorie Reems was shot and killed in a Park Avenue doorway, just a block from her family home. As soon as I saw the body I knew this one wouldn’t be easy. The daughter of one of the richest families in the city, a girl who could afford the finery only the wealthy can buy, was dressed like a common flapper. Why?
This one went from high society right down to the underbelly of the worst the city has to offer. Seems Marjorie Reems was a troubled girl hopping from one bad guy to another. Talk about a list of suspects. Then again, you sometimes have to do a U-turn and re-examine the source. The outcome turned out to be quite a surprise, one that shocked New York society as well as a lot of other people. Solving it involved a lot of legwork.
I’m not going to talk details on this one because the story has been put in book form by Bill Gutman, who is chronicling my career and worked with me on my tale that you’re reading now. He calls this one Death of a Flapper and it gives you the whole story.
But there’s a lot more. Though the department soon began to think of me as a murder specialist, I caught other cases, as well. Some of them were unexpected. Like I said, as a cop you always have to be prepared for the unexpected. And when there’s a potential life or death situation suddenly put in front of you, you just hope you act accordingly. The way I see it, you have to. Otherwise, you could be the one they toss in the meatwagon for a free ride to the morgue.
That was the kind of situation I found myself facing in the summer of 1923. We got a report of a bank being robbed just two blocks from the precinct. I was out the door in a flash and headed toward the bank. Going on foot would be quicker than grabbing a squad car. I knew there was backup on the way and thought I might catch a couple of uniforms on the beat to join me. But as soon as I had the bank in sight, two guys ran out the front door and jumped into an old Ford parked at the curb. One was carrying a satchel, the other a gun.
These mugs were already in the car. If they had pulled away from the curb immediately there was no way I could have stopped them. But as luck would have it, they were held up by a horse-drawn wagon rolling past slowly and when the car finally started to move I was almost on them. I probably could have started firing, maybe put a slug in a tire, but there were too many people around to take that chance. In a split second I knew the only way I had a prayer of nailing them was to jump on the driver’s side running board. Not the smartest thing I ever did.
The window was open and I reached in and grabbed the wheel with one hand, then punched the driver with the other. Not enough to put him in la-la land, but enough to make him stop resisting as I began swerving the car from side to side so the other guy couldn’t steady himself to get off a shot. At the same time I was yelling at the driver to stop the damned car, but he wasn’t listening. I knew I had to stop it so that innocent people wouldn’t be hurt. Before we reached the corner I spotted several large garbage cans out by the curb waiting to be picked up. Behind them was a light pole. I braced myself and steered the car right into the cans.
The impact tossed me off the running board. I felt some scrapes and bruises, but was all right. I jumped up to see the driver passed out behind the wheel. The other guy was also dazed. He had rapped his head on the dash. I quickly cuffed the driver to the steering wheel but by the time I went around to the passenger’s side the other guy was out of the car and running up the sidewalk. He had the satchel in one hand and a revolver in the other. I started to chase him.
The streets were crowded so the last thing I wanted was a wild-west gunfight. Under no circumstances should innocent people be hurt or killed. To avoid that, I had to catch him in a hurry. The mug was a big guy and not very fast. I was big but, like I said, could move quickly. He was too busy pushing people out of the way to see how close I was and I bought him down with a tackle that would have made Jim Thorpe proud. I rolled him over and he looked up at me for a split second, his eyes flaring. Then my fist hit him flush and he saw nothing more until he was cuffed and stuffed.
Yeah, I got a lot of press. Hero cop and all that good stuff. But as I told all the reporters who came calling, it was just part of the job. I did what I was paid to do. And I meant it. The robbers were in jail, the money recovered, no one died, and it was on to the next.
I think by now you can see how busy the Roaring Twenties were for law enforcement. Prohibition spawned the growth of organized crime and just the huge numbers of people living in New York City put human nature to work. Not always in a good way. So the police often had their hands full. If I came across any kind of lawbreaking I took action. But more and more as the decade wore on, I caught cases that involved murder and some big names of the period. The next three cases I’m going to mention will give you an idea about just what I mean. They are also cases that have been written about by Bill Gutman, so I won’t go into too many details.
The first happened in 1925 when my boss, Captain Lou Porter, sent me over to the Crittendon Theater on 47th Street one day. He told me someone named Buddy Barrett had been shot and killed. “Who the hell is Buddy Barrett?” I asked. Like I said, what did I know from Broadway. His answer took me by surprise.
“Where do ya live, Fargo, in a hole somewhere?” he said. “Wake up. This is 1925 and Buddy Barrett is the hottest director to hit Broadway in years. They call him the boy wonder.”
The boy wonder, eh. Okay. I hustled over to the Crittendon and found the boy wonder face down on the stage with a bullet in his head. I had a theater full of suspects since they were rehearsing a big musical and, as usual, nobody saw nothing. The shot had been fired from a scaffolding above the stage but no one had apparently seen who fired it or how the shooter left the theater or if he left. My first question was the obvious one. Why would someone want to kill the boy wonder of Broadway?
Soon another question arose. Who was the boy wonder of Broadway? Buddy Barrett was a young kid who seemingly came out of nowhere. His first two shows were huge hits, thus the nickname. This one was the third, and for a third backer. The first two jettisoned Buddy after he made unreasonable financial demands to direct another. And the more people I spoke with the more I learned he had a second nickname. Many people on the Great White Way not only knew him as the boy wonder of Broadway, but by a name they called him behind his back. Buddy the bastard.
Finding out who the real Buddy Barrett was proved to be difficult and dangerous. I even had to leave my comfort zone of New York and travel to Atlantic City, where I clashed with a local mob kingpin and almost didn’t make it back. The end of this one was surprising in many ways, but I finally caught my killer, though I beat myself up over it for awhile. And those who crossed paths with him would never forget Buddy Barrett, remembered more as Buddy the bastard than a boy wonder of any kind. The details are available in Gutman’s book, Murder on Broadway.
A year later, in 1926, I met and became friends with Texas Guinan. As I said earlier, what a dame. She called the precinct when one of her girls at the 300 Club seemed to vanish into thin air. Because Texas was a nefarious New York celebrity, my captain wanted me to handle it. The hope was that the girl, Brandi Collier, had just decided to take off for awhile, either by herself or maybe with one of the wealthy high rollers who frequented the club. Her roommate, Marla Russell, who also worked at the club, said she hadn’t been at their apartment since she stopped coming to work. She seemed to think something bad happened to her.
At first, it was the usual legwork. There was an ex-boyfriend, who was something of a sleaze, and a kid who worked in the kitchen at the club who couldn’t keep his eyes and sometimes his hands off her. Then an ex-husband no one knew about showed up. Had to question them and, not surprisingly, get a little rough. I still hadn’t made much progress when I got the phone call.
This one is called Seven Days to Murder and it was the phone call that set the tone. A strange-sounding caller claimed to have Brandi and threatened to kill her in seven days. That’s all the time I had to find her or it would be curtains. Or so he said. It turned out there was a lot more to it and with time running down, I still hadn’t connected all the dots. So it was down to the wire with several lives on the line, including both mine and Texas Guinan’s. This one seemed at first like a simple matter of finding a missing girl, but it sure turned into a lot more.
The last case I want to mention here involves the Babe. Babe who, you ask? Well, if you lived in 1927 New York City you and everyone else would have been following the exploits of one George Herman “Babe” Ruth and the New York Yankees. They were tearing up the American League. Ruth and young Lou Gehrig were hitting home runs at a record pace and the team on the whole was nicknamed Murderer’s Row. People were already calling them the best ever.
How did I get involved with Babe? Good question since I don’t really like baseball, much less have time to go to Yankee Stadium, the grandest baseball stadium ever built. My business is murder, and that’s how it started. While any murder is serious business to me, when my captain said a groundskeeper had been found dead at Yankee Stadium, I was surprised that he wanted me to investigate. Hell, the Stadium was in the Bronx and, as far as I was concerned, that was as far from our precinct as Staten Island. When I said that to my captain I got barked at.
“Hey, knucklehead, stop and think,” he said. “The Yankees. The New York Yankees. Haven’t you been reading what they’re doing this year? Anything happening up there could be a real sensitive issue if it ain’t handled right. Do you want some bozo from the Bronx screwing it up? Nah, this came right down from the top. They want us, and I want you. Simple enough to understand? See what you can find out and don’t talk to anyone you shouldn’t be talking to. Then get back to me as soon as you can.”
Well, he was right about one thing. It was a real sensitive issue. The groundskeeper was deader than a doornail and it was apparent what killed him. This was Yankee Stadium. What else but a baseball bat. The question was who hit the home run, and when I found out about the guy who had a pretty good argument with him earlier the case took on a whole new meaning. The guy arguing with the dead man was Babe Ruth, the biggest hero in all of New York City. Even Mayor Walker was always at the ballpark watching him play.
No wonder Bill Gutman called this case Murder on Murderer’s Row. That’s where it all started and involved the New York Yankees biggest star, the engine that drove Murderer’s Row as they mowed down American League opponents. But this was a case destined to get a lot bigger than the murder of a groundskeeper. I started by questioning the Babe, discreetly, and found him confident to the point of being brash. To be honest, I wasn’t that crazy about him.
