General Articles

Vice Squad

"Toronto the Good?—Ha!” say the morality cops who try to keep it that way despite hopheads, prostitutes and gamblers

TRENT FRAYNE June 1 1948
General Articles

Vice Squad

"Toronto the Good?—Ha!” say the morality cops who try to keep it that way despite hopheads, prostitutes and gamblers

TRENT FRAYNE June 1 1948

Vice Squad

"Toronto the Good?—Ha!” say the morality cops who try to keep it that way despite hopheads, prostitutes and gamblers


IN LINE with their city’s sobriquet, Toronto the Good, the 1,177 gendarmes who constitute the Toronto Police Department might be suspected of possessing jobs as difficult as that of a man selling gold to the mint. Similarly, it would appear likely that a Morality Bureau would be almost as necessary in this country’s most-renowned City of Churches as a bouncer in Utopia.

“Toronto the Good, ha!” snorts Chief Constable John Chisholm, when confronted with such propositions. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s Toronto or Shanghai, China, or Sydney, New South Wales, or Chicago, Illinois; you’re dealing with human beings and as long as you’re dealing with human beings there’s no such thing as Good with a capital G.”

In support of the chief’s expostulations, Inspector Albert Lee, who has charge of the city’s 24-man Morality Bureau, which has as its principal quarries professional gamblers, dope addicts and prostitutes, points out that his Bureau made 1,701 arrests in 1947 for such offenses as abortions, bigamy, incest, indecent exposure, fraud, forgery, bootlegging, prostitution, bookmaking, keeping common betting and gaming houses, contributing to juvenile delinquency, indecent assault and gross indecency.

Lee’s office is a dingy, subterranean corner of the police headquarters building on College Street. With him, in an adjoining office, is a Bureau sergeant and across the hall in the same dim corner of the basement is the Bureau’s stenographic department, manned by the morality squad’s four policewomen. Electric lights illuminate the department almost constantly, although on such occasions as Toronto’s recent electrical power cut-offs the gloom becomes almost tomblike.

The department also consists of three patrol sergeants, one detective and 14 constables, all of whom perform their duties in plain clothes, working in teams of two and traveling in black, radioequipped cars. There are no beats to be pounded by the nine teams (which don’t include the inspector, his sergeant and the four policewomen); the whole city is the Bureau’s oyster. When their particular brand of trouble is reported anywhere within the city limits, a squad car is deployed to it by the College Street headquarters. The teams’ working hours are staggered over a 24-hour period so that there are always three or four cars on the prowl. Primarily, the Morality Bureau directs its guns on gambling, narcotics and prostitution, but virtually any other form of disturbance (generally reported by a phone call from an indignant citizen) might get investigation from one of the Bureau’s cars, directed to the trouble by police radio at headquarters. Cars not bent on a specific destination cruise around the city, looking for disturbances, awaiting radio calls, moving slowly through the streets, generally in the poorer areas in the downtown section.

The teams are left to their own devices when they are tracking down, say, suspected gamblers or bootleggers. They make daily contact with Inspector Lee, either in person or by phone, but ot herwise they work independently. From information provided by the teams, the insjjector can plan raids on gambling, bootlegging or prostitution houses. Most of the narcotics work is done by two patrol sergeants, Ernest Gill and Edward Gillanders, who specialize in drugs investigation.

Although the Morality Bureau men often have frequent dealings with the same criminals, it isn’t often that any sort of a guar défi camaraderie develops. The gamblers get to know the morality men by sight, but while Inspector Lee says there is no open war on known lawbreakers between arrests, the relationship is not exactly chummy, either. About the only really notable acquaintanceship to develop in the last 10 years was that between Morality Inspector Charles Scott and the late

Manny Feder, a gambling czar. Both were fond of horse races and Scott recalls that although he had sworn to “break” Feder, he had always nodded and exchanged somewhat ! strained pleasantries with him at the race course.

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Vice Squad

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The job of the policewomen is not entirely clerical. They escort women prisoners from out-of-town points to Toronto penal institutions, escort mentally ill women to hospitals, search women prisoners, look after drunken women and other down-at-the-heel feminine transgressors.

No Bawdy Houses

None of Toronto’s dwellings are bawdy houses, as such. This is not to say that there are no prostitutes; there are, but the police say they are of the street-walker variety with no permanent quarters. It is impossible in Toronto, the gendarmes maintain, for a stranger to consult, say, a taxi driver and learn the address of what the ladies of society refer to as a house of ill fame. There is no “red-light” district, police will tell you, the reputation of Jarvis Street to the contrary notwithstanding.

