Monday, September 27, 2010

The Outfit’s downstate boss

BY J.P. RICH Off The Cuff/

Top St. Louis gangster Frank “Buster” Wortman hooked up with the Outfit while serving time in Leavenworth in the 1930s. From the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, he headed Outfit operations in downstate Illinois.

A report in his 2,500-plus-page FBI file dated January 31, 1958, notes:

“Wortman and Associates [are] alleged to have a wide financial interest in various organizations in the St. Louis/East St. Louis area. These organizations are involved in trucking operations, lounges and clubs, loan companies, auto dealerships, motels, cab companies, amusement companies and a race track. [They are] also alleged to have an interest in . . . a Las Vegas gambling establishment.

“The illegal activities operated by Wortman and Associates consist of casinos, policy and handbook operations.” ...

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Copyright © 2010, 2011 | J.P. Rich Off The Cuff. All rights reserved.

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18 Comments Links to this post


At January 2, 2011 at 4:59 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was very interesting reading! I am Elmer Dowling's granddaughter, and finding historical tidbits on him is always a treasure.

At January 6, 2011 at 9:19 PM , Blogger james said...

Dear Anonymous, My uncle was one of the teenagers who stumbled on the car containing the murdered bodies of your grandfather and Mel Beckman near the Belleville Fairgrounds back in March of 1962.

I would be interested in corresponding with you about the sad subject if you wish. I can be contacted at

Peace be to all. Jim D.

At January 29, 2011 at 12:30 AM , Blogger J.P. said...

Dowling was definitely a character. A war hero and a gangster.

I have the Post-Dispatch newspaper coverage of the Dowling/Beckman murder and some FBI files on it. The FBI tried to find out who did the murder by putting a hidden listening device in the Paddock for a month or so that year but they caught no pertinent chatter - or even incriminating chatter, for that matter - so they pulled the bug out.

Wortman openly told the agents in an interview weeks later that he was actively investigating the murder, even going so far as to have his people summon a drug addict who knew the Wortman crowd and asking him if dope was cut with starch (some narcotics were found cut with starch on the seat of the murder car). The addict told him that it was unheard of for anyone who knew what they were doing to cut dope with starch. Wortman swore his people didn't traffic in narcotics and that his killer planted it there to throw off the police in another direction.

Later that year, as noted in the article, Virgil "Doc" Summers, a low-level gang member, was fingered as the killer and slain in December. Some had their doubts that he killed Dowling and Beckman, and that he was actually killed for that reason.

Up in Chicago, Hy Godfrey spoke quite fondly of Dowling in the conversations captured by the hidden listening device in the Armory Lounge. Without digging out the transcripts of that conversation again, the gist of what he said what that Dutch was liked by everybody, and that he did all that time over in Europe fighting for his country and confined in a POW camp, only to come home and somebody killing him for no reason.

As for the assault with intent to kill case on the witness against Izzy Londe, Dowling and another gangster tracked down the witness (a black man) to his hideout on a plantation in Sikeston in Southeast Missouri. They pretended to be police officers and said they were there to take him back to St. Louis for the trial. Instead, he was taken back to the St. Louis area, taken into an abandoned house, and both Dowling and his accomplice took turns shooting him and left him for dead. Somehow, he survived and testified against Dowling.

At January 29, 2011 at 6:56 PM , Anonymous James again said...

To J.P.: Yes, Dowling was also a generous contributor to Catholic charities in the area, which earned him many friends and, I hope, some karma points in the afterlife.

Later, in 1978, an obese (300+ lbs.) car-thief named Donald Ellington was shot dead by a hood (Jessie Stoneking) working for Wortman's successor Art Berne allegedly because Ellington had raped Berne's girlfriend. Ellington had always been considered the killer of Dowling and Beckman, but it couldn't be proven sufficiently for an arrest. Stoneking leter committed suicide in Arizona in 2003.

As for those loveable goons the Sheltons, Carl Shelton used to stop by my grandmother's cafe in Washington Park near East St. Louis for a bowl of her locally famous chili. Trying to seduce her beautiful daughter, my aunt Irma, a devout Catholic, he would wear a Rosary around his neck not knowing that Catholics NEVER do that!

At January 30, 2011 at 7:42 PM , Blogger J.P. said...

Yes, I've read about the Ellington scenario, too.

Another scenario to note was the one put forth by the late Ray Flynn, a younger Wortman gang member at the time of the Dowling/Beckman murders who later became a big-time labor racketeer in the 1970s under Art Berne.

In his autobiography, Flynn says he and William "Shotgun" Sanders discussed the double murder at the time and became convinced that Wortman and George "Stormy" Harvill did it. Harvill and Sanders were very close, but Flynn never noted who first came up with the theory - him (Flynn) or Sanders.

Flynn says he and Sanders believed Wortman/Harvill killed Dowling/Beckman at Wortman's moated estate. Then he goes on to say that the killers fired the shots from outside the car.

Clearly, they were killed inside the car from one bullet exiting the car out the windshield. Although, if I remember correctly, they were then drug out of the car and Beckman was shot again (a make-sure-he's-dead shot).

In the Armory Lounge chat between Hy Godfrey and Butch Blasi, they discussed the fact that Beckman was the one shot the most. Godfrey believed he was the real target since he was shot the most. Blasi, who was a suspected hitman and who therefore had experience with that kind of thing, agreed with Godfrey.

The Dowling/Beckman killings are one of those underworld hits - like most of them unless someone involved talk(s)(ed) - where there's a lot of theories but no way to know which one is right or if they're all wrong. Thus, no way to ever know who did it and how it all really went down.

By the way, funny story about Shelton. :-)

At January 31, 2011 at 2:19 PM , Anonymous jimthecelt said...

Jim again, to JP:
A final note. An 'uncle-in-law,' the husband of my aunt whom Carl Shelton had attempted so inexpertly to seduce decades before, who was one of the F/B.I. agents working to solve the murder.

I recall that him saying that the main theory at the time was that Dowling, who had just been convicted with Wortman for tax crimes, was negotiating a deal with the government for a greatly reduced sentence in exchange for further evidence of wrongdoing (including murders) by Buster; and, that Wortman found-out and had Dutch killed to prevent that from happening.

Also, the names of two of the jurors who had convicted them were wriiten on a piece of paper found in Dowling's coat pocket, further indications of something afoot.

I haven't been in East St. Louis, my hometown, in thiry years. Last time I saw it, I remember thinking that it made Detroit look like the Club Med. Peace, love, and tie-dyed T-shrts to all!

At February 20, 2011 at 3:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My stepfather was Stormy Harvill. That murder was the beginning of the end of my mother's health as she was out with the man that murdered him. I was at the house babysitting my cousins and my sister when Stormy came to the door. He had gotten a phone call from someone that told him my mother had left us alone and it was very late. He was livid and refused to leave when I begged him to go. If he had left when I asked him to he would not have been shot that night at least. It of course was hit for hire by ____ you can fill in the blank!

At February 21, 2011 at 5:25 PM , Blogger J.P. said...

Wasn't it, more or less, what would be called a domestic dispute? From what I recall from newspaper coverage and a court filing on it (not that news coverage is always correct or what comes out in court is always correct, for that matter), Harvill walked up to the car when they pulled up and told them he was going to kill them. And Rooney got his gun, chased him down, and gunned him down.

At February 22, 2011 at 4:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

J.P. is right, and Rooney was paroled about ten years later. Harvill, another product of the Depression, died by violence as so many of the original Wortman organization did. Capitalism is truly a destroyer of lives. Workers of the world, UNITE! Dyslexics of the world, UNTIE!

At March 19, 2011 at 8:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the youngest of Frank Wortman's four children. After decades of mostly inept national and local media coverage, it was a breath of fresh air when I happened upon your article about my father.

At March 25, 2011 at 10:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buster Wortman: "I'm not a gangster, I'm a businessman." Yeah, right!

At January 13, 2012 at 9:50 PM , Anonymous said...

You overstate Wortman's influence in the southernmost counties of Illinois during the 1960s. His hold on counties like Jackson, Williamson, Franklin, Randolph, Pulaski, etc. was largely usurped, particularly by Buddy Buddy Harris who you list as a an associate but who was actually at war with Wortman and killed at least two of his men. Both of whom ended up as hog feed on Buddy's farm.

At February 17, 2012 at 9:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father was a Shelton and told us about our family. My brother dated busters daughter for a while til he found out who he was. The sheltons are and were a very interesting family.

At March 4, 2012 at 10:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandparents lived across the street from the Wortmans around 1912 when Buster would have been a boy. I am not sure if this was Kerry Patch or on Farlin Avenue in North St. Louis. My grandfather's name was William Delaney, he was a steam and hoisting engineer.

At March 16, 2012 at 9:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

My great-uncle, Matt Burroughs was somehow involved with Buster Wortman, and served time for transporting alcohol, or involment in illegal Bingo games. His generation didn't say much about it, and they are all gone now. Does anyone recognize his name?

At June 17, 2012 at 11:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anybody know how Tommy Wilders was associated with Buster?

At February 3, 2013 at 11:46 PM , Blogger J.P. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At February 3, 2013 at 11:49 PM , Blogger J.P. said...

You can continue to comment about Buster Wortman at the Gangland Chicago Research Center.


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