Learn How Organized Crime Thrived in Postwar Kansas City
By Paul Edelman
“What makes the Kansas City mob unique is that it was relatively small in number, but disproportionately large in national impact,” says author Terence O’Malley who will speak on the history of the local mob on Wednesday, January 17th at 7 p.m. at the Raytown Mid-Continent Public Library, 6131 Raytown Rd. The period focus covers the dogged perseverance of the mob following the downfall of their powerful ally Tom Pendergast, and how, in fact, the criminal KC underworld blossomed in the post-World War II and post-Pendergast Era.
In “How the KC Mafia Survived the Fall of the Pendergast Machine,” O’Malley describes the more tumultuous time in Kansas City’s history. After the fall of the Pendergast machine in the late 1930s, the Kansas City Mafia’s political power waned. Despite that, their gangland clout remained potent, O’Malley says. Racketeering, extortion, running of strip clubs, casinos, and bars, and intimidating violence were common among the Mafia in postwar KC, he explained. The Mafia’s men could be downright brazen: once in 1947 they dispatched a demolitions team using nitroglycerin to detonate a safe containing voting ballots.
For the mob’s home turf, their locus of power centered on the Little Italy district of Kansas City near Independence Avenue. O’Malley says one of the Mafia’s most frequented establishments at the time was “The Last Chance Saloon” near Southwest Boulevard; however, their reach of power stretched throughout the entire city at their apex.
He underscores the successful longevity of the operation and how impactful they were in KC for much of the 20th century. As the century wore on, organized crime’s tactics and operations changed, but their vice grip on the KC underworld continued into the 1980s.
O’Malley thinks the presentation will appeal to a modern-day audience. “I think they’re going to appreciate the continuum of crime,” he says. Equipped with his own films and books alongside other media, he aims to present both a visual and tangible history from his studies.
Examples of the visuals that O’Malley will use in his presentation.
As a researcher of many topics of Kansas City lore, O’Malley has already delved into the history of the Kansas City mob in his book Black Hand Strawman: The History of Organized Crime in Kansas City. He is also known for his films Nelly Don: A Stitch in Time and Shots Back in Time: The Union Station Massacre. In his spare time, he is a musician and attorney at The O’Malley Law Firm located off State Line Rd and Blue Ridge Blvd.
To register for the presentation, go to http://events.mymcpl.org/register.php?eid=eid-23163