The Good Bootlegger: Roy Olmsted


When I created my bootlegger character David, I had in mind the real bootlegger, Roy Olmsted. I learned about him in Daniel Okrent’s LAST CALL: “Olmsted had entered public life as a promising member of the Seattle Police Department, praised by the department’s very dry chief as ‘quick and responsive . . . bright and competent.’ But Olmsted’s competence extended beyond ordinary police work, and while still a member of the department . . . he began running liquor from Canada. Roy Olmsted was handsome, personable, intelligent, and remarkably ethical. He never diluted his imports or blended them with industrial alcohol as so many other bootleggers did, and he dealt in such volume that he was able to undersell every other bootlegger in the Pacific Northwest. . . he ‘avoided the sordid behavior of others in the same business–no murder, no narcotics, no rings or prostitution or gambling’–and as a result, ‘many people could not regard him as an authentic criminal.'”

What happened to Roy? Like my fictional David, he served time in prison–four years. President Roosevelt later pardoned him. Not sure whether a pardon is in David’s future . . .

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grape Bricks? You’ve Got to be Kidding . . .

Since a major character in my mystery, THE IMPERSONATOR, is a bootlegger, I’ve been boning up on all aspects of Prohibition. The single best book I’ve read is Daniel Okrent’s LAST CALL. I have found a goldmine of information in this book, much of which I have used in THE IMPERSONATOR and will continue to use in future Roaring Twenties books. So expect the next few weeks’ blogs to focus on fascinating facts about Prohibition–things you never knew and couldn’t have made up!

The Do-Not-Try-This-At-Home Wine Kit: Buy a Vino Sano Grape Brick (package above), a solid, dehydrated block of grape concentrate, stems, pulp, and skins, and read the accompanying label with detailed instructions about what you should NOT do with it–be sure NOT to add sugar and yeast or leave it in a dark place or “it might ferment and become wine.” And we certainly wouldn’t want that, would we, wink, wink. These grape bricks were advertised, quite legally, in newspapers and magazines (TIME magazine of August 6, 1928 had a large ad) and sold in various flavors: port, sherry, burgundy, etc. Gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond was quoted: “It sounds like a good racket to me.” Perceptive fellow, Legs.


Why was it legal? It contained no alcohol and home manufacture of wine, as long as it was not for re-sale, was not against the law. As the Vine-Glo ad says, “For home use only.”

Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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