Prohibition Years

For the 16 years that followed the 1919 Prohibition Act, widespread non-compliance of federal and state prohibition laws made Tampa one of the "wettest" spots in the United States. In fact, in 1930 there were reportedly 130 different retailers surreptitiously selling a wide variety of intoxicating beverages.  In Tampa, prohibition was a miserable failure. Besides raising the price of liquor and lowering its quality, the "Noble Experiment" exacerbated Tampa's wide-open moral conditions, corrupted law enforcement and other public officials, and fostered the growth of an emerging criminal element.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, Tampa received most of its illicit liquor from three sources: local bootleggers, rural moonshiners, and international smugglers.

The art of moonshining was practiced long before the advent of Prohibition. For generations, federal tax collectors scoured the outskirts of Tampa looking for tax-evading moonshiners. Until 1920, the illegal production of alcohol was a small and relatively insignificant business. It was primarily produced for home consumption or sold to neighbors. With the passage of the 18th Amendment, however, the production of moonshine grew into a large, commercial enterprise in the rural districts of Hillsborough and other surrounding counties.

Although the rural areas surrounding Tampa contained an untold number of stills, the "Daddy" of the early moonshiners was a colorful character named William Flynn. A cooper prior to the 18th Amendment, by 1920 he had an impressive three-still operation that supplied much of West Tampa. Unfortunately for local retailers, this moonshining entrepreneur soon experienced some bad luck. On October 14, 1920, federal agents raided his business and destroyed the stills. Within days, however, other opportunistic "shiners" filled the void created by Flynn’s arrest.

The alcohol supplied by rural moonshiners was a cheap alternative to homemade wine or expensive liquor. Yet there was a potential risk for individuals who consumed this backwoods "shine." Every year during Prohibition poorly prepared moonshine killed or made seriously ill hundreds of customers. All too often small operators, with little knowledge of the distilling process, allowed poisonous leads and salts to seep into the mixture. Moonshine found a receptive market in Tampa’s more notorious speakeasies, but most people preferred high quality imported liquor.

Because of its geographical location and numerous inlets and coves, Tampa became a haven for smugglers during the Prohibition era. For 16 years scores of "black ships" operated off the coast of Tampa Bay bringing in unlawful liquor. Skillful sea captains, financed by both legitimate business concerns and criminal organizations, risked possible arrest and the impounding of their vessels for high profit yields. The main source of Tampa’s liquor supply came from Cuba and especially the Bahamas.

Few of these rumrunners and their bootlegging allies ever spent time in prison for violating federal and state prohibition statutes. Although the Tampa Daily Times and Tampa Tribune were filled with stories about spectacular liquor raids and well-publicized trials, the lucrative rum trade operated with impunity in Tampa. Public hostility to the Volstead Act, widespread community involvement in the smuggling business, and most importantly, blatantly corrupt city and county officials, made Tampa one of the "leakiest" cities in the United States.

The official police records during the prohibition era were deceptive. First, many of those arrested were habitual offenders. The prospect of arrest did not intimidate the city’s liquor violators because municipal judges rarely imposed more than token fines. Liquor dealers were fined on a regular basis and many were arrested twice or more within a week’s time. According to one policeman, "bootleggers made no bones of their business, smiled when arrested, paid up immediately, and continued to defy authorities.” To many bootleggers, getting arrested was merely a slight inconvenience and a minor occupational hazard. Secondly, many of those arrested selling alcohol gave false identities or distorted their names beyond recognition. Finally, the corrupt elements in the department often warned the city's underworld of impending raids. In order to appease the community's prohibitionists, police periodically swept through Ybor City and Tampa and temporarily closed several speakeasies and coffee houses. Forewarned, the establishments scheduled to be raided secreted their high quality liquor and left only a case or two of cheap moonshine in plain view for Tampa's vice squad detectives to confiscate. Following a perfunctory hearing before a sympathetic municipal magistrate, victims of these rehearsed raids usually resumed their illicit businesses within hours.




Bootlegger Italians

The local bootleggers were predominantly Italian immigrants who engaged in the trade to supplement their meager salaries. According to Gary Mormino and George Pozzetta in their book, The Immigrant World of Ybor City

"The potentially large profits to be made, the nearly unlimited demand for and the acceptance of the illegal sale of alcohol by the public, and the Italian talent at manufacturing, supplying, and marketing... brought together economic opportunity and immigrant resolution."

Throughout the Treasure City enterprising Italians built crude but efficient stills that produced a variety of potent potables. This cottage industry that employed perhaps as many as 50 percent of Ybor City's families, supplied an eager and appreciative market. In fact, scores of restaurants, coffee houses, and speakeasies served as outlets for this local "alky cooked" liquor.

