A Dark and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age, by Richard Rayner, p. 157:
A recent article [in the civic reform newspaper "The Critic of Critics"], headlined “Guy McAfee — ‘Capone’ of L.A.,” had exposed the alleged activities of former police captain McAfee. Back in the early 1920s McAfee had been head of the LAPD vice squad. He married a woman who ran one of Albert Marco’s brothels, left the police, and went into business with Marco and [L.A. crime capo Charlie] Crawford. But with the election of Mayor Porter, the rise of Bob Shuler, and the apparent dwindling of Crawford’s power, McAfee had assumed more control. The Examiner, the Times and the Daily News called McAfee a “gambler,” and it’s true that he owned the Johanna Smith, the gambling ship moored off Long Beach, and the swanky Clover Club, just above Sunset Boulevard and La Cienega.
The Clover Club, situated at the end of a long driveway so that McAfee’s men could see the cops coming, was a haven for the movie crowd. (It was here that director Howard Hawks met his glamorous second wife, Nancy “Slim” Hawks, the inspiration for the droll, tough-talking persona that Lauren Bacall would adopt in various Hawks pictures, including his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep) and for high-rollers who sometimes lost tens of thousands in an evening and were escorted from their cars by security men armed with machine-guns. McAfee wanted his patrons to lose their money inside, not in the parking lot. The Clover Club was fitted with tables that could be flipped over and hidden during raids, details that Chandler would use in The Big Sleep, whose smooth mobster Eddie Mars is modeled after McAfee.
At the time he was shot [May 20, 1931], Crawford had been feuding for months with McAfee. Along with the incendiary article, The Critics of Critics had published a cartoon featuring Guy McAfee as an octopus, sitting at the back of the Jeffries Bar on Spring Street, his tentacles stretching into every one of L.A.’s criminal and civic pies. He was more than just a “gambler,” in the same way that Crawford had been no mere “politician.”
Born in Winfield, Kansas, in 1888, Guy McAfee eventually joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He rose to the rank of vice squad captain in his twenties and became acquainted with the proprietors of nightclubs, illegal gambling operations, and brothels.
McAfee eventually decided he could make more money in vice and left the police department to run nightclubs. By the 1920s, while liquor was banned during Prohibition, he established himself as a businessman on the Sunset Strip in West Los Angeles, a nightclub district where illegal alcohol was served discreetly.
McAfee arrived in Las Vegas in 1930 when the city licensed him to run a business with legal gambling, which was then restricted to non-bank games such as poker in low-key, saloon-style clubs. But, he told a Las Vegas newspaper reporter years later, he decided the town was not yet ready to support the larger kind of club he wanted to operate.
In 1931, McAfee drew headlines in Southern California and Las Vegas when he was briefly detained in Los Angeles following the murder of two rival businessmen who had been shot by a candidate for office whom McAfee had supported. McAfee denied any involvement and was never charged.
McAfee’s Clover Club, a private, illicit casino on the Sunset Strip, was popular with wealthy patrons and the movie crowd in the 1930s. The club was fitted with illegal gambling tables that could be flipped over and hidden during raids. But it didn’t always work—police once found a half dozen roulette tables in one raid, along with 300 people in the casino.
In 1938, after grand jury investigations into local crime, Los Angelenos recalled Mayor Frank Shaw. His replacement, Fletcher Bowron, promised to rid the Sunset Strip of gambling and other vice. Newspapers reported FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and U.S. Attorney General Frank Murphy questioned McAfee about crime there in 1939.
McAfee laid out his intent in an undated Las Vegas Review-Journal article in roughly 1939.
“I came to Las Vegas because I’m happily married, have a great sized stake and have decided to operate in a community where my business of gambling is a legal proposition,” McAfee said. “I’m not saying the Bowron administration made it too hot for me, for that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve cut myself a slice of a new kind of life. Get this straight, no one ran me out of Los Angeles. I’m pulling out because I want to and no other reason.”
He had nicknames of “Mack,” which was both for his last name and a French word meaning pimp, or “Slim,” and was known for a “sardonic sense of humor,” [Patrick Gaffey, cultural program supervisor for Clark County Parks and Recreation Department] said.
Branding the Vegas Strip:
His obituary was front-page news in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It was the same paper where his wife was later credited with saying McAfee nicknamed Highway 91 “The Strip.” The moniker was a nod to his beginnings on the Sunset Strip.
Gaffey said the nickname represented what McAfee saw in the young city.
“I think calling it the Strip was a joke, but there was some seriousness to it,” he said. “He decided the highway system was getting serious enough that it was possible for people to drive here from L.A. He could see a real future.”
Gaffey has been compiling information about McAfee for a book.
Jon Ponder | Nov 25, 2012