A short time later I got a late-night call about a sportswriter named Cass Molloy who had been killed on the street by a blow to the head. Malloy had just written a scathing column about the Babe, calling him a crybaby among other things, and the two had argued earlier that night in a speak. Coincidence? Or was in strike two? Once again I had to question the Babe and this time he became angry to the point of suggesting he might take a poke at me. I told him I didn’t advise it and when he asked why I said, simple, because I hit back. Then he grinned. I had returned his bluster, which he apparently respected, and that’s also when I started liking him.
This turned into a case that just grew and grew. It soon involved a low-level hood named Augie “The Mole” Bendetti, and that eventually led to one Emmanuel “Manny” Goldman, a more sophisticated mobster who wanted to be another Arnold Rothstein. There were plenty of other characters, too. In fact, I was ordered to work with a special prosecutor named Brent Forrester who was sent by the Governor to clean up some of the local dirt and he soon made Goldman his prime target. This one was full of surprises, including a couple involving my fellow cops that I didn’t see coming.
The Babe remained a part of the story right up until the very end and, I’ve got to admit, we became pretty good friends. In fact, Brent Forrester and I were at Yankee Stadium on September 30, when the Babe broke the home run record by belting his 60th of the season. The guy was great, but he sure was a ham.
Don’t get me wrong. There were other cases, as well. Plenty of them. But those mentioned here should give you a good idea about what my life was like in the 1920s. And thanks to the guy I mentioned, Bill Gutman, you can read about four of them in detail. Not that I went looking to have someone write about my work, but if someone found them interesting, who am I to stop him? Hell, if nothing else they show that crime doesn’t pay. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Well, I guess I’m getting close to the end of my story. I don’t want overstay my welcome, but I do have a few more thoughts about my life and the direction it has taken. First of all, I’ll never apologize for becoming a cop. It was my choice and I’ve never regretted it for a minute. Sure, I’ve seen people at their worst and I’ve seen people lose their lives over virtually nothing. That’s not always easy to take. You may become hardened to it, but sooner or later something always gets to you. It has to. Otherwise, you just ain’t human.
Would I have become a cop if I was born forty years sooner? Hell, I might have been Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickok. Probably would have sought out a place like Dodge City or Tombstone, just like I picked New York City over staying home for a much easier life on Staten Island. I guess something inside of me wants to be close to the action. And in this case, the action also meant risk and danger. I was willing to accept those two bedfellows from the beginning.
I was living in a time of great change. When I was born people often still got around by horse and buggy. Now I’m sometimes chasing guys in a squad car. Of course, we always had trains and the Staten Island ferry, but it seemed like new things were coming every year. At the beginning of the 1920s the movies were silent. By the end they were talking away. As a kid I could never imagine a place like Broadway, with the bright lights burning all night long. And so it was.
Am I a people person? I guess I’d have to say yes and no. To be honest, I’ve never gotten real close to my fellow cops. Not that I don’t like some of them. It’s just that I’m very focused on what I do and once I became a detective, I almost always worked alone. I’ve never been one for mindless banter, yakking for the sake of yakking. And going for a night on the town with my fellow cops just wasn’t something that turned my crank. Being an officer of the law (now I’m being formal) was my business, and I didn’t like mixing business with pleasure. Like I said, there were some guys I liked and could call friends, but I still didn’t spend a lot of time with them outside of the precinct.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t totally anti-social. I did like the ladies, had some brief interludes with a couple of them over the years, as I’ve mentioned, then a steady gal when I met Lola. I never really thought about getting married. Maybe I knew I’d make a lousy husband with the business I was in. But who knows? I learned a long time ago never to say never. And I certainly admired some of the dames I met, like Texas Guinan, and some I watched from afar like Mae West. I also met some other mugs during various investigations that I liked. The Babe was one of them. Disliked him at first, but I’m glad I got to know him well enough to understand him, which led me to like him. But there were also quite a few who just weren’t my cup of tea, both male and female. I dealt with them from the standpoint of an investigator, but didn’t invest anything personal in them beyond that.
With those types I often tended to crack wise and sometimes had a sarcastic bent. Again, that’s something I think I developed from the work. I had to listen to so much bullshit and lies when talking to suspects and other phonies that I developed a built-in shit detector and I didn’t hold back. You give me a line, you’ll get two back. But I had genuine sympathy for innocent victims who didn’t deserve to be in certain situations and I always tried to help them.