Prohibition brought tremendous sums of money into Tampa's Italian community, raising the socio-economic status of those engaged in the illegal trade. The "Noble Experiment" was also important because it brought Italian-Americans into Tampa's criminal underworld. Prior to the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, organized crime was the near-exclusive domain of the city's Cubans and Spaniards. They controlled all major forms of vice, including the lucrative bolita industry--the Cuban numbers. Brought to Ybor City in the 1880s, this popular form of gambling began as a small sideline business found in Latin saloons. It soon became the single largest illegal money-making enterprise in Tampa’s history.

The use of some photos on this page does not imply that the subject of the scene
depicted was associated with criminal activity.  Such photos appear solely for the
purpose of displaying Tampa scenes and persons of note from the 1940s.

A still in the attic of a Tampa home, 1920
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

A moonshine still in Riverview, 1920
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

A rumrunner burning in the Gulf of Mexico, 1920s
Tampa Bay history. Vol. 13, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 1991)
"The Smuggler's Blues -  Drug and Alien Traffic in Tampa, 1920s"

Hillsborough Co. Sheriffs with confiscated still at the county jail, 1925
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

Prohibition agents with confiscated stills, 1928
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

The Italian Club at 17th St. and 7th Ave., Ybor City, 1920s
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection


Bolita Balls

Bolita Throwing

By 1900, bolita had become a ritual in Tampa. Every night crowds of gamblers and curious onlookers gathered at one of the lavishly decorated sporting parlors to watch the daily "throwing." The lottery commenced when 100 ivory balls with bold black numbers were exhibited on a large table. This was done to ensure that none of the balls was missing, thus increasing the odds for the operators. After a brief inspection, all 100 balls were placed in a velvet sack, which was tightly tied. At this point the "throwing" began as the sack went from person to person. Finally the bag was grabbed by a "catcher," who held one ball securely, still within the bag, in his closed fist. The operator then tied a string around the sack, just above the imprisoned ball. He then cut the bag above the string and allowed the winning number to drop in his hand. 


Charlie Wall

Charlie Wall
"Ybor City Chronicles, a Memoir" by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Tribune photo

As the Cuban numbers became increasingly profitable, many gambling brokers expanded their operations. In fact, there were few places in Tampa where one could not purchase a bolita ticket. Along with this expansion also came consolidation. By the 1920s, the bolita trade was virtually monopolized by a man named Charles Wall. This gambling czar, with his brilliant organizational skills and powerful political connections, became the undisputed master of Tampa’s bolita empire and controlled it for nearly three decades.


With one of the keenest minds capable of the most intense concentration, Charles Wall had the background, the lineage (he was related to the powerful Lykes and McKay families), every advantage to become one of Florida’s greatest public figures had he so chosen.  Instead he turned to a life of crime. Wall was born into a prominent Tampa family. His father, Dr. John Wall, was an ex-Confederate Army surgeon who directed the Richmond hospitals during the Civil War. He was also internationally recognized for his pioneering Yellow Fever studies. Although Charles’ early life was spent in comfortable surroundings, his teenage years were marred by tragedy. At the age of thirteen his mother died. Two years later, his father, while attending a medical conference in Gainesville, was suddenly overcome by illness and also died. Young Wall was subsequently raised by his stepmother, a woman whom he despised and would eventually shoot and wound with a .22 caliber gun.

Following a brief stay in a juvenile detention center, Wall was sent to the Bingham Military School in North Carolina. His scholarly career, however, was short-lived; he was caught in a local bawdy house and promptly expelled from the academy. Returning to Tampa, the restless misanthrope gravitated toward the city’s budding gambling industry. Beginning as a courier, he soon became a bookie and planned to expand his power further. Wall’s preeminence in the city’s gambling fraternity was firmly established in the 1890s when he seized control of the bolita rackets, which had previously been run from the island of Cuba. It is highly probable that Wall was encouraged and even financed in his takeover attempt by Tampa’s elite business community, which did not like the idea that gambling revenues were leaving the city. Many wanted the money to remain in the Treasure City where it could be used to encourage new industries and other commercial ventures.

Despite a morphine addiction, which he overcame, Wall rose to become Tampa’s gambling czar. He maintained this position for over three decades by controlling the city’s "hot" voting precincts. When Wall could not purchase the necessary votes to win an election, he simply stuffed the ballot boxes. At the height of his power, few Tampa politicians won their elections without first securing Wall’s blessing. In fact, "Many observers staunchly believed that during these decades (when Wall ruled the city’s political structure) there was not one single honest election in Tampa/Hillsborough County." Wall also retained his title as Bolita King by eliminating his potential opponents. At least six rivals met violent deaths attempting to dislodge the city’s powerful vice lord.

