Friday, March 22, 2019

Terror In Ypsilanti Gets Second Wind

Seven months ago, I shelved my promotions for my previous books to concentrate on my current project about Detroit's Purple Gang. Then last week, I received a Canadian media company's inquiry about purchasing a two-year option for the audiovisual rights to develop Terror In Ypsilanti and promote a movie or cable series. No guarantees of course, but the executives at Big Coat Media are optimistic they can market a film project based on my true crime book--especially after the 2019 Netflix success of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile starring Zac Effron as Ted Bundy.

The antagonist in my true crime Terror In Ypsilanti is Michigan serial killer John Norman Collins. Collins would be better known nationally if it wasn't for Charles Manson and his Family. One week into Collins's trial, the Helter Skelter murders blazed across the headlines drawing the national and international press to the Hollywood Hills leaving the Collins case in obscurity.

In 2013, Investigation Discovery produced a documentary for their Crimes to Remember series entitled "A New Kind of Monster." At the time, the working title of my book was The Rainy Day Murders. Before publication, I changed the title to Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked. Collins was convicted for the murder of Karen Sue Beineman, which became the focus of I.D.'s program. But there were six other Collins murders he was never tried for. These brutal murders reveal his demoniacal contempt for women.

For three summers between 1967 until 1969, Collins stalked the college towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, Michigan creating terror among their residents and taking great satisfaction in taunting the Washtenaw County sheriff and the local police.

I'm hoping this Canadian media opportunity reinvigorates the story and gives viewers a broader understanding of the crimes of John Norman Collins against seven young women who had the grim misfortune to cross his path.

Crimes to Remember "A New Kind of Monster"

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Purple Gangster Becomes Mr. Las Vegas

Moe Dalitz in Las Vegas publicity shot.

Morris "Moe" Dalitz was born in Boston but his family moved to Detroit where he grew up in the same Paradise Valley neighborhood with many of the original gang members who became known as the Purple Gang. During the gang's dominance controlling Detroit's illegal liquor business, he and his father operated a small chain of cleaners and dyers businesses in the Ann Arbor area. Moe used their fleet of laundry trucks to distribute Purple Gang liquor.

Moe learned the illegal liquor trade and became affiliated with the Little Jewish Navy--a faction of the Purples that controlled smuggling along the Detroit River. When three of their top leaders were brutally assassinated by their parent gang over an unpaid liquor debt, Moe relocated to Cleveland where he continued his bootlegging operation and opened a chain of mob-protected casinos in Ohio and Kentucky.

Unlike many of his associates who spent their money as soon as they made it buying fancy clothes and flashy cars, Moe maintained a low public profile by investing in several legitimate businesses in Michigan. Dalitz held an executive position in the Michigan Industrial Laundry and the Colonial Laundry of Detroit where one of their services was laundering illicit gang money. He was also the president of Dalitz Realty Company in Wyandotte, Michigan that specialized in selling industrial-zoned tracts of land in the Downriver area.

Dalitz served stateside in the United States Army during World War II. While still wearing the uniform, he loaned Detroit Steel $100K to save a collapsing merger with Cleveland's Reliance Steel which proved profitable. In the late 1940s, Dalitz and his Cleveland and Detroit underworld backers using Teamsters Union pension funds began investing in Las Vegas and lent front man Wilbur Clark--famous Las Vegas developer--the money to build the Desert Inn and then the Stardust casinos.

Dalitz with Bob Hope and Desi Arnez.
Moe Dalitz became a gaming pioneer and a legend of the Las Vegas Strip. His casinos were one-stop resorts catering to a new demographic changing the face of the Las Vegas Strip. The Desert Inn and Stardust catered to America's postwar, burgeoning middle class. Dalitz and his investors transformed Vegas from a gambling town to a vacation resort destination. Other organized crime figures took notice and began investing in Vegas opening the door to the Midwest mob's infiltration of Las Vegas, which led to skimming off the top of the casinos' gross profits.

Dalitz and other mob figures discovered a way to sanitize their images. In the early 1950s, they formed the Paradise Development Company which built the Las Vegas Convention Center, Sunrise Hospital, the Boulevard Shopping Mall, a championship golf course, and several buildings at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Dalitz became a philanthropic civic leader earning him the name Mr. Las Vegas.

Dalitz at Kefauver crime hearing.
Dalitz came from the rough world of the Purple Gang in Detroit and the Mayfield Road Mob in Cleveland. Despite his great success as a businessman and philanthropist in Vegas, Dalitz was never able to completely shed his associations with organized crime figures. He was called to testify before the Estes Kefauver Crime Hearings on February 27, 1951.

Senator Kefauver asked Dalitz, "We have sworn testimony that you lent Detroit Steel $100,000 for $10,000 worth of company stock. You made $230,000 from that deal, didn't you?"

"Maybe more," was his unapologetic answer. "When I cast bread upon the waters, it comes back cake."

"Mr. Dalitz, didn't you make your original fortune as a rum runner?"

"I didn't inherit any money, that's for sure," Dalitz responded sidestepping the question.