“An outfit from Montreal moved in here two or three months ago,” Inspector I,ee relates, “but they were set up only three or four days when we heard about it and closed the place up.”

Chief Chisholm says the reason the prostitutes are compelled to confine their activity to one-night stands in cheap rooming houses or hotels is that “the citizens won’t tolerate a house.” As soon as traffic becomes unduly heavy in any given locality, he says, the neighbors take up their telephones and complain.

The Morality Bureau then places the premises under observation and when it is convinced that the neighbors have been harboring no undue suspicions it moves in. Only 22 people were arrested in 19-47, charged, as the police delicately term it, “in connection with bawdy houses.” However, 66 others were arrested for vagrancy, a charge on which streetwalkers are often held. The seamier side of the city’s life came under 11 arrests for indecent assault, one for gross indecency, three for incest, 12 for bigamy and five for indecent exposure. Virtually all of the arrests came as results of complaints by citizens and the resulting observation by morality men.

Heavy traffic leads the law to many a bootlegger, as well^and here again tips by neighbors or the occasional informer lead the police to observe any given location. A more difficult species to convict than the ordinary bootlegger, who sells beer or wine or liquor illegally on his own premises, is the so-called liquor agent who keeps no whisky in his home but who operates by telephone with runners. He takes orders from customers by phone, then calls an accomplice who makes delivery. This method eliminates heavy traffic and practically all suspicion. In one case, however, the police had “reason to believe” that a man here called Harry Ace was a liquor agent, but frequent raids on his quarters never revealed admissible evidence against him.

The Seeing Eye

One night a group of morality men visited Ace again and, producing their search warrant, they had him show them through his house. As usual, they j found nothing and they left. An hour later they were back. Ace told them , to beat it, said nothing had occurred since their last visit; nobody had visited him; he hadn’t gone out. They walked into his bedroom, however, where a telephone was perched on a table beside Ace’s bed and as they stood there the bed started to move. From under it, covered with dust and mattress stuffing, crawled one of the morality men who had concealed himself there an hour before while Ace was first showing the policemen through his house. The morality man produced a notebook containing a record of all of Ace’s telephone calls for the hour, including times and details as to the amounts of what kind of liquor had been delivered to what addresses by Ace’s agents.

The Morality Bureau’s biggest problem is the professional gambler, who is usually backed by large sums of money which enable him to pay for ingenious methods of avoiding arrest and for the very best legal advice. Police emphasize that their objective is to extirpate the professional gambler; they have no cells polished for the sports who like to embellish their enjoyment of an athletic event with a so-called friendly bet, or with those weekly poker nights that keep otherwise loving husbands out to 4 a.m. But the people who operate organized gambling games in which the house takes a rake-off get no such sympathy. Aside from the fact that such operations are infractions of the law, police feel it is their job to protect innocent citizens who sometimes are driven to more serious lawbreaking themselves in order to get the money to pay off debts to professional gamblers.

The most common method of breaking up gambling establishments is to raid them, to charge the operators with keeping a common gaming house and the players with being “found in.” In most cases, convicted operators are fined $200 or two months in prison and the found ins are fined $5 or $10. It is the unwritten law of the gaminghouse operator that he pays the fine of the found ins. In 1947, the Morality Bureau arrested 60 operators and 554 found ins. Similar charges are those of keeping a common betting house, bookmaking and registering and recording bets. Virtually all arrests in these three categories are connected with horse-race betting.

Walkie-Talkie Warning

Gambling-house operators like to rent premises high up in a building and post lookouts on the ground floor and at the windows. As soon as the police approach, the lookouts signal the gambling quarters and by the time the police arrive they discover a quiet, orderly group of gentlemen playing bridge, reading, or engaged in a friendly game of billiards. One place employed a lookout with a walkie-talkie. This fellow sat by a window across the street from a professional dice game. When suspicious parties showed up in the vicinity, the lookout used his wireless to flash the bad word to the gaming room.

The Morality Bureau beats these dodges in the same way it fooled the liquor agent; they raid the place in a group and leave behind one or two hidden constables to collect the necessary evidence.

Actually, organized gambling in Toronto is a fairly picayune operation days, largely because of the vigilance of the morality boys. Concerted raids recently closed down a fairly well-known establishment in Chinatown operated by one Buck Lee, who paid fines totaling $1,095 after two raids had netted 63 found ins, some of whom were fined $20 each. This prompted Buck Lee to visit the home of Morality Sergeant Elsworth Walker with the complaint that the $20 fine for the found ins was too stiff.

“We can’t stand it,” Buck Lee said. “We have no backing like the other places. If you’d arrest only a few of the found ins it would be all right.”

“If you close the place, there’ll be no found ins,” Walker told him.

Four days later Buck Lee was back again to inform Walker that he was closing up and that he’d brought a peace offering. Walker said he didn’t want it, but Buck Lee said it was only cigars. Walker took the parcel. It was cigars, all right, and on the top of the box were five $100 bills. Later Lee offered to pay Walker $500 a month if he’d keep the morality squad away from his place. For his generosity Buck Lee was arrested and charged with bribery. He was convicted and sentenced to two years, less one day.

The business of catching in the act— that is, procuring evidence that is admissible in court—is one of the most difficult of all morality undertakings, particularly in the apprehending of dope peddlers or dope addicts. Heroin is the most commonly used drug and seldom does the peddler or the addict carry the stuff hidden on his person; instead, he lays it flat on his hand so that he can either dispose of it quickly or swallow it if the law’s arm reaches out.

Bigger Game

Addicts pay peddlers $2 a capsule— a pill slightly smaller than an aspirin tablet—and some of them consume 10 a day. That can add up to heavy dope traffic if a peddler services any imposing number of clients. The addict, carrying the pill in the palm of his hand, goes to his room, melts the pill on a spoon over, say, a lighted candle. Then he drains the liquid from the spoon with a hypodermic needle and shoots it into his arm. It’s the law’s job either to catch him with the pill or while he’s applying the needle. Many a time an addict has rifled the pill into his mouth as the police suddenly appeared and many a time the policeman has grabbed the addict by the throat to prevent him from swallowing it.

Peddlers, of course, present bigger game than addicts. A recent case is that of Max Beaver who had been seen in the company of known addicts and who was under observation by morality constables Gillanders and Gill. They followed Beaver one night as he drove into a lane, suspecting that he was caching drugs or picking them up. Peddlers, when they are not carrying their dope in their hands, often place it in a rubber contraceptive to keep it dry and hide it near a lamppost or a fence post or a garbage can or some other easily accessible hiding place. About 100 yards up the lane, Beaver stooped down and Gill immediately raced toward him. Hearing the steps, Beaver straightened, paused for a moment and then ran straight toward the onrushing Gill. Gill drew his revolver and as the two men wrestled it fired. The bullet flew wild but it took the fight out of Beaver and he yielded to Gill. They returned to the hiding place and Gill found 20 capsules of heroin.

Gill said Beaver thereupon panted out a bribe offer: “Two G’s if you beat it.”

According to the policemen, he raised his offer to $5,000, then $10,000. At headquarters, they found he was carrying $11,000 in cash. Beaver was convicted of illegal possession of narcotics and sentenced to four years in Kingston Penitentiary. This was just one of more than a score of convictions in 1947 and was, to Inspector Lee, an illustration of the money involved in dope traffic in Toronto.

When police speak of the money behind gamblers they have in mind such operators as Manny Feder, who died of a stroke last fall at the age of 37 and left his wife $77,878, seven years after his gambling hold on the Toronto area had been finally broken. What broke Feder were the combined forces of Charles W. Scott, then Morality Bureau chief, a newly formed provincial police gambling squad, and an aroused public opinion. Scott, who now lives in peaceful retirement in a pleasant home on Lake Simcoe, 50 miles northeast of Toronto, is the authority for the statement that Manny Feder was everything to gambling in Canada that AÍ Capone was to rackets generally in the United States.

Scott had his first run-in with Feder, he recalls, years ago when Scott was a divisional inspector and Feder a smalltime gambler on Spadina Avenue. “We closed him up,” says Scott. Keeping any gambler closed up is another problem, and when you close one up another opens, but Scott intensified his drive against all operators when he was made head of the Morality Bureau.

Scott’s first big play was to pull simultaneous attacks on 10 downtown betting and gaming establishments in 1937. All of them had been the objects of intermittent raids in previous years, but there had been no prosecutions because police had been unable to gain admissible evidence. They knew and everybody in Toronto knew about them, but nobody could get proof. And then Scott devised the scheme that is practiced fairly generally today—that of placing an undercover man on the premises to gain evidence.


InspecterScott laid careful plans. He chose a young, intelligent policeman, new on the force, and trained him for two months. He gave him the name of Pat O’Keefe and told him to frequent the known gambling dens, to become familiar to the habitues and operators and to collect evidence against the places. Scott took three constables, Codlin, Train and McKinney, into his confidence and told them to look for O’Keefe every time they pulled off a raid so that they would be able to identify him as a “found in” if Scott could get the operators into court.

Scott used 125 men on the 10 simultaneous raids, briefing all of them before they set off, timing each unit so that the raids would come off at precisely the same moment to prevent one place warning another. Thirty keepers and 200 found ins were trundled away in police vans and the gamblers and the lawyers, Scott relates, were confident that this was just another case of the police having strong suspicions and no evidence. When Pat O’Keefe took the stand he was wearing, for the first time publicly, his constable’s uniform. lawyers, in their cross-examination, tried to break down his stories. In placing his bets he had always used his initials P. O., although, of course, the name Pat O’Keefe was a pseudonym.

“Why did you,” a defense lawyer wanted to know, “use the initials P. O.?”

“Because they’re my initials,” O’Keefe said.

The defense lawyer leaped on him verbally, triumphantly.

“And what do they stand for?” he demanded.

“Police officer,” said O’Keefe calmly.

On another occasion, the defense attempted to prove that Inspector Scott was putting words into O’Keefe’s mouth, that he had told him what to do.

“That’s right, he did,” said O’Keefe.

“What was it?”

“Why, Inspector Scott told me to tell the truth,” said O’Keefe.

All of the keepers were found guilty and were sentenced to two months imprisonment, as Scott recalls it. Their sentences were unimportant; the big thing was that the police had found a way to get a conviction. They had moved in on big-time gambling in Toronto.

Tipping the Derby

Feder’s exact place in the shadowy picture of Toronto gambling joints at this period police could only guess at. But Scott did know that Feder had meanwhile moved his chief activities across the Humber River into Etobicoke township, just across Toronto city limits but out of the Morality Bureau’s jurisdiction. Feder, Scott was convinced, was the operator of an ostensible roadhouse and athletic club called the Brown Derby, located right on Lakeshore Drive.

A rambling, ramshackle edifice, partly constructed of logs and with a garish sign in the shape of a derby hat on its roof, it didn’t look like much from the outside but it did a roaring business. It became so notorious that streetcar conductors, as they piloted the Long Branch cars into Etobicoke, identified the stop by calling the name of the street and then adding “Brown Derby.” Free taxi service was operated from downtown Toronto to the front door for preferred customers.

About this time the minister of a west-end Toronto church, depressed by the empty pews at his evening services, asked a newspaperman in his congregation to suggest a subject for a series of sermons that would offer some counterattraction to Jack Benny and Charlie McCarthy. The newspaperman was a ¡ nonmovie type of reporter whose usual beat was churches and schools, but in his travels he had picked up some of the current gossip about big-time gambling on the city’s borders and this he passed on to his minister. The clergyman let loose in a sermon. Next week a brick sailed through his parlor window, trailing a note telling him to lay off. The i clergyman ran out of counterammunition for his sermons and soon fell silent on the subject of gambling. But it was promptly picked up by one of the city’s most aggressive clerical crusaders, the Rev. Gordon Domm of Bathurst St. United Church. Domm’s sources of information seemed to be better and he gave the gamblers and the authorities what for Sunday after Sunday.

The Trap is Baited

Came a day in 1938 and Inspector Scott"was given a message to go to the office of Denny Draper, Chisholm’s predecessor as Toronto Police Chief. There with the Chief were AttorneyGeneral Snyder and Inspector Hammond of the Ontario Provincial Police. The Brown Derby had become a public scandal, they agreed, and it was public knowledge that Feder was running the place. It had to be closed and there had to be evidence. Inspector Hammond agreed that Inspector Scott should handle a joint raid and for sixweeks plans were laid.

Undercover men visited the Derby regularly. Scott showed them pictures of Feder and told them to watch for him particularly. They in turn brought Scott reports that an underground tunnel provided a secret getaway from the club. As mid-June approached, provincial police from faraway points

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were brought to Toronto and registered at downtown hotels, posing as mining men.

Police cars closed in on the Brown Derby just at supper time one Saturday. While some officers surrounded the place others used sledge hammers to batter their way past a heavy oak door. There was no gunfire and when police finally broke through, much of the hoped-for evidence was missing. Scott’s ideas about the tunnel paid off, however, because a good 60 feet removed from the Derby, and hidden behind a high board fence, was a trap door under some sod. When it flew up and when people carrying gambling equipment emerged, there were constables there to greet them.

Then two undercover men pointed to the man they had been shadowing. Policemen who knew Feder were astonished to discover that the undercover boys had the wrong man! For two months they had been collecting evidence on a habitue who merely looked like Feder.

