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The crime king of Chicago: the story of George Remus, the prototype of the 'great Gatsby'

The name of George Rimus firmly entered the history of the United States - this man managed to independently build his own bootlegging empire in the era of the Prohibition and became the embodiment of hope for the residents of the USA of the era of the high-twenties, and his desire to achieve success and take off made him a legend of the criminal world of that time. Writes about it Marie Claire.

Photo: Shutterstock

George Rimus was considered a real gentleman and intellectual, and his empire was so large-scale and great that no one could accurately indicate the size of his condition. We tell the story of the king of bootleggers, who supposedly became the prototype of the hero of the famous novel "The Great Gatsby".

The history of the formation of Remus

George Remus was born on November 13, 1878 in Landsberg, Germany. His family was not rich: his mother is a housewife, his father worked as a pharmacist. However, George always knew that he could achieve unprecedented heights, which happened in the future.

In 1882, Remus and his parents arrived in the United States of America - at first the family of German immigrants lived in Maryland, then in Wisconsin, and three years later settled in Chicago. Remus's father suffered from alcohol addiction and could not support his wife and child, and therefore, at the age of fourteen, George went to work with his uncle in one of the city's pharmacies.

The future king of bootleggers did a very boring job - he signed pharmaceutical cards, arranged products on display windows and helped a relative in other minor matters. Remus understood that working in a pharmacy would not bring him the cherished success, and therefore soon entered the Chicago College of Pharmacy and, at the age of twenty, bought his first pharmacy.

As for the personal life of the future billionaire, in 1899, Remus met with Lillian Clauf, and soon the couple played a magnificent wedding. In this marriage, George's first and only child was born - a daughter named Romola, with whom he developed a very cool relationship.

Remus devoted the next five years to expanding his pharmacy business - he was able to buy several more outlets in the city, but they did not bring him the desired wealth and success, and soon he decided to radically change the direction of his activities. George entered the Illinois College of Law and was admitted to the Bar Association in 1904.

Remus achieved unprecedented success in his chosen field - after a few years every person in the state knew his name, and there was literally a line of those who asked him for protection in front of his office doors. George was a real genius and specialized in complex criminal cases - murders, armed attacks, robberies. His main technique was the recognition of the client as temporarily incapacitated - at that time the mechanism of psychiatric examination was not finally regulated, and therefore the defendants, who were recognized as mentally unstable, avoided imprisonment and spent only a few months in specialized hospitals. According to rumors, Remus himself invented this method of protection - before him, no one had so skillfully turned the fact of mental disorder in their favor.

"No alcohol law"

George's business was so successful that already in 1920 he was earning about seven million dollars a year (in terms of the modern rate). This allowed him to live beautifully, but he always wanted more. And soon Remus was given the chance to make his dream come true.

On January 17, 1920, after the ratification of the 18th amendment to the Constitution and the adoption of the Volstead Act, a ban was introduced in the United States on the sale, production and transportation of alcoholic beverages. The innovation was skeptically received by the Americans, and therefore within a few weeks after the entry into force of the "Prohibition", some enterprising citizens began an underground business for the production and sale of alcohol.

Remus quickly assessed the situation and decided to use his brilliant legal knowledge in the new field. After studying the laws, George found a loophole in them that allowed the sale of alcohol by prescription, and this was the beginning of his large-scale business. He understood that most bootleggers were not serious about the matter - they came to the attention of law enforcement agencies every now and then and received prison sentences for selling small amounts of alcohol. Remus then decided that his approach would be more thoughtful.

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In 1920, George moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he bought most of the whiskey companies, as well as several pharmacies. Remus put the production and sale of alcohol on a grand scale using prescription sales - in less than three years he made forty million dollars and had more than 3000 employees at his disposal, including his confidant George Conners, who had lived in Ohio and knew all the right people.

It is noteworthy that Remus was not considered a criminal - unlike other leaders of the criminal world, George did not engage in drugs or human trafficking, he did not engage in murder and did not seize foreign territories. In fact, he was a businessman who not only gave people the opportunity to bypass the hated law, but also provided thousands of US residents with the jobs they lost after the ban on alcohol.

Karen Abbott, author of The Ghosts of Eden Park, about Remus's story, described the personality of the bootlegger king as follows: “Al Capone was a bad guy and a scoundrel. He was involved in the drug business and held in his hands the activities of several brothels. Remus built his business on his own knowledge, intellect, and talent. He was a gentleman, resolved conflicts bloodlessly, loved art, music and literature. For those who disagreed with the adoption of "Prohibition", George became a real legend, hero, defender, but not a criminal. "

New empire

Once a story happened with George, which secured the authority of one of the most influential people in the USA. During the transport of another batch of whiskey, Rimus was in the van with his driver - when the car drove onto the highway, it was cut by a group of gangsters who decided to seize valuable cargo. George's driver escaped, as soon as the criminals threatened him with a weapon, and Remus himself entered into an unequal battle with four bandits. After the defeat, he caught a taxi, got to the city and ordered his people to find the kidnappers - two days later, George appeared to the leader of their group and demanded to return the goods. The courage and adherence to principles of Remus impressed the head of the mafia, who offered him cooperation and protection from attacks - so the empire of George received the first influential ally.

