Agent for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service


In April, 1922, I was appointed to the position of a U.S. agent of the Internal Revenue Department, in the Bureau of Prohibition.


You left the police department.




Is this part of the shake-up? Did Drew leave at that time, too?


Oh no! This shake-up came afterwards. I left Drew because the opportunities were greater going to work for the government. Being a government agent meant a lot to me, and I was twenty-two.

Right following this job, we wanted to get married. My job there in the Oakland police department was not a secure job, but it was attached in such a way that I wasn't able to make the police patrol division. I had to be in this special branch. Then I would have to be twenty-five years old to have been eligible for the regular force. It was about two years before I would have been eligible to become a member of the police department, that is, a member of the patrol force. I wasn't too interested in that, because I wanted to study law.

I couldn't do it very well where I was, but then I got this appointment in the Internal Revenue Service and then transferred over--general agent. These were different branches in this service. For a while I was in charge of the coastal patrol for smugglers.


That was as a special assignment.


Yes. Under the director, too, we worked closely with the intelligence unit of the Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Alf Oftedahl was in charge.


Were the general agents the people who raided bootlegging establishments?



They all did. The special agents' office was more or less an office where they worked on every type of case, and they also had the investigative assignments--or the requirement--to investigate people in the Internal Revenue Service. They were a sort of in-service police department. They were in a little different category. A general agent was different than a federal prohibition agent. A federal prohibition agent came under the director.

The general agents, in addition to raiding bottlegging joints and things of that nature, had the winery inspection service, and those dealing with rabbi inspection who used wine for sacramental purposes, distilleries for medicinal and commercial purposes. You went around and checked these people and you gauged the wineries and distilleries.

The special agent's office worked on special tax matters, too. I only got over in the special agents' department as far as the smuggling detail was concerned.

Earl Warren became district attorney in 1925. He was appointed by the board of supervisors. Prior to this time he was an assistant district attorney. During the times that I was working in Alameda County, we didn't have any office over there. The office was in the Customs House in San Francisco, and up in the Grant Building and different buildings that we operated out of.

Earl Warren allowed us to operate out of the district attorney's office. Warren wanted to enforce the Prohibition law and vice laws. Not that he was a Prohibitionist, but he believed that it was on the law books, so the law should be enforced.

When Ezra Decoto was district attorney, we used the DA's office also but to a limited degree. Mr. Decoto wasn't as determined about enforcing the vice laws, you might say, or liquor laws. He believed this was not for the district attorney but for the police agencies.

During this period of time I became acquainted with everybody in the office. I used to be in there most every day, or maybe five times a week. I could come and go in the office, and everybody knew me, and it was just like I was working there.


George Helms, who was then the county detective, and I were very close. They had a fellow named Ray Laughrey, and a fellow named Al Wogaman. These two fellows were automobile drivers and worked under Helms. They drove the district attorney, or they went around the county and did errands, picked up the evidence from the local court clerks and stored it for the trials in the superior courts. They were going to college and worked during non-school hours, later full time.

Ray Laughrey later went into the insurance business, and Al Wogaman went into the automobile business. But they were friends of Ezra Decoto's. Warren kept all that staff on when he became district attorney.


So the time you're talking about really is around 1925.


Yes, in January. Well, of course in 1924, I was in and out of that office.

When Warren became district attorney he wanted to enforce the law. Helms thought it would be a good idea if we quartered there. He just felt that this was a little closer, and then they could pass on any information--information was continually pouring in, and they had no way of handling these complaints. They wanted to make sure who they were working with were honest people, and people that they could rely upon. They wouldn't let every agent go in there--that office wasn't open to all, but just a couple of us, and I was one of them.

So I became better acquainted with Mr. Warren. We had many raids in the county that resulted in unfounded complaints being brought against our actions--that we were rude and rough, reckless, and we were just knocking people around. We had no regard for their rights, or anything--civil rights in those days didn't mean anything, according to the complaints. Law enforcement officers were accused of violating the fourth and fifth amendments, illegal searches and seizures. But we, some of us, were closely following the law--as close as we could.


When you say illegal search and seizure was simple, what do you mean?


I would say that we operated through obtaining search warrants from the United States commissioners, who issued the search warrant. It was required that we get a search warrant when

necessary. The federal court wasn't following the liquor laws as closely as they were in narcotics. With the liquor laws it was pretty liberal. The United States attorney didn't require as much.

