• George Remus was a lawyer turned bootlegger during U.S Prohibition
• He made millions selling and distributing his illegal alcohol in Cincinatti
• Once threw a party and gave every woman a car and men diamond watches
• Believed to be inspiration behind eponymous character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' after a chance encounter with the writer
By Keiligh Baker
George Remus, a Cincinatti lawyer, was known as 'King of the Bootleggers' and may have been the inspiration behind F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby
A Cincinnati lawyer who was known as 'King of the Bootleggers' and turned to crime after noticing his clients were getting rich may have been the real life inspiration behind The Great Gatsby.
George Remus was born in Germany in 1874, before his family moved to Chicago when he was five.
After supporting his family by working in a pharmacy from the age of 14, he bought the pharmacy at 19, expanded and bought another in his early twenties before deciding to become a lawyer aged 24.
He specialised in criminal defence, particularly in murder cases and by 1920 he was earning $50,000 a year - a huge amount at the time.
In 1920 Remus divorced his first wife Lillian after embarking on an affair with his legal secretary, Augusta Imogene Holmes, whom he subsequently married.
That year U.S. Congress decided to ban toting or selling alcohol - but bizarrely, drinking was still allowed.
'Remus soon noticed the criminals he was defending were getting rich off bootlegging,' Roy Hotchkiss of the Price Hill Historical Society told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
'He saw all this money and thought he'd better get in on the action.'
Remus began studying the Volstead Act – the law that enforced Prohibition – and soon found several loopholes.
His pharmaceutical background came in handy when he realized the loopholes meant he could buy distilleries and pharmacies to sell 'bonded' liquor to himself under government licenses for 'medicinal' purposes.
Remus's employees would then 'steal' his liquor so he could sell it on illegally.
By this point he had moved to Cincinnati and bought up most of the whiskey manufacturers.
In less than three years Remus made $40 million - in today's currency almost $900 million.
George Remus shared many characteristics with the character of Jay Gatsby (pictured is Hollywood actor Leonardo di Caprio as Gatsby in the 2013 film) - he was overly generous, ostentatious and yet introverted
He owned many of America's most famous distilleries, including the Fleischmann Distillery, which he bought for $197,000 - a price which included 3,100 gallons of whiskey.
In addition to becoming the 'King of the Bootleggers' Remus was known as a generous host.
He held many parties, including a 1923 birthday party for Imogene in which she appeared in a daring bathing suit, serenaded by a fifteen-piece orchestra.
Remus enjoyed flaunting his wealth - his mansion in Price Hill was decorated in rare art and exotic plants.
For his daughter Romola he installed a massive indoor pool at a reported cost of $125,000.
He was renowned for throwing lavish galas and events where he showered guests with expensive gifts.
As parting gifts, Remus presented all the men with diamond watches and gave each woman a brand new car.
But despite his overt generosity Remus was an introvert. He did not drink or smoke and during parties he would sometimes retreat to his personal library – much like Jay Gatsby.
Mr Hotchkiss said: 'F. Scott Fitzgerald met Remus by chance at a hotel in Louisville.
'The writer was fascinated with this larger-than-life personality, and based the eponymous character in 'The Great Gatsby' on Remus.
'There used to be a photo of Remus surrounded by the police chief, Capone and Fitzgerald, all in laughter. He truly was a character that transcends time.'
Remus was also seen as charitable, donating money and presents to those in need - along with those who were perhaps not so needy.
'Remus had an untold amount of bribes to the police, lawyers and government,' Mr Hotchkiss said.
He allegedly even paid off the U.S. Attorney General of the time.
But his luck finally ran out and in 1925 he was charged with thousands of violations of the Volstead Act and was sentenced to a two-year prison term in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
But according to biographers he still managed to throw a lavish party on his private train coach to Georgia.
While behind bars he enjoyed his meals at the prison chaplain's residence, his cell was always decorated with flowers and he was even waited on by servants.
