True Crime

The Strange Case of William Long

by Roy Giles

Black Mask | Dec. 1921 | Vol. 4, No. 3

Among the many unsolved mysteries in American crime annals the strange disappearance case of millionaire William Long, of Denver and Chicago.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

An Almost Exact Parallel

Among the many unsolved mysteries in American crime annals the strange disappearance case of millionaire William Long, of Denver and Chicago, stands out as unusually weird. The case is doubly interesting in that it is marked by an almost exact parallel in the disappearance of millionaire William Sweet of Montreal. In each case a million dollars in cash disappeared with the victim.

So far as is known the two cases are in no way connected. It is barely possible that the same combination of kidnappers and murderers perpetrated both crimes — if they were crimes. It is not altogether impossible that both men disappeared of their own volition, although such deductions might seem highly improbable. The William Long case is the most interesting so it will be held for more detailed treatment while a brief review is given of the William Sweet case which is the more recent of the two.

William Sweet dropped from visible earthly existence in a Montreal office building a few minutes after he had been paid $1,000,000 in cash for his holdings in a Canadian theater chain. He had insisted the deal be for cash and the amount paid to him in his offices. The purchasers — according to perfectly reliable witnesses — brought the money to William Sweet's offices where they found him alone in an inner room. They paid over the money, were handed the documents of conveyance in return, and left the place. That was some twenty years ago and from that moment to now no one has ever seen or heard of William Sweet or the million dollars in cash.

His attorneys, nor anyone connected with him closely, could account for his strange actions prior to his disappearance. He was estranged from his wife. She and others were questioned long and arduously by police without result. His friends were the most mystified of all.

A few years previously William Long, one of the oddest characters ever to have existed outside the pages of fiction, dropped from sight on the street in the Loop district in Chicago in mid-afternoon. He was carrying a suitcase containing $1,000,000 in cash which he had just withdrawn from a Chicago bank. He was on his way to pay the money to the heads of a syndicate in control of Chicago's gambling concession. The money was to purchase for him a controlling interest in an illegal concession and one that would not have been regarded as tangible, probably, by any man in the world except a Western gambler.

Furthermore, in order to get the million dollars with which to purchase control of Chicago's gambling institutions Long had sacrificed a perfectly legitimate and highly prosperous produce commission business. Always a gambler, Long had tumbled into the legitimate million-dollar business accidentally. He had entered into it against his better or personal judgment and had no liking for it whatever. It interfered with Long's gambling career, a situation which — to a man of Long's type — was altogether intolerable.

Western gamblers are legion — a reckless, money-plunging, romantic and venturesome yet an admittedly square-shooting clan. Long was typical of this crowd. He was a swagger dresser and more marked than many because he was strikingly handsome. Even better looking was Long's red-haired wife. They were an unusually devoted pair according to all reports.

Long was born in Chicago and even as a young man he managed to climb high in the gambling circles of that city. He was a high-ranking officer in the fabulous gambling empire of John Worth, reputed to have been the wealthiest gambler of all time with the possible exceptions of Edward Chase and Vasil Chuckovich. Chase and Chuck, as they were known, controlled all gambling from Chicago west to the coast for thirty years and amassed more than $20,000,000 apiece. Canfield, in all his glory, nor any other Eastern gambler, not even the present wealthy, staid, and conservative Col. Bradley, king of the modern gambling world, ever approached the enormous fortunes of Worth, or Chase or Chuck.

Chase was originally a Saratoga, N. Y., hotel clerk and his partner Chuck was an Austrian emigrant, kitchen worker. Both were bitten by the gambling bug in Saratoga and went West, not to grow up with, but to fairly conquer the country. They ran a dime apiece up into multi-millions without batting their eye-lashes. It was under the direction of this highly spectacular paid that William Long, a gambling genius in his own right, was destined to work in Denver.

Long left Chicago for Denver during one of those periodical municipal reform up-heavals that sent his boss, John Worth, under cover for a spell. Long arrived in Denver with his beautiful wife and a $10,000 bank roll one bright spring day at the opening of the Overland Park racing season. The Colorado resort fairly dripped with wealthy tourists and members of the sporting fraternity from everywhere. He qualified with Boss Ed Chase and was assigned territory. He opened up a rather modest gambling hall near Seventeenth and Curtis streets. This was within a stone's throw of Chase and Chuck's famous Cottage Club and it was understood that Long was to take care of the overflow from the Cottage resort.

