A Profile Of Southie's Gustin Gang 100 Years After Prohibition


Vintage image of prohibition parade

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — It was this weekend 100 years ago that the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors.

On January 17, 1920 the Volstead Act passed, officially beginning the prohibition of alcohol across the U.S., but it wasn't the first time the sale of spirits was tempered in Massachusetts.

Before the Civil War, in 1838, the Bay State passed a temperance law banning the sale of any liquor in less than 15-gallon quantities. The law was repealed within two years, but it was seen as one of the early precedent-setting laws that would later lead to a total prohibition of alcohol.

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Prohibition was supported by several communities from the early 1900's, including some religious leaders, political figures, and women's groups who saw alcohol as destructive to families and marriages. The Anti-Saloon League began new waves of attacks on the sale of liquor around 1906, and they were supported by factory workers who wanted to decrease the numbers of accidents on the job.

However, enforcement of prohibition did not go exactly according to plan. Despite initial reports of an early 30 percent drop in alcohol consumption, hundreds of thousands of Americans found more inventive ways to consume booze in more discrete ways.

While the legal supply had been cut off, the demand remained. Countless underground bars, known as 'Speakeasies', opened across the nation. Prohibition only encouraged the rise of criminal activity associated with so-called "bootlegging" alcohol. For many cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, that meant the evolution of some powerful new gangs.

For eastern Massachusetts it was Frank Wallace, an Irish-American from South Boston, quickly rose to the top of the world of organized crime.

Along with his brothers, Wallace formed the Gustin Gang, named after a street off Old Colony Avenue in Southie. They started out as teenagers in the 1910's calling themselves the 'Tailboard Thieves.' The Wallace brothers were known for hijacking delivery trucks as they stopped at intersections.

They went on to dominate Boston's underworld throughout the 1920's and the Prohibition Era, with the help of their so-called 'enforcer', Frank's brother and ex-Olympic boxer Steve Wallace.

Throughout the decade, the Wallace Brothers were arrested frequently on charges of larceny, trespassing, assault and battery, and breaking and entering, among other charges. But thanks to their political connections, including one of their attorneys being then-state Senator John W. McCormack, they were rarely convicted of those crimes. Frank, arrested 25 times, only served two sentences.

According to the book Gangland Boston by Emily Sweeney, the Gustin Gang went on to own a few boats in Boston, known as 'Rum Runners.' They would allegedly run the vessels into international waters in order to pick up alcohol shipments, and then they'd land at various points around the Southie shore.

The gang were known to then hand deliver the alcohol, and were rumored to make frequent deliveries to a speakeasy on Old Colony Avenue known as The Sportlight which was owned by their older brother Billy Wallace. That location went on to be known as Kelley's Cork N Bull, and is now called Stadium.

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Frank and his brothers even used fake badges that looked like those used by Prohibition agents, in order to confiscate alcohol shipments being made by rival bootleggers. They'd later sell the products off themselves.

In late 1931, after several beer trucks were hijacked by the Gustin Gang, 28-year-old Frank Wallace agreed to sit down with North End Italian-American gangster, Joe Lombardi on Hanover Street. But Frank was gunned down and killed in an ambush just a few days before Christmas. His wide-ranging influence was made evident by the more than 200 cars that took part in Frank's funeral procession, many of which had out-of-state license plates.

By early 1932, local newspapers reported that seven members of the Lombardi gang had been arrested in connection to the murder of Frank Wallace. From then on, control of Boston's organized crime world would pass to the Italian-American Mob until the rise of Whitey Bulger some four decades later.

It was almost exactly two years after Wallace was killed, on December 5, 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed Alcohol Prohibition.

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