The Gangster War

Prior to the arrival of Yonnie Licavoli in 1931, there were four major players servicing gamblers in the greater Toledo area. They were Jimmy Hayes (with Ed Warnke), the Fretti Brothers, Benny Aronoff and Benny Harris (The Two Bens), and Abe Joffa's horse book. While there were other smaller gambling syndicates, both the major and minor gambling operations got along well since a harmonious underworld helped keep their illegal operations under the radar. Politicians were paid, police looked the other way, and everyone made money. That all changed when Yonnie Licavoli came to town.

From 1931 to 1933, Toledo was under fire as local gangsters made the choice to join or oppose the Licavoli hostile take-over. In the end, two well-known Toledo gambling kingpins and 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 and our town was doing its best to earn the moniker, Unholy Toledo. If Toledoans didn't know where to place a bet, find a willing lady of easy virtue, or a drink to celebrate the crime free neighborhoods, the February 16, 1936 issue of The Blade provided the locations:

"The lid is off in Toledo! The city is as wide open as any raw mining town that rip-snorted in the wake of the gold prospectors. ... Any cab driver will tell you where to find what you want. Gambling? Plenty, and conducted openly. A Girl? It's easy. Liquor .... Pay the cab driver a few extra pennies and he'll land you at the spot. ... Aronoff's Buckeye on Superior ... Warnke's [Hayes' Jovial Club] on St. Clair ... Harris' Sport Center on Superior ... Levine's on Jefferson. The women work their trade openly on the streets. ... Or you may pay the cabman and he'll drop you at any number of places in the city."

It all ended with a sensationalized front-page story carried by the Wednesday, Jan. 5th, 1944, late edition of The Blade: "George D. Wilcox a Detroit advertising executive, was found dead, apparently of a suicide, in a downtown hotel room shortly after 2 p.m. after having written several prominent business men that he intended taking his life as the last act in a lost fight against gambling in Toledo."

The Unholy Toledo Tour is all about the Glass City's Unholy Years: 1900 to 1945.