5 Minutes to Murder: George Remus, The Bourbon King

5 Minutes to Murder: George Remus, The Bourbon King

Historian Bob Batchelor discusses The Bourbon King outside the former Cincinnati hotel where "Bootleg King" George Remus stalked his wife Imogene, before murdering her in cold blood at Eden Park.

 
Spring House -- Eden Park.jpg

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: The Real Ghost of Eden Park, Video

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: The Real Ghost of Eden Park, Video

From Cincinnati, Historian Bob Batchelor discusses the real ghost of Eden Park and the human toll of Prohibition, in the 1920s and today.

 

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: The Murder, Video

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: The Murder, Video

The Murder, Part II: From Cincinnati, Historian Bob Batchelor, author of The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition's Evil Genius (Diversion Books), discusses how George Remus chased down his wife Imogene and murdered her in Eden Park and then retraces their steps!

There is a great deal of conflicting opinion about exactly where Remus and his driver, George Klug, ran Imogene and Ruth’s taxi off the road, even among eyewitnesses! I recreate the murder from the information I pieced together from those accounts. In any case, the murder took place along a 10 to 20 yard strip near Mirror Lake.


George Remus murdered Imogene in Eden Park, Cincinnati’s version of Central Park in the 1920s. The murder location is behind me in this photo, in this stretch of roadway.

George Remus murdered Imogene in Eden Park, Cincinnati’s version of Central Park in the 1920s. The murder location is behind me in this photo, in this stretch of roadway.

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: The Chase Leads to Murder, Video!

The Chase Leads to Murder!

From Cincinnati, Historian Bob Batchelor discusses how George Remus chased down his wife Imogene and murdered her in Eden Park while also retracing the route through the city!



The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: Imogene, Femme Fatale or Pawn in Remus’s Evil World?

 
Imogene Remus sits for a formal portrait in her finest fur shawl and feathered hat. Her stunning diamond wedding ring is prominently displayed, which may indicate that this photo was taken shortly after she and George were married in Newport, Kentucky, on June 25, 1920.

Imogene Remus sits for a formal portrait in her finest fur shawl and feathered hat. Her stunning diamond wedding ring is prominently displayed, which may indicate that this photo was taken shortly after she and George were married in Newport, Kentucky, on June 25, 1920.

The exterior of the Gatsby-like “Dream Palace.”

The exterior of the Gatsby-like “Dream Palace.”

Imogene Remus — Femme Fatale or Pawn in Remus’s Evil World?

Imogene Remus is one of the trickiest characters in The Bourbon King.

Imogene’s motivations and subsequent actions enabled her to easily transition to whatever a situation necessitated. Imogene could be browbeaten housewife or femme fatale at a moment’s notice. On one hand, her desires were base and gaudy, but she also masterminded a complex scheme to funnel much of her husband’s wealth to herself and family members.

Unlike other accounts of George and Imogene, my research revealed how devious she had been from the start of her relationship with her husband. Much of Imogene’s early life had never been uncovered, particularly the lengths she went to attract a modicum of fame.

Yet, at the same time, Imogene played a dangerous game, dancing on the edge of a cliff. She may have thought she understood George, but in the end, she had no clue to the depths of violence and anger Remus could unleash.

Imogene grew up in Milwaukee dreaming of a life bigger and more glamorous than her working class roots. What I found in researching her life is that she was constantly playing with her identity by using different names, from “Gussie” and “Gene” to “Susan” and others.

Trying these names and different identities on like masks, Imogene hoped to become wildly famous and rich, living out an aristocratic life that she saw around her. I also uncovered a number of crazy attempts Imogene made to get her name in the newspapers, which was one of the best ways to increase notoriety in the early twentieth century. She would send “news” to reporters, and for someone with no formal training, had several pieces picked up.

For example, around the time the story broke about her breaking up George’s first marriage, using the name “Gene Holmes,” she had a list of tips for a wife to follow to keep her husband from “becoming a wild man.” Reporters who ran the story did not miss the irony of the highly-publicized “love triangle” that had been in the papers for months.

Even more overtly, Imogene told a friend shortly after Remus moved in with her that she planned to “roll him for his roll” and that she “would marry him if I have to” to get his money. George was already famous, flashy, and probably looked like a great catch for Imogene. She won him over and eventually got all the riches in the world. However, she couldn’t have had any idea at that time what a depraved person he would become.