Moe with only daughter Suzanne.
Fifteen years later on August 10, 1966, Dalitz was subpoenaed to testify before the Nevada Gaming Commission about the skim and payments to underworld figures. The government was closing in on organized crime organizations who controlled the casinos behind the scenes. The underworld was looking for a way out of the casino business.

Howard Hughes
Deliverance came in the guise of Texas billionaire and movie mogul Howard Hughes. Hughes moved from Boston and rented the penthouse of the Desert Inn to live in seclusion as an eccentric hermit. In 1972, Dalitz wanted Hughes out of the suites because the holiday season was approaching and "high rollers"--important to the Desert Inn's bottom line--had reservations for those rooms. Hughes didn't gamble. Dalitz had tense negotiations with Hughes over the eviction. Weary of Dalitz's threats, Hughes asked him how much he wanted for the Desert Inn. Dalitz said $13,250,000. Hughes wrote out a check and told Dalitz "Get the Hell out of my casino." Hughes lived there for four more years until 1976 when he was rushed to Houston, Texas where he died.

The Desert Inn sale marked a seismic shift in the ownership of Las Vegas Strip casinos. Corporate interests and billionaire financiers like Kirk Kerkorian were the only entities with the kind of money to buy out the mob. Groups like Bally's, MGM, and Conde Nast ushered in the postmodern corporate era in Vegas we are familiar with today.

La Costa Resort and Spa.
Dalitz and his backers didn't get out of the resort business entirely. They moved to San Diego County in 1962 and built the La Costa Resort and Hotel for $4,250,000 which catered to wealthy Americans and aging wise guys looking to escape winter weather back East. On August 31, 1989, Moe Dalitz died in Las Vegas of congestive heart failure and kidney disease at the age of eighty-nine.

Suzanne Dalitz, her Dad, and the Vegas Mob Museum

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Lutes Casino, Yuma, Arizona

When I drive to Tucson from San Diego, I always stop in Yuma at Lutes Casino just across the California and Arizona state line--the Colorado River. Lutes is one of the premier dive restaurants in the United States. Despite its name, the only gambling that goes on is the sale of Arizona lottery tickets. The building was constructed in 1901 as a dry goods store called The New York Store. In 1920, a pool hall moved into the building, and Lutes still has pool tables making it the longest operating pool hall in Arizona. The restaurant/bar specializes in basic American bar food--nothing fancy but always good.

Robert Henry (R.H.) Lutes acquired the business in 1944 as payment for a $10,000 debt. The sixty-eight-year-old Arizona landmark has the look, feel, and smell of an old-time saloon because that's what it is. The twelve-foot-high walls are festooned with old movie posters and photographs of Hollywood icons and vintage neon signs. Lutes displays the most eclectic collection of what-nots on every available surface. The ceiling is hung with all sorts of oddities. The chotchkies are less a collection than an eye-popping assault on the senses. One wall has pinball machines and modern coin operated games, and the pool tables are at the back. The place is also a domino parlor.

Before R.H. Lutes became a casino/restaurant owner, he was Yuma's Justice of the Peace and coroner. R.H. is said to have married 18,000 people and buried 905. He was Justice of the Peace until 1952. In the 1930s, he opened the Gretna Green Wedding Chapel named after a famous Scottish marriage destination.
During the war years, he married many military personnel. Prior to 1957, Arizona did not require a blood test or a three-day waiting period. In Yuma's marriage mill heyday, there were a dozen wedding chapels.

Yuma became a favorite wedding destination for many of Hollywood's famous 1930s and 1940s actors and actresses. Most of the celebrities simply wanted to escape publicity and the studio spotlight--people like Constance Bennett, Charlie Chaplin, John Barrymore, Claudette Colbert, Gilbert Roland, Franchot Tone, Victor Mature, Charles Boyer, Alice Faye, Tony Martin, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, Buster Crabbe, Gloria Swanson, Mary Astor, and studio mogul Louis B. Mayer.

When blood tests eventually were required in Arizona, Lutes opened a serology lab run by his son Bill, who was a graduate of University of Arizona in biological sciences. If a groom or bride tested positive for disease, the law stated that if the infected party was undergoing treatment, he or she could still be married. "Cupid with a Hypodermic"--Dr. Roy R. Knotts--would give the infected person a shot so the couple could marry. The year before the blood test was required, the Yuma county clerk issued 18,000 marriage licenses. The following year, the figure dropped to 2,000.

Not every Hollywood movie star got married in Yuma to escape the press. Western movie star Tom Mix and his co-star Mabel Ward were married on the steps of the Yuma County Courthouse before 3,000 guests--memorialized by Yuma Daily Sun photographer Bob Werley.

Ghost Adventures in Lutes Casino on Travel Channel

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Literary Classics: Author Gregory A. Fournier on his award-winning bo...

Literary Classics interviewed me a couple of months ago in concert with my Gold Medal award in their 2018 crime category for The Richard Streicher Jr, Murder: Ypsilanti's Depot Town Mystery.

Looking forward to the awards ceremony in Rapid City, South Dakota this May--especially a tour of Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Many thanks.

Author interview: Literary Classics: Author Gregory A. Fournier on his award-winning bo...: