SARATOGA SPRINGS — Operating in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were known as the lake houses: Swanky, speakeasies and gambling clubs that attracted furs, diamonds, big money and the mafