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Carl Rettich, The RI Mobster Who Invented Cement Shoes

The crime castle of Carl Rettich. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

The crime castle of Carl Rettich. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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. The New Jersey-born Rettich was drawn into New York's criminal underworld at the age of 17. He overheard a plot to kill a wholesale poultry dealer, but kept his lips sealed about the murder. That was his start in the mob-controlled live poultry business. He soon moved on to bootlegging.

Suspected of a 1924 murder in New York, Carl Rettich 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.

Prohibition

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. Carl Rettich joined Walsh and began expanding operations. He bought the 20-room mansion overlooking a cove. The press nicknamed it the 'crime castle' and 'murder mansion.'

Carl 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 Danny Walsh and Carl 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.

Grisly Tale

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. On the banks of Lake Pearl in Wrentham, Mass., they found the body of Andino Merola slumped over a Chevrolet with a .38 bullet in his head. Merola was a small-time associate of Carl Rettich, and police believed he was involved in the murder.

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 concrete room. All that was in it was a few beer cans.

Police discover the secret vault. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

Police discover the secret vault. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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.

Cement Shoes

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.

This story was updated in 2017.

 

 

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