Charlie Wall was a fascinating anomaly. A cold-blooded killer who did not hesitate to order the execution of anyone encroaching on his territory, Wall was also described as a "polite and soft-spoken" individual who frequently donated large sums of money to churches and assisted a number of working-class families facing economic hard-times. His most legendary philanthropic act occurred in 1910. In the midst of a brutal strike, Tampa’s Bolita King provided food for 900 cigarworkers and their families. Few Latins forgot Wall’s generosity.

A director of the Hillsborough County Crime Commission had said of Wall that the "facade of courtly manner that sheltered the man" was a symbol of Tampa's coarse lawlessness.  On March 9, 1939, Wall's closest known associate, Tito Rubio, was cut down by gangland lead.  It was during a grand jury hearing that Wall was recognized officially as the "brains" and elder statesman of the lottery rackets.  In spite of his professed link with the rackets, his only close call with justice in his 75 year record was in 1931 when a Federal court found Wall guilty of a narcotics violation and sentenced him to two years in prison.  The conviction was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Regardless of Wall’s lofty status in Tampa’s Latin community, by the early 1930s his undisputed reign over the bolita trade was increasingly challenged by Italian gangsters. During the Prohibition era, Italians engaged in the illicit liquor business earned a considerable amount of money and wielded growing power in the city. They were restless and no longer content with their bootlegging profits. Some hungered to crack the Wall-Cuban bolita monopoly, and were willing to utilize violence to achieve their goals. The first sign of destabilization in Tampa’s gambling community occurred on June 9, 1930. While standing in front of his garage door, Wall was ambushed by assailants in a speeding automobile. The Bolita King was not seriously injured (he received a minor shoulder wound), but the incident signaled the beginning of a bloody gang war between the Old Guard mobsters and upstart Italian gangsters.

Not all Italian bootleggers wanted access to Tampa’s bolita rackets; many were content to operate their small cottage industries. The insatiable demand for liquor insured little rivalry and a high profit yield. The only competition the city’s bootleggers encountered was found in the countryside. Moonshine was not only sold in rural communities, but also found in Tampa’s poor sections.

Organized Crime in the 30s and 40s

In May of 1951, the Kefauver Committee released their Interim Report #3 on its findings on organized crime in Tampa.  The committee hearings in Tampa were conducted against a backdrop of gangland violence and vengeance pointed up by a sordid record of more than a dozen racket killings and six attempted assassinations in less than two decades.

Through this bloody history runs the obscure but sinister shadow of Mafia operations, with its accompanying links between the criminal overlords of Tampa and their counterparts in other sections of the country. The committee could not make an adequate investigation of the Mafia background of these murders because all suspected Mafia adherents vanished from their homes and usual haunts when it became known that the committee intended to investigate their activities. Months after the committee's visit to Tampa, these men continued to evade process. It was freely stated in the particular circles in which they operated that they intended to remain in secret refuges until the life of this committee expired.

In Tampa, as in other cities visited by the committee, there was found the same dismal pattern of corruption of public officials by entrenched gambling interests which the committee found in other cities. These interests resorted to the customary policy of outright bribery and channeled substantial amounts of money into political campaigns, for the control they had over law-enforcement officers.

Bolita Thrives in Tampa

The main source of revenue for the gambling fraternity in Tampa was a variation of the numbers racket known as Bolita.  It was similar to the numbers racket in other parts of the country but with some variation in the systems of drawing the numbers. The system of distributing the bolita business among the existing bolita bankers was different from the methods used in other cities in arriving at an equitable division of the spoils.

Elsewhere, those engaged in the numbers racket were inclined to establish territorial limitations within which numbers banks could operate. In Tampa the bolita operators were free to operate anywhere within the territory. However, each banker received an assignment of men who were charged with the obligation of picking up the day's play and these men in turn were furnished with the names of specific places where bolita was sold. Thus the operations of any particular bank were limited to a specific number of selling points and an adequate number of pick-up men to cover these points, regardless of geographical location.

Apparently bolita operations did not run smoothly in Tampa. The last two gangland killings involved leading principals in the operation of the bolita racket. Jimmy Velasco was killed on December 12, 1948, and Jimmy Lumia on June 5, 1950. No one was convicted of the other Tampa gangland slayings, with one exception in 1932.

Trafficante, Sr.