The Missing Key

But Scott didn’t know this. He hadn’t participated in the actual raid but had, instead, gone to Feder’s suite of rooms in the Royal York hotel with Sergeants Kay and Pavelin. With a search warrant, he entered the suite. Feder wasn’t there. On a telephone stand, which contained a private and a house phone, Scott found an envelope bearing the letterhead of a Detroit gaming equipment manufacturer and containing a bill for betting chips, croupier’s rakes and other paraphernalia.

During the search, Feder entered the room. Scott was exhibiting the search warrant when the private phone rang. Scott moved to answer it and Feder leaped on him. The men wrestled on the floor and Feder managed to reach the telephone cord and pull it from the wall. Scott arrested Feder on a charge of resisting an officer.

Scott, determined to link Feder with the Brown Derby, turned the gambler over to Pavelin and told the officer to take him to a nearby squad car while he, Scott, continued to search the suite. He found nothing.

He joined Pavelin outside who handed him a key. Feder, he said, had dropped it on a sewer but instead of dropping through, it had struck one of the iron crossbars and bounced onto the pavement. Feder, Pavelin said, had produced the largest roll of money he had ever seen, had pressed it into his hand and had told him to forget about the key. Pavelin had refused.

Scott descended to the hotel’s safety deposit vault with the key and after considerable difficulty found a box it fitted. Here he discovered a box containing three pairs of dice, some chips, a crap-table cover and $7,500 in cash. Then, by telephone, he contacted his man McKinney, who had been on the Brown Derby raid and asked him what he’d found. Then he told McKinney to meet him at headquarters and to bring a few betting slips, which bore a Printed in U. S. A. stamp and some chips. The pattern on the chips perfectly matched those Scott had found in Feder’s box.

Scott reasoned that if the betting slips were printed in the States there must be a signed receipt for them at the Customs office. For two days clerks checked their records and finally they came upon the required receipt. It was dated two years previous but it was signed, in his own handwriting, by Feder. On this evidence and the rest that had been accumulated, Feder was charged with keeping a common gaming and a common betting house. Manny pleaded not guilty. To Scott, the most significant feature about the trial was that his testimony was never given.

“As I took the witness stand I placed the box containing the dice I had found in Feder’s safety deposit box on the arm of the witness stand,” he relates now. “The defense called for an adjournment. When court readjourned, the defense pleaded guilty.”

Manny Retires

Feder was sentenced to four months in jail. When he emerged he bought a dairy farm and announced his retirement from his previous activities and his regular corner in a hotel lobby where he used to hold court. But whatever Manny’s intentions the story of the Brown Derby wasn’t ended. The old Derby had been torn down to make way for the grand entrance of the Queen Elizabeth highway into Toronto, but soon a strange new and imposing structure went up, a few miles farther from town. It looked like an oversize, two-story, red-brick country home—a bit boxlike, but imposing. Soon taxis were to be seen regularly shuttling in and out from downtown Toronto points. A parking lot at the rear, large enough to hold 500 cars, was hidden from view by neatly sodded banks of earth which, it was later charged, had been hauled away from the nearby highway construction job. Stories spread that Manny was busy again, that the new Combine Club was a sumptuous palace of dancing dice compared to the dowdy old Derby, and soon the Rev. Domm was in full voice once more.

In November, 1940, the team of Scott and Hammond swooped again, leading a squad of 30 provincial and city police. This time they had to force their way past steel doors and armed guards at peepholes into a huge two-story room described as being “as big as Maple Leaf Gardens,” which was full of gaming equipment. One whole wall was covered by floodlit blackboards listing race entries and results, with a catwalk for the boy who wielded the chalk. “The place had everything but jockeys and horses,” says Scott. “It was the most lavish joint in North America.”

Hard To Catch

One man was fined for keeping a disorderly house; no fewer than 284 found ins were also charged and altogether the defense lawyer peeled off $7,000 from a huge roll of cash to pay all fines, complaining good-naturedly that the usual levy on found ins had been unjustly upped from $10 to $25.

Police meanwhile literally tore the Combine Club apart, looking for a trace of the little man who wasn’t there. It was a frustrating business; they tracked down everything from vouchers for brick and lumber to telephone company contracts, but this time the name of Manny Feder didn’t appear on anything. Maybe Manny was frustrated, too, by this time. The new provincial police gambling squad that grew out of the big raids was in future likely to strike anywhere, anytime.

At any rate, Manny Feder was never heard from again until high blood pressure invoked a final sentence, seven years after the Combine was closed up. The Combine stayed closed up for a long time, until eventually turned into a movie studio by an Englishman who takes legitimate risks, J. Arthur Rank.

Gambling hasn’t been the same in Toronto since. if