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The Mark Inside

The Wolves of Seventeenth Street.

 

As Denver's Master Fixer, Lou Blonger had scores of confidence men paying him to protect their operations.

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The Wolves

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In March of 1923, twenty men stood trial in Denver before a single jury on charges of conspiracy. These men represented but a fraction of those working local confidence games at the time — those unfortunate enough to have been nailed in a day-long dragnet undertaken by district attorney Philip Van Cise a few months previous. Among them was Lou Blonger.

History does not remember these men as the Blonger Gang; it is a name of our own devising, that suits are purposes — though there was a core group working with Lou that could indeed be described in this way, including his manager Adolph "Kid" Duff, and bookmaker "Dapper" Jackie French.

Police around the country had come to know the Denver bunko artists as the Florida-Denver gang, or Denver-Florida, because they were aware that many of the confidence men involved would work in Colorado during the summer tourist season, then migrate to Miami or Havana during the colder months.

Walter Byland

As such, these men generally worked in small, independent gangs that could easily pick up stakes and move to a new town if circumstances required it, particularly if a shorn sheep with a big mouth started making things too hot. And in each new town, they knew they would have to let the local Fixer know they had arrived, seek his permission to operate, and agree to the going rate to keep the Fixer happy.

In return, the Fixer would make arrangements with the DA to keep bunko bails to a minimum, which the Fixer would post. Local cops were paid to turn a blind eye, and to mislead and frustrate victims should they come seeking justice. Judges, juries, bailiffs, detectives, police chiefs, mayors, sheriffs and their deputies were all paid for their cooperation.

Clean sweep

By the time of the big store con, such as the wire, or the rag, the Fixer also was responsible for supplying the Store — an office that could be used as a fake betting parlor or stock exchange, like that seen in The Sting. Bunko "Steerers" could hook a tourist, then, after laying the proper groundwork, pass him off to the crew at the Big Store for sheering.

The Golden Rule in such cases was clear — don't con the locals. Locals were more likely to make trouble with local cops and politicians, a situation anathema to the Fixer, who generally had a vested interest in a smooth and long-running operation. It was the Fixer's job to enforce this rule for the benefit of all, which Lou did with aplomb. He controlled the Denver racket for over twenty-five years, brought down only by the the unimpeachable ethics of Col. Van Cise, who refused Lou's money.

Denham Buildiing, Denver

In the Blonger gang trial in 1923, double-crossed Bookmaker Len Reamey pegged the split like this:

  • Steerer 42%
  • Spieler 15%
  • Bookmaker 5%
  • Tailer 2%
  • Adolph Duff 18%
  • Lou Blonger 18%

The Blonger Gang had other monickers as well, as papers of the day were prone to bestow:

  • The Florida Gang
  • The Denver-Florida Gang
  • The Florida-Denver Gang
  • The Million Dollar Bunco Ring
  • The Wolves of Seventeenth Street
  • The Tricky Twenty

But mostly, they were just the Bunko Men.

Lou had a few appellations as well:

  • Boss Blonger
  • King Lou
  • King of the Bunks
  • Bugaboo of the Buncs
  • Nestor of the Bunks
  • Overlord of the Underworld
  • The Fixer

Lou Blonger


 

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