by Phil Stanford
Proving once and for all that Portland is a dirty old town, Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford's Portland Confidential takes you on a factual historic tour of the city you always suspected Portland used to be. Stanford digs up the dirty past, spanning the years between Prohibition and the post-Kennedy-assassination age of law enforcement. In the 1950s, sociopathic crime boss Big Jim Elkins made our now progressive urban model a place of open and unapologetic gambling, drugs, and corruption.
Portland Confidential is essentially the story of Elkins' strategic rise to power as the crime boss, or "Fix," of the once lucrative rackets game in our city. Through detailed accounts, Stanford pieces together Elkins' dirty run up the ladder from hired hand to Big Man.
This is not to say Elkins' story was the only game in town. Stanford does a terrific job of including the big picture, covering the cast of contributing characters and their perspective involvements. Included are the exploits of numerous solicitous operators like Tom Johnson, the boss of the then exclusively African American Williams Street strip; and a host of highly compelling burlesque house madames with colorful names like Candy Renee and Tempest Storm. In addition, the host of city officials with dirty hands reads like a who's who of regional politics from back in the day. Without divulging too much of the intrigue, some figures of note that pass through the pages of Portland Confidential include Sammy Davis Jr., William O. Douglas, Bobby Kennedy, and the infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who, were it not for the continuous drizzle of rain here, would have turned Sauvie Island into a Vegas-style gambling Mecca.
As one may expect, the dirty secrets of Portland seemed forever lost to the denial of creative American record keeping. To his credit, Stanford has managed to land the fish just in the nick of time. Along with hard archives, Stanford effectively uses word-of-mouth sources like an unnamed vice cop who was on the "Smile Money" take, and the recollections of a kiss-and-tell angel known as Little Rusty whose corroborating accounts of bribery, corruption, and turf wars lend credence to the history, long since purposefully ignored or forgotten in the name of progress.