George Remus - 'King of the Bootleggers' - in the Boneyfiddle
Remus completed the first two years of his sentence in the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. For the last year of his sentence, however, he was allowed to return to Ohio, where he was first lodged in the Miami County Jail in Troy, Ohio. After complaining "he was being discriminated against" by his Miami jailers, Remus successfully petitioned a Federal magistrate to have himself relocated to the Scioto County Jail, where it appears he had good reason to believe he'd be more comfortable under the care of Sheriff Elza Canter.
Upon his arrival in Portsmouth, according to a report filed by the Associated Press, "George Remus, of Cincinnati, master mind of one of the most famous whisky rings in the United States, was held in the office of the Sheriff of Scioto County today, due to the fact that the old Scioto County Jail is so crowded that prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor." The AP reported that "the new jail, which Remus was supposed to occupy, hardly will be completed before the remaining 28 days of his 360-day jail sentence will have been served." During his stay in Portsmouth, Remus would be granted "jail trusty" status, allowing him a great deal of liberty, while being legally confined to Sheriff Canter's court house office.
With alcohol prohibition, Remus had made a fortune off the legal and illegal sale of whiskey. While claiming to be operating above board, Remus purchased whiskey distilleries in Kentucky and the Cincinnati area, securing special licenses to manufacture alcohol for medicinal purposes, what was called "bonded alcohol." Remus would then have his own men hijack the trucks that were delivering the alcohol to federally supervised warehouses, allowing him to sell his own whiskey on the black market for huge profits. By some estimates, Remus came to own more than one-third of the legal bonded alcohol produced in the United States. In 1921, "he threw an elaborate New Year's Eve Party. Every guest found a $1,000 bill under the dinner plate, the men all got stick pins and gold watches as gifts, and the women each received brand-new Pontiac automobiles."
Ultimately, undercover Federal Revenue agents were able to secure enough evidence to successfully prosecute Remus for violating the Volstead Act and Ohio State law regarding the maintenance of a public nuisance. He was sentenced to two years, plus a $10,000 fine for the first offense, and on the nuisance charge he received a year and a day in jail, plus another $1,000 fine.
It was in April 1927, while "incarcerated" in the Scioto County Courthouse, that Remus made local headlines, capturing the public's attention: "Remus, Prisoner in Scioto County Jail Assists in Capture of Another Prisoner." In an unusual and unexpected turn of events, Remus helped sheriff deputies capture an escapee, who had "broke loose and run" from the Courthouse. The deputies fired "several shots ... in the ground in an effort to stop" the two men, but to no avail. Deputy Green Willis and George Remus ultimately hopped "into a machine [a police car] and went to Market street where they located one of the runaways." At that point, "Remus started after him and overtook one the prisoners." Deputy Willis would later joke, "although Remus is short and stout, he can run like a deer." The Times report concluded: "So Remus had a most novel experience inasmuch as he himself is a prisoner in the Scioto County jail, took part in the capture of another prisoner."
As the first inmate of the new Scioto County Courthouse Jail, Remus appeared to genuinely enjoy his stay in Portsmouth. "His sunny disposition has made him a favorite with all whom he came in contact and his fellow prisoners have described him as 'a jolly good fellow.'" To celebrate his release, Remus would host "a banquet in the county jail. He served them an elaborate dinner featured by chicken and ice cream. Attired in a white coat, white apron and palm beach pants, he personally served the guests." The Columbus Dispatch would note that "this was the third banquet he has personally served and paid for since his arrival at the Scioto county jail 30 days ago. He was also host to a banquet for the telephone girls recently."
In an interview, granted at the dinner, Remus announced that after his release, he "intended to contest" his wife's divorce suit and planned to write a book on his penitentiary and jail experiences. He claimed that while "he has not as much money as some folks believe, but he has plenty left to live comfortably for the remainder of his life." While in prison, Imogene Holmes (Remus's wife) conspired with Franklin Dodge, a federal agent, who had been working the Remus case, so that the two them took control of her husband's fortune, selling off various properties and hiding the proceeds from Remus while suing him for divorce.
Infamously, a few months after being released from the Scioto County jail, George Remus returned to Cincinnati, where he shot and killed his estranged wife on October 6th, 1927. It was a shocking, cold blooded deed, done on the grounds of Eden Park, "while his 19-year-old stepdaughter looked on in horror." Remus, whose earlier career had been as an attorney, would defend himself, arguing that her death was the result of his own "transitory insanity." The jury acquitted him on the murder charges and he would spend just six months in a mental institution, before being once again freed.
Karen Abbot, The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America (Crown, 2019).
Ron Hogan, "Rich bootlegger George Remus killed his wife — and got away with murder," New York Post (17 August 2019).
"Remus Must Go from Troy Jail to Portsmouth," Dayton Herald (26 March 1927).
"Jail Too Crowded at Portsmouth, So Remus Is Held in Sheriff's Office," Cincinnati Enquirer (29 March 1927).
"Remus, Prisoner in Scioto County Jail Assists in Capture of Another Prisoner, Portsmouth Daily Times (8 April 1927).
"Remus is Dinner Host in Scioto County Jail to 59 Fellow Prisoners," Cincinnati Enquirer (18 April 1927)
"Remus Stages A Coming Out of Jail Party," NewYork Daily News (1 May 1927).