Gangsters in our own backyard

What secrets does the grimey history of Newport hold? Cassidy Gerwe explores.

     Rarely remembered today, George Remus was a prominent figure in the 1920’s “Prohibition Era” in Newport, Kentucky. During the “Roaring 20’s” George Remus was an outstanding lawyer and bootlegger–someone who makes and/or sells illegal alcohol. It’s been presumed that F. Scott Fitzgerald used Remus as an inspiration for Jay Gatsby in his award-winning novel The Great Gatsby.

Remus witnessed his criminal clients reaching extreme wealth as a result of the Volstead Act, passed in January 1920. Having memorized each detail of the act, Remus found loopholes in which he bought distilleries–factories that manufacture alcohol– and pharmacies in order to sell “bonded” liquor to himself under the government license for “medical purposes”. After realizing he had a real knack for “stealing” liquor he moved to the Cincinnati area (where 80 percent of the nation’s bonded liquor was located). Having been a resident of Cincinnati for less than 4 years, Remus had already made $4 million with the help of George Conners. In addition to serving the Cincinnati area, many other near-by areas such as Newport, Kentucky began serving drinks as well; gamblers saw this as an opportunity to open small casinos to entertain their drunken patrons.

By 1925 George Remus was indicted for thousands of violations of the Volstead Act– inacted to carry out the intent of the Eighteenth Admendment (established prohibition in the U.S.)—he received 2 years in prison. While in prison he befriended Franklin Dodge who had allegedly been having affairs with Remus’ current wife, Imogene. Dodge and Imogene had liquidated all of Remus’ assets and hid as much of his money as they could.

In late 1927 Imogene divorced Remus; while on his way to court to finalize his divorce, Remus ordered his cab driver to chase the cab driver of Imogene and her daughter through Eden Park in Cincinnati. Remus proceeded to jump out of the car and shot Imogene—who died later that day. Not surprisingly Remus was acquitted for reason of insanity—something we’ve been seeing a lot lately.

After his six-month insanity sentence, Remus tried to enter the bootlegging scene again, but soon retired after realizing the market had been taken over by gangsters. Remus moved to Covington, Kentucky where he resided for the next twenty years without incident. He died at the age of 78 in 1952 and is buried in Falmouth, Kentucky.

It’s quite interesting the history the cities of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport hold—Newport recognized as the “Las Vegas of the 20’s”–with more girls, gambling, and illegal drinking than you could shake a Tommy Gun, if you were so inclined.To take a look at Newport on the Levee it becomes ironic that such a prestigious area developed from ruins. It becomes apparent though, that the many attempts to better the city do not allow us to forget that past; with a population decreasing by almost half since the 1920′s, it’s true that the residents of Newport, Kentucky cannot escape the aftermath of the “Roaring 20′s”.

-Cassidy Gerwe

Contact Cassidy at cassidy.gerwe@stu.beechwood.kyschools.us

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