Just to bow to a time-honored custom, the room of Long's place fronting on the street was fitted up as a fruit stand — a stall, of course, for the spacious gambling hall in the back. This was more a condescension to the church element than through any fear of the law.

Long had been in operation only a few weeks when the altogether weird began entering into his affairs. The Rocky Ford garden district in Colorado began growing small melons. Some of them found their way to Long's stall. A youth tended the stall and nobody connected with the whole establishment ever cared whether the fruit stall ever profited a dime or not. The youth knew his salary was coming from the games in back but it was customary to treat any possible stray customer for fruit quite seriously and attentively.

One afternoon Long sent the youth on an errand and took charge of the stall while the boy was gone. This was simply because all Long's dealers were doing a Monte Carlo business in back and he was the only one footloose. A man approached the stall and picked up one of the tiny cantaloupes from Rocky Ford. He cut into it with a pocket-knife and tasted the meat. Then the customer's eye-lids went up in the air. Long observed him and, as he explained later, was becoming just a little bored. Then the customer spoke, gravely, seriously:

"This," he said, "is the most perfect and the most deliciously flavored melon of its kind in all the world."

"If that's true," said Long, "nobody seems to care. I can get them at a dime apiece, wholesale. I'll sell you all you can carry at fifteen cents each."

"Where do you get them?" asked the customer.

"They're grown down in Rocky Ford," said Long.

"These melons are worth $1.50 each and I can get that for them. I'll take a trainload, laid down in Chicago, green, at fifteen cents each. I am Mr. Blank of Blank & Blank. We supply a wealthy trade, the most excellent hotels and the royal families of Europe. Wire me the market daily on these melons in season."

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Chapter 2

$1,000,000 Gambling Concession

That was the beginning of the Rocky Ford cantaloupe fame. Prices soared to seventy-five cents, wholesale, within a week. Long went into the melon business with Senator Swink, of the Rocky Ford district. They bought up the entire crop and cleaned up a million dollars profit each within a few years.

Then Long became restive. The gambling germs in his blood were rampant. He sold out to Senator Swink and others and moved on to Chicago, his early stamping ground.

Worth, kingpin of the Chicago gambling fraternity, had grown old and what is known as the "concession" had fallen into other hands. Long found that, so far as the Chicago gambling situation was concerned, he was an outsider looking in. He and his wife knew that even their old friends could do nothing to change this situation.

But our hero was nothing if not a determined person. Both he and his beautiful red-haired wife liked Chicago and Long could not live without gambling, so he was put to figuring out some way to make it possible for him to fly his flags in the Loop or some other first-class commercial district.

Finally he decided that if he could gain a foothold no other way, no one would try to prevent his buying his way in. So he made his famous offer of $1,000,000 cash for a controlling interest in one approved district. What happened after that might never be thoroughly understood. A little light is thrown on the shadow by some known facts regarding Chicago gamblers and their wars.

Like Long, himself, all Chicago gamblers are determined persons. The famous killing of Jake Lingel and other interesting little events only go to show just how determined Chicago gamblers are at times. It is possible that there was an element in Chicago that did not exactly approve of Long's activities. It is possible that they objected to his entrance into the lists at any price.

What can happen under such conditions is shown by a page from the record which reveals that, some years back, one gambling contingent was in and another contingent was out. The outs were warring with the ins. During this one war 49 bombs were tossed and planted and 49 gambling establishments were blasted, uprooted and blown into the air.

There is no doubt that Long was aware of conditions. Whatever it was that happened to him he certainly must have walked into it with his eyes wide open.

His deal to pay $1,000,000 cash for a gambling concession progressed to a point where Long withdrew the money from a bank. He took it to his hotel room where he waited with his wife for a telephone call. The money was in a suitcase. The phone rang and according to the wife Long answered it. It was a little after one o'clock in the afternoon — broad daylight, of course.

Long turned from the phone to his wife.

"I am going over now, and meet the boys," he said. "I have only got to go about two blocks and as soon as I sign up I will be right back."

"For God's sake be careful," cautioned the wife.

"Don't be silly," laughed Long. "It is broad daylight. I am only going a couple of blocks along the busiest street in the world. This suitcase will attract no more attention than any other suitcase." Long kissed his wife and left. He was confident and cheerful. But he did not come back.

The beautiful wife waited and waited. She phoned all their friends and all the hospitals.

Gamblers' wives are never in a hurry to phone the police but finally, after many hours of waiting and weeping, Mrs. Long did just that. It availed her nothing. To use a hackneyed figure, it was as though the earth had opened and swallowed her husband.

~ The End ~