A Century of Murder, Mayhem, and Fraud in Jacksonville

November 10, 2014 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Do you really know your next door neighbor? Over the last century, Jacksonville has been the home of several interesting characters and residents who operated on the other side of the law. Here's a few from Jacksonville's notorious past.

3. William "Big Bill" Johnston: Florida's Mr. Big

Photograph of William Johnston in the Chicago Tribune on May 8, 1964.

William "Big Bill" Johnson was a one-time mutuels clerk at Sportsman Park, a Chicago horse track owned by Al Capone during Prohibition. He eventually rose to the position of public relations director for Edward O'Hare. O'Hare, also known as "Easy Eddie", was one of Capone's top lieutenants. O'Hare International Airport was named in honor of Easy Eddie's son and Medal of Honor recipient, Butch O'Hare.

The Miami Herald's coverage of Easy Eddie's murder. William Johnston took Edward O'Hare's place as president of Capone's dog tracks after O'Hare's death. Photograph courtesy of http://wolfsonianfiulibrary.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/picture5.jpg

Easy Eddie helped federal prosecutors convict Capone of tax evasion in 1933. A week before capone was released from Alcatraz, Easy Eddie O'Hare was slain by gang bullets in 1939. After O'Hare's death, William "Big Bill" Johnston became the head of the Capone syndicate's dog tracks in Chicago, Jacksonville, Orange Park, Tampa, and Miami. Working under Johnston was John Patton. Long associated with the Capone gang, Patton was known as the Boy Mayor of Burham, the Chicago suburb that was the center of vice, gambling, and booze for the Capone syndicate.Wanting a piece of the S & G Syndicate's bookmaking business in Miami, the Chicago mob sent Harry "The Muscle"

Russell to make them a partnership offer they couldn't refuse. Initially, S & G, which was led by a group of South Florida businessmen, refused. Denied by S & G, Johnston proceeded to illegally contribute $154,000 to the election campaign of Governor Fuller Warren. All told, between Johnston and his associates, $404,000 was funneled into Fuller Warren's campaign, accounting for more than half of his fundraising.

Soon, the new governor from Jacksonville appointed W.O. Crosby, a Jacksonville private eye with a criminal record, to investigate Miami's gambling syndicates.  Crosby teamed with Duval County sheriff Jimmy Sullivan in a series of raids. Interestingly enough, only S & G parlors were hit. The raids abruptly stopped once Johnston and his associates got of piece of S&G's pie and a major share of Florida's contracts for road-building materials.

In later years, Johnston, who lived with his wife Anna at 1090 Arbor Lane in San Marco, added downtown Jacksonville's luxurious George Washington Hotel to his list of properties. A benefactor of public education, Florida State University's William Johnston Building and Bishop Kenny High School's William Johnston Stadium are named in honor of the alleged associate of Al Capone's Chicago mob.

Big Bill Johnston's former house in San Marco.

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