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Jack Kennedy's death brings crackdown on crime
By Kenneth Dickson, Author of Something for Nothing
With the end to prohibition in sight, 1933 brought more violence and murder to the streets of Toledo, culminating with the brutal murder of Jack Kennedy on the streets of Point Place.
Shielding the city from the relentless onslaught of the Licavoli gang was Jack Kennedy, the vanguard of Toledo's defense and courage of the city. His friends always called him Jack or Jackie. Even his rival for control of bootlegging in Toledo, Yonnie Licavoli, called him Jack. One of his eventual murderers, Wop English, grew up with Jack, and was a friend of the family.
Jack was a natural athlete and he liked a good fight. His friends always insisted that he could have become one of Toledo's great football players, but he dropped out of Central Catholic High School rather than face the discipline of the classroom. Other classmates said it was because he would rather deal cards in the poker games that were always going on in the back rooms of his uncles' saloon.
At nineteen and employed as a clerk, Jack met and married Winifred Andres. Residing on Walnut Street near Central Catholic High School, they patiently waited for the birth of their son Jack Jr.
With a family to support it wasn't long before Jack returned to the business he knew best, and joined his uncles in the family saloon. It didn't take long before the word traveled through Toledo that the best place for lunch and a beverage was 513 St. Clair. The price ... 25 cents.
His easy, outgoing personality won him many friends among the police, politicians, and more importantly Toledo's residents. If someone in the neighborhood or the officer on the beat needed help, they learned to count on Jack as a soft touch.
With his Uncle Charley's help, the Soldiers and Sailors Club was remodeled, and Jack reopened the plush downtown nightclub on the upper floors of 512 Superior Street as the Studio Club. The Studio Club catered to socialites, politicians, businessmen, and newspapermen.
Under Jack's personal guidance the Studio Club became the place to wind up the evening, and there was a lot of prestige in being seen there. If Jack knew your name, your standing in the community was assured.
Whenever some gangster or police would enter the club without an invitation, the band would play "I'll be glad when you're dead, you rascal you" to alert Jack and the bouncers to the possibility of trouble.
The club had a 50-foot bar with several bartenders to take care of the thirsty crowd. Jack's private office of the main floor of the club was decorated with red damask wall hangings. Hidden behind one of the red damask drapes was the entrance to his private bedroom - its main feature was a handmade sleigh bed.
Along with the public success of the Studio Club, rumors of Jack's constant liaisons with the beautiful ladies of Toledo's night life reached his wife of a year, and the private side of his life began to deteriorate. Believing the rumors, Winifred sought a divorce.
Yonnie Licavoli's calling cards were the tactics of intimidation and brutality, to which Jack Kennedy appeared aloof. As word of Jack's resistance to the Licavoli takeover worked its way through the community, Jack became a symbol and rallying point for the developing public resistance.
However, Jack Kennedy's real threat to the area's rival bootleggers was his method of cutting beer transportation costs. The "Dutchman" was a specially built can used for the transportation of bulk beer. Using this method of transportation, Kennedy could put beer on the market for 15 cents a glass as opposed to 25 cents for Licavoli. The price advantage coupled with Jack's personality was a winning combination to drive Licavoli out of the saloon business.
Jack's current girlfriend, Audrey Ralls, was a stunning local beauty. Audrey won several regional beauty contests while living with her mother on Toledo's Fulton Street.
About four on Friday afternoon, July 7, 1933, Jack picked up Audrey Ralls from her home on Fulton Street, and drove to his Point Place cottage. After a leisurely swim in the Maumee Bay, followed by a light dinner, Jack sat down to read for a while.
Jack was wearing white trousers, a white cotton undershirt, and house slippers, and Audrey was dressed in lavender silk beach pajamas with large pink polka-dots. Audrey said it was about 8:30 P.M. when they walked to the grocery store of George Neumeyer on Edgewater Drive, just a little north of Singleton's Hardware.
With a few purchases from the grocery store, they continued their hand-in-hand walk home. When they returned home, they noticed that the milk was sour.
Enjoying the summer evening, they decided to return to the grocery store for a fresh bottle. Leaving Kennedy's bodyguard behind, Ralls and Kennedy, for the second time that evening, walked to the Edgewater grocery store.