His cellmate was Franklin Dodge and the pair got on so well Remus even confided how he was hiding his personal assets from the government - by keeping his wife Imogene in charge of his estate.
But Dodge was an undercover FBI agent, sent to prison to investigate a corrupt warden.
Dodge, for his part, did not tell the agency but instead resigned his post and headed to Cincinnati.
There he embarked on an affair with Imogene Remus and helped to spend most of her husband's empire, leaving Remus destitute.
She sold his mansion, his distilleries and all of his possessions, leaving him just $100.
After Remus left prison Imogene filed for divorce, but on her way to the courthouse to finalise it Remus had his cab driver chase her down.
She was forced to abandon her vehicle in Eden Park and in front of a shocked crowd Remus shot and killed her.
George Remus owned this property on Rapid Run Pike in Cincinatti, Ohio during the peak of his career
The subsequent trial attracted national attention.
The prosecution was led by Charles Phelps Taft II, the son of former President William Howard Taft.
Despite the testimony of several witnesses, Remus was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
There were rumours of trial fraud, a theory that appeared proven when Remus threw a celebratory party after the verdict with all 12 jurors in attendance.
Remus' stay in the asylum was short as he used Taft's reasoning that he was not insane to get himself back out again.
A free Remus tried to restart his bootlegging venture, but found other bootleggers had taken control of the market in his absence and so he retired, dying in 1952 of natural causes aged 77.
Cincinnati lawyer was smuggler, model for Gatsby
Joel M. Beall, email@example.com 11:14 a.m. EST February 9, 2015
Jay Gatsby, the man of fortune and tragedy, was real. His actual name was George Remus. He lived in Cincinnati.
And he was known as the "King of the Bootleggers."
His story is one of the reasons why the Cincinnati Library has designated "The Great Gatsby" as this year's selection for its annual On the Same Page program. Helping build common threads through literature, the event is banking on the popularity of the fictional Jay Gatsby to bring the community together.
Just as Prohibition 95 years ago drove the community apart.
It was 1920 when the U.S. Congress decided to ban toting or selling alcohol. Drinking, bizarrely enough, was still allowed.
As booze and spirits remained in demand, this ban fostered the practice of bootlegging. Spurred by organized crime, the manufacturing and dealing of liquor became a highly profitable industry.
No man benefited more from this movement than Remus.
A Chicago pharmacist and attorney in his early life, Remus became interested in smuggling after studying the twists and turns of the law.
"He noticed all the criminals he was defending as a lawyer were getting rich off bootlegging," said Roy Hotchkiss of the Price Hill Historical Society. "He saw all this money and thought he'd better get in on the action."
“Remus would have these grand banquets, and under his guests' dinner plates would be jewelry. At one event, each guest found a set of keys to a new car.”
Remus, already wealthy, began studying the Volstead Act – the law that enforced Prohibition – and found numerous, glaring technicalities. This is where his pharmaceutical background kicked in.
"You could get a certificate to serve alcohol under the premise of medicine," Hotchkiss said. "It allowed him to abuse the system and the market."
In his research, Remus found that Cincinnati, with its German population, produced over 80 percent of all bonded alcohol. Coupled with Chicago's heavy Mafia, black-market presence in bootlegging, he circled Cincinnati's unfettered market as a place to make his mark.
A mark that still stands today.
Here's how the scheme worked: Remus purchased distilleries and created trucking companies. His own employees would then "steal" his medicinal alcohol so Remus could push it illegally. A 50-acre farm that served as the home base for his enterprise was also acquired for the operation. Within three years of setting up his illegal business, Cincinnati, Remus pulled in $40 million. In today's currency, that's nearly $900 million. Given the annual median income in that time was $1,400, not a bad payday.
Remus was not shy about flaunting his riches. He bought a mansion in Price Hill, decorating it with rare art and exotic plants. For his daughter, he installed a massive indoor pool at a reported cost of $125,000.