Admittedly, the participation of the Mafia in Tampa's series of murders and attempted assassinations was predicated on inferences. As is well known, intimidation and threats of retaliation served to silence witnesses of homicides traceable to this organization. However, an analysis of the existing information produced some enlightening facts that reveal an easily recognizable pattern. Connections with other cities were clearly shown by the record. One of the fugitives from the committee's process was Santo Trafficante, Sr., reputed Mafia leader in Tampa for more than 20 years. A search of the effects of Jack Dragna, one of the alleged Mafia leaders on the Pacific coast, yielded the telephone number of Trafficante and also that of the late Jimmy Lumia.                              

The lamentable state of the files of Tampa killings, kept by the Tampa Police Department, was emphasized by the testimony of Chief of Police M. C. Beasley.  In fairness to Chief Beasley, it must be pointed out that he had occupied his position only 5 months prior to the time he was called to testify before the committee and the responsibility for the condition of the department's records was not attributable to him.

Requested to produce the files concerning the gangland killings in which the committee was interested, Chief Beasley was forced to admit that in many of the cases there were no files at all, and that in most of the remainder the information was extremely sparse. Whether the disappearance of the records was a matter of accident, carelessness, or design was not readily discernible.

Police Files on Murders Missing

One of the missing files dealt with a character known as George "Saturday" Zarate, twice made a target of gangland vengeance. On November 10, 1936, he was shot at 8th Avenue and 14th Street at the El Dorado casino by two gunmen in a car, firing sawed-off shotguns. He was also attacked by gunfire on another occasion at his home in the 2100 block of Nebraska Avenue. Zarate's career was marked by an arrest in New York as a suspect in dope trafficking with Charles "Lucky" Luciano. The only murder conviction in Tampa during the 30s and 40s was that involving Zarate's brother, Mario, who was given a life sentence for the killing of Armando Valdez, a wholesale produce dealer, in 1932. Oddly enough, the records in the Valdez slaying also were missing from the police department files.

Another significant tie-up with the Mafia appeared in the murder of Joe Vaglichi, alias Joe Vaglichio. He died in a hail of shots poured from shotguns wielded by assassins in a passing car outside his sandwich stand early on the morning of July 29, 1937. There were no arrests and Vaglichi's past history which caused police at the time to credit his death to Mafia internal conflict. Vaglichi was one of 23 Italian gangsters rounded up by the Cleveland Police Department in a hotel in that city in December 1928 after the Cleveland police had been tipped off that Mafia leaders were congregating there for a meeting. Thirteen revolvers were found among the 23 prisoners, who also included Ignazio Italiano of Tampa. Vaglichi also had been tabbed by authorities in subsequent years as a killer in the pay of the Mafia for jobs in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and New York, although never convicted. He also was reported to have had a brother in the Chicago rackets who had been a bodyguard for Al Capone. The Tampa police file on the Vaglichi slaying was limited to a newspaper report of the murder, Vaglichi's criminal record, and a statement about the killing. There were no investigative reports of any kind.

As the mafia grew in stature in Tampa a war broke out between the various gambling factions for control of the bolita and narcotics rackets. At this time there was no true boss in Tampa. Some early powers were the Diecidue family, Augustine Lazzara, the Velasco brothers, the Trafficantes, Salvatore Italiano, and Ignacio Antinori. Sal Italiano was the leader of the gambling rackets, while Antinori, along with his sons Paul and Joe controlled narcotics. Ignacio Antinori eventually fell out of favor with some Chicago gangsters after selling them a bad batch of narcotics and was gunned down in Tampa.

Over 25 killings took place from 1930 until 1959. This has come to be known in Tampa as the "Era Of Blood". Among those killed were Joe Vaglica (July 10, 1937), Mario Perla (Oct. 12, 1939) and Jimmy Velasco (Dec. 12, 1948). 

Indications of a New Orleans connection with the Tampa killings were found in the circumstances surrounding the murder of Ignacio Antinori, slain by a masked gunman in a suburban tavern.  On October 22, 1940, Ignacio Antinori was sipping coffee at the Palm Garden Inn in Tampa with a friend and a young female companion. Suddenly, a gunman appeared at the window and fired two shotgun blasts at Antinori.  The murder weapon was traced to a New Orleans store where it had been purchased by a man who gave the obviously false name of John Adams. The date of the purchase was October 7, 1939, which was only 5 days before the murder of Mario Perla. Whether the same gun figured in both murders was not made clear. Antinori had been at odds with the syndicate controlling Tampa gambling for 3 years before he was slain.

Santo Trafficante, Jr. 1954

In the late 40's Sal Italiano left for Italy, leaving James Lumia in charge. Lumia is credited by the FBI as the first true Mafia boss in Tampa. Lumia's reign was short-lived as he was killed by a shotgun blast on June 5, 1950. He was succeeded by Santo Trafficante Sr. Trafficante ruled until his death in August of 1954 from stomach cancer. He was succeeded by his son, Santo Jr.



1510 20th St., Ybor City (between Fourth and Fifth avenues, along the brick wall) On the evening of Dec. 12, 1948, Jimmy Velasco was shot five times with a .38 revolver and killed by an unknown assailant in front of this wall. He was whacked as he was getting into his Buick with his wife and daughter. The gunman hit him in the heart, left shoulder, left side, left arm, and the left side of his head. Jimmy was the main political liaison for the mob as well as a gambling figure. He made regular payoffs to Sheriff Hugh Culbreath and then-Mayor Curtis Hixon. Underworld figure Joe Provenzano was tried for Velasco's murder but acquitted on April 1, 1949. The murder remains unsolved.



Santo Trafficante, Jr. 1966
Tom Sutpen blog

Dr. John Perry Wall
Mayor of Tampa, 1878-1880
The Sunland Tribune. Vol. 2, no. 1 Oct.1975, Tampa Historical Society

Dr. John Perry Wall

In 1859, Dr. Wall briefly left Richmond, VA where he was volunteering as a surgeon at Chimborazo Hospital, a hospital that served the Florida Civil War troops in the Virginia area, for a visit to Brooksville, FL.  While here, he married nineteen year old Pressie Eubanks, daughter of a wealthy planter, and took her back to Richmond for about a year.  After returning to Brooksville and practicing there, Dr. Wall and his family moved in 1869 to Tampa. Here, in the course of a busy practice in 1871, he boarded the steamer H. M. Cool from Cedar Key, to treat a cabin boy critically ill with yellow fever. The cabin boy recovered, but Dr. Wall contracted the disease.
From him it was carried to his family, and within a few days both his wife Pressie and their two year old daughter had died of the fever. This tragedy and the events that followed were to affect his life profoundly. Already interested in communicable disease and problems of public health, he now devoted most of his time to the study of yellow fever.

Throughout his adult life, Dr. Wall had suffered one regrettable weakness, a progressive overindulgence in alcohol. Even by the loose moral code of a frontier town, he was known as "a hard drinker and a hell-raiser.’ The death of his beloved wife and daughter only increased this problem. Nevertheless, by 1872 he had successfully courted Miss Matilda McKay, the chaste and lovely daughter of Captain James McKay, a prominent shipmaster, exporter and former Tampa mayor. Small wonder that when Dr. Wall approached the venerable Captain, asking for his daughter’s hand, he was met first with stunned silence, then violent refusal. Given quickly to understand that the problem was his alcoholism alone, Dr. Wall swore never again to touch another drop if Miss Matilda would be his. In the face of direst predictions, and weathering provocative tests in which he was surreptitiously offered his favorite poison, Mint Juleps, by his doubting sister, Julia, he rejected alcohol completely. The couple was married, and to the best knowledge of every historian, his oath was never broken. He accomplished a one day cure of alcoholism, a rare and difficult feat in any age.

An occasional glimpse of Dr. Wall’s ever-present and often acid wit appears in the history of these days. When asked by a relative why he had become an Episcopalian instead of remaining in the Baptist or Methodist church of his family, he dryly replied, "I joined the Episcopal Church because it doesn’t interfere with either my politics or my religion.”

In the mid-1870s, the Wall family occupied a house on the half block that later was occupied by the Tampa Terrace Hotel and the Tampa Federal Savings and Loan Bank. This plot, bounded by present day Kennedy Boulevard, Florida Avenue and Madison Street, contained the home, a large stable, and a separate office building for Dr. Wall.  From this office, he carried on a very active private practice for over twenty years, a background easily overlooked among his many accomplishments. The only surviving child of his first marriage to Pressie Eubanks was John P. Wall, Jr. who grew up in this home, was educated as a lawyer, and practiced all of his life in Tampa. Of the children born to Dr. and Matilda McKay Wall, only one, Charlie Wall, survived.

From 1878 to 1880, Dr. Wall served as mayor of Tampa, concentrating particularly on increasing the maritime trade of the city. His portrait hangs appropriately in the City Hall among the mayors, rather than with his colleagues in the Medical Library. On completion of his term, he founded the Tampa Board of Trade, later the Chamber of Commerce, and became its first president. Here he was a strong leader in Tampa’s three most important commercial developments. First was the construction in 1883 of the railroad from northeastern Florida to Tampa by H. B. Plant. The second was the settlement by Vincente Martinez Ybor and a large colony of Cuban and Spanish cigar makers in an area east of the city, which is now Ybor City. Third was the development of the phosphate industry, which began with the discovery of phosphate in the mouth of the Hillsborough River during the deepening of the channel by the government dredge Alabama in 1883.

