THE CAMPAIGN THAT FAILED

by Albert H. Morehead (c. 1955)

It takes a thief to catch a thief? Maybe. They say the underworld is more afraid of G-men than of anyone else, but theirs is a dog-eat-dog world, and when you come right down to it what they're really most afraid of is each other.

Take the time far back in the pre-Kefauver Committee days, when gambling houses were running wide open and full blast and when a gang of desperate characters decided to stick up Solly's.

Solly's was the biggest gambling house in the state of Ohio, and if you're just an average mortal with no experience in such matters you'd have to see it to believe it.

First imagine a barn as big and as high as the Big Top of a three-ring circus. The barn is way out in the country, in the domain of a friendly sheriff, but day and night a fleet of fifty limousines -- Packard Twin-Sixes, Pierce-Arrows, Lincolns and Cadillacs -- tour back and forth between Solly's and the near-by cities of Cleveland, Akron, Canton. They bring the gamblers loaded with cash and take them back, some hours later, shorn of it.

Inside the barn, fully a thousand persons are milling about. Along one wall are thirty-six "ticket windows" - cashiers' booths where bets are accepted on any horse race at any track in the world. Along another wall are scores of slot machines taking anything from nickels to cartwheels. Dotting the huge floor are tables for roulette, card games, dice games, including the no-limit table where Solly himself presides and where the bets are in the thousands.

Counting between Solly's ample treasury and the pockets of his customers, who have come in a betting mood, at least a million in loose cash is floating around the barn at all times. It is a stake to tempt any criminal gang.

And doesn't Solly know it! Fort Knox itself could hardly take more elaborate precautions.

Hung from the ceiling is a network of scaffolding along which walk men with tommy guns, like guards patrolling prison walls. They watch everything that goes on on the floor below.

Spotted at strategic points throughout the room are other armed men to watch the doors, the cashiers' booths, and the croupiers' cash drawers at dice and roulette tables.

But the gang that set out to stick up Solly's was more than a match for him. They studied the layout for months. They timed their operations with stopwatches and rehearsed them to perfection. When zero hour arrived, everything went off with split-second accuracy. Two men got to the light switches and blacked out the room. At that very instant others rushed the main door, with boarding ladders to scale the scaffolding. The guards on the floor were overpowered and disarmed; the guards on the scaffolding were conked and dumped to the floor. When the lights went back on, the hold-up gang was in complete control. Some ten of them (with tommy guns of their own) kept the crowd covered. Ten or a dozen more were all set to go through cash drawers and pockets and gather in the million.

Then suddenly, from every corner of the barn, all hell broke loose. There seemed to be an army all firing at once -- and firing with deadly accuracy. Before they could locate the enemy and swing their tommy guns in the right direction, four of the hold-up gang were dead, four more were wounded, and the others were helpless.

Let there be no mistake about it. The hold-up operation was a success. All of Solly's precautions had been met and overcome. But fate had intervened.

You see, by some malignant whim of the gods a Chicagoan, by name AI Capone, happened to be passing through Cleveland on his way east. He had chosen that evening to pay a social call on his old friend Solly and maybe risk a couple of G's at the no-limit table.

Where Capone went, there went also his private six-man bodyguard. When he entered the room, the bodyguard quietly scattered to strategic posts along the walls and watched, their hands in position next to their shoulder holsters.

Don't think these hoodlums cared what happened to Solly's and his customers' million. But when it looked as if their boss was about to be robbed of the few thousand he carried in his left-hand pants packet, that was a different matter. That was what they were paid to prevent. So they prevented it.

Solly and his crew took over then, and so inspired was their solution of the cover-up problem that the story has never been published before today.

It was really a problem. Four dead bodies they might have disposed of -- Lake Erie was convenient, and concrete is plentiful -- but twenty dead bodies? No.

So they took the whole gang -- living, wounded, and dead -- and piled them into five of the limousines. They kicked the living around a bit, but that was all. Far out on a lonely country road they dumped the whole gang. Let them take care of their own corpses, said Solly; I wash my hands of it.

When Kefauver investigators visited Solly's in 1950, they were shocked to find in the center of the huge floor an armored turret, complete with machine-gun era placements, that could spray lethal lead in every direction. But they never learned why Solly and his successors found it necessary to make such elaborate preparations for open warfare.

Meanwhile the attack on Solly's is all but forgotten. If the roving Chicagoan had picked any other night of the year to pay his visit, Ohio gamblers would remember that night in 1927 as the night of the big Solly stick-up. As it is, it is only an old-timers' legend of a campaign that failed.