He was renowned for throwing lavish galas and events, showering patrons with expensive gifts.
"Remus would have these grand banquets, and under his guests' dinner plates would be jewelry," Hotchkiss said. "At one event, each guest found a set of keys to a new car."
Despite that, Remus was an introvert. He didn't drink or smoke and, during many parties, he would retreat to his personal library. He was also seen as charitable, donating money and presents to those in need.
Still, Remus didn't rise to power by compassion.
"Remus had an untold amount of bribes to the police, lawyers and government," Hotchkiss said. Allegedly, he went as far as paying off the U.S. Attorney General.
Not only did these kickbacks allow Remus to run his operations without interference, but they also forced law enforcement to focus on his rivals. Remus was notorious for ransacking the competition, even getting caught sabotaging a whiskey pipeline at the Jack Daniels distillery in St. Louis.
Remus' farm, located off Queen City Avenue in present day Westwood, was nicknamed "Death Valley" for its fortification of armed guards and the compound's hazardous terrain.
Alas, he didn't buck the system for long. In 1925, he was charged with thousands of violations of the Volstead Act and was sentenced to a two-year term in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Even in this predicament, Remus had a stylish flair, throwing a bash in his private train coach to Georgia. In jail, he had his meals at the prison chaplain's residence, his cell was decorated with flowers and he was waited on by servants.
And that's when things got really interesting.
While serving time in Atlanta, Remus' cellmate was Franklin Dodge. Remus and Dodge got along famously. Remus confided how he was hiding his personal assets from the government: mainly, by keeping his wife, Imogene, in charge of the estate.
One problem: Dodge was an undercover FBI agent, sent to prison to investigate a corrupt warden.
But instead of relaying this information to the agency, Dodge instead resigned his post and headed to Cincinnati. There, he started an affair with Imogene Remus and helped dissolve most of the bootlegger's empire, leaving George out in the cold.
"She sold his mansion, his distilleries, all of his possessions," Hotchkiss said. "Out of all that, she left him just $100. As you can imagine, Remus was furious."
Once Remus left prison, Imogene filed for separation. On her way to the courthouse to finalize the divorce, Remus had his cab drive chase down Imogene, forcing her to abandon her vehicle in Eden Park. In front of multiple park visitors, Remus shot and killed Imogene by the Spring House Gazebo.
The ensuing trial brought national attention to Cincinnati, with the prosecution being led by Charles Phelps Taft II, son of former President William Howard Taft. Despite the testimony of numerous witnesses, Remus was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
"Remus was a lot of things, but he was also a smart man," Hotchkiss said. "He defended himself during the trial."
It helped that many in the community held Remus in a positive light, and Imogene's adultery painted Remus as the victim. Conversely, there were also charges of trial fraud, a sentiment that gained steam when Remus threw a celebration after the verdict – with all 12 jurors in attendance.
Remus' stay in the asylum was short, thanks to, well, Remus.
"He brought back Taft, using Taft's reasoning that he wasn't insane to get himself out," Hotchkiss said. "Really, it was genius."
Now free, Remus tried to restart his bootlegging venture. By then, though, the rum-running businesses was now a crowded field. Remus soon retired to Covington. Aside from owning stock in the Cincinnati Reds, the rest of his life was relatively quiet. Remus died in 1952 of natural causes at the age of 77.
Back to Gatsby: "F. Scott Fitzgerald met him by chance at a hotel in Louisville," Hotchkiss said. The writer was fascinated with this larger-than-life personality, and based the eponymous character in "The Great Gatsby" on Remus.
Remus has also been a character in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" and has a whiskey named in his honor.
Remus' time in the limelight was short. Yet in a period when bootleggers reigned supreme, Hotchkiss said, his star shone bright.
"There used to be a photo of Remus surrounded by the police chief, Capone and Fitzgerald, all in laughter. He truly was a character that transcends time."