Friday, January 22, 2016

The Bootlegger's Truck

It was 2:30 a.m. on August 14th in 1924 when the fire fighters and police officers of Decatur, Illinois were called to the scene.  A truck, parked on the side of the road at the intersection of  Williams and Seventh Streets, had burst into flames.  Onlookers crowded around the blaze at a safe distance.

Some nearby pedestrians had noticed that two men had driven the truck, and pulled to the side of the road at the 2500 block of East Williams Street.  They exited the truck and walked away.  Several hours had passed when smoke began to billow from the vehicle and flames came from the engine.  The citizens ran to put out the blaze.  It was discovered that the truck was hauling over 230 gallons of alcohol, in 46 five gallon containers.  They were camouflaged by crates of tomatoes,

Police hid in the bushes and overgrown lots around the area, armed with sawed off shotguns, waiting to see if the two men would return to the truck. After several hours, the truck was hauled to the Decatur police station.

It was determined by the fire fighters that oil had spilled on the alternator in the engine, which probably caused smoke and the smell of an electrical fire.  The men in the truck were probably alarmed, and decided to abandon the truck at this location in Decatur.

recent map of the Decatur, Illinois area.
Seventh Street no longer exists in Decatur, Illinois

Police had traced the license plates to the owner of the truck.  Mr. Tony Sansone, of St. Louis, Missouri, was contacted by reporters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  After interviewing Tony, it was revealed that he had rented his truck to a man for $35, who wanted to haul tomatoes to Springfield, Illinois from St. Louis.  He said that he could not recall the name of the person, and futhermore, he had no idea that this man had intended to haul booze along with his tomatoes.

Sansone traveled to Decatur to claim his truck, or what was left of it.  The Decatur police refused to release the truck to Sansone, stating that they had several problems with the story that he told them.  The truck was being held on the prohibition statute. It had been determined that no long distance phone call had been made to Sansone from the Decatur area from any persons within the previous 24 hours.  Sansone was cleared of prohibition charges. But, he could not have his truck.

There was an investigation with the Springfield police department to determine the identity of the party that rented the truck, and stuffed it with the tomatoes and all of that alcohol.  Meanwhile, upset that he was unable to regain possession of his truck, Sansone said that he would take the train to Springfield and find that man himself. He said he would "grab ahold of his hair and drag him back to Decatur".

Tony Sansone was the owner of a produce company located at 1007 Wash Street in St. Louis.

This story was published in The Decatur Herald, 14 August 1924, page 3

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