The Wheeling Mob: Part 3

WARNING: This article contains explicit language and subject matter that is not suitable for children. This is R-rated. 

 

(Writer’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories that will concentrate on the organized-crime scene in and around Wheeling during the past century.)

 

Harlotry, Hustling, and Whoredom

Sometimes they’d wave at ya. You knew what they were. Sometimes I’d wave back. Just seemed polite even though they probably thought I was being a bratty kid making fun. Great hair, bright smile, and a giggly immaturity that had to be as obvious as the reason they were standing on the corner wearing a top-and-skirt combo that left little to the imagination.

The rumor was that they would go all the way for $40, or give you something different for $20, but that was in the 1980s, when I was in high school. And we were curious, too, because in those days the consensual “home run” wasn’t part of the game plan when we went on dates.  Instead it was a movie, maybe Rax, Pizza Inn, or DiCarlo’s, and maybe even some parking up at Oglebay.

But some nights we ventured to Tony’s Pizza, a delicious eatery serving pie similar to DiCarlo’s but still different enough to provoke the occasional trek to South Wheeling. On those evenings, our travels always seemed to take us over the Main Street Bridge that connects the downtown district to Center Wheeling. At the time, decayed buildings stood rotting on both sides of the road, and nearby were the ladies who hung out around the My Club and Clover’s. Further down street were the market houses, and we could also cruise near the Pirates Cove disco and the back-alley Flossey’s before arriving at Tony’s for four with an inch-worth of extra cheese.

We heard you could see hookers on the streets of Center Wheeling, so we cruised them. We wanted to see what sex looked like, and we saw it. I think we wanted to be tempted, too, but at that time we didn’t care about why they were there. Some of us – at least I did – felt compassion for those women, wondering what path led them there, to that corner, waving away, just trying to get a trick.

The "My Club" was demolished, and so was the the last "Green Door" brothel in Wheeling, adult entertainment remains available.

The “My Club” was demolished, and so was the the last “Green Door” brothel in Wheeling; adult entertainment remains available.

What I didn’t realize, though, was the real reason for the solicitations. I’m told, in the “Crazy ’80s” and after, most hookers were hooked themselves. Cocaine was the most popular party favor beginning in the 1980s, and then later in the 1990s the abuse involved crack, pills, and heroin.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Seldom did the prostitutes of the Friendly City rely on drive-by traffic during the first seven decades of the 20th century, and while they may have been alcoholics then, it wasn’t often that a prostitute would need emergency care during an overdose incident. Instead such purchased pleasures took place in the back rooms of strip clubs or cooperating taverns, or in rooms within Mob-owned structures inside Wheeling’s unofficial “Red Light District.” Usually there was a bottle on the table, maybe some grass and rolling papers, but these sessions were about fornication first and foremost.

The history of prostitution in Wheeling really is true history, but it is never celebrated as such, despite the fact that many credit the profession for the city’s legendary “Wheeling Feeling” marketing slogan. Truth be told, the green-door dates and potential parking lot rendezvous were once as much an attraction to young folks from the tri-state region as were Jamboree USA and the race track on Wheeling Island to Canadian tourists. Downtown Wheeling was stoked with steak houses, theaters, and bars, and all of them were infiltrated by “organization.” It became normal. When most heard that “Wheeling Feeling” slogan, they immediately thought of hookers.

Former FBI special agent Tom Burgoyne explained federal investigators spent the majority of their time in Wheeling attempting to crack down on gambling and drug distribution, and allowed the local authorities to enforce state and municipal laws that covered prostitution. Burgoyne and his colleagues knew the illegal activities were taking place and often worked cooperatively with lawmen from Wheeling and Ohio County, but only because there existed a link between drugs and prostitutes.

“Beginning in the 1970s and then after, where those girls were, there were drugs because most of them were using, and the dealers were using those girls to sell,” Burgoyne said. “It was pills and cocaine, but then they got into the harder stuff for whatever reasons.

“It was rough back then, and it was no different for those women. I have no idea to this day how much of the money they actually got themselves, but it couldn’t have been that much,” he continued. “Once the drug dependency came into play, I’m sure most of their money went for their drugs.”

“Uncle Marion” is now this 70-some-year-old man with a gruff voice and a penchant for draft beer with the side of a saltshaker. He selected his own nickname for this story, and that’s because, while it’s not his real name, it is an alias that means much to him. As a member of the Paul Hankish family during the 1970s and ‘80s he described himself as the protection, the caregiver, the chauffeur, and the manager of several prostitutes. Do not suggest to him, though, that he was a pimp or a male-version Madame.

