Mentions of 1920s-30s Criminal Activity in Oral Histories / Talks


Segment from 1983 Oral History Interview of Iris Becker in Dearborn Historical Museum collection

MISS BECKER: The area had its name because of the salt mines.  It became a rather famous section of town, sometimes infamous, because bootlegging was involved.  The Italians and some of the other people made their own wine and they took it for granted and made it despite prohibition because the brought that custom from the old country. Later on there was some prostitution down there and that took some fighting.  That caused trouble among the people themselves who were family oriented and objected to the exploitation of their area by people from outside the area.

MR. SEARS:  Was prostitution organized by the gangsters?

MISS BECKER:   Yes,.  There was some – not so much gangsters as there was some hypocrites, citizens that (didn’t) want things in their part of town but (didn’t) object to it in somebody else’s area.   Anything that’s a problem, people like to put someplace else.  The people that ran most of it were over on Oakman Boulevard.  Everybody knew it and some people were afraid to say so but that’s why (we) had people like Chief Brooks and some of the other people that got involved.  They used to blame the Ford Motor Company for it.  It wasn’t really the Ford Motor Company but some people connected with the Ford Motor Company who often were involved Often the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing even today. This is why the churches, the clubs and the school became the center of social activity.  The school, of course, always was more than just a school for the people.  It was where you came for your special education, your classes for the foreign born, teaching English and where you came for the programs, where (the) groups came together.  They always did.

You know early on when I was still in high school at Fordson, it used to be fun to go over to the Romanian Hall or to some group that was having a special dinner.  The churches had bazaars (and) they had their dinners, etc. People (were) invited.  It was a way to raise funds but it was also a chance to get acquainted with different nationalities and different kinds of food. Dearborn, at least the East End, was interested in learning about other people’s foods and customs more than the West End.  Later on it became fashionable to be interested in different things, the “in thing!”  But the East End of Dearborn always tended to have an interest in a wide variety of customs because that was indigenous to that area.

Full text of speech given by former mayor John L Carey to the Dearborn Historical Society in 1969

A segment of the Mr and Mrs Joseph Karmann interview from 1964 mentions a police department was effectively set up from scratch in the 1920s to fight issues like bootlegging

MR. KARMANN: Yes, there was a tremendous problems that developed. Real estate activities based upon their known facts that the Fords were going to move their Highland Park Plant out there and also the Tractor Plant from West Dearborn was to be moved down at the so-called Rouge Plant and the sub-dividers would buy farms out of the area over in Greenfield Township particularly and some over in Dearborn Township and develop them and they had just temporary homes on the bigger share of these lots. They were just, well, today they call them slum areas shacks and shanties no sewage, no water and the problems that we had with sanitation all these little towns and ditches county ditches and branches of the Baby Creek and Roulo Creek were all open sewers and it was a problem to finance the construction of sewer system was one the big major things. Of course, where you had an awful lot of people housed in a congested area we have police problems and troubles but we had to establish a Police Department.

MR. ARNESON: You had no Police Department at that time? MR. KARMANN: Nothing more that a township constable and the county patrol. That would be the police and then, of course, we had school problems that came up. Children were running delinquent; it was a problem of school activities. So we consolidated all the little country schools in the township into one School District and sponsored that movement.