Before Firetop Sulkin sold the Detroit-based Licavoli gang on the benefits of moving their operation to Toledo, the Glass City’s underground economy of gambling parlors and sports betting was controlled by a just few key players. Gerald “Jimmy” Hayes (a gambling kingpin who advanced Toledo's unspoken agreement for everyone to "get along"), the Fretti Brothers (in charge of slots and gaming machines), the two Bens: Benny Aronoff and Benny Harris (numbers and sports betting) and Abe Joffa (a horse bookmaker). There was also a young, up-and-coming bootlegger and club owner named John "Jack" Kennedy who will play a key role in our Unholy Toledo Tour.
While there were other small-time bookies and bootleggers making a living in the area during the early 30’s, most everyone got along and there were no major turf wars. Toledo’s well-earned reputation as a wide-open town came largely from the fact that everyone (good and bad) knew that staying under the radar and getting along was critical to their success. For years, public officials were paid, police looked the other way, and everyone made money. Graft was everywhere. It was said a position on the vice squad paid $30,000, in addition to the $2,100 annual salary. Unfortunately, the days of relative peaceful coexistence faded in 1931 after Yonnie Licavoli was released from Canadian prison and he and his River Gang came to town.
From 1931 to 1933, Toledo was under fire as local crime chiefs made the choice to either join or oppose the Licavoli takeover. In the end, two well-known wiseguys and two club owners were murdered and most of Licavoli’s gang left town, went to prison, or died in the electric chair.
From 1934 to 1944, gambling was wide open again as our town was doing its best to earn its reputation as Unholy Toledo. High-end backdoor gambling clubs like the Webster Inn, the Victory Club, the Chesterfield Club, the Academy Club and the Old Dix Club, to name just a few, were sprinkled throughout the area. In fact, the largest illegal (or for that matter, legal) gambling hall in the country was built right here in the early 40’s and Toledo was the gambling center of North America.
Things went sour in 1944 with a sensationalized front-page story about an out-of-work Detroit advertising executive taking his life in a downtown hotel room. More on this later.
Now that you know the backstory, let’s get on with the tour. Please proceed to 418 Superior Street and we'll get started...