Then there were the newspaper guys. During the 1920s there was an explosion of newspapers in New York City. They called it the birth of tabloid journalism and all the papers competed for the scoops and stories. Each wanted to be the first to break a story. With that kind of situation it shouldn’t be hard to guess what many of the reporters were to us. Yep, pains in the ass. Plain and simple. There were a couple of good ones, like Mike Decker of the Tribune. Mike was a guy always willing to help out without asking for something in return. He gave it to you straight and I appreciated that. He became a friend, a guy I enjoyed having a beer or two with on occasion.
There were others I had to deal with that weren’t quite the same. Take Barney Fullbright of the Daily News. A guy like Barney was the reason we called reporters in general snoops. He was always nosing around with a cigarette dangling out of the side of his mouth and booze on his breath. If he had information that could help us on a case, he’d always want something in return. Usually an exclusive if his tip led to anything. Sometimes I had to make a deal with guys like that because they had ways of ferreting out information, just as we did with our street snitches. But by and large, the ever-increasing press corps was just another hindrance we had to deal with while crime sometimes swirled all around us.
By now you should pretty much know what New York City of the 1920s was like. My New York City. Though I was from Staten Island, the city quickly became my home and I had a real affection for it . . . and real distaste for those who wanted to corrupt it. Of course, corruption had a long arm and often reached all the way to city hall. Politicians weren’t my favorite people either. As far as I was concerned, they couldn’t be trusted. There was probably a good one here and there, but New York City always had its fill of bad apples. I just had to work around them. And that long arm could also extend into the higher reaches of the police department itself. So you sometimes had to watch your back among your own people. It wasn’t hard for the lines between good and bad to become blurred. That wasn’t only something born of the 1920s. It existed long before and would continue to exist long after.
But I’m not complaining. You take the bad with the good and make the most of it. Let’s put it this way. I was a New York City detective. That was my job, my life. And I was determined to do it to the best of my ability. Every day. Every year. As for the wild times of that crazy decade, like everything else it couldn’t go on forever. The Roaring Twenties came crashing down on Black Tuesday, October 19, 1929, when the stock market bottomed out. Fortunes were lost and what followed was a decade now known as Great Depression.
I continued as a detective because crime never stops. Prohibition would finally end in December of 1933 and bootlegging died with it. Maybe the crime wasn’t the same, but in a city as large as New York, it would always be there in abundance. But looking back at it, there was nothing like the excitement and energy of the 1920s. It was a time I’d never forget. Despite the lawbreakers and the danger, the twenties were special. They marked the beginning of so much. There will never be another period like it and I’ll always be grateful that I was part of it. And maybe, just maybe, my presence helped to make it just a little bit safer.
Bill Gutman is a veteran author who has published more than 200 books conventionally over a long career. He has written both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, has done as-told-to books as well as many biographies. Now he is writing and publishing The Mike Fargo Mysteries, a labor of love set in a period that has always intrigued him, the 1920s. Fargo is an old-fashioned, hard-boiled New York City detective who must operate without the help of cellphones, DNA evidence and the internet, making his stories a real journey back in time.
You can contact Bill Gutman at: and visit his website at: .
Just who is Mike Fargo? If you've read any of the books in THE MIKE FARGO MYSTERIES series you know he is a no-nonsense, resolute New York City detective fighting crime and solving murders in the decade known as the Roaring Twenties. Even if you haven't yet read any of the books you probably can come up with an educated guess about the kind of guy he is just from the book descriptions. Now you don't have to guess anymore. The real answers are in ROARING TWENTIES COP, Mike Fargo's Own Story. This book will answer all your questions. What kind of childhood did he have? What was his family like? You'll read about the tragic incident that made him want to become a cop and learn why being a New York City detective was the perfect situation for him. You'll also learn what Fargo thinks about the decade of the 1920s – the joke that was Prohibition, the women known as flappers, and all the amazing social and artistic changes taking place right before his eyes. And, of course, you'll also learn just what he thinks about crime and his dogged pursuit of murderers. It's Fargo's story because he's telling it in his own words, starting with his 1890s childhood on Staten Island to growing up at the turn of the century and then working on the docks; his first trip into New York City and his early days as a cop on the beat. He'll also describe his feelings when he had to kill for the first time, recall how he acquired a telltale scar across his left cheek and relive the day he called the worst of his life, the 1920 anarchist bombing on Wall Street. He'll also talk about the ladies, the great dames he has known, as well as some of his toughest cases. This is a guy with a difficult and dangerous job, but one who still saw the Roaring Twenties as a special decade, one he enjoyed more than any other.