According to the grocery store owner, Mr. Neumeyer, it was 9:40 P.M. when he heard the first shots. The most dramatic account of the shooting comes from Audrey Ralls:
"At the moment I was fussing about cobwebs that were getting on my face and arms . . . Jackie laughed and tried to help me brush them off and we resumed walking. We were just sauntering along slowly, with our hands clasped. The first thing I knew was when someone grabbed me, put his hand across my mouth and shoved me away. Then I heard a shot. I thought someone had tossed a firecracker. Then another shot. By this time I had been shoved several feet away. I screamed and covered my face with my hands, but I saw them shoot. It all happened quicker than I can describe it. I heard five or six shots, perhaps eight. I tried to keep from looking but I couldn't help myself. Ohhhh they held their guns so close to his head and kept shooting."
Prosecutor Frazier Reams, who had been attending an American Legion Convention at Cedar Point, rushed back to Toledo to handle the investigation. Assistants Rhinefort and Bunge conferred with the police representatives. Sherif Kreiger said that his officers were cooperating fully with the Toledo police.
Admitting to Sherif Kreiger that he had already been informed of the death of Jack Kennedy, Yonnie Licavoli told the sheriff that he had been in Detroit since Wednesday, July 5th attending the funeral of his father-in-law, Joseph Moceri.
More than 500 people attended the funeral of Jack Kennedy at Gasiorowski's Funeral Home on Monday, July 10th.
An additional 300 people met the funeral when the procession arrived at Calvary Cemetery.
Frazier Reams became Toledo's savior after Jack Kennedy's murder. With his brilliant white hair, Frazier stood like a beacon in the night against the dark forces that were working in Toledo.
Prosecutor Reams, with more legal resources at his disposal than Licavoli could purchase, wasn't afraid of bending, and sometimes fracturing the law for the common good of Toledoans. Reams along with thousands of residents defined Toledo's common good as the riddance of the Licavolis. As far as Reams was concerned, Licavoli's reign was drawing to a close, and he was fast becoming a distant part of Toledo's shadowed past.
Fourteen murders would eventual y be attributed to the Licavoli gang. With their stills raided and prohibition ending, their main source of cash was rapidly disappearing. After the Kennedy murder, their political cover wouldn't return their phone calls, and with the gang's leadership on the run, Frazier Reams constricted the spigot even tighter. Reams' ordered all the slot machines and gambling devices in the county seized. When Sheriff Kreiger and Chief of Toledo Police Wolfe said that they couldn't find any, Reams sent a published letter to them in which he said that if they didn't know the addresses he would be happy to show them.
It was Reams' belief that without money to finance all their illegal activities, pay the gangsters, pay the attorneys, pay the bribes, and pay their bonds the gang wouldn't be able to function.
To that end, Reams ordered all illegal activities in the city be suspended. No booze, no gambling, no women, no anything. All of Licavoli's illegal enterprises, his protection rackets, everything was shut down tight. With the lid on organized crime in Toledo it wasn't long before the Licavoli crime family imploded.
As 1933 drew to a close, the residents of northern Ohio saw Licavoli's main enforcer Wop English found guilty of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Yonnie Licavoli's trial was next and then Jacob Firetop Sulkin’s followed by twelve other murder indictments. Frazier Reams renewed his drive to cut off the flow of money to Licavoli. To drive his point home, Reams brought charges against 24 owners of drug stores, restaurants, and other public places for allowing gaming to take place.
1934 saw an end to the public side of the Licavoli Gang. The conviction of Wop English, and Yonnie Licavoli's trial to start in November of 1934, coupled with the legal implications and jail time for the remaining members of Yonnie's Toledo gang, assured Toledoans of the gang's demise.
Firetop Sulkin's trial in March of 1935 was practically a rerun of the first two sensational trials. The English and Licavoli connections, linked with Toledo's moral purge of Firetop Sulkin, released Toledo from the brutal grip of Licavoli.
The depression in Lucas County and elsewhere in the mid-west was getting worse, Toledoans still didn't have adequate employment, but they had the illusion of security returning to the streets of Toledo. From the residents' viewpoint, the cloud of fear the permeated the gang's actions were gone. Toledoans could walk the town's sidewalks without the added fear of getting caught in the crossfire of Toledo's rival gangs.
NOTE: This story contained excerpts from Nothing Personal, Just Business, an earlier book written by Kenneth R. Dickson about Prohibition in Toledo. Printed here with permission.