Naw, that’s not what I was. Not in the least,” Uncle Marion said. “Not all the houses back then had a woman who looked after the girls, and those pimps were scumbags. Pimps don’t care about human beings. They only care about the money. It was true then, and it’s true today.

“Those sons-a-bitches hurt the girls themselves. They’d smack them around if they didn’t make enough money some nights, I guess, but they’d never hit them in the face because no one wanted a bruised-up hooker,” he continued. “And those idiots fed them those drugs so those girls didn’t even know what day it was let alone if they had their clothes on. I know that because some of them came to me and wanted to live with us because they wanted away from those stupid goofs.”

Centre Market is thriving today with several new businesses and many staple shops. This area was, however, classified as "seedy" by city government.

Centre Market is thriving today with several new businesses and many staple shops. This area, however, was classified as “seedy” by city government a decade ago.

Back in the 1970s, it was easy. Finding love-for-cash, Uncle Marion insists, was as basic as going to the right place any night of the week. You either knew or didn’t know, and if you didn’t, you asked and found out almost effortlessly. Those who wished to pay for in-person porn did so in bedrooms, backrooms, back seats, and even bathrooms. When you were with one of them, the clock was always ticking because time meant money. Anyone wishing for longer than the five or 10 minutes had to dish out more.

In our conversations, Uncle Marion referred to the brothels he managed as “stables” and to the women as, “broads.” “Old school” is how he defines himself; he’s retired now, and for whatever reasons he enjoys recollecting what he calls “the heyday.”

“They were whorehouses; that’s all they were. Guys came and went, if you know what I mean,” he said. “Those girls made their decisions to do what they wanted to do, and so did the ‘Johns.’ I mean, I’m not trying to be disrespectful or anything, but I know I didn’t make anyone do what they were doing. I just had to make sure the broads were where they were supposed to be, and to make sure they stayed alive.

“That shit seemed normal at the time, so it wasn’t that big a deal, but when I think about it these days and look around at how it is today, it’s amazing what we got away with,” he continued. “We ran those girls right in the face of the cops back then. And the drugs had to be obvious. I know it was to me.”

At times, Uncle Marion admitted he was forced to intervene during services inside rooms within his assigned brothel because of time constraints or unruliness. Initially he would knock on the door. If that hint was lost on the customer, he would enter the room.

“I never liked doing that. It always seemed rude, but there were guys who got aggressive sometimes with some weird shit, and if the girl didn’t agree to it, that’s where I had to step in. After a while, you know what sex sounds like, and you learn the girls and how they go about it,” he said. “There were times when the guy was having a hard time, but he just wanted her to keep trying for a lot longer than what was agreed upon. Those guys were never happy when I had to step in there, but if I did, it was all business.”

Uncle Marion repeated several times during our conversation that he made sure the ladies were, “OK.” Over and over. He shared a lot of stories, like the one time at a truck stop when two of the women disappeared, and he had to brandish his handgun to a few people before finally finding the females in a sleeper cab. When the prostitutes emerged, he could tell they were frightened, so Uncle Marion believes the trucker was trying to abduct them.

“That kind of shit happened sometimes; maybe not much around here, but we would hear about it from other areas. Some of those truck drivers were pretty f-ed up, and when they took the girls no one ever saw them alive again. Those assholes would rape them, kill them, and then dump them along the highway,” he said. “Taking care of those broads was a priority of mine. No one told me that, but I wanted to make sure they were OK,” he said. “They had shelter and food – all the girls’ stuff they needed, ya know? And when they needed to go to the hospital, I took them to the hospital.

“Sometimes those girls got dirty down there because of the scum they were doing. And other times the guy got rough and hurt them and they needed stitches or something. But I took them, and they didn’t have to pay anything. Never. That stuff was all taken care of by the family back then. I feel sorry for those girls now.”

According to "Uncle Marion," the construction of WV Route 2 erased several houses that once served as brothels.

According to “Uncle Marion,” the construction of W. Va.  Route 2 erased several houses that once served as brothels.

Uncle Marion’s duties, though, were not limited to housesitting. There were often times when the prostitutes were “working locations” like those truck stops, and bars, and restaurants, too. They walked those lots and worked those crowds, and there were the occasions when gamblers would get in on the action during breaks from high-stakes card games staged in steak houses.

