THE COLLINGWOOD MURDER LEGACY begins with the murder of three men who crossed the notorious Purple Gang. The Purples were contemporaries of Chicago’s Al Capone, only they were much more violent.
By the late 1920s, The Purple Gang controlled crime in Detroit underworld. They determined who did what and set the price of business for the city’s vice, gambling, and drug trades. No one ran a gambling parlor or speakeasy without the permission of and payments to the Purples. They also ran the local wire service. The Purples provided all the horse racing information to local horse betting parlors and handbooks. This gave the Purples access to the winners and losers of every race before anyone else.
The gang’s biggest source of cash was alcohol. Prohibition had come early to Detroit with the passing of the Damon Act a year before the 18th Amendment was passed. The Purples used the ‘head start’ as a training ground. They mastered the smuggling routes from Canada to Detroit. Over two-thirds of the nation’s illegal booze came from Canada, and the Purples wanted to control it all.
Booze was all over Detroit. Speakeasies, private clubs, established restaurants, blind pigs, beer-gardens were on every block. And, the upper crust inhabitants of Grosse Pointe were quick to join the new fad, ‘cocktail parties’. Booze could be purchased from vendors in the auto factory parking lots or in the hundreds of ‘soft drink parlors’ licensed in that city in 1923.
For several years, the Purples were nearly untouched by the police. Witnesses, when and if they were identified, were intimidated into silence. No one was brave enough to testify against any criminal identified as a Purple Gangster.
Gang wars were numerous and deadly. Reporters covered every beating, murder and explosion. Detroit’s newspapers, the News, the Free Press and the Times, fought their own war for sales. Extra editions were printed nearly every week, sometimes nearly every day. Every battle in the war between gangs and the police was covered in bloody detail. And, the reporters had the inside scoop. They drank in the same places as the bootleggers, often knowing the victims, killers, bosses and enforcers better than the police.
By 1929, illegal liquor was the second biggest business in Detroit at $215 million a year, second only to auto manufacturing. The public distaste for Prohibition only helped the gangs. Not a single mayor of those years ever publicly supported prohibition.
For more information on the Purples check out this link: http://www.walkervilletimes.com/34/mobsters1.html