Alex Paulus of Columbia Heights

Alex Paulus’ life, what little we can learn of it, reveals in high contrast the complexities inherent in every human being. In keeping with Greek sensibilities a person’s funeral is most often understood as representative of one’s life. Here are selections from how Paulus’ funeral saw description through American eyes:
“A ‘king’ was buried, Monday afternoon in the Massillon cemetery. He was Alex Paulus, looked upon as a chieftain of a large following on Columbia Heights…Lasting more than half an hour, the services were attended by nearly a hundred mourners. “Representatives of a half dozen nationalities wept at his bier. Rich men, poor men, sleek, well-fed men, tall men, short men, beautiful women, homely women, women in furs, and women in sweaters were there to pay their last respects to a dead leader. A very few men were collarless, yet their grief made up for what they lacked in completeness of attire.
“They wept—both men and women. They were not ashamed to show their grief. Weeping unrestrained as the one child among them, they kissed the pallid face of their leader. Now and then when their emotions became uncontrollable they left the bier to stifle their sobs in an ante-room.
“Greek priests held services within Arnold’s funeral parlor. Following the services a band, slowly, led the way down the main street of Massillon Ohio to the cemetery. ‘The service there was brief. Before the body was placed in the grave, the lid of the coffin was raised and earth sprinkled on the face of the corpse. And oil was then poured on this, and the coffin sealed. Throughout the services at the grave, the grief of the mourners now and then manifested itself in the wails which reached a climax as the casket was lowered into the ground (Evening Independent November 28, 1922).”
As far as historical records can now report the emotions expressed at Alex Paulus’ funeral were all true and heartfelt, which makes what we know about this man’s daily life all the more difficult to comprehend. Paulus was at the very least a murderer, pimp, gambler, coke fiend, bootlegger, crime boss and a very hard working corruptor of men and women. Without question his everyday activities led to the downfall of two mayors, several police chiefs and an untallied number of police officers. All to say nothing of the lives of ordinary working men and women whose hard-earned pay, bodies and very souls he took without thought or outward regret. That Paulus killed himself with his addictions to cocaine and alcohol could never outweigh the overall damage his life caused in terms of the human wreckage he left behind. So why, were so many people from all walks of life, truly touched by his passing? And here we enter into the unfathomable nature of being human.
On the one hand, Paulus could coolly order a man’s death and by all accounts did so on a regular basis. But at the same time, Paulus unquestionably had Greek dash. He was generous and gave freely to those in need – but always, we must recall, from his ill-gotten gains. He also provided what society at large denied the general public; alcohol, gambling, sex-for-pay and drugs.
These crimes are generally classed as consensual crimes. A consensual crime, by the way, “is a public-order crime that involves more than one participant, all of whom give their consent as willing participants in an activity that is unlawful.” While one cannot legislate morality, one can pass laws. Consequently, public officials such as mayors, police chiefs, and policemen are (as the saying goes) “not in the right and wrong business but in the legal and illegal business.”
So why should we, today, living in suburb splendor care about some long ago dead pimp? Because Paulus may well prove to be our Rosetta Stone, for understand the true workings of Greek immigrant crime in North America. A very strange dance occurs in the public press of Ohio in the 1920s. Asides and passing comments are frequently made about Greeks, coffee houses and crime but few point-to-point connections to single Greek individuals or their personal efforts to corrupt public officials.
Alex Paulus’ death stimulated such an investigation, if you can call it that, into the involvement of Massillon, OH city officials in this man’s life of crime. More than a year after Paulus’ death and burial, Governor of Ohio, A. Victor Donahey called Mayor Herbert H. Vogt and other officials of Massillon into his office. Reporters were present as the lengthy news coverage reveals.
All Massillon officials focused their defense on three points. First, Columbia Heights was not legally a part of Massillon and so the local police, few in overall numbers to begin with, were not authorized to patrol the district. Second, Columbia Heights was settled predominately by foreigners working in nearby industrial plants. Third these industrial plants made no effort to control Columbia Heights while inside their respective plants they had a larger overall security force than the city of Massillon.
H. J. Burton, an investigator with the Dry Maintenance League of Cuyahoga County and the Federal government, had gone underground (as we now refer to this activity) to learn about Alex Paulus’ organization. A verbatim report of Burton’s findings had been published in the August 17, 1922, edition of Massillon’s Evening Independent newspaper. This lengthy account named individuals, street addresses, specific criminal activities observed by Burton and finally his conversation with Mayor Vogt about setting up a gambling game in Columbia Heights. This testimony prompted Governor Donahey to call Burton into his office to repeat his testimony and to ask him specific questions concerning his undercover operation.
Burton identified Alex Paulus as running or having some direct interest in all criminal activities in Columbia Heights. While it was disclosed that a criminal by the name of Jim Eloff had introduced Paulus to Mayor Vogt and other city officials by the time of Burton’s investigations Paulus had already personally tried to kill Eloff in a daylight shootout. Paulus, his brother and less than a handful of other Greeks were completely in charge of all gambling, liquor and vice in the district.
Nothing came of the Governor’s questioning other than Vogt was not reelected and various policemen went to jail.
Burton’s eye-witness account predates but clearly substantiated the later editorials and other reports by crusading journalist Donald R. Mellet. Mellet’s assassination, in 1926, while always attributed to Canton, Ohio criminals has never shaken alleged connections to local Greeks who owned coffee houses being involved, somehow, with this crime.
Between 1920 and 1933, Prohibition existed in the United States. The Beer Wars, so-called at the time, and the other crimes that blossomed around them were quickly engaged in by ethnic gangs as well as the born and bred American criminal. Certainly by 1920, Greeks across the nation were firmly established in coffeehouses which were also already deeply into gambling and alcohol–if nothing else.
Remember at the time of Governor Donahey’s in-office inquiry, Alex Paulus was already dead. As far as I have been able to discover no Greek involved with Paulus’ handful of cohorts were ever convicted for their Columbia Heights crimes. It is true, however, that in any of the criminal jungles in Ohio you’d care to select Greek names do appear among the criminal element. Were Greeks simply scapegoated by the American-born journalists?
Interestingly, in Canton, OH any number of individuals are offered as “the king” of that city’s local lawless jungle of organized crime: Louis Mazer, Theodore Abbey, and James “Jumbo” Crowley. Greek criminals are identified in Canton such as Nick and Peter Magras, for example, but never as crime lords.
It has been recently suggested that Greeks do not appear in the annuals of American crime because they have never been lax in paying off anyone and everyone. This is essential a ‘follow the money’ argument which has as yet to be proven. Current writings suggest, again without documented evidence, that Greeks have always been in the shadows of American crime.
The crime jungles of small town America in the 1920s have nothing to do with how criminals operate in contemporary Athens. I still believe, given what I have managed to locate and read so far that the three words “crime,” “organized,” and “Greek” do not belong in the same sentence.
As Yankee American folk belief contends the devil is a violinist so gifted one has to dance whenever he plays. So too, with Alex Paulus, but in Greek we say, when you go to the dance you have to dance. Paulus could be a charming generous man but he was also a sick degenerate. In attempting to study the lives and actions of such individuals we do so not to praise them. Far from it. But, as responsible citizens, we must come to recognize and understand such creatures so we cannot simply see them in our midst but also appreciate their true roles in the history of daily life.


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