It used to be evidence was legal no matter how you obtained it. If you stole it--you broke into a house and stole it--you got the evidence, you could use it. In the state courts too. You had to have reasonable grounds to believe that the law was being violated. You had to have "probable cause," as they used the term, or reasonable grounds to believe--if one of your senses told you--your smell or your eyes--told you that there was a violation. Just like if a policeman saw a fellow shoot someone, he knew that this was a felony--he can't turn the other way, he had to do his duty.

In this case, it meant the same--as I say, it was very liberal--we would go down a block where somebody'd tell us they thought there was a still operating in a neighborhood or apartment, and we would go around and sniff. [Laughter] At nighttime you'd ride by, and you'd smell this thing, or you'd see people coming and going with bottles.

We had a rabbi down on 14th Street in Oakland--his name was Garfinckel. We had some reason to believe that this fellow had on the list of his congregation a lot of Irishmen. They were no more interested in the Jewish faith or religion--but they were a member of the congregation. They used to have a little tag--just a little mimeographed thing--this member with a number and the person's name. Well, you'd have Mahoney and Flynn and many others who were not Jews or members of a legitimate congregation. [Laughter] He'd come out with a gallon of port wine from the rabbi's house. Or a gallon of sherry--anything the rabbi blessed was good enough for sacramental purposes. Even a bottle of champagne! [Laughter]

So we'd go by and we'd have a belief--our senses would convince us that the law was being violated. However, we didn't have any definite, or concrete evidence. So we'd go to the commissioner on that basis and we would sign an affidavit that we had reasonable grounds to believe that this place had a large quantity of liquor or a still in it. Some officers would go down there with a search warrant, and go in,

and there was nothing there. They were absolved of any violation of civil rights. They would break the door down, maybe. They were absolved of anything even at two o'clock in the morning. Wake the family up, and the noise they made, they'd think the house was coming apart. They had a reason to complain, but in those days you didn't think much of that.

Well, the officers would say, "It must have been next door." So they smell over the fence, and they just change the address and go over next door, and knock. [Laughter] They'd say, "We got a search--" They never leave the copy with the occupants, just show him the search warrant, and say, "You can't keep that--we've got to file that." It was very seldom that happened, but it did happen. I don't recall it happening directly in my case, but I know that it did in others. In other words the law was loosely enforced.

We had these people out there in Castro Valley by the name of Blackburn. Mrs. Blackburn, I guess, was about the finest woman who ever put powder in a safe. She was just about as square as a billiard ball. She was running a place there that thought nothing of having a few girls, common prostitutes, around for the convenience of the customers. They would be waitresses and one thing and another and they were bootlegging. So we raided it.

I guess we were probably a little more rough than we should be. We were being pushed around by the guests, but we weren't going to be shoved around, either. We had been in some pretty close scrapes--shot at a couple of times, and worked over with people ganging up on the officers, so it was just a rough deal.

So she come in and complained to the district attorney that she wanted a warrant for our arrest. Mr. Warren, then the chief assistant district attorney, asked me about this matter. So I told him what happened. We went out there, raided the place, with a search warrant, and this was the kind of a joint that not only bootlegged, but had prostitutes and other law violators. Mr. Warren had her come back. He asked me if I would be present. Of course he could have issued a warrant for our arrest if he believed her story. So I said, "Sure," and I listened to her story. Then I told my view of what took place.


He just said, "Well, Mrs. Blackburn, you have a lot of nerve coming in here accusing these officers for a kind of a place you're running. I have a good mind to abate your place." He told her that from information he had received from other sources, the kind of a place she was running, she was operating with a bunch of underworld racketeers and lewd women around. Mr. Warren became more familiar with my operations.

I think I told you this before that he was keeping company with Nina Palmquist at that time. Her name was Nina Meyers, but her maiden name was Palmquist. They lived downtown in Oakland, 13th and Brush.

This man Garfinckel, this phoney rabbi, and several others down there who were rabbis, had a lucrative bootlegging business. He ordered a truckload of gallon bottles, and of course this meant drunks and all kinds of people hanging around the neighborhood.

So Warren felt that something ought to be done about it. Now he didn't have any enforcement agency that he controlled--he was assistant district attorney then. The sheriff wouldn't do anything; the police department was lax and limited; you had a morals squad, but they were afraid of the rabbis because of their legal status.

