by Robert Earl Stewart
For a $2 ride in and out of the compact blocks of Windsors
business section, any cab driver would point out which of
the dingy rooming houses, pool rooms and tobacco stores along
Pitt, Sandwich, Assumption and Pelissier Streets, behind whose
false fronts you could get a girl, buy a drink or place a
Macleans Magazine, May 1,
is it about the graft that turns ordinary men into devils?
Is it the graft abusing political influence by accepting
money or gifts or is it the fallibility of ordinary
men thats to blame? It seems that all too easily certain
people can be coaxed away from their ethics by overtures of
covert personal gain. How quickly morality falls by the wayside.
So why is it that so many of those unable to resist graft
seem to end up in public office?
That old question again?
Yes, if theres one thing the City of Windsors
ongoing leasing debacle with MFP Financial Services has reminded
us of, its that this town has had its share of public
scandals involving high-ranking city officials.
With lease overpayments of $213 million, a lawsuit for $305
million, and alleged unethical behaviour seemingly at every
turn, the City of Windsors current MFP dealings are
a scandal to say the least.
Juicy scandals, like the MFP scandal, involve money and greed
on some level.
But the juiciest scandals have money, greed, pay-offs, alcohol,
gambling, violence, murder and sex in their dark, velvety
The Windsor Police Scandal of 1950 had all that and more.
Border City Blues
1950s are often depicted as idyllic and quaint, full of good
clean living and prosperity. The reality is that there were
lots of places, Windsor being one of them, where prosperity
was often connected to what the police like to call vice.
In 1950 downtown Windsor a hotbed for illegal gambling,
prostitution, after-hours drinking, gunplay had a reputation
as sin city.
Larry Kulisek, a University of Windsor history professor,
specializes in urban and local histories, including Windsor
and Essex County, stated: A certain latitude towards
gambling and bootlegging and other vices can be expected in
a border area. The police werent on a moral crusade,
there was just an expectation that this is life.
This is not to say certain kinds of late-night entertainment
dont exist today, because, for better or for worse,
they do. Ironically, many of the vices from the past
including gambling, escort services and late-night drinking
are now legal.
But in 1950, reports in the media elevated vices to the level
of entertainment and Windsorites eagerly followed the exploits
of downtown bookies, pimps and bootleggers in the daily papers
and around the lunch counters.
Windsor gained a nationwide reputation as a wide-open town.
915 Shepherd raid by city police
bookies but no evidence of betting
The Secret Room
11, 1950: the pages of The Windsor Daily Star are filled with
stories of gambling and violence, including a page-one story
about two-year-old Detroit murder case thats been connected
to a Windsor bookie joint, the Polo Club.
Also on page one, a less violent but no less sensational story
about a bonanza of illegal liquor located in a room nobody
This Secret Room, as the Windsor police referred
to it, was apparently located somewhere in the Sandwich Street
residence of one Joe Assef.
A raid on Assefs property on January 1, 1950 had turned
up hundreds of bottles of illegal booze. On March 7, Assef
plead guilty to a charge of keeping illegal liquor for sale
and running a speak easy at the Sandwich St. address.
During the lengthy court proceedings, it was established that
large quantities of booze might still be stashed somewhere
in the house. Subsequent searches of the property turned up
nothing and Assef was mum on the whereabouts of the rest of
his illegal booze cache (insiders said it was under the breezeways
Little did anyone know that this mysterious but relatively
unassuming event would kick-start a scandal that would result
in accusations of widespread moral laxity on the
part of the Windsor Police Department, and resignations amongst
the City of Windsors top cops, lawmakers, administrators
and politicians. Even the mayor was painted with the scandalous
he intended to or not, Magistrate J. Arthur Hanrahan, who
sentenced Assef to six months in prison, blew the lid off
the graft and payoff racket that had fuelled a booming Border
City vice trade.
During Assefs eight-week trial, Liquor Control Board
of Ontario investigators raised questions as to how Assef
had received 5,400 deliveries of beer and liquor over a 90-day
period late in the previous year.
At a rate of 60 deliveries a day, it seemed impossible that
no one, including members of the police departments
five-man morality squad, had witnessed suspicious activity
at Assefs residence.
Hanrahan found answers in a few other items uncovered in the
Assef raid several liquor delivery receipts bearing
the home addresses of some of Windsors most prominent
citizens and 16 Windsor policemen. The implications were obvious:
the Windsor police were on the take.
On the day of Assefs sentencing, a shocked and embittered
Hanrahan unleashed a diatribe against the Windsor Police Department.
He openly referred to what he called moral laxity
on the polices behalf and suggested Assefs uninterrupted
bootlegging was possible only through police complicity. Hanrahan
said it was also likely the Windsor police force was rendered
impotent by the booming vice trade around them.
are those who suggest if the Assef trial had taken up less
of Magistrate Hanrahans time, he would have been in
a better mood on the day of the sentencing and let the 16
delivery receipts slide.
by Mayor Art Reaume for putting negative images of Windsor
in peoples heads, Hanrahan went on the offensive. I
have had a growing conviction that things were seriously wrong
in this city, he told reporters. The judgement
I delivered on Assef was intended to bring this to the attention
of the people.
bold words in the courtroom were heard as far away as Queens
Park. Within days, The Windsor Daily Star reported that Attorney
General Dana Porter was grilled on the floor of the provincial
legislature for his apparent lack of action on the allegations
of police laxity in Windsor.
returned from his upbraiding in Toronto with sweeping
powers to call in witnesses and follow up statements
made in the police commission probe; the city of Windsor braced
itself for a public inquiry. Clearly, the citys moral
laxity had become a thorn in the Provinces side.
Magistrate J. Arthur Hanrahan:
I have had a growing conviction that things were
seriously wrong in this city.
first probe into the Windsor Police Departments moral
laxity began on March 16, 1950. The probe was conducted by
a committee comprised of three men: Judge Albert J. Gordon
(the past chair of the Windsor Police Commission) would chair
the probe, Chatham Crown attorney A. Douglas Bell (appointed
commission counsel by Porter), and Mayor Art Reaume.
Police Association retained James S. Allan, K.C., as their
solicitor. Magistrate Angus W. MacMillan, serving as the police
commission chair at the time of the probe, replaced Judge
Gordon the previous month.
was substantial newspaper coverage during the days leading
up to the probe. Citizens who had any information about corrupt
police dealings were asked to come forward.
circulated throughout the city of a secret witness list, which
supposedly included the names of several Windsor and provincial
policemen. The Windsor Daily Star reported Chief of Police
Claude Renaud, Deputy Chief W.H. Neale, Magistrate Hanrahan
and the infamous Joe Assef were among those scheduled to take
for all the hype leading up to it, the hastily assembled Windsor
Police Commission probe revealed very little. The 16 policemen
denied having any connection to Joe Assef and his bootleg
liquor and Police Chief Claude Renaud was convinced of the
loyalty and moral righteousness of every man on his force.
rough treatment while on the stand from the three-man commission,
Hanrahan told reporters the attitude that has been shown
to me here as a magistrate does not augur well for the treatment
that would be given to the public who may appear here to give
Despite the provincial and public heat, the Windsor Police
Department appeared to be getting a break. The probe wrapped
up on April 15, when Gordon made a motion to adjourn. Bell
went on the record saying Hanrahans statements regarding
moral laxity were exaggerated and unjust.