“That stuff kept me on my toes because some of those boys in those bars would get pretty messed up on whatever they were doing. I could tell because their eyes were usually spinning in their damn heads,” Uncle Marion explained. “It was difficult to keep track of three or four of the broads all at the same time. They were usually all going in different directions trying to drum up some business.

“I remember that those boys really didn’t like the rules, and some of those gamblers really thought they were some big shit, like they were untouchable or something. Let’s just say that didn’t always work out that good for them,” he said. “The rules were the rules. They followed the rules, then we had no problems. That changed when they didn’t follow the rules, though. I never cared who they were.”

Everyone wants to know how much the girls made.

“It was embarrassing to me what those girls got for what they did, but that wasn’t my decision. People higher up than me made those decisions. I just did my job, but that part of it always did make me feel bad. They didn’t even get half of what those guys paid to have their way with them,” Uncle Marion admitted. “I never understood that, but I didn’t ask any questions. I was quiet about stuff like that. I had my own bills to pay.

“They didn’t get what they deserved, but no one did; I know that now that it’s been so many years ago,” he said. “Some people were addicted to the sex or the drugs, and people like me got addicted to the money. I did what I did to survive. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Wheeling Police officers conducted raids on occasion, emptying establishments and houses where they believed the hookers lodged. When officers did apprehend a prostitute, the addresses the women offered law enforcement always led them to vacant lots. They wanted to be anonymous, and they were.

“Always,” confirmed Don Atkinson, a current Wheeling council member representing Ward Five and a long-time employee at Ace Garage. “I had to work some of those raids with Wheeling PD because they usually needed at least one tow when it was all said and done. And every single time they arrested one of the girls, their address came up as a vacant lot.

“It was amazing how all of those people scattered so quickly after the very first person yelled, ‘RAID!!’ Those people went in every single direction possible, and if it was a brothel, there were sometimes as many as 40-some people inside,” he continued. “The officers would be lucky to grab maybe half of them, and the others would just vanish into the streets. Poof and they were gone.”

Robert Delbrugge, a 25-plus-year veteran of the Wheeling Police Department, patrolled the Center and South Wheeling neighborhoods often enough to investigate alleged activities and make the resulting arrests. During the day these sections of town were bustling industrial areas, but at night the nature of these neighborhoods darkened with nightfall.

Wheeling Downs, now known as the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack has been a popular "working space" for prostitutes for more than 60 years.

Wheeling Downs, now known as the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, has been a popular “working space” for prostitutes for more than 60 years.

“Those areas of Wheeling were known for what took place down there, and that was a lot of partying and all the other stuff involving prostitution and drugs,” Delbrugge said. “I know we made a lot arrests in that area for a lot of different reasons, but in those days it was difficult to prove that prostitution was taking place because most of the time it was behind closed doors. They were very good at keeping that staff out of sight.

“I don’t think anyone looked the other way back then like a lot of people want to believe these days. I know I didn’t,” he added. “They hear all these stories, and most of them are true. But so many people hear them and immediately think the police had to just let it all happen. But that wasn’t true at all. At least no one said a word to me about it. I did my job and then went home to my family, and there were some nights when I was real happy to get home.”

And then there were the times when people got whacked over prostitution, and Burgoyne shared his memories from a murder case he investigated involving a Madame known as “Carla” who had history in Wheeling. Once she decided to cooperate with authorities, she moved away to Stark County in Ohio.

“Hankish was afraid we had got to her and that she was going to talk to us about everything else he was up to,” Burgoyne said. “This woman who was murdered in Canton, Ohio, was a Madame here in Wheeling for a number of years, so she knew a lot about a lot. She knew how everything worked.

“But when the coroner’s report was released, the cause of death as suicide, so we knew after everything we had heard that the medical examiner had to be on the take. That happened a lot back in those days,” he said. “We had to exhume her, and when we did, the examination proved what we had learned. She was murdered. Her neck was broken just like we thought. She was silenced.”

It wasn’t the murders, or the raids, the jail time, or the herpes that led Uncle Marion to the decision to make his escape from prostitution. He left his “management” position several years before Hankish was convicted, so for him, anyway, it was morality that finally guided him away from the racket.

Just over the Main Street Bridge was locate the "Land of Opportunity" for those seeking love with an immediate price tag.

Just over the Main Street Bridge was located the “Land of Opportunity” for those seeking love with an immediate price tag.

