The Society Bootlegger Murder, Part 3

liquor stashAimee Torriani’s self-proclaimed psychic abilities were underwhelming. She put forward the same theory that Earle’s brother-in-law had suggested — that the killer was a veteran of the world war. According to Aimee the mystery vet’s motive was simple, he respected Peggy Remington for her work with veterans and felt her husband was doing her dirt with his constant string of affairs.

Aimee also offered her opinion on the Remington’s relationship. “Peggy and Earle loved each other with a love which was so possessive that it was destructive.” Aimee went on to say, “I was surprised when Earle told me, more than two weeks ago when I met him downtown by chance, that an estrangement might occur. I have been away from Los Angeles a lot and have only seem him infrequently since I cam here to enter pictures almost three years ago.” Aimee had known Earle since she was a child, but she said, “I never knew Mrs. Remington well. She used to ask a number of my girl friends to assist her in giving benefit affairs for disabled war veterans, but I never was able to take part in any of the functions arranged by her.”

When she was asked about the parties Earle attended in the company of women other than his wife, Aimee said, “I have never been on any parties with Earle.” And she reiterated that Earle was “…never more than a big brother to me.”

The investigation into Earle’s murder became more complicated with every interview. Far from shining a psychic light on the slaying, Aimee had succeeded only in casting more doubt on the widow.

Chief of Police L.D. Oakes contacted Oakland authorities for information regarding the August 13, 1922 murder of “Deacon” Edward M. Shouse, a Bay Area bootleg king. Shouse may have been slain in retaliation for dropping a dime on a rival. Shouse had allegedly tipped off government officials to a landing at Monterey of a large cargo of illegal whiskey, and as a result someone was out a lot of money. Maybe the unknown someone was angry enough to kill. They tried, but Oakland PD and LAPD couldn’t make a connection between the deaths of the two bootleggers.

The strain of the her husband’s murder and subsequent investigation were so stressful that Peggy collapsed and was ordered to bed by her doctor.

Captain Home and Detective Sergeant Cline questioned Peggy in her sick bed and this time she was more forthcoming.

Peggy hoped that people would not judge Earle too harshly. She said, “He started (bootlegging) in a frantic effort to recuperate his fortunes. That was a long time ago. I begged him to quit. At first he said it was impossible. Recently, however, he promied he would get out of the terrible business. But—he didn’t.”

According to Peggy, Earle’s personality changed as he became more involved in bootlegging.  And it wasn’t a change for the better. Peggy didn’t like his new friends. “And they were so different. In the mornings they would call at the front door, perhaps. Then a few would seek to gain admittance at the rear door of the house. Trucks would drive up to the house and unload the terrible stuff. An again a truck would be driven into the driveway to take whiskey away. i was compelled to give up entertaining. I couldn’t bear to bring my friends into the house. The odor of liquor was noticeable in every room. It was just one long nightmare.”

Most of the men who turned up at the Remington’s home were strangers to Peggy. She told investigators Home and Cline, “The telephone would ring. They would ask for Earle. A long conversation concerning ‘prices,’ ‘deliveries’ and ‘grades’ would follow. Sometimes Earle would get angry and following the calls say terrible things about the party with whom he had just conversed. I never made it any of my business to ascertain the identity of the party in question. All I wanted was his promise to quit the thing.”

Earle’s new friends did not bring out the best in him. Peggy said that Earle began drinking heavily. She said, “His business affairs were in a chaotic condition and this, combined with the dangers and worries involved in his activities as a bootlegger made him drink.” Earle also became obsessed with money. Peggy felt Earle lost sight of everything in his life but his desire for money.

On the day of his death, Peggy overheard Earle talking on the telephone. He was agitated and so angry that Peggy was convinced if the caller had been in the house there would have been a fist fight. Earle swore at the unknown caller and when he hung up he continued to rage for hours. If Earle had a falling out with a bootlegging partner or rival the situation could have escalated from verbal threats to murder.

Detectives pulled on multiple threads hoping to unravel the tangled case, but it was slow going. A search of Earle’s personal papers revealed the names of scores of people to whom he had sold liquor.

Dr. Wagner, the autopsy surgeon, threw the detectives another curve when he said that an X-ray showed that the second wound in Remington’s heart was not caused by a dagger but was caused by a freak discharge of the shotgun, or by some other weapon that had not been identified.

Detectives were frustrated and tired of running on the hamster wheel that the case had become; but quitting wasn’t an option so they kept digging.

Earle’s will caused police to take another hard look at Peggy.  He hadn’t been destitute as had been thought — his estate was estimated to be in excess of $150K (equivalent to $2.1M in today’s dollars). That kind of money is one hell of an incentive to commit murder.

Peggy may have been a good suspect, but cops were still inclined to believe that Earle had died as a result of a dispute with another bootlegger. That theory gained credibility when, about a week after Earle’s murder, police learned that during the three months prior to his death he had been in fear of his life. Earle had reached out to some of his business associates telling them that he had gotten himself into a jam and might be killed. Unfortunately, Earle was tight-lipped about who wanted him dead.

The prognosis for a solution to Earle’s slaying improved when Earle’s sister paid a visit to the District Attorney to tell him that she was being watched and followed.  Whoever was behind the mystery surveillance could be responsible for Earle’s murder.

Next time: The conclusion of the Society Bootlegger Murder.




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