When Rumrunners Ruled (Part 2)


It was dark and the bootlegger Paul Pane was standing with his men on an isolated beach near Ano Nuevo. His job was to signal the Canadian vessel, Prince Albert, with a flashlight, using a special code to give the all clear sign—allowing the skiffs aboard the rumrunner to sail through the surf with cases of illegal booze destined for Half Moon Bay and San Francisco.

But the night didn’t feel right. Pane sensed something was wrong; even some of his men were acting peculiarly. For whatever reason, Pane and his partner, Tom Murphy, the last of the old line of bootleggers, smelled serious trouble at Ano Nuevo in 1924.

Without apparent warning, the pair bolted, leaving so fast that Pane abandoned his suit jacket with the secret code book still inside. Pane and Murphy escaped to Santa Cruz. They had little choice as the Half Moon Bay Road, present day Highway 92, was closed for repairs.

Pane’s instincts were on target. Minutes after the two rum barons departed from Ano Nuevo, armed men raided the South Coast smuggling operation, a seaside ranch belonging to J.F. Steele. (Steele had been “convincedâ€? into cooperating with the bootleggers). Embarrassed and frightened, Steele was arrested, then released on his own recognizance. Other men were also arrested, two of them Pane-Murphy gang members who were later killed in a shootout with hijackers in Los Angeles. Also taken into custody was Steele’s employee, Teamster Joseph Soto.

Collecting evidence at the crime scene, Prohibition Director Rutter gathered bottles of the Canadian Club whiskey for testing by the government’s chemical analyst. Rutter also took into evidence Paul Pane’s coat jacket with the bootlegger’s name stitched inside. Reaching into that coat pocked, Rutter pulled out the prized secret signal code book. Flipping through it, he realized he had the key to all the bootlegger’s flashlight codes: wait; delay all clear; danger; get out; return tomorrow; return to San Francisco; return to ship; and go to Santa Cruz.

Paul Pane and Thomas Murphy were declared fugitives from justice for violating the Volstead [Prohibition] Act. A manhunt for them in the Santa Cruz Mountains turned up nothing. Pane and Murphy had escaped, perhaps as far north as Canada.

—to be continued–