“Listen, when I started in that business the girls drank for sure, but then the coke, the acid, and the pills come into it, and those things changed everything,” Uncle Marion said. “It was the guys those broads were hooking up with that first brought the drugs into it. Those assholes were trying to get the girls more f-ed up so they’d do stuff for free.

“I used to ask those broads how high they had to be, for Christ’s sake,” he said. “Some of them would look right at me after I asked them that, and they would  say, ‘High enough not to feel.’

“That ate at me so much I had to go. It made me think about what I was doing. I knew I couldn’t watch that anymore and thank God I did quit because I only saw it get worse after Paul went to prison.”



21 Responses

  1. Paul

    The Green Door, “Amy’s Place”. There was Julie, Tina, Cindy, Melissa, and Lou Ann.

    Reply
  2. Jamie Riser

    This was an amazing read. I would like to know more. Also if there is a chance I could get in contact with any of you just to shoot the breeze about wheeling back in the day. I love history and knowing about the city in which I’ve lived for all of my 33 yrs of age.

    Reply
  3. Jim Coster

    i saw this series when you first published it, however, i just found your site again and discovered the additional segments.

    this is an interesting segment on prostitution in wheeling. i’m originally from “the Wheeling area” but no longer live there. when i was in high school in the late 60’s early 70’s, i had a few best buddies that were always up for any kind of entertaining activities from getting drunk to street racing cars to …. hanging out in the Wheeling brothels after all the “regular” dance clubs closed.

    Wheeling’s “underground” night life was nothing short of amazing by today’s standards. there were parts of the city where girls just sat on steps and smiled when you drove by. usually, if you came back around, they would come over to your car and more often than not, you could take them to some alley close by and “have some fun” for a while. there were several “strip clubs” in Wheeling at the time and most of the “dancers” would also “date” when their shift was over. these girls were always the most expensive “dates.” then there were “the bars” that “the girls” just hung out in. there were several of these “drinking establishments” in Center Wheeling around the old My Club. many was the time when me (by myself if my pals had gone home) or me and a buddy would stop at these clubs just to see the girls “at the bar.” one girl who hung out at the My Club liked to dress up like a high school cheerleader. she was in her 20’s and very cute and very much looked the part. she was very popular with our group. and then there were the brothels – three of them. there were two “houses” down by the railroad tracks not far from the sanitation plant. each one of these places had a single porch light over the door. you would knock and a guy would open the door glass and if he thought you looked like a “legit” customer, he would let you in. these two houses usually had 3-6 girls working. but by far, the best “place to hang out” was the house across from the grocery store at the intersection where you go up to get on Rt2. i think there might have been a funeral home beside it at one point. it’s a vacant lot now. this place might have been called “Bobbie’s.” but it was a high school boys dream. when you went in you entered a big room with a full bar set up at one end. there were a couple of couches and lounge chairs. you could buy beer and i think mixed drinks. Bobbies always had between 10-13 girls – and they were ALL good looking! there was a “big guy” bouncer and the rule was – after you had seen all of the girls, you had to take one upstairs or you had to leave. there was no exception (or argument) about this rule. Bobbie’s girls were not only attractive – they were memorable. there was one girl named “Pepsi” who was very tall – over 6 feet. she was always on the “i dare you” list between me and my buddies. then one night, i met “Cindy” – i almost fell in love with her. she was around 22, 5’4″ 110 lbs. with natural blond hair down to her waist. she was probably “the fantasy” of most high school guys. AND having sex with Cindy “was not a problem.” i was so taken with her the first time we met that i asked the standard goofy question: “you are so beautiful, why are you here doing this?” Cindy was street wise beyond her years and she simply responded – “everyone has to be someplace.” i never forgot Cindy or her amazingly philosophic comment.

    in the year 2016, it’s hard to imagine the “average weekend night” for a high school guy in Wheeling in 1971 that i’ve described. it’s very easy to apply current moral and behavioral standards and reach a very negative conclusion. but as the writer of this series has stated in various segments, there were lots of behaviors that people exhibited and participated in in Wheeling, W.Va. in the 1950’s to 1970’s that “were normal” for those people in that place at that time. obviously, organized crime, murders, violence, drug abuse, prostitution, gambling were bad things and extracted a terrible toll on many people’s lives. but “that was then” and many things in life “were different” than they are today. i think the best witnesses to history are those who describe accurately what they saw and experienced as best they can with certain aspects of judgment omitted. every person can draw their own moral conclusions.

