Prohibition and The Remus Affair (I told you the topics would be varied.)

In the past television season we have been treated to some really well done series, not the least of which was Ken Burns’ documentary concerning the period in American History known as Prohibition.  One of the more interesting parts to me was the one which spent a great deal of time relating the story of “The King Of The Bootleggers”, George Remus.  To make a long story short, Remus was a Chicago lawyer who decided to cash in on the profit to be made from prohibiting people to drink alcohol in the 1920’s and moved to Cincinnati to do so.  I had heard of Remus off and on during my lifetime, as my dad had come to Cincinnati when he was fourteen ( about 1923) and had never really gone back home, although he lived with his family at least some of the time.  He was, as I like to say, “raised rough” on the streets of that town, and his wife and children had no idea what all he did during that time (except work as a chauffeur for B.H. Kroger at one period).  He seemed to know a lot about George Remus, however, but that could simply have been because Remus was a larger than life figure in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and everyone knew of him if they didn’t actually know him.

My biggest problem with Remus was not that he was a bootlegger, but that he made “beau coup” bucks from it and used it to manipulate those around him, including his second wife, Imogene Brown Holmes and her daughter Ruth Holmes, whom Remus adopted.  Remus was finally imprisoned, I can’t recall exactly for what, and during that time Imogene and an FBI agent who was working on the case, cleaned out his coffers, and when he got out of jail, he found Imogene was suing him for divorce, intending to take the money and the FBI agent, and run.  Things didn’t work out that way, however.

On October 6, 1927, Imogene had a court appearance concerning the divorce, and was on her way to it with her daughter Ruth, when Remus literally had his driver run their taxi off the road in Eden Park.  Both women fled away from the vehicle, but Remus caught up with Imogene and despite the pleas of her daughter, Ruth, he pulled a gun and shot Imogene 3 times at close range in the abdomen, then went back to the car and left the scene.  When the Remus car had run the taxi off the road, it had also caused a minor accident, and the men involved in that were standing by as witnesses to the whole thing.  Ruth pleaded with them and the taxi driver to help her get her mother to  the hospital, but only one man helped her do so.  Of course, it was too late, and Imogene died shortly after her arrival at the hospital. 

Remus was taken in to custody and sentenced to trial.  Being a lawyer, he decided to use an insanity plea (a very new thing in those days), and despite the testimony from eye-witnesses, including Ruth, that it was cold-blooded murder, the jury acquitted him on grounds of insanity.  He went to a mental hospital for about 6 months and was released, to continue his life, albeit not as a bootlegger, remarried and lived until 1953.  Ruth legally changed her name back to Holmes, and lived with her mother’s sister.  She finally married, but died young of a mistaken blood transfusion. 

What does all this have to do with anything?  Well, I find so many things wrong with this at so many levels it’s amazing.  When the jurors were polled they seemed to indicate that Remus was justified in shooting his wife because she had cheated on him and taken all his money.  This is even an opinion prevalent today when I look at message board comments concerning this:  Remus was right to shoot her, because “she done him wrong”.  The other thing I find particularly appalling was that he shot her in such a cold blooded fashion in front of her daughter, whom he had adopted and supposedly cared about.  Yes, Imogene knew he was a bootlegger when she married him, after divorcing her husband and him divorcing his wife.  And yes, she did collude with the FBI agent to take his money, but no one deserves to be hunted down and murdered as she was, by anyone, no matter what that person has done. Remus committed murder and go away with it.Greed makes anything possible and apparently, legal.

Now please understand, I am making no claims of involvement of my father in any of this.  (Lord knows there’s enough illegality involving whiskey running on my mother’s side of the family.)  I am simply saying that I heard about it from him and my mother, as well as the documentary, and that on learning further about him and Imogene and Ruth by doing some genealogy work, I believe he was a man who got away with killing his wife, when he really deserved some better punishment.  He was a cold-blooded, cowardly murderer, who cared more about himself, his business, and his lavish lifestyle, than he cared about anyone or anything else, and let nothing stop him from getting his revenge. 

 

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