I do not find it surprising that less than an hour after prohibition became the national law, at midnight on January 17th 1920, six armed men stole $100,000 worth of “medicinal whiskey” out of two rail cars parked unguarded on a Chicago siding. Even at that early moment America's dream for a moral nation, drunkenly stumbled over the sobering reality that alcohol has never been a mere beverage.
It was the sweetest deal in the history of K Street, and you just knew some schmuck was going to screw it up. The schmuck turned out to be the keeper of the backyard bank, Federal Agent Agent Gaston Means (above). For him bountiful was never enough. In the winter of 1922 Means got his hands on several blank liquor Withdrawal Permits. He forged Haynes' signature, and started selling them on his own. It took very little time for word to get back to Daugherty, who, in February, suspended Means from the Bureau of Investigation. But the Attorney General dare not remove Means from the Little Green House, because Means had all those file cabinets in the basement, stacked with names, dates and amounts.
In the mid-term elections of November, 1922 the Republicans lost five seats in the House and the Democrats were beginning to percolate over Republican scandals as a 1924 campaign issue. So, in the spring of 1923 ,Daugherty was forced to admit to President Harding the trouble Means was causing. It was decided a sacrificial lamb would have to be offered up to the Democrats, and since it could not be Means, “poor Jess” was tailor made for the role, you might say. Jess had his own notebooks, but because of his devotion to the Attorney General, he could be controlled.
On the morning of Tuesday, May 29th, 1923 Jess Smith played golf with Attorney General Daugherty, and during their game was informed that he had to leave Washington the next day, permanently. Jess did not take it well. Daugherty then proceeded to the White House, where he phoned another associate, Warren Martin, and ordered him to go the Wardman Hotel and stay with Smith until the poor man was out of town. At six the next morning, Martin was suddenly awakened in his room by an explosion. He found the 61 year old Jess Smith, in his pajamas and a dressing gown, lying on the floor of Daugherty's bedroom. Smith's head was inside a trash can, a bullet through his brain. A gun lay on the floor, inches from his fingers. There was no autopsy. His death was ruled a suicide by a friendly doctor. His meticulous notebooks and personal correspondence mysteriously disappeared.
Sixty four days later, on the second of August, President Warren G. Harding died of a heart attack in a San Francisco hotel. For a time the fact that "Silent Cal" Coolidge was now President made little difference to the business on K Street. But inevitably, when dealing with crooks, somebody eventually got greedy again and screwed things up, again. This time it was Jess Smith's ex-wife, Roxy Stinson. Cheated out of what she thought was her fair share of Jess' share, Roxy spilled her guts to a Senate investigating committee, and on March 28th, 1924, President Coolidge demanded Daugherty's resignation. Daugherty decided to play it tough. "I wouldn't have given 30 cents for the office of Attorney General, but I won't surrender it for a million dollars." Then he added, “I have no personal feeling against the President. I am yet his dependable friend and supporter." And then he resigned.
In June of 1924, Gaston Means (above, center) was sentenced to four years for perjury. Once out of prison he wrote a book, “The Strange Death of President Harding”. It was an instant best seller, a well written inventive concoction of half truths and fantasy. Still desperate for money, in 1932 Means claimed to have been contacted by the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby. He was arrested after stealing the supposed $100,000 ransom, and sentenced (above) to fifteen years. He died of a heart attack in Leavenworth Prison, in 1938.
Howard Mannington died in 1932, at the age of 64, of a "lingering illness". Henry Daugherty (above) was indicted in 1926 for accepting bribes. The jury deadlocked, 7-5 in favor of conviction. His second trial ended in another hung jury, this time 11 – 1 for conviction. But the government gave up. In 1932 Daugherty published his own book, “The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy.” It did not sell well. In October of 1940 Henry suffered two heart attacks which left him bedridden. He died in his own bed on October 12, 1941, a very rich man. And, as far as he was concerned, that was the point..
Now, the Little Green House on K Street was vacant again. The graft it had contained certainly did not end. It just got bigger and more professional.
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