When Carl Rettich moved to a seaside mansion on Warwick Neck in Warwick, R.I., people thought he was a genteel lawyer named Charles Ryerson who moved to the neighborhood to take care of his elderly father.
He was actually a mobster with links to Al Capone. He moved to Rhode Island to run New England’s biggest crime ring during Prohibition.
When the truth about ‘Charles Ryerson’ emerged, so many people flocked to ogle his crime castle that an ice cream vendor showed up to sell his wares.
When Prohibition took effect, speakeasies sprang up in Rhode Island (and elsewhere). Illegal hooch flowed freely in Kent County: in West Warwick, Old Warwick, Warwick Neck, Arctic, Apponaug and East Greenwich.
Smugglers operated with impunity along Rhode Island’s rugged shoreline, where quiet inlets and coves disguised their activities.
Danny Walsh, a prominent Rhode Island horse breeder, controlled the liquor smuggled into Rhode Island. Rettich joined up with Walsh and began expanding operations. He bought the 20-room mansion overlooking a cove. The press nicknamed it the 'crime castle' and 'murder mansion.'
Rettich had a fleet of speedboats tricked out for smugglers' every need. They each had three Liberty airplane engines and were plated with armor and layers of New York telephone directories. They would speed out to the 12-mile limit, where they unloaded bootleg liquor from seagoing vessels. Then the rumrunners brought their contraband to a stone dock leading to Rettich’s crime castle. They stored the booze in a secret underground vault before distributing it.
Then Walsh and Rettich had a falling out. Walsh disappeared in February 1933 a day after they argued in public. Rettich was suspected of accepting a ransom of $40,000 for Walsh and then doublecrossing Walsh’s family.
The Associated Press ran a story on June 3, 1935, speculating that Walsh 'was stood in a tub of cement until it hardened about his feet, and then thrown alive into the sea.' The AP reported it was just a 'grisly underworld tale,' and no witnesses had been found.
Police kept looking. An informant tipped them off to Rettich’s criminal activities. He told them Rettich’s crime castle contained a secret vault and an underground tunnel.
In April 1935, police acted on a tip and found the body of a murdered associate of Carl Rettich in Wrentham, Mass. It wasn't Danny Walsh, but police believed Rettich was involved in the crime.
In July, police got a warrant to search the crime castle. They combed the property, but found no tunnel, no vault. The basement was spotless, with four whitewashed brick posts.
One detective thought the basement looked too clean. He looked carefully and found a large screw in one of the posts. When he turned it, the cement floor rose slowly to the ceiling, revealing steps that led to a 75-foot concrete room. All that was in it was a few beer cans.
But on the rest of the property, police found an arsenal of weapons, a car with bullet holes in it and stolen money.
Police eventually accumulated evidence implicating Rettich in the disappearance of Danny Walsh, a dozen Massachusetts bank robberies and four murders. His criminal activities included bootlegging, robbery, kidnaping and murder. As details about the real Carl Rettich emerged, his crime castle took center stage. On May 5, 1935, a crowd of 15,000 people came to rubberneck the 20-room mansion.
Informants told police Walsh was taken to a dungeon and clubbed on the head. His body was put in a barrel filled with concrete and dumped into the ocean. His girlfriend talked too freely about what happened to Walsh, they said. She too was taken to the underground vault. Her feet were put in a tub of wet cement and she was dumped in the ocean. Putting a whole body in wet cement was just too heavy.
Their bodies were never found. Rettich was convicted on multiple charges for a Fall River mail heist that netted $129,000. He spent the rest of his life in prison.
Carl Rettich built his crime empire with help from corrupt public officials. It was later discovered that Rettich and his gang paid off Warwick police for three years. An investigation uncovered the bribes. Eleven police officers were dismissed.
Rettich was also said to throw parties for politicians and ‘high-hat’ friends, during which he showed off his machine gun by firing it on the front lawn. The estate was so isolated the neighbors didn’t complain.