Friday, March 7, 2014

Prohibition and the only legal hanging in Fort Lauderdale

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By Jane Feehan

Rum running from the Bahamas to southeast Florida seemed an adventurous profession during Prohibition (1920-1933). That perception changed for South Floridians in 1927 when a federal agent and two U.S. Coast Guarders were murdered at sea after chasing down a boat carrying rum.

Aug. 7, 1927, Secret Service Agent Robert K. Webster was on his way to Bimini aboard Cutter 249 from U.S. Coast Guard Base Six in Fort Lauderdale to investigate a counterfeiting ring. Along the way, he and the crew stopped a suspicious-looking boat skippered by James Horace Alderman. 

Alderman and his mate, Robert Weech, denied they had liquor but 160 cases-a small load-were found. After they were arrested and brought on board the cutter, Alderman found a gun and shot Webster and Boatswain Sidney Sanderlin in the back, severely wounded Machinist Victor Lamby (who died later that day) and shot cook Jodie Hollingsworth (who survived).  Alderman told the remaining Coast Guard crew he was going to take them out to the Gulfstream and make them jump into the sea. Weech broke a fuel line and threw a match into the patrol boat but it failed to ignite.

The Coast Guard crew managed to subdue the rumrunners when their boat wouldn’t start. With assistance from Base Six, the surviving Coast Guarders brought the two back to Fort Lauderdale where they were charged with piracy and murder.

It took two years to convict the rumrunners; Weech testified against Alderman and received a sentence of a year and a day. Alderman was sentenced to death by hanging. A new federal piracy law of the time required that the death sentence be carried out in the port city the “pirate” was brought. Broward County did not want to perform the execution, so the Coast Guard agreed to carry out the sentence.

While incarcerated, Alderman found religion and wrote a book about his life. His wife appealed to the White House for executive clemency three times but was denied (or ignored). As the hanging day approached, the media were blocked from covering the event.

A few civilians and Dr. Elliot M. Hendricks, a Fort Lauderdale physician and Public Health Service and Quarantine Officer for Coast Guard Base Six, witnessed the execution at the base’s seaplane hangar Aug. 17, 1929. It stands as the only legal hanging ever held in Broward County.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
Miami News, Aug. 16, 1929, p.1, 2
Miami News, Aug. 17, 1929, p. 4.
Miami News, Aug. 9, 1929.
Gillis, Susan. Fort Lauderdale: The Venice of America. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
Weiding, Philip and Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1966.
Willoughby, Malcom, Commander USCGR. Rum War at Sea. U.S Government Printing Office, 1964.

Order from Amazon (link below) - PBS special by Ken Burns: Prohibition. 
Episode 1, A Nation of Drunkards

Tags: Florida Prohibition history, Fort Lauderdale Prohibition history, Fort Lauderdale history, Florida history Fort Lauderdale, rum runners, bootleggers, film researcher

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