• Long Assassination

Huey Long killed by gambling syndicate?

Just before dusk on a Wednesday evening, July 11, 1935, Hammond Police Chief George F. Smith called a press conference to discuss rumors that Louisiana Governor Oscar K. Allen had fired him.

“There has been some misunderstanding—by myself and others—as to whether or not I am still employed here,” he said. “And I would like to assure everyone that I most certainly am.”

“Chief Smith?” Hodding Carter, Jr. of the Hammond Daily Courier raised his pencil. “Can you tell us why the governor summoned you to the state capitol this morning and whether it’s true that Senator Huey Long is pushing you out?”

Carter—like the editors of most Louisiana dailies in 1935—opposed Huey Long because of his Share-the-Wealth program. Long wanted wealthy newspaper advertisers to give more back to their communities.

“Junior,” Chief Smith answered. “My service to Hammond is subject solely to the pleasure of the city council until such time that the council decides to appoint my successor.”

“Actually, Chief,” interrupted Huey Long supporter George B. Furbos, editor of the Hammond Vindicator, a weekly newspaper serving primarily poor farmers, “I heard the governor called you to Baton Rouge about what happened in Ponchatoula last week. Is that true?”

“George,” the chief answered. “The 25 slot machines destroyed by state police last week in Ponchatoula have no relevance here. However, let me say this: From now on, I intend to enforce all city ordinances and laws, hoping the affluent citizens of Hammond will cooperate. I am going to stand against and will absolutely drive out all slot machines and gambling from our city. Let this be a warning to all violators. I will enforce the law against friend or foe, and I will not discriminate.”

Two weeks later, a civil service commission approved the removal of Chief Smith for “incompetency, inefficiency, and negligence.”

Commission Chairman Lorris M. Wimberly told reporters the inquiry began after residents of Hammond filed civil service complaints with the state, but he refused to disclose the details of those complaints.

“If you require more information,” he said. “You must consult the Hammond City Council.”

Nine months earlier, on August 7, 1934, the American Progress—a Huey Long owned newspaper produced in the offices of the Hammond Vindicator—reported that:

“Political officials in New Orleans collected $13,000,000 in graft last year from the red light district and gambling houses in Orleans, St. Bernard, and Jefferson Parishes.”

The newspaper itemized the vices generating money listing racing handbooks, prostitution, slot machines, lotteries, blackjack, keno, roulette, and “lesser gambling games, such as punch-boards, marbles, and dice.”

In today’s dollars, that 13 million equates to nearly 250 million annually.

Two weeks after the report’s publication, Governor Allen sent orders to the police chiefs of every city and the sheriffs of every parish demanding the closing of all casinos, private gambling houses, and brothels in the state—and he demanded the destruction of all slot machines in Louisiana.

Shortly after Christmas that year, Governor Allen realized that most law enforcement had ignored his order, so he delivered another ultimatum. Law enforcement agencies statewide had until New Year’s Eve to comply with his original order to destroy all slot machines, or the state police would travel town-to-town doing it for them.

Police destroying slot machines in Baton Rouge

Initially, this plan appeared to work. By June 1935, Hammond and Ponchatoula were among the few towns left with working slot machines. By the end of July, if any remained, their owners hid them somewhere outside of public view.

However, that had all changed by mid-August 1935.

In less than two weeks time, shiny new “Chief” brand slot machines appeared in the lobbies of almost every business in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, as well as most restaurants and grocery stores along the Mississippi River on the route between the two cities.

According to the New Orleans States, the arrival of these new “Chiefs” was just the beginning. On August 17, the newspaper reported:

“Several poker games reopened this week and resorts are beginning to install dice, blackjack, and other gambling games…. This started when some favored gamblers started operating boldly without police molestation, telling patrons they had ‘an understanding’ with a New York syndicate that provided both the slots and protection for the other games.”

Syndicate Leaders Costello, Carollo, and Brocato

New Orleans Superintendent of Police George Reyer told the States that he knew nothing of any slot machine violations in the city, but added, “If there are any violations of the law, I’ll see to it that those slot machines are immediately seized and destroyed.”

The article went on to say:

“In recent days, side doors which had been closed to prevent surprise raids by police have swung wide open. With the peephole no longer needed, the syndicate offers customers free and uninterrupted access to their favorite illegal games.”

In the last week of August 1935, Senator Huey Pierce Long telegraphed Governor Allen from Washington, telling him that he would be back in Baton Rouge for a special legislative session the first week in September. The telegram also asked the governor to thank General Louis F. Guerre of the state police for finally eradicating gambling activities in the state.  

Within 24 hours of the telegraph’s arrival, according to three daily newspapers, every slot machine in Baton Rouge and New Orleans vanished.

On September 8, 1935—12 minutes after he introduced a bill regulating at the state level the installation of “any and all mechanical devices.”—an armed assassin shot Senator Huey P. Long in the Louisiana State Capitol.

Two days later, the United States senator died in a Baton Rouge hospital.

Nine days later, the Times-Picayune reported that all Chief slot machines had returned to businesses in Baton Rouge and New Orleans as mysteriously as they had vanished two weeks earlier.

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