Coast Guardsmen Caught Red-Handed
The revelation that U.S. Coast Guard on Long Beach Island had organized to conspire with the rum runners shook the nation in much the same way that the news of the 1919 World Series having been fixed rocked the sporting world. On July 21, 1926, the Asbury Park Press ran a small story.
“Charges that coast guardsmen have been illegally transporting liquor and selling it to residents of Ocean County are being investigated by Superintendent M.W. Rasmussen, fifth coast guard district head, and William J. Wheeler, special inspector from the Washington coast guard headquarters.
“The charges are in the form of two affidavits implicating members of a crew near Beach Haven. The name of one witness has not been divulged. The other is Eugene Danley of Waretown, in whose home six gallons of liquor was found during a raid by Sheriff Grant last week. Danley said he bought the liquor from coast guardsmen.”
The article hinted this was only the tip of the iceberg.
“Superintendent Rasmussen announced last night that Danley would today be taken to Beach Haven to identify the coast guardsmen.”
The next day the Press carried the results. There had been 10 arrests.
“Superintendent M.W. Rasmussen, upon his return here this morning, said that he was not in a position to make a statement either with regard to the operations of the men or their identity. He admitted, however, that more arrests may be looked for.”
The story behind the uncovering of the plot had a strange beginning with events not related to prohibition and rumrunning. The Press the next day revealed, “The present investigation was developed from alleged coast guard opposition to the activities of Game Warden Evernham of Ocean County who also acts as a deputy sheriff. Evernham, last year, had information indicating that a certain club on Barnegat bay was killing wild geese and duck out of season. He found that every time he went to the club to investigate, a flag would rise to the top of a mast a mile away.
“Suspecting that he was being watched, Evernham got Mrs. Mary Arnold of Point Pleasant to visit the club and order a duck banquet served for a number of friends. This ruse was successful and Evernham had club members arrested. At a hearing before Justice of the Peace Potter of West Creek, a coast guardsman dashed in with a bottle of liquor he said he found in Evernham’s car.
“The Justice said he would not arrest Evernham until he had an opportunity to confer with Sheriff Grant, and an investigation of the coast guards’ relations with the rum runners got under way. The duck hearing resulted in heavy fines, and among those penalized was Thomas Beers, Jr., a son of Capt. Thomas Beers of the Love Lady’s coast guard station.”
It didn’t take long for the case to change from poaching to a federal crime.
“The sheriff’s investigation then took him to Barnegat, where he procured from Thomas Driscoll an affidavit that in December a captain of a station with three others of his crew brought eight cases of Scotch whisky in a coast guard boat to Tuckerton pier. Two other supporting affidavits were taken in this connection. The liquor was taken from the pier to a restaurant on the main shore boulevard. It was delivered in a rear door.
“Superintendent Rasmussen, Commander Wheeler and Deputy Sheriff Brower of Ocean county, taking up the investigation from this point…”
Now Coast Guard officials took over. Soon they “called the captain of the station before them and got a denial of any complicity. A machinist’s mate then was interrogated. He too made a denial, then broke down and is said to have made a full confession implicating the captain and others. The machinist’s mate said that he had been assigned to water duty on the night the liquor was brought in, and that he had seen it piled on deck under a tarpaulin. He said the Captain got in a truck and rode off to be gone a half hour. The captain, with the machinist mate’s testimony before him, confessed and implicated the captain of a neighboring station.”
Like a house of cards, the conspiracy began to collapse.
“This captain was on the bay when the inquiry board reached the station at 4 a.m. He at first denied complicity, but broke down when the testimony of the first captain was shown him and admitted he had received $2 a case, which he split four ways. He named captains of two other stations as sharing in the spoils.
“His wife, the captain said, acted as go-between informing rum runners when the coast was clear.”
The day ended with a statement from Rasmussen.
“As a result of the disclosures made during the investigation, the scope of the probe will be extended to include the entire fifth district from Atlantic Highlands to Cape May. Not a stone will be left unturned in our endeavor to rid the service of dishonesty. There will be a general house cleaning.
“Additional evidence is coming in our possession thru which we hope to implicate others who have taken part in illicit activities. Rumors have come to my attention for some time that men were conniving with the rum runners. I have done my best to track them down, but could find nothing tangible. Now that it is proved conclusively that there has been collusion, the boys will have to take the consequences.”
The story was too big to stay local, and the Los Angeles Times ran on the same day, “A confession that members of one Coast Guard station voted unanimously to go into the rum-running business featured the first day’s inquiry by Supt. M.W. Rasmussen, commanding the Fifth District, into the Jersey Patrol.
“Rum runners in another instance were declared to have been instructed by the wife of a station commander as to the best time to bring in cargoes.
“Ten men are under arrest as a result of the disclosures, a dozen have been suspended and additional arrests are expected momentarily.
“Coast Guard officials declined tonight to comment because of strict orders from Washington headquarters.”
The illegal shooting of several ducks on Barnegat Bay had started a chain of events that put LBI on the front pages of newspapers across the country with publicity not equaled since the shark attacks 10 years before.
Next Week: The plot thickens.