Dr. Wall's varied achievements and contributions to the medical profession earned him the title "A Man For All Seasons".  In October, 1893, thirteen years after his term as Tampa Mayor, Dr. Wall, by then an authority on yellow fever, was called by the Surgeon-General of the United States to consult in the management of yellow fever at the Maritime Hospital in Brunswick, Georgia. While there, he was summoned home because of the illness of his wife Matilda. He arrived only a few days prior to her death in November, 1893. Six months later he followed his father’s example and took a third wife, marrying Miss Louisa Williams of Virginia in May, 1894.  There were no children from this brief marriage.

At the annual meeting of the Florida Medical Association on April 18,1895, Dr. Wall was invited again to be the guest speaker. The meeting was held in the hall of the East Florida Seminary, forerunner of the University of Florida, at Gainesville. An eyewitness account of the evening session is preserved in the Proceedings of the Florida Medical Association: "Dr. Wall entering the hall, and it being a few minutes of the hour set apart for the consideration of his paper, the order of business was suspended, and to a very marked attention on the part of his confreres, the gentleman commenced reading his paper on ’Public Hygiene in the Light of Recent Observations and Experiments.’ It was observed that he read with great difficulty and under suppressed excitement, the stress under which he seemed to labor being so great at times as to cause him repeatedly to pause and to sip water." Even then, his sense of humor did not fail. With the quip that "high tones and toney meals do not seem to agree with me," he tried to continue. "He had proceeded but a short distance, but eight or nine minutes having elapsed since he entered the hall, when he reeled and fell, striking the floor . . ." He was dead before the presiding officer could reach him. Though likely due to coronary occlusion, the exact cause of his death was never established.

Dr. Wall was hailed as "a learned physician, a ripe scholar, a magnanimous man, a true friend of the poor, and one of nature’s noblemen.”

The above account of Dr. Wall was obtained from an online PDF file at the USF digital collections. The Sunland Tribune. Vol. 2, no. 1 Oct.1975, Tampa Historical Society.

Pastime Bingo, 1930s
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

Pastime Bingo interior, 1930s
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

The Federal Courthouse at 601 N. Florida Ave., 1931
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

Spanish dancers, 1940
USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers

Men playing cards at the Centro Español, 1935
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library Burgert Bros. Collection

Columbia Restaurant, 2117 E. 7th Ave, Ybor City, 1942
USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers

Tuxedo Hotel and nightclub on 15th St. and 6th Ave, Ybor City, 1942
USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers

The Bar at the Italian Club, 1701 E. 7th Ave, 1942
USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers

Pete Scaglione, bartender at the Columbia Restaurant, 1943
Columbia Restaurant: Celebrating a Century of History, Culture, and Cuisine
by A.Huse


Charlie Wall's "El Dorado" casino
USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers

Located at the southeast corner of 8th Avenue and 14th Street in Ybor City, the El Dorado was a high class gambling casino which featured dice tables, a roulette wheel, a bordello upstairs and a plush lounge where guests played faro. Charlie Wall operated the El Dorado back in the '30s.  People would dress up, drink hard and play roulette and blackjack. Customers gathered nightly for the bolita throw. A balcony ran along the interior, from where a machine-gun-toting guard watched events. One of Wall’s main lieutenants, George “Saturday” Zarate, was shot in front of the club by muscle hired by a rival gang. Zarate survived and later moved to Havana, where he met up with Santo Trafficante. The building was demolished in 1973, and the land is now a parking lot for Hillsborough Community College. Photos circa 1942

USF Digital Collections - Burgert Brothers






A streetcar in front of the Post Office at the Federal Court building, 611 N. Florida Avenue. (Sacred Heart Catholic church at upper right.)

"Ybor City Chronicles, a Memoir" by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco

Nobody Goes to Jail for Gambling

Law-enforcement officials in Tampa were unable to cope with violence stemming from organized crime. They were also unable to enforce the gambling laws of the State. In the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County for the period of January 1 to September 1, 1950, only 96 arrests for gambling violations were made and not one of those apprehended landed in jail. Forty-five of those arrested forfeited bonds and the charges against 43 others were dismissed. Only six defendants were fined and there were two cases pending as of September 1, 1950.

Much of the violence in Tampa arose out of the failure on the part of the police department to enforce the gambling laws.  Antinori, Lumia, and Velasco, three victims of gangland killings, all had at one time or another before their deaths held the tenuous title of king of Tampa gambling.