Then Remus decided to find support from the state and law enforcement agencies - he managed to acquire a lot of useful contacts, helped someone in solving the problem, simply bribed someone, as a result of which he created a whole network of influential US residents loyal to him who were ready take his side at any time. In fact, he became untouchable, and that was really valuable.

One of the main and most famous points of Remus was the “Death Valley Farm” in Cincinnati - it was a guarded distillery, which got its name because of the fatal failures of criminals trying to enter the territory and steal George's goods.

Along with growing success, Rimus's personal life was also changing - his first wife soon after moving to Cincinnati found out that George had been cheating on her since 1915 with his secretary named Imogen Holmes. When Lillian filed for divorce, the unfaithful spouse immediately legitimized his relationship with his mistress and made her with his right hand entrusting all the levers of control over his multi-million empire.

By the way, Remus was famous not only for his entrepreneurial talent and fabulous wealth. George certainly knew a lot about lavish parties and regularly hosted high-profile receptions at his residence, which were attended by the most senior members of society. His parties were known for their scale - colorful performances of the best dance groups and musical orchestras in the United States, celebrities of the first magnitude, incredible show program and expensive gifts for guests enchanted the audience and elevated Remus to the status of one of the most hospitable hosts in the country.

According to rumors, after every reception at George's house, all male guests received from him checks for large sums, diamond accessories, expensive interior items, and women - premium cars. It is not hard to imagine how successful his events were and how even the most senior members of society dreamed of getting there.

Police, jail and failure

However, as you know, when such a successful and enterprising businessman appears somewhere, the police turn their attention to him, which happened to Remus. In 1922, thanks to the efforts of the spirited Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt and Agent Franklin Dodge, who had long monitored George's illegal activities and collected evidence against him, Remus was charged with bootlegging. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but life in prison did not become a problem for him - thanks to bribes and numerous connections, George had a lot of privileges that were not available to other residents of the institution.

The fact that Remus led a luxurious lifestyle in prison maddened Willebrandt, and then she decided to make a new attempt to expose George's activities. Mabel sent her partner Franklin Dodge to him, who was supposed to find out from the king of bootleggers the details of his illegal business, but instead Remus only mentioned that his wife Imogen was engaged in the affairs of the empire in his absence. This information was not accidental - George hoped that his wife could flirt with Dodge and find out from him about the investigation plans. True, this time Remus was in for a deafening failure.

Imogen and Franklin had a real romance and began to spend together George's colossal fortune. The couple, using the power of Remus' wife, shattered his empire into pieces and sold individual pieces for a pittance, while George himself could not do anything.

In 1927, when Remus was finally released, practically nothing was left of his company - Imogen and Franklin Dodge sold absolutely everything, removed furniture and expensive accessories from George's residence, and also ordered the sale of other assets. It is noteworthy that the desperate couple even hired a killer to eliminate Remus, but the killer, who was afraid of an influential businessman, revealed the insidious plan of lovers to George's people, and he was able to avoid a sad fate.

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Imogen and George's divorce court was scheduled for October 6, 1927. On that day, when the unfaithful wife left the hotel building, Remus began to chase the taxi on which she was heading to the courthouse, and caught up with her at the entrance to Eden Park. When the cars stopped, the couple got out of the cars, and Imogen, realizing what awaited her, began to beg the ex-lover for forgiveness and assure that Franklin Dodge was the initiator of the whole campaign to sell the empire. However, the woman's pleas and excuses did not impress Remus, and then he shot her in the stomach, mortally wounding his wife, after which he went to the police station to surrender.

When Remus ended up in the dock, almost everyone was sure that he would end up in prison for many years. But George himself was not ready to spend the rest of his life behind bars and brilliantly carried out one of the best things in the history of his career. He used his trademark trick, claiming that he was in a state of temporary insanity during the murder - Remus told the jury a heartbreaking story about how his beloved wife cheated on him with a federal agent and then deceived his trust by illegally selling parts of his empire. George was so convincing that it took a jury only nineteen minutes to find him innocent - thanks to his talent as an orator and lawyer, Remus spent only seven months in a psychiatric clinic, after which he was released.

After his release, the ex-king of bootleggers moved to Kentucky and married a woman named Blanche Watson for the third time. The couple lived happy years together - Remus got involved in illegal activities and held in his hands the activities of several construction companies. George died in 1952 as a result of a stroke.

But even after death, the image of Remus was not forgotten - young and ambitious entrepreneurs dreamed of becoming like George, and the inhabitants of the United States remembered him as a symbol of the loud twenties. Several films were shot about his bright life and many works of art were written. Some even believe that it was Remus who became the prototype of the "great Gatsby" - the hero of the novel of the same name by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, who once met George in Louisville and was so fascinated that he devoted his work to his history.

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