He asked me if I couldn't do something about it. I says, "Sure I will." Another agent named [John] Vail was working with me. He used to be a Department of Justice agent in the old Department of Justice that worked on the radicals, the I.W.W., the Wobblies, if you know what they are. They were known as the International Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.


Oh, I know what the Wobblies were.


The I.W.W.'s known as the International Workers of the World. He, Vail, was very active working undercover in their organization when they used to burn all the wheat fields, barns, and houses down. John Vail was a sort of a Wobbly-looking fellow himself! [Laughter]

Anyway John and I conducted this investigation for Mr. Warren. He (Garfinckel) lived further down in that area from the Palmquists. John Vail and I discussed the idea that we

ought to clean it up and get it over with. We did some surveillance, to see what we can find out.

This was about four o'clock in the afternoon that Mr. Warren had discussed this matter with me. When it got dark, about seven or eight o'clock, Vail and I went around and sized the whole situation up, and who come down the street, but Earl Warren. He was on his way to the Palmquists. He never give me all the background information he had; he just told me where it was. I hadn't met Nina Warren until later.

On seeing us, he inquired as to what we were doing there. "Well," I said, "You told me this afternoon what was going on in this neighborhood. I want to find out everything about it." He said, "It don't take you long to get on the job!" [Laughter] Or something to this effect. So this kind of brought us together a little bit more, closer in our associations.

There was another incident that gave him cause to view the way I worked. There was a bootlegger named Harry Brown who ran the Occidental Hotel in Hayward. This fella was running the same kind of an outfit that Mrs. Blackburn was. This was about 1924. The district attorney's office was about to abate this place as a violation of the red-light abatement act and for violation of the National Prohibition Act.

When the abatement proceedings were under way, Brown had a lawyer by the name of Raine Uhl, and Raine Uhl was a sort of a crack pot or a hot-head. He was an addict, I think, but he was a vicious sort of a fellow, sly and tricky. I was about twenty-three or twenty-four years old, then. When Brown became aware that we were going to raid his place--it didn't take long for the alarm to spread--as we entered the place, he ran out in the back, and he took the bottle of liquor he had and he threw it in a big coalbin, and it broke. I quickly mopped up all I could of coal dust and liquor and squeezed it into a pan, and then poured it into a bottle, and it looked just like coal juice. The U.S. chemists analyzed it as moonshine liquor. At the time of the raid, Brown was arrested.

This was one of the cases that was used in the abatement proceedings against the hotel, that Mr. Warren tried and won. Mr. Warren believed in enforcement of the laws, and the Occidental Hotel should have been abated.


They called me as a witness. I can remember that when I got on the stand Uhl was taking me over the ground, as he called it--going over the different things that happened. He said, "Well, where was Brown when this happened?" I said, "Well, he was in the back." "And where were you?" I said, "Out in the front." He said, "Well how could you see that, and what about other raiders?" I said, "Well, I could run faster than they could, and I chased him back there, and saw what he did." He said, "You ran faster. How fast can you run?"

He kept on going over all this type of questioning, so I turned to the judge, and I said, "Your Honor, I don't think that I ought to answer these kind of questions on how fast I can run. I told the counsel that I could run faster than Mr. Brown, and I saw what happened, and the proof of it is I found the evidence, and arrested the man." So the judge says, "I think we'll just finish the question here. Mr. Uhl, I don't think you have any more pertinent questions to ask. I'll give an order abating the place." Judge James Quinn was the judge. He was a person that would never want to abate a place unless it was absolutely necessary.

One of the things that the law enforcement agencies used to do in those days in order to give the judge some moral support, without him knowing he was getting it, they would invite in all of the anti-saloon league members that they could and all of the church people, and they'd pass the word around that this case was going to be very important. Mr. Warren wouldn't do this, but those church people interested in enforcement who were following these kind of cases, they'd bring them all down, and they'd sit in the courtroom, and listen as spectators to what the judge was going to do in this case.

Well, the judge had to recognize those present as good citizens and wanted these places closed up. So he would abate it, because politically this would not be wise to do otherwise. In those days, places like this didn't disturb a lot of people.

The Tribune and the Post-Enquirer and the others would make an issue of this kind of case. So he abated the place. It was during these trials and working out of the district attorney's office, that Mr. Warren had a chance to observe me and my operations.