The close alliance between gambling and violence in Tampa was also illustrated by the testimony of Charles M. Wall, a recognized power in gambling activities in the Tampa area for nearly a half century. Over a 14-year period, Wall was the target of three attempts on his life. Wall, who managed to escape on all three occasions, blandly insisted that he knew of no reason why anyone would try to murder him and admitted that no one had ever been arrested for these abortive attempts to kill him.

A large portion of the testimony to the committee in Tampa dealt with the impact of unchecked gambling on the community. The committee's investigations demonstrated that illegal gambling cannot thrive without protection from law-enforcement officials. The Tampa testimony bristled with allegations of bribes to law-enforcement officials and categorical denials from such officials.

The central figures in this welter of confusing testimony were Sheriff Hugh L. Culbreath, State attorney J. Rex Farrior, and retired Chief of Police J. L. Eddings.  Sheriff Culbreath had his opportunity to refute the accusations of graft and official misconduct at the Tampa hearing and again in Washington.  Farrior appeared in Washington and denied that he was the recipient of graft payments. The committee had no way to establish the truth or falsity of these denials. Nevertheless, when Farrior was questioned about the lax enforcement of the gambling laws in the Tampa area., he took refuge in double talk and attempted to evade responsibility by blaming others for his failures. Eddings was invited by the committee to appear in Washington but declined the opportunity to answer the allegations of misconduct voiced by several witnesses at the Tampa hearings.

After his appearance before the Kefauver committee, Sheriff Culbreath was indicted by the grand jury of Hillsborough County, Fla., for taking bribes and for acts of nonfeasance and misconduct in office.

The committee pointed out that Culbreath never satisfactorily explained how his net worth grew from approximately $30,000 to more than $100,000 during his years as sheriff of Hillsborough County. Nor did Sheriff Culbreath satisfactorily explain his association and business relationships with Salvatore "Red" Italiano, a notorious gang leader in the Tampa area, who consistently evaded the subpoena of the committee.

Difficult to understand also was the real estate deal between Culbreath and John Torrio, Capone's predecessor in Chicago. Finally, the committee continued to wonder how a sheriff sworn to uphold the law could permit his brother and one of his employees to carry on bookmaking operations, right in the county jail.

Charlie Wall's long and notorious career as Tampa’s crime boss ended in the late 1940s when the Trafficante family gained enough strength to force Wall into retirement. After a brief hiatus in Miami, Charlie Wall, still symbolizing the power and prestige of an older generation of criminals, returned home.

A drunken Charlie Wall being escorted home - Scene from a documentary movie by Pete and Paul Guzzo, "The Ghosts of Ybor: Charlie Wall combines interviews and period re-enactments in fascinating fashion.  

One night in April of 1955, Wall was drinking at his favorite night spot on Franklin St. and was offered a ride home by Italian gambler Nick Scaglione, whom he knew very well.  That was the last time anyone saw Charlie Wall alive.  The deacon of Tampa's underworld died unceremoniously in his palatial Tampa home, found murdered in his bedroom.  He had been beaten with a baseball bat, stabbed 10 times and had his throat cut.  Next to his bloody body lay a copy of his testimony given before the Kefauver Committee.  Scaglione reported dropping off Wall early in the evening, and from then on, his whereabouts were meticulously proven--his alibi was air-tight. Joe Bedami was a suspect in the killing of Charlie Wall, though he was never arrested or charged, and the gangland murder of Charlie Wall remains unsolved. 

Crime scene photo of Charlie Wall bedroom murder
"Ybor City Chronicles, a Memoir" by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco
Read an excellent article by Paul Guzzo in Cigar City Magazine
The Devil Looks After His Own

Excerpts from a paper by Dr. Frank Alduino, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, Md., read before the annual meeting of the Florida Historical Society, Tampa, May 11, 1990 "The Damnedest Town This Side of Hell: Tampa 1920-29 (Part 1)" By Dr. Frank Alduino.  Other sources include:

Kefauver Committee Interim Report
1949 newspaper article "13 Murders Linked to Gambling"
1956 St. Pete Times article "Charlie Wall Dodged Gangland Guns.."
Ybor City Chronicles - A Memoir, by Ferdie Pacheco
"Era of Blood" Stained Tampa
Santo Trafficante Jr,  Reputed Mafia Chief, Dies at 72
Ybor City's Past Comes Alive


Charlie Wall's car after the 2nd attempt on his life, 1938/1939.
"Ybor City Chronicles, a Memoir" by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco



On a cold December day in 1950, a crowd gathered in the Federal Courthouse downtown to hear Charlie "The White Shadow" Wall testify before the Kefauver Committee.  After recounting the first attempt on his life in 1930 while coming out of his garage with his wife, he told the story of this second attempt. 

