Friday, May 28, 2010

Trouble at the Pool Hall

NOVA was home to dozens of pool halls serving as hubs for a lot of ilicit activities. One pool hall in Alexandria was the home to ongoing problems with drugs and murders. The building at 1101 Queen St. in Alexandria has an interesting history. It was built in 1921 and called the Lincoln Theater and was located in the heart of an African-American neighborhood called Uptown. The original building was replaced in 1939 and it later became the Capitol Theater. In the 1960s the theater continued to operate with "a pool hall and amusement arcade".

The pool hall was nothing but trouble. In 1961 police arrived to find a brawl outside the pool hall and tried to break it up. As a cop tried to take Douglas Beck's blackjack away, he got in one more smack on his victim. Beck's buddies James Allen and Nicholas Lafragiola were hauled in by police too. In 1969 Russell Robinson, who was a bouncer at the pool hall, was shot three times in the hallway of the pool room. Patrons told police that they heard gunfire and Robinson emerged clutching his throat. Charles Davis of 3627 S. Four Mile Run Dr. in Arlington claimed he shot Robinson in self defense because Robinson was trying to rob him. Davis was convicted to five years in prison.

In 1970 the Alexandria Vice Squad cracked down on the pool hall and arrested a lot of folks on drug charges and found it was a center of heroin dealing. It was likely that Guy Black's mini drug empire had its tentacles in the pool hall. He was the kingpin of the heroin market in NOVA for a few years. In 1975 Black was busted and cops found he had a $2.5 million operation that he was running while living in dumpy motels across Arlington. The heart of his drug operation was the Green Valley section of South Arlington, which is a historically black area of the county. Black had his junkies dealing out of teen centers, pool halls, motels, and shopping centers across NOVa.

An Alexandria Gazette article from 1970 notes the pool hall is the site of "frequent arrests for disorderly conduct, and several fights, and shootings have occured at the spot in recent months". In addition to heroin, the pool hall was the center of numbers betting in Alexandria.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

John McClure

In NOVA’s redneck past, there are many colorful figures, but few have been as colorful as John C. McClure who was a paratrooper, Nazi, Pagan MC member, and a jail breaker. McClure was born in 1939 in West Palm Beach, FL and was an imposing presence with a full beard and shaggy red hair. He was in the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville in 1958 when he was arrested for narcotics possession and given a 3 year suspended sentence.

In 1962 he arrived in Arlington, VA to become a full-fledged member of the American Nazi Party after reading some of George Lincoln Rockwell’s literature. He went through several months of training in Arlington before heading back to Florida in February ’63 to lead an effort to set up an American Nazi Party (ANP) branch office. After training in Arlington, he moved his wife and three kids to Miami to open up the southeast division of the ANP. The effort caused a huge controversy in the newspapers in South Florida. McClure immediately gained notoriety when he and his cohorts got involved in a brawl while protesting outside a pro-Israel meeting. In March he was hauled into court because police found him with a handgun which his narcotics possession conviction precluded him from having. While in jail his cellmates beat him, but police claimed he fell off of the top bunk. The judge gave him a choice of serving time or leaving Dade County forever and he chose the latter. As he left the courtroom an unidentified woman slapped him and said it was because she had been in a concentration camp and couldn’t bear seeing a Nazi.

Undeterred, McClure opened an office in West Palm Beach to the dismay of residents. In an article he declared that if the ANP came to power “negroes would be sent back to Africa” but the party hadn’t yet decided what to do with the Jews. Evidently folks back at Nazi HQ weren’t happy with his progress because George Lincoln Rockwell decided to throw McClure under the bus and announced that McClure had no authority to set up anywhere but Miami (because that’s “where the enemy is”). Rockwell pointed out that McClure was not very high in the party echelon and went on to say that he was coming down to personally supervise setting up a Miami office. Politicians are politicians no matter how nutty and they will eat your left nut if they need to.

By 1965 he was back in the Washington area counter protesting the anti-Vietnam war protests. Around this time, he joined the Pagans and it seems likely that he was present for the founding of the club. His nickname among his Pagan brothers was “Big John”, but this seems like a weird moniker because he was only 5’11” and 140 pounds. My guess is the name referred to his big presence and he probably punched above his weight.

In 1968, while living at 5414 S. 8th Pl. in South Arlington, McClure was involved in an incident at the Georgetown Peoples Drug Store at Wisconsin and O Street. The Georgetown Peoples was a popular spot for bikers and the parking lot was a meeting place for hippies, bikers, and drug dealers. From what I can gather in the newspaper reports, the problem arose from a drug deal between two groups and McClure was aligned with one of the groups.

At 2 AM on a Sunday morning two groups of youths got into some kind of brief dispute in the Peoples parking lot. A few minutes later McClure joined one group and went with them to their car and a bit later the two groups confronted each other again and McClure shot one person dead and wounded another with a .22 caliber pistol. The two guys shot down by him, were recent Wilson High School graduates who came to Peoples from a post-graduation party. Something strange happened among this group of people and it seems like the two guys shot by McClure were monkeying around during a drug deal. McClure claimed self defense in the shooting and apparently thought the other group was some threat to him.

McClure went on the lam and the FBI produced a wanted poster. The poster describes him as:
“a former member of a motorcycle gang, usually wears boots and blue
jeans, may have upper front tooth missing. McClure is being sought for
Murder in which victim was shot with a .22 caliber revolver. Considered
extremely dangerous.

It lists his past crimes as AWOL from the military, narcotics possession, and the Georgetown murder. After the manhunt, in which McClure was almost placed on the Ten Most Wanted list, he was arrested in Providence, RI. He had shaved his beard and cut his hair to try to lay low. The WaPo notes that Big John appeared frail in court, which makes me wonder if he was involuntarily detoxing in jail during the trial. The trial was chaotic as two of Big John’s Pagan brothers, Aurin “Little Jesus” Little and Earl “Moochie” Swicegood made some gesture and comment that scared some folks in the courtroom. Swicegood was held in contempt of court for threatening a witness because he allegedly made a comment that a prosecution witness was lying and he was going to blow him away. The charge was later overturned by another court.

McClure was convicted to ten years in jail. In 1972 he and a fellow inmate, Francis Fletcher, escaped Lorton and went on the run. Fletcher was a notorious thug in South Arlington with multiple convictions including gunning down a gas station attendant during a robbery. A few days after the escape Fletcher got into an accident on Columbia Pike and took off running. A cop and a citizen took him down and his escape was done. The Post seems to drop the story at this part because I can’t figure out when or if police caught up with McClure. Lorton at the time was in the midst of a rash of escapes and would soon face a riot by inmates.

After this incident, I lost the trail of McClure. By the late 80s he was in Texas or Louisiana and he died in 1993 in Kenner, Louisiana.

UPDATE: McClure was also a mechanic at Crossroads Cycle in Baileys Crossroads in the late sixties.

UPDATE 2: In researching the hippie scene around Dupont Circle I came across a new article about Mcclure. In 1967 police raided an apartment at 1629 19th St. NW in DC and found pot, .30-caliber carbine, and a sawed-off shotgu with a bayonet attached. Mcclure and Elizabeth Mechline were inside the apartment. Mcclure identified himself as a member of the Pagans and former president of the Huns. The Huns MC were a local club that patched over to the Pagans sometime in 1967.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Drag Racing Menace

During the fifties and sixties the DC area was a hot bed for hot rodders. In NOVA hot rodders gathered at the various Tops Drive-Inn locations like Fairfax Circle, Harrison and Lee Highway in Arlington and Glebe and Rte. 50 in Arlington. They'd bring their cars to the drive-in and hang with their gang of friends. In some cases, the hot rod friends became clubs and sometimes evolved into greaser gangs. The greaser gangs evolved into the sixties and in some places continued well into the seventies. In PG County they were known as Grits during the seventies, but in NOVA some of them evolved into the Pagans.

In 1960 WaPo did one of a number of articles on the menace of drag racing in the DC area. Naturally the hotspots were the redneck areas of PG County, Arlington, and Falls Church. The Post reported that motorcycles, trucks, and even women were drag racing!

The drag racing hotspots in NOVA were (according to the Post): East Broad St. and Hillwood St. in Falls Church; Williamsburg and Yorktown blvds; George Mason and Sycamore; and GW Parkway.