    Reply
    • Craig

      I was stationed in the Army at Oakdale Pa. in 71, as an MP. My roomate was the son of a Youngstown made guy. On weekends he took me to Wheeling, down near the R.R. tracks,, walked up to a wooden door that had a porthole window with a cover inside that slid back. An elderly lady then asked the password, which was ” 7 dogs pissing on a wall”. She opened up, we went in,, here I am a 19 yr old baby faced kid, who had only been laid twice, at least 8 beautiful women stood up in bathing suits, and introduced themselves, and Pepsi was one of them. They then proceeded to sit down besides us, like we were old friends, and converse. There were lawyer’s, truck drivers, Judges delivery boys, and military. You then chose who you wanted, went upstairs to a room , agreed on a price,,15$ for a lay ,and 20$ for half and half. Then came the dreaded warm soapy water in a pan, used to clean you,, a lot, and I mean a lot of guys, lost their 15$ in that warm soapy water. If you did, you had to tip, to keep your downfall upstairs, or they would announce it to everyone downstairs. From what my roomate told me they work in Wheeling 3-4 months, then move back to New York for the remaining 9 months. Those were the days!!

      Reply
  4. Sammy

    in 1969 $10 for “Round the World”
    password, “Dog piss’n on the door”.
    my drunk navy buddy got ripped off…
    & confronted the Madame “Bobbie”
    she said her girls don’t steal… so, he
    tipped over the kitchen table & chairs
    broke dinner plates out of the cuboards.
    the called the cops… one unmarked, one lights flashing.
    After we drove around the blocks several times
    the police flashed their headlights @ us (by the Ironworker Hall)… we thought we were busted as our buddy exited the
    back of the patrol car w/o shirt or shoes!
    cop said, ” Take ur friend home & dry him behind the ears…
    that ain’t no grocery store… u don’t ask for change.”
    well, we got change… cause those days are gone! : )

    Reply
  5. jack hattman

    GREAT JOB.FASCINATING READING. I HOPE FOR MANY MORE ARTICLES. ONE SUGGESTION WOULD BE TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE POLITICAL,GOVERNMENTAL LEADERSHIP OF WHEELING DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE ERA. WHO WERE THE MAYORS AND COUNCILMEN AND HOW DID THEY EXPLAIN THEIR CITY?

    Reply
  6. Fran

    You are really missing so much about center Wheeling. Such as the meat rack, and buds Club as well as big Berthas and the tin pan alley which went from a regular to a homosexual bar!! Or Abbeys Merrymint where I went when I was 16 or the swing club where I went when I was 18!! Not to mention the club quarter, hoots, buddy club, and susies?

    Reply
  7. John

    Very Acuarate account. My boss read it and wanted to know when it will be coming out on HBO.

    Reply
  8. Becky

    I used to do a madame’s hair every week when I was attending the Wheeling Beauty College back in 1967-68, if I remember correctly she was very pretty , reddish hair ( she wore it up and with a hairpiece ) and tipped BIG . She was actually a very nice person ( my instructor always reminded us where those tips came from ) I hope she was not the Madame that was murdered.

    Reply
    • Terry

      The tall redhead was not murdered. She moved to New Jersey and died of lung cancer in 2005. I know this because she was my mother.

      Reply
      • J

        I began reading the comments and then saw this one and it hit me with a “wow”. I bet it felt good to see the comment made about her being beautiful and nice.

      • Paul

        Sorry to hear that. She was funny as hell once you got her talking.

  9. Mike Seals

    Just read all three parts, back to back. Very good stuff. Well written and definitely kept me engaged. I only wish there were another three parts!

    Reply
      • Anonymous

        Very interesting. My grandfather used to work for Mr. Elias at the racetrack. I remember we heard stories about the activities. Really enjoyed reading your articles. J

      • chris kulpa

        I like to inform you that Mr. Burgoyne was not the first one to put the stop on the two gangster here in wheeling. Does the name Kulpa mean anything to you ? H e started to raid them as a detective and his equand was name the Kulpa raiders, he was Louis Kulpa! He was putting them out of business before Mr.Burgoyne. So I suggest you do a little more research on this subject matter sir?

    • Anonymous

      Me too, awesome to read. Took me back a few years!
      Great writing, couldn’t wait for more.

      Reply
  10. Paul

    Uncle Marion? Probably refers to the hometown county of the guy who used to be Bill Lias’ accountant, if you will, and who also managed the prostitution traffic between Wheeling and Fairmont in the 50s, and probably the 60s.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.