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: Prohibition and Marijuana

Can we learn from Prohibition in thinking about issues regarding the legalization of marijuana?

My favorite history books provide deep insight the issues of the past and act as a kind of guide for addressing contemporary concerns. I had this idea in mind when writing The Bourbon King — how do we think about marijuana and other lifestyle choices regulated and legislated by the government?

We are still learning the lessons of Prohibition a century later. The most destructive aspect of the dry era was that it took a significant human toll on America.

Many lives were wasted, from people poisoned by tainted alcohol to those killed in enforcing the Volstead Act or attempting to circumvent the law. We have seen similar scenarios play out over the last several decades with marijuana legislation and enforcement.

During Prohibition and with weed over the last several decades, a significant air of lawlessness became commonplace. The nation still deals with these issues now. For instance, people travel between states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana and those that still criminalize it.

Screen+Shot+372.jpg
 
Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, the “father of Prohibition”

Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, the “father of Prohibition”

 
Screen Shot 371.png
 

We are still learning the lessons of Prohibition a century later…Many lives were wasted…a major human toll on America…We have seen similar scenarios play out over the last several decades with marijuana legislation and enforcement.

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: George Remus and Al Capone

Remus mugshot.jpg

How does George Remus compare to Al Capone?

Without George Remus, there is no Al Capone.

Every city in America had underworld operatives long before Prohibition. Bootlegging existed, whether it was running the product of home stills to avoid government taxes or bringing cheap liquor into the United States from Mexico.

When the dry laws kicked in, rumrunning became big business. In America’s largest cities, like Chicago, bosses like Johnny Torrio quickly realized that America’s thirst needed quenched and by smuggling liquor, they could make untold millions.

Rather quickly, criminal kingpins realized that they needed booze to thrive. Remus provided that liquor and enabled men like Torrio, and his successor Al Capone to create empires. Other liquor masterminds existed, so Remus was not alone in getting booze to mob bosses, but his network was extensive and centered on selling the highest quality Kentucky bourbon.

Selling “the good stuff” led to connections between Torrio’s Windy City operation and Remus’s headquarters at Death Valley. George Conners, Remus’s top lieutenant, spoke at length about his salesman trips to Chicago to funnel bourbon into the large market there. Torrio also had ties to the Cincinnati metro area, marrying a woman from Northern Kentucky and having family in the area.

While George and Al had similar interests in selling booze and making as much money as possible, on a personal level, Remus was a generation older than Capone and some of the other “name” mafia bosses, like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, the friends who operated at the feet of criminal mastermind Arnold “the Big Brain” Rothstein in New York City. After Rothstein’s murder, Luciano and Lansky became kingpins themselves. Men like these were career criminals. When bootlegging turned vicious, they were more willing to kill or incite violence and murder to achieve their end goals.

Remus, although no stranger to gunfights or ordering his men to protect his product with gun play, was a product of the Gilded Age. George’s first instinct was to respond to a threat with his fists or the gold-tipped, weighted cane that he carried as both a style statement and weapon. As Prohibition went on, it became a shoot-first world.

People often ask why Remus didn’t get back into bootlegging in June 1928 after his stints behind bars and at the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There are many potential answers, but most directly: without money or henchmen, Remus could not reestablish his bourbon empire after winning his freedom. George would have needed an army to reclaim even a portion of his empire, but after Imogene and Franklin Dodge decimated his fortune, he could not afford to rebuild.

This is only a small tidbit of the complexity of Remus’s interactions with his mafioso colleagues. The full story will make more sense after reading The Bourbon King.

The famous Rathskeller bar in the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in downtown Louisville. Allegedly, Remus and Capone drank together at the Rookwood Pottery tile-encrusted grotto, one of the most stunning displays of Rookwood from the early twentieth century.

The famous Rathskeller bar in the Seelbach Hilton Hotel in downtown Louisville. Allegedly, Remus and Capone drank together at the Rookwood Pottery tile-encrusted grotto, one of the most stunning displays of Rookwood from the early twentieth century.

