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'The Ghosts of Eden Park' chronicles dark chapter of Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus's life

Posted at 4:40 PM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 09:24:14-04

CINCINNATI — Happenstance led author Karen Abbott to spend three years researching before publishing “The Ghosts of Eden Park.”

"I think like a lot of people, the first time I ran into George Remus was while watching 'Boardwalk Empire,’” Abbott said. "Remus is sitting there talking about himself in the third person. I just sat there thinking to myself, 'Is this guy real?’”

She learned Remus was most definitely real – just like the other characters who appeared in five seasons of the HBO series that told the story of New Jersey gangster Enoch "Nucky” Thompson during the dawn of Prohibition.

Abbott said she was stunned after a cursory search about the German immigrant who called Greater Cincinnati home until his death in the 1950s.

"I think his story was more sensational than anyone else in 'Boardwalk Empire,’” she said.

Abbott's “The Ghosts of Eden Park” details Remus’s rise as “King of Bootleggers” by the summer of 1921 to the arrest that essentially ended his criminal enterprises a few years later.

"Remus once owned 31 percent of the liquor in the United States,” Abbott said. “He never drank a drop of alcohol – those were his words."

Abbott’s book also details the efforts of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the pioneering prosecutor who helped bring Remus to justice.

Abbott learned that contemporaries called Willebrandt "the First Lady of Law" after Willebrandt was named the first female U.S. Assistant Attorney General in 1921.

Abbott said the powers-that-be likely assigned Willebrandt to pursue Remus because they didn’t believe a woman could successfully prosecute the popular bootlegger.

"When she was named assistant she only had the right to vote for nine months,” Abbott said. "She was only 32 years old. She was mostly almost deaf . . . The great thing about that is Willebrandt got into her office and started kicking ass.”

In 1925, Willebrandt successfully helped put Remus on trial for thousands of Prohibition violations. After his conviction by a jury, Remus spent two years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.

Elements of the case that landed Remus in jail eventually led to an even darker chapter of the bootlegger's life.

On Oct. 6, 1927, Remus fatally shot his wife, Imogene Holmes near Eden Park’s Spring House Gazebo. Holmes was on her way to court to finalize their divorce – a divorce sparked by an affair between Holmes and one of the investigators who worked for Willebrandt.

"I think he (Remus) was a brilliant, innovative smart person, but also a flawed person,” Abbott said.

Remus avoided going to prison for the murder of his wife after an attorney convinced a jury that Remus was insane at the time of the killing.

Remus died while living in Covington on Jan. 20, 1952 at the age of 77.