When Rumrunners Ruled (Part 4)


“We not only learned enough to uncover one of the biggest bootleg rings in the country,â€? boasted Mobile Prohibition Supervisor John Exnicios, “but we also have the names of all of the prominent members of the ring.â€?

Leaked to the press was the news that Giovanni Patroni had revealed the identity of the Vancouver company that furnished the liquor, names of all the rumrunner’s boats, and to whom the booze was consigned.

Under pressure, Patroni had fingered Tom Murphy.

When the authorities finally located him, Murphy admitted that he had contracted with a major bootlegging ring in Vancouver to carry contraband liquor from Canada to the San Mateo County Coatside, making deliveries in small fishing boats at Princeton.

Law enforcement and the judicial system were erratic during the Prohibition era. Despite Tom Murphy’s indictment and confession, he did not serve jail time but continued his bootlegging career with partner Paul Pane at Ano Nuevo.

By 1924, Prohibition Director Sam Rutter’s agents had become tougher and armed themselves with sawed-off shotguns. When Rutter learned 240 cases of Canadian Club whiskey were arriving at Ano Nuevo, he raided the South Coast ranch. But by then Pane and Murphy had vanished from the beach into the darkness and weren’t found.

J.F. Steele was arrested but granted immunity for furnishing Rutter with evidence leading to the indictments of Pane and Murphy, according to newspaper accounts. Steele’s life was threatened and he received protection from the authorities.

A year after the Ano Nuevo raid, Pane and Murphy had still not been found. Then, in a bizarre twist, the San Francisco Prohibition office received a report that Tom Murphy had barricaded himself in his apartment in the City. He was armed and vowing to resist arrest.

A squad of heavily armed federal officers surrounded Murphy’s residence but when they rushed the door the agents found the rum baron sitting quietly by a window counting $30,000 in cash. He submitted to arrest without protest but his trial would not begin until his partner Paul Pane was also in custody.

…to be continued…

When Rumrunners Ruled (Part 3)


Three years earlier, in 1921, Paul Pane and Tom Murphy began their bootlegging operations at Princeton-by-the-Sea, some four miles north of Half Moon Bay. With the collapse of the Ocean Shore Railroad, Princeton was a failed resort and some residents were ready for any kind of business.

Overlooking Princeton Bay for many years was the Patroni House, a seafood and Italian restaurant owned by Giovanni Patroni. Fishing boats docked at the nearby wharf, also called “Patroni’sâ€?.

Born in Genoa, Italy in 1878, Giovanni, the son of farmers, learned the hotel business in San Francisco before moving to Princeton in the early 1900s. Patroni also formed a partnership with El Granada artichoke farmer Dante Dianda. Together they owned 400 acres.

In 1921 when Patroni was 43-years-old, bootlegger Thomas Murphy approached the restaurant owner, convincing him to let his wharf be used to unload illegal liquor.

A few months later, in the fall, fishing boats delivered $60,000 worth of illegal whiskey from Vancouver to Patroni’s Wharf. Tipped off about the shipment, agents led by Mobile Prohibition Supervisor John Exnicios raided the Patroni House, confiscating thousands of dollars of bonded liquor.

Arrested for violating the Volstead (Prohibiton) Act, Giovanni Patroni confessed that he was a member of a bootlegging ring smuggling thousands of dollars worth of high-grade whiskey into Princeton. Patroni was released on bond in return for testifying before the grand jury he received immunity.

The information Exnicios extracted from Patroni made him optimistic that booze smuggling on the San Mateo County Coastside had been smashed.

…to be continued…

(Photo: San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the museum at the historic Redwood City Courthouse)

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–

When Rumrummers Ruled (Part I)

princetonpier.jpg (Photo: The pier at Princeton-by-the-Sea)

When the San Mateo County Coastside was identified as a major depot of smuggled Canadian whiskey during Prohibition., pioneer liquor buccaneers Paul Rubio Pane and Thomas Murphy called themselves exporters—but they were hardened professional bootleggers who needed the cooperation of locals to unload hundreds of cases of illegal booze on isolated Half Moon Bay and Pescadero beaches.

Destined for thirsty customers in San Francisco, the whiskey earned Pane, Murphy and their rum-running masters huge profits.

By 1924 Paul Pane and Thomas Murphy had been using South Coast farmer J.F. Steele’s Ano Nuevo seaside ranch as their home base for more than a year. They often ate breakfast at Steele’s place south of the Pigeon Point lighthouse and might have passed as locals. But they took their orders from the notorious Joe Parente. Headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Parente was the king of all the Pacific Coast rumrunners.

After convincing Steele to collaborate with them, Pane and Murphy established a routine. Electricity had not yet reached the Pescadero on the South Coast—and in the evening the road was eerily dark.

Pane and Murphy supervised the nighttime loading of 100 proof-plus Canadian Club whiskey onto trucks—liquor delivered secretly to a secluded beach cove by two small skiffs.

The operation went smoothly until the spring of 1924. As 240 cases of illicit whiskey were being loaded onto trucks, Paul Pane’s sixth sense alerted him to trouble—and trouble usually meant the police. He even felt suspicious of his partner Thomas Murphy, the co-owner of the Prince Albert, a vessel registered in British Colombia.

As usual the Prince Albert’s final port of call was Ensenada, Mexico. Unless witnesses to a crime, the Coast Guard did not board vessels headed for ports outside of the United States. Packed with a full load of whiskey, the Prince Albert sailed south from Vancouver along the Pacific Coast, carefully observing the 3-mile limit near Steele’s Ano Nuevo ranch.

From his position on the beach, Paul Pane, using his secret code-book, signaled the Prince Albert with a flashlight, advising the vessel that it was all clear. A high-powered motorboat rendezvoused with the Prince Albert, taking on board the cases of liquor. From the motorboat, the cargo was transferred again to small skiffs that sailed through the surf and onto the cliff-lined beach. With the loud pounding of waves drowning out conversation, Pane stowed his flashlight, automatically slipping the secret code-book into his coat pocket.

—To be continued–