Sen. Estes Kefauver had chosen to stay home with his family during the Christmas holidays.  It was common knowledge in the Ybor cafes that Sen. Hunt volunteered to chair the Tampa meeting so he could get a free ride to the Gator Bowl, where his college team was playing.  (LH = Sen. Lester G. Hunt)

CW:  In '38 or '39 I was going home in my car and fellow with a shotgun shot out of the back of a truck.  I saw the barrel of the gun sticking out of the back of truck.

LH:  You were alone? You were driving?

CW: I was driving and when I heard the shot, and didn't hear the sound when the pellets hit, why these things went around me.--they didn't hurt much, just burned a little.

LH: (Smiling) Just glimpsed you again? [the term Wall used to describe a flesh-wound in the previous attempt]

CW:  Yeah.  So I began to dodge and try the best I could until I saw that thing go down in the back of the truck.  So I started to go on by the truck.

LH:  And then?

CW:  Another gentleman climbed in on the front seat with a shotgun and I thought maybe he wanted to shoot me.  (Loud laughter from the crowd, Wall's eyes were twinkling) And I guess he did too, because about the time he shot, I ducked down and he tore up my car pretty bad, so I took my foot off the accelerator and the car was moving, and I don't know--I guess kind of outguessed him, and turned the wheel to the right and the car went up the sidewalk and wobbled a bit.  I heard the truck leave, and I was very glad to part company with them and drive on home.

LH:  Did you have any threats or warnings?

CW:  I wouldn't have been out on the street if I had had any warnings.


Wall claimed to recall only 3 attempts on his life.  The third attempt involved a daring feat of driving by Wall.  It occurred on Nebraska Avenue while Wall was driving.  Wall saw a car approach his and saw a man aim a pistol at him.  Wall slammed on the brakes and threw his car into reverse.  He maneuvered his car in reverse through heavy traffic and the pursuing car crashed into another.  Charlie's feat of daredevil driving was a story told over and over in Ybor City coffee houses.


LH:  Just to clear things up, Mr. Wall, were there five or three attempts?

CW:  I don't think I remember the other two.

LH:  You probably would have remembered..

CW:  Oh yes sir!

LH:  Was there any reason anyone would want to make target practice out of you?

CW:  (Innocently) No sir.

LH:  The situation goes beyond coincidence when it occurs three times.  Would you want to guess the reason why, or the identity of them?

CW:  No sir.

LH:  Could it be because you are very influential in the gambling underworld?

CW:  I couldn't rightly say.  Of course, it could be.

LH:  Is it perfectly all right with you for someone to take a shot at you every year or two?

CW:  Quite the contrary.

LH:  You haven't had adequate protection?

CW:  Well, there was nobody right there behind me looking after me, but every time this occurred, an officer would come and ask me if I wanted to cooperate and see if we could find the people.  But it wasn't the easiest thing in the world.  I wasn't much interested in finding who it was that was doing it.  I was more interested in keeping from getting killed.

LH:  But when things settled down, you are interested in seeing that the person responsible wouldn't try it again, are you not?

CW:  Very much.

LH:  And that situation has never been taken care of?

CW:  No sir.

LH:  I think that is all.


The crowd smiled and nodded as the tall, dapper crime boss of Ybor City shook the hand of the bewildered senator.  Once again, the elusive Charlie Wall had done his slip, slide and glide and passed another inquiry, providing his inquisitors with nothing more than a history lesson.

The scene in front of Charlie Wall's house as his body is carried away.
"Ybor City Chronicles, a Memoir" by Dr. Ferdie Pacheco

This is an introduction to the documentary, Charlie Wall. Using archived articles & footage, original art work and animations, reenactments, and interviews Charlie Wall's past has been brought back to life for the public to view.

Directed by: Pete Guzzo
Research & Written by: Paul Guzzo
Original Art Work: Jay Giroux & Jon Fisher
Animation: Joe Clay
Editor: Richard Servello & Pete Guzzo

The death threat reenactments from Charlie Wall: The Documentary. The reenactments take place in 1931 Ybor City, Florida during a time when Charlie Wall had his life threatened on a daily basis.

Ferdie Pacheco (artist, writer, Muhammad Ali's cut man) tells the story.

Directed by Pete Guzzo
Written and Research by Paul Guzzo



These scenes from the documentary Charlie Wall are about the Kefauver Hearings and how they effected Wall and the entire United States.

Reenactments, archived footage, archived newspapers and interviews were used to create these historical events.

Directed by Pete Guzzo
Written and Research by Paul Guzzo

Guzzo Bros Productions

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