On January 17, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment (XVIII) took effect in the United States. This made the production, transport, and sale of (though not the consumption or private possession of) alcohol illegal. The Volstead Act was a sidebar that actually defined which intoxicating liquors were prohibited. It today’s terms, it was the gray area. This act also brought forth exclusions, such as alcohol for medicinal and religious purposes.
Welcome the kingpin of bootlegging, George Remus. George was a successful lawyer in Chicago who moved to Cincinnati after prohibition started to capitalize on the saturation of distilleries surrounding the area. Being a lawyer, Remus was obsessed with the loopholes of the Volstead Act and immediately found fortune in the exploitation of the gray undefined areas.
George realized that he could legally sell bonded liquor to himself for medicinal purposes if he simply bought out distilleries and pharmacies in the region. He bought out many of America’s more famous distilleries and would hire his own employees to hijack the inventory. It would then be resold for a much higher profit as bootlegged booze. He is even mentioned multiple times in the show Boardwalk Empire. This guy made Nucky Thompson look like a amateur. Over a three year span, Remus made well over 40 million dollars. He was rumored to be the inspiration for Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby. Brilliant!
George Remus also owned one of the most spectacular homes to ever exist in Price Hill. He threw crazy parties and handed out lavish gifts to those of power in Cincinnati. This guy gave out cars to the ladies who attended! In 1919, the southwest section of Price Hill was actually called Elberon Heights. His Hermosa estate was built by Henry Lackman of the Lackman Brewery. The home had a carriage house, stable, greenhouse, Grecian swimming pool, and a baseball diamond for the neighborhood kids.
The Hermosa Mansion
Photo credit: Price Hill Historical Society
A Remus dinner party
Photo credit: The Delhi Historical Society
At the same time he acquired the Lackman mansion, George also bought the Dater Farm in Westwood. He made this purchase for a strategic reason. It was off the grid, not visable to traffic, and close to the core of Cincinnati.
This is a Google Map view of the approximate location of the Dater Farm aka Death Valley.
It was here that his largest bootlegging operation would take place. As a matter of fact, the majority of booze that reached Cincinnati came from what he called “Death Valley Farm”. When his inventory was falsely hijacked, it was brought here for storage and distribution. George Remus actually hired a small group of 10-12 men to protect the property from hijackers and trespassers. If you crossed the property line, you would be greeted with a shotgun.
A rare photo of the Death Valley farm looking from Queen City Ave.
Photo credit: Enquirer Archives
Death Valley had a shell that appeared to be a small farm with barns, chickens, and a home on the property. The truth was far beyond the cookie cutter appearance. The barns held the majority of the bootlegged liquor and even beer. The home was a centralized station for distribution logistics throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. Each barn had a cellar and there were a few tunnels that reached Queen City Ave. George strictly conducted cash transactions and it is rumored that some of his earnings were buried on the property in the event a raid would ever occur. It is also rumored that he has a hidden vault built between 1918-1923 to protect his millions of dollars. The vault could be somewhere in Cincinnati or in Newport, KY. His business partner Buck Brady, was likely the only other person to know where this safe was located. Find the property records and you just may find a vault.
The farm sat in a valley that was overlooked by some of his loyal buyers. These homes would keep an eye out for raiders and hijackers at all times.
Photo credit: Enquirer Archives
Eventually, a regular Death Valley customer was flagged down in Indiana, and his fault led to a warrant on the property. George Remus was aware of the suspicious activity in the Cincinnati area and ordered his men to removed all booze from the farm. His men failed to remove the liquor in time. The Death Valley location was shut down due to a surprise Sunday raid. He was not concerned because his additional halfway houses in Hamilton, Reading, Glendale, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, California, New York, and New York City were thriving.
Photo credit: PBS
In 1925, George Remus was found guilty on multiple counts and sentenced to 2 years in prison on violations tied to the Volstead Act. While serving his prison sentence, he met an inmate by the name of Franklin Dodge. During his time spent with Franklin, he admitted that his wife had full control over his assets. He was telling this to an undercover agent positioned as a faux inmate. Dodge left prison after hearing this information and started a relationship with George’s wife (Imogene Remus). They liquidated everything leaving a couple hundred dollars to George.
It is rumored that Imogene Remus still roams the gazebo that overlooks Mirror Lake.
When George Remus was released from prison, his wife immediately filed for divorce. On the day they were to attend a court hearing, George paid off a cab driver to run Imogene’s car off the road in Eden Park. It was in front of the Spring House Gazebo where she was fatally shot in the abdomen by George. It is said she still haunts the gazebo that overlooks the mirror lake.
George Remus was somehow found not guilty by reason of insanity and only served 6 months in an institution. He lived the remainder of his life in Covington off of the grid and supposedly lived very comfortably. That raises question about the rumored hidden vault. He died in 1952. He was in his seventies.
In Cincinnati, you now have two options to celebrate the legend of George Remus. There is George Remus Whiskey and Fifty West Death Valley Shootout Imperial Stout. They also have a version aged in Remus Whiskey barrels! Check out Fifty West’s other Remus inspired beers throughout the year.