The McDonough Machine

Reading Ehrlich’s autobiography that I wrote about, here, I have run across an interesting bit of San Francisco history. Peter McDonough of McDonough brother’s fame was the owner and operator of first a saloon and then the city’s first bail bonds operation. He used the information he learned from freeing accused to build a protection racket, He became the sole voice in approving gambling and prostitution in the city. It wasn’t until 1935 that the city hired Edwin Atherton-a L.A. Private Investigator and his partner to investigate the corruption in the police department and shut down McDonough.

After looking through the section of Ehrlich’s book that discussed this situation, I was intrigued. Not only was this an interesting subject matter, but it sparked my curiosity. I wondered if there was more to learn. So as it was the weekend, I pulled out my laptop and started searching. First I came across Atherton’s Wikipedia file here. It revealed that Atherton at one time worked for the FBI, or Bureau of Investigation as it was first known, and had set up shop in L.A. The Atherton Report, here, which he issued in 1937, was his one claim to fame and outlined what he discovered of the McDonough Machine.

Now, I also discovered an academic article on McDonough, here, that discussed his life and work as a criminal and machine boss. What interested me most, perhaps, was the lack of information concerning this boss. If McDonough had operated in New York or New Orleans, there would have been a book or two about him, plus references up the wazoo. But there’s not. He rose up in San Francisco and his role in the 30s was apparently quite profound, yet there is no book, and there is no great amount of research. Why? I have to wonder if San Francisco–of the three pretty cities in the United States–is perhaps the neglected child when it comes to academic research. I don’t know.

What I do know, is that this opens up a new avenue for additional stories to link to my Billie Holiday novella. As Jake Ehrlich, the lawyer and author of the autobiography of which I wrote, also represented Billie Holiday in her drug possession charges in 1949. A novella of which I have finished the first draft and will soon work to edit and submit for publication. So that’s what my Saturday looked like.

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