He Blew The Whistle On Windsor Vice


He Blew The Whistle On Windsor Vice


He Blew The Whistle On Windsor Vice



LAST March Essex County Magistrate J. Arthur Hanrahan sentenced bootlegger Joe Assef to six months in jail and plunged the city of Windsor, Ont., into two weeks of explosive investigations of vice-ring activities in what has long been Canada’s best publicized “wide-open town.”

What touched off the fuse wasn’t the sentence, maximum for the charge, but Hanrahan’s demand to know why it took Ontario provincial police to catch a notorious Windsor bootlegger who made 5,400 illegal deliveries in 60 days “quite unhampered” by city police. And what really shot everything skyward was Hanrahan’s further question on whether there was any connection between persistent reports of large-scale bookmaking activities “and this sorry spectacle of official laxity.” When Windsor’s police commission hurriedly called a public enquiry Hanrahan took the stand —a tall, lean man of 52 with a long pale face, impressive bald dome and deep-set eyes. And his quiet, precise testimony created further furore.

It would be an “easy matter,” he said, for city police to trace the source of the underground racing news wire and thus shut down all “45 or 50” Windsor bookies. He said that provincial police had located the wire and “city police should have no more trouble.” What’s more, he viewed with alarm reports that 500 houses had been broken into in the city and the fact that official figures gave Windsor top place in traffic-accident increase.

As Hanrahan unloaded one blockbuster after another, 43-year-old Mayor Arthur J. Reaume charged that he was

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Art Hanrahan wanted to know why Windsor bootleggers and gamblers could thumb tiheiir noses at the law. Now the battle against the rackets is on, and the question is: Who’s going to run who out of town?

He Blew the Whistle on Windsor Vice

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putting ideas about Windsor’s corruption into people’s minds and city magistrate Angus W. MacMillan angrily demanded, “Do you think I should resign?”

To this and much other heated crossfire by the commissioners (in comparison bootlegger Assef was treated with diplomatic politeness at the hearing) Hanrahan finally retorted: “There is an apparent air of hostility here that is amazing and certainly not justifiable by any remarks that I have made. I can only think there is some other purpose behind it all.”

And summing up his feelings in one roundhouse swing: “I have had a

growing conviction that things were seriously wrong in this city. The judgment I delivered on Assef was intended to bring this to the attention of the people.”

Two days later the enquiryadjourned at the call of the chair, having uncovered little except that city constables denied being customers of Assef the bootlegger, and that Police Chief Claude Renaud believed his entire force to be efficient, honest and loyal.

“On the evidence provided thus far,” commented the Windsor Star, “the people of Windsor will regard the investigation with disappointment and disillusionment.”

The following week a protest group of 45 club leaders, clergy and other interested citizens met to demand a royal commission on Windsor law enforcement. By then, the vice-probe story had moved back to page five. But on page two Windsor Star columnist “Lum” Clark warned: “Watch for a move to get Magistrate J. Arthur Hanrahan out of Windsor. A lot of people have been hoping that would happen for a long time. Now they will be after his scalp more than ever . . .”

Long before it became apparent whether “they” were going to get Hanrahan or Hanrahan was going to get “them,” most Windsorites professed to know already who “they” were, who was running the rackets (bootlegging, bookmaking and prostitution), who was supplying the protection and who was getting paid off. The whole city discussed “their” identity with attitudes ranging from anger to cynical apathy.

They Don’t Want to Be Quoted

For a $2 ride in and out the compact blocks of Windsor’s business section any cab driver would point out which of the dingy rooming houses, pool rooms and tobacco stores along Pitt, Sandwich, Assumption and Pelissier Streets, behind whose false fronts you could get a girl, buy a drink or place a bet.

He might even entertain his fare with a recollection of the famous cleanup drive in 1946, when 50 bawdy house operators were convicted and police told of seeing men queueing up outside one brothel waiting their turn.

During a 1948 antivice campaign in the Windsor Star, bookie joints were named, addresses given and photos published. One reporter said he could hear the loudspeakers giving the race results right out on the street. (Chided about subsequent raids-on these joints, staged after business had closed down for the day, police protested, “The paper didn’t come out till night with the addresses.”)

Even while police commissioners were deciding what action to take on Hanrahan’s pointed remarks during

the Assef case, a Star reporter strolled easily into downtown bookie shops and placed bets on horses running at U. S. tracks. He heard race-by-race reports being relayed to lounging horse players through loudspeakers obviously hooked into the international “racing wire” the magistrate mentioned.

Windsorites will gladly tell you all about Magistrate James Arthur Hanrahan, too—although they are no more anxious to be quoted on this subject than on who runs the rackets. (Star reporters seeking man-in-thestreet interviews about gambling activities were unable to find any merchant who’d voice an opinion. “Those bookies do a lot of spending.”)

They’ll tell you, admiringly, that Hanrahan’s a law-giver who never studied law except as a court reporter. And some of the better legal brains in town will testify, “He knows more criminal law than 90% of lawyers.”

You’ll hear that he’s a hotel owner’s son who loved to follow his father’s horsy guests to the races, but that he has alienated most of the pub-andtrack set by his harsh dealings with bootleggers and bookies.

Once known as a convivial young fellow not averse to hoisting a couple with the boys during a hand of stud, you are told he has become a nondrinking nonsmoking near-recluse.

In person he turns out to be not nearly so austere as he’s painted. His basic warmth and sympathy can be fel t even in his courtroom. In his office he talks eagerly and fluently, revealing a memory that can recall details of complicated legal cases dating back a dozen years.

A Railroader Sidetracked

At home, where he puts aside all his magisterial cares to enjoy his family (one boy and three girls, two of them married), he is a genial host who likes to pour a drink for his wife and their guests. He downs best sellers (historical fiction and current comment) at the rate of two or three a week, likes nothing better than to take his 17year-old son John to Detroit for a ball game, and when visiting old friends in Toronto is still considered as enthusiastic as ever about seeing a good horse race with $2 on the nose.

But on the bench his 21 years of service have not mellowed him. He has become if anything more strict and conscientious in the dispatch of his duties. And while Hanrahan denies being a crusader he frankly admits to a conviction that a magistrate’s job goes beyond judging the individual cases that come before him.

It’s this belief which has cast Art Hanrahan in his present role as the voice of Windsor’s conscience, the thorn in Windsor’s seamy side. It dates hack to 1927 during the brawling prohibition era of rum-running when such a vice scandal broke upon Windsor that a magistrate had to resign. Hanrahan saw it all from his vantage point as court clerk, and he was sure the magistrate was personally innocent.

“His fault was that he was contení to sit back and deal only with such crime as came before him,” says Hanrahan. “I learned then that a magistrate may be held responsible for conditions generally regarding law enforcement in the community.”

Art Hanrahan first arrived in Windsor in 1920, a handsome 22-yearold sporting a shiek-era mustache, a wife, an infant daughter and a proud new appointment as official reporter to the magistrate’s courts of Windsor and Essex.

He had been sidetracked into the courts after deciding as a youngster to

be a railroader. The regional superintendent of the old Grand Trunk used to put up regularly at Hanrahan’s Hotel, operated by his father at Catherine and Barton Streets in Hamilton, Ont., and this glamorous character was always shadowed by a tall blond youth importantly lugging a typewriter. Clearly the way to become a regional superintendent was to first become his private secretary, so Hanrahan set out to learn shorthand and typing and before he knew what was happening he was the Canadian speed typing champion of 1916.

The “gold” medai he won subsequently let him down flat when he went broke and tried to pawn it during a youthful jaunt to Los Angeles, but his typing and shorthand stood by him. After a spell as an Underwood demonstrator and a short trick in the World War I Navy he married his boyhood sweetheart from Hamilton, Gertrude Carmichael, and found a job with a firm of court reporters. Here his 200 shorthand words a minute (he could transcribe on the typewriter at 120) advanced him rapidly from covering

dull banquet and convention speeches to lower court work and soon to the solemn and rarified atmosphere of Ontario’s Supreme Court.

His first real interest in the law didn’t develop until his appointment to Windsor, however, and then it was forced on him. While covering circuit court out of Windsor he found that local constables, themselves weak on the law, would come to him for help in taking informations. The crown attorney had him made a justice of the peace so that in his travels he himself could issue search and arrest warrants as a convenience to local authorities, which meant he had to master enough law to decide under what section of the criminal code charges should be laid and whether complainants had a sufficient basis for a charge.

Soon the younger lawyers began to make his Windsor office their courthouse hangout; at first he learned from them but soon they were asking his advice. “The only time I ever won a case in Windsor,” Dave Croll, M.P., a successful lawyer, once wisecracked to then Premier Mitch Hepburn, “was

when Art Hanrahan signaled me from the reporter’s desk to stop talking before I convicted my own client!”

When Art Hanrahan was first named deputy to assist both the Essex County and Windsor magistrates in 1929 he felt impelled to try and master the law as well as any counsel who appeared before him. Once while hunting he and a friend watched a majestic V of Canada geese winging southward and were surprised to discover that a stray duck had joined the formation and was beating furiously along in the No. 2 position.

“There I go—” laughed Hanrahan, “pumping away like mad trying to keep up with those lawyers!”

Hanrahan was appointed magistrate of Essex County in 1935, where he still presides in county police court in Windsor’s two-story police building three mornings a week. Magistrate’s court is the first court for the “summary hearing” of criminal charges. Although on most serious charges an accused may elect trial by judge and jury in a higher court, even the murderer appears before a magistrate for preliminary hearing where he may be freed (if the magistrate deems the crown’s evidence insufficient) but not convicted.

Here are paraded and sentenced minor offenders and “morals” offenders —the housebreakers, the shoplifters, the quarreling neighbors (to be “bound over to keep the peace”), the prostitutes, the keepers of common gaming houses, the sex perverts and the violators of stop signs. In the 30-by50-foot, light-green brick courtroom where Magistrate Hanrahan presides, not even the most minor charge ends with the mumbled “guilty” or “dismissed” of many a droning metropolitan court.

No Gum Chewing in Court

“He’ll spend as long on a carelessdriving charge as on attempted murder,” testify newspaper reporters who learn patience along with a new respect for justice while covering Hanrahan’s proceedings. For he explains carefully to each and every accused why he is being sentenced or let off, and even those he finds guilty leave court satisfied, if subdued.

Says Hanrahan himself: “I try to

make every witness feel that he is fulfilling an important community function.”

In many a police court spectators are always prowling casually about and the steady whispering and shuffling of feet produces constant but ineffectual cries of “Order in the court” from the constable on duty. There’s none of that with Hanrahan on the bench. The provincial constables assigned to him long ago learned never to allow a witness in the box chewing gum, and an almost unnoticeable gesture from the magistrate himself will make the sloppiest tough straighten up.

Even the irrepressibly obstreperous “Dolly” Quinton, a famous Windsor character with an arm-length crime sheet and locally known as “the toughest man they ever had in Kingston pen,” was firmly subdued the first time he tried his usual tactics of blistering comment and interruption from the prisoner’s dock of Hanrahan’s

“If these interruptions persist I shall have you removed to the cells for the balance of your trial and see that you are supplied with a transcript of the evidence,” declared the magistrate without batting a gavel, and “Dolly” shut up. In the days since Quinton retired from active lawbreaking (he is now a sick old man) he has been known to occupy a spectator’s

bench in Hanrahan’s court hour after hour, apparently enjoying the peace and quiet of the place after a turbulent


Hanrahan is far from stiff and unapproachable in his court, however. The witness box rubs shoulders with the magistrate’s dais, under a cluster of dusty flags, and Hanrahan will casually produce a handful of brightly colored toy cars and watch with great interest as a previously tongue-tied witness happily demonstrates precisely what happened when this fella’s car hit the other guy’s.

The magistrate himself has been noticeably upset only once in the recollection of court attendants. For some purpose he had to enquire of an obviously pregnant witness when she was expecting her baby and he seemed not to have caught the significance of her reply until he heard his startled court clerk repeating, “Today?”

“Today,” restated the witness.

“Court adjourned!” announced Hanrahan, shooting a horrified glance at the woman, and strode from the room.

Hanrahan has a high reputation for his knowledge of “case law”—the new law created by precedents laid down in other cases to fill gaps and clarify the obscurities in the criminal code. In one recent case of a woman charged with keeping a disorderly house he handed down a five-page judgment containing nine careful references to cases and laws dating back to 1751. Despite the fact that her male companion had testified to paying her for the purposes of prostitution, Hanrahan dismissed the charge against the woman on the grounds that an isolated case does not make a rented room a disorderly house.

Over the years he has packed a bulging loose-leaf notebook with brief citations from signi☺ficant cases, which always goes into court under his arm. “You’ve just got your groundwork nicely laid,” declared a veteran policecourt lawyer in Toronto, where Hanrahan has put in several summer replacement sessions, “then he starts flipping through that black book of his and you know he’s already thought of the precise reference which will blast your case before you’ve even finished making it!”

He is known for his fairness. Though he looks seriously on all traffic violations and once convicted of reckless driving a man who dozed at the wheel and ended in the ditch, he freed another man who crashed into the car ahead during an onslaught of sneezing. (A man knows he’s sleepy, doesn't know when he’s going to sneeze.)

He is known for his toughness. One Windsor lawyer fought stubbornly to free his client from conviction on a vice charge only to have Hanrahan

give the man the maximum penalty. “Your worship.” declared the exasperated counsel, mopping his brow, “your standards are too high.”

Another lawyer cagily put up no defense at all in the summary trial of his bookie client against whom a Detroit man provided such conclusive evidence that conviction was almost automatic. Then counsel produced a technicality to drag the case from one appeal to another until finally months later he was rewarded with an order to take his client back to Essex county court and start all over again. To the bookie’s rare good fortune, the Detroit witness was no longer available—but Hanrahan’s dismissal was more blistering than some sentences.

The worst shock any accused ever experienced in a Windsor police court was reserved for a veteran criminal who shot the police chief of nearby Riverside when surprised robbing a store. The bullet fortunately glanced off a doorknob and being nearly spent merely grazed the chief’s stomach without penetrating. Brought into police court for preliminary hearing on a charge of attempted murder the gunman elected summary trial by the magistrate, obviously thinking this a safer risk than a jury hearing. Hanrahan found the man guilty as charged and—almost unheard of for a magistrate—sentenced him to life imprison-

The cop-shooter may have found some slight consolation when a higher court later “reduced” the term to 20 years (he was 48 when sentenced) and at that he came off better than most. No more than three or four of many Hanrahan convictions carried to the Ontario Supreme Court have been quashed.

The magistrate has become steadily more conscientious in his job. He avoids making speeches (“I do my talking in court”) and joining clubs (one local magistrate had been highly embarrassed to find a fellow serviceclubber hauled up before him).

Another Windsor solon had such a fond regard for a Scotch and soda that during his tenure all the local drunks were observed to have sworn off beer and would admit to drinking nothing but the stronger beverage. But after Art Hanrahan quit drinking for Lent on the spur of the moment, about 10 years ago, he decided not to start again because even the most moderate consumption made him feel hypocritical in sentencing a man whose drinking got him into trouble.

About the same time Hanrahan’s doctor made him cut out smoking (he was a two-pack-a-day man) and when during the war he sold his car for strictly financial reasons some acquaintances mistakenly added this to the growing legend of Hanrahan’s austerity. “He won’t even drive any more for fear he’ll infringe the Highways Act!” they would declare, shaking their heads.

Law-giving is today better paid than it was before the war and the Essex

County magistrate not only managed to buy a car again last spring but has renewed hopes of finally paying off the mortgage on his comfortable, 22-yearold south-end home.

Altogether Hanrahan receives $7,700 a year (an increase of $2,500 since 1939) due to the fact that he is also a judge of the juvenile court and is paid by Windsor to sit two days a week in city police court.

When Art Hanrahan first came to Windsor it was a collection of half a dozen “border cities” (today it’s a lively and bustling industrial centre of 120,000 people). Then when rumrunner’s tommy guns could occasionally be heard rattling along the river front the people of “wicked Windsor” liked to boast that theirs was a wideopen town. Today they wince when they hear the expression.

Still tolerant in many ways, most of Windsor’s citizens have become more touchy on the subject of crime with increasing reports that Detroit racketeers are moving in on the local bookies and bootleggers. They hear that 80% of found-ins harvested when police raid gambling joints, blind pigs and bawdy houses are Americans, and they resent the growing suspicion that Windsor is becoming known across the border as a safe spot for a spree. (“Just through the tunnel, bud, and give the cab the address on this card.”)

Forty-five citizens attending a protest gathering to demand a royal commission into crime conditions isn’t a mass meeting, but it’s a start.

Magistrate Hanrahan began voicing his own protests at least four years ago. Sentencing a procurer — one of 50 persons convicted on prostitution charges in the city in 1946—he warned that “a very real danger exists in the well-established affinity between flagrant violation of any law creating large illegal profits and official corrup-

Again in 1948, when he convicted a racketeer of trying to extort money from a Windsor bookie, Hanrahan gave the shakedown artist a year in jail and saved his lecture for law-abiding citizens: “Unchecked rackets and general lawlessness flourish together . . .”

Bootlegger Joe Assef’s lawyer has appealed his sentence on the grounds that in his judgment Hanrahan also touched on gambling, a crime with which his client wasn’t charged. The final decision of Assef’s fate is therefore up to a higher court, but whatever the outcome, more and more Windsor citizens are concerned with the warning Hanrahan’s judgment contained.

And when the Essex County magistrate gets warmed up to a climax it isn’t one people are likely to forget.

“If you would talk, Assef,” he declared in the final paragraph of the judgment, “I wonder if the explanation of how you managed to thrive in this manner might not quickly change local public apathy, and indifference and lack of understanding to the fury of that force that has removed kings—an aroused public opinion.” ★