Frank Wortman

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Frank Wortman
Born Frank L. Wortman
(1904-12-04)December 4, 1904
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died August 3, 1968(1968-08-03)
St. Louis, Missouri
Nationality American
Other names "Buster" Wortman
Occupation burglar, bootlegger, gambler, criminal gang leader
Allegiance Shelton Brothers Gang

Frank L. "Buster" Wortman (December 4, 1904-August 3, 1968) was a St. Louis-area bootlegger, gambler, criminal gang leader, and a former member of the Shelton Brothers Gang during Prohibition. Wortman would eventually, succeed the Sheltons and take over St. Louis's gambling operations in southwest Illinois until his death.

Early life[edit]

The son of an East St. Louis fire captain, Wortman spent his early years living in north St. Louis. John Worthmann, his grandfather, worked as a proofreader for the Post-Dispatch and was killed when struck by a streetcar in 1894. Frank Wortman turned to crime in his late teens and was arrested for burglary. By 1926, he had begun running errands for the bootlegging Shelton Brothers. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Wortman was a prominent member of the gang, acting as an enforcer in southern Illinois.

Time in Leavenworth[edit]

In 1933, a federal agent was beaten during a raid on one of the Shelton's distilleries, which he had been guarding. Wortman was taken into custody along with his associate, Monroe "Blackie" Armes. The two were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Wortman served his sentence from 1934 to 1941, gaining an early release. Contrary to sensationalized reporting and stories over the years, Wortman did not serve any time in Alcatraz prison.

During Wortman's incarceration, the federal prohibition amendment of 1919 was repealed, which again legalized liquor sales in the U.S. in 1933.

War with the Sheltons[edit]

Following his release in 1941, Wortman briefly worked as a steamfitter before organizing an army of gunmen whose ranks included "Black" Charlie Harris, Elmer Sylvester "Dutch" Dowling and brothers Monroe and Tony Armes. He then launched a campaign to drive the Sheltons from southern Illinois.

Establishing Wortman's Plaza Amusement Company, he would soon obtain a virtual monopoly on gambling, specifically slot machines, pinball machines, horse parlors, crap games and card games. He would also establish legitimate businesses, including trucking firms and taverns, run by his younger brother Ted. Ted lived on a horse farm on Route 157 on the north end of Caseyville. Ted's place was only about 1.6 km (one mile) from where his brother lived.

By the late-1940s, Wortman assumed control over illegal gambling in southern Illinois and St. Louis.

Kingpin of St. Louis[edit]

Involved in local politics as a young adult, by the 1950s Wortman reportedly had extensive political connections on both sides of the Missouri-Illinois border, including Illinois politician and state auditor Orville Enoch Hodge, who was convicted of embezzling over $1 million in taxes in 1956.

That same year, an IRS agent was assaulted by Wortman while at "The Paddock" tavern and would result in his being audited. Although eventually accused with two associates of conspiracy to evade taxes on February 26, 1962, all three were acquitted.

In the mid-1950s, Wortman moved from his ranch-style brick home in Collinsville, at 2 Summit Drive, to the east end of Collinsville. This new "fortress" home was surrounded by a water-filled moat with the only access being a narrow bridge.

During the 1960s, a black street gang known as The Warlords began moving in on Wortman's territory, and in one incident threw a hand grenade into McCoy's Tavern. With the threat of retaliation, members of Wortman's organization were sufficiently able to intimidate the street gang into backing off.

Later years[edit]

Although his power began to decline in his later years, suffering financial losses from legal battles and closure of gambling operations, Wortman remained in control of southern Illinois gambling until his death on August 3, 1968, at age 63, in Alexian Brothers Hospital due to complications from surgery for laryngeal cancer. Kassly's Funeral Home in Collinsville handled arrangements, and Wortman was buried in Belleville at Mt. Carmel Cemetery. Ironically, not more than 3.6 meters (12 feet) from Wortman's grave is that of his chief nemesis, East St. Louis policeman Robert "Tree" Sweeney, who killed twelve men in the line of duty.

Gambling was legalized in East St. Louis after Wortman's death, and the local gambling casino is now the city's largest employer.

References[edit]

  • Fox, Stephen. Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989. ISBN 0-688-04350-X
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
  • Nunes, Bill. "The Big Book of St. Louis and Southern Illinois Crime" St. Louis: Nostalgia Books, 2010 ISBN 0-9787994-2-9

Further reading[edit]

  • Theising, Andrew J. Made in USA: East St. Louis, the Rise and Fall of an Industrial River Town. St. Louis: Virginia Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-891442-21-X

External links[edit]