Capone.png

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: George Remus as a Business Leader

At the height of his power, George Remus purchased an office complex at 225 Race Street on the southwest corner of Race and Pearl Streets, renaming it the “Remus Building.” The lobby tile display (allegedly from the famous Rookwood Pottery) spelled out “Remus,” which he thought demonstrated his authority. For his second-floor office space, Remus spent $75,000 on lavish furniture, accessories, and equipment, as well as a personal chef.   (Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati History Slide Collection)

At the height of his power, George Remus purchased an office complex at 225 Race Street on the southwest corner of Race and Pearl Streets, renaming it the “Remus Building.” The lobby tile display (allegedly from the famous Rookwood Pottery) spelled out “Remus,” which he thought demonstrated his authority. For his second-floor office space, Remus spent $75,000 on lavish furniture, accessories, and equipment, as well as a personal chef.

(Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Cincinnati History Slide Collection)

George Remus as a Business Leader


Remus cashed out in Chicago and took his fat stacks to Cincinnati, the epicenter of the bourbon and beer industries in the early twentieth century. He parlayed his life earnings into a fortune that some estimate reached $200 million, which would be many billions of dollars today over the course of about two and a half years.

Remus realized that he could control every aspect of the bootlegging business, from production to distribution via other rumrunners and liquor operatives, while also selling directly to consumers. He called this idea “the circle,” which was probably modeled on what J. D. Rockefeller had done in the oil business. “Cornering the market” was a popular idea in the 1920s, a decade and a half after President Theodore Roosevelt had criticized business leaders for attempting to create corporate monopolies.

“Remus was to bootlegging what Rockefeller was to oil.”

— Paul Y. Anderson, St. Louis Dispatch

Basically, like Rockefeller in oil or J. P. Morgan in steel, George wanted to create a network that controlled all aspects of the bourbon industry, from creating the product in Kentucky distilleries to shipping and distribution, and then through the sales process. If he controlled all these points—thus creating the circle—he would dominate the market.

Creating this national network took a lot of money and a lot of hubris. Remus had both in spades. He pulled it off, but in the end, faced some of the same challenges businesses have always faced: lack of talent to manage the organization and deals that fell through. Remus needed henchmen that were as smart as him and he had trouble finding them. Then, his “sugaring” network—the term for bribery in the 1920s—fell through. These challenges essentially put him out of business.

Check out The Bourbon King: The Life and Crimes of George Remus, Prohibition’s Evil Genius for the whole story, including how Remus assessed his own abilities as a corporate leader.

The Bourbon King, The Inside Story: George Remus as a High-Flying Defense Attorney

George Remus became a top criminal defense attorney in Chicago. What made him so successful in the courtroom?

George Remus transitioned to attorney at a time when the Chicago economy boomed and new residents poured into the region. His early work centered on labor law, representing several large Windy City unions. The efforts put George in the circle of famed attorney and human rights activist Clarence Darrow.

Both men abhorred the death penalty and Remus gravitated to criminal defense work, just as Darrow had done earlier in his career. What set George apart was his willingness to do anything to win, particularly if he could get a death row sentence reduced to jail time.

When Remus put his considerable intellectual and physical efforts toward a legal career, he ruffled the existing “old boy’s network,” which saw him and his second-rate legal training as an imposition on the establishment they had crafted (he most likely faced a great degree of anti-German discrimination as well). George charged ahead, though, engaging in local Republican politics and serving as a leader in a new legal society aimed to upend the status quo.

No one could deny Remus’s dedication, but his tactics upset many of his colleagues.

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

George Remus photographed during his time as an attorney in Chicago

If a legal eagle were Remus’s friend, he might refer to George as the “Napoleon of the Bar” as a way of acknowledging his legal acumen. Others, however, called George “weeping pleading Remus,” because his theatrics were viewed as outside the bounds of decorum.

George’s escapades were legendary—from starting fistfights with opposing counsel to drinking down poison in front of the jury to proved his client not guilty (luckily, George had mixed up the antidote and taken it beforehand). Many of Remus’s trials were covered by reporters regionally and nationally. Chicago Tribune journalists knew they could call on George for a hot soundbite.

Although Remus might wildly gesticulate and fly into near rages to defend a client, jurors also remarked about how mesmerizing Remus was in the courtroom. George seemed to have a sixth sense regarding when a well-time antic might persuade a jury or distract them from the prosecution’s case. He possessed a natural charisma and magnetism that defined his legal career.