Date of Award

Spring 2004

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Theoharis, Athan

Second Advisor

Avella, Steven

Third Advisor

Grahn, Lance


In April 1956, Oregonian crime reporters Wallace Turner and William Lambert launched an expose that described a decade of illegal vice activity, municipal graft, and labor racketeering in the Western Conference of Teamsters. The report attracted the interest of national political figures investigating racketeering by union officials in cities across the country. The subsequent congressional hearings publicized both Portland's failure to control vice crime and the municipal officials who tolerated, sanctioned, and profited from the city's vice economy. Despite repeated reform efforts, Portland was considered "wide-open" for gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging. By the 1950s, municipal corruption and vice activities remained an entrenched part of Portland's culture. Using FBI records, transcripts of the McClellan Committee hearings, Oregonian articles, and personal interviews, this work documents the investigations into municipal corruption, organized crime, and labor racketeering, and discusses the ramifications of the inquiries for Portland and organized labor on both the local and national stages. This dissertation evaluates the history of a mid-sized city during this postwar period. Historians have inadequately addressed the phenomenon of organized crime and political corruption in Portland. Portland has a long history of vice activity and municipal corruption advanced by criminal racketeers, such as James Elkins. After conducting interviews and researching oral histories, memoirs, and court records, it is now evident that Elkins, a local gambler, bootlegger, and prostitute broker, dominated Portland's vice industry from the 1940s until 1956. Former Oregonian reporter Wallace Turner has offered valuable insight into crime and corruption in postwar Portland and explained in August 2003 that Elkins had provided the reporters information in an effort to stop a group of Seattle racketeers and corrupt Teamsters Union officials from taking control of Portland's vice industry...



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