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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Portland Confidential by Phil Stanford

Portland Confidential: Sex, Crime and Corruption in the Rose City, by Phil Stanford. Portland, Oregon: Westwinds Press, 2004. ISBN: 1-55868-793-9

If you enjoy NW history, especially with a wink and a nod and tip of the hat to titillation, this is the book for you. The book covers the decade from the late 40's until about 1957.

Big Jim Elkins, Portland crime boss, Little Rusty, the high-class hooker (who had Supreme Court justice William O. Douglass as a favorite client,), Herman “Bugsy” Burns, a small-time hood, Diamond Jim Purcell, who became one of the town's most crooked Chiefs of Police—these are some of the colorful characters whose stories are told.

At one point, Elkins is trying to take back the pinball machine racket. He tells Bugsy to bring a couple of his pals from Walla Walla to help him out. “The plan is for them to pose as pinball repairmen and steal all of his rival's machines. Every place they stop, they'll tell the owner they're taking his outdated machines and replacing them with new ones. Another truck with the new ones will be along in an hour or so.”

It's a shockingly brilliant plan. And who knows, it might have even worked, if only Bugsy and the boys, waiting around for the signal, hadn't got caught holding up the Safeway store on NE Broadway and sent to the Oregon State Pen. As ever, good help is SO hard to find.”

The author leaves unresolved the question: when DID Portland stop being a corrupt and graft-happy town? Who really did clean up the place, and when? Or did the sin and sleaze just gradually fade away on its own?

This is the last of the titles I reviewed for the Washington Library Association 60 in 90 review program. Recommended for NW History collections, and for anyone who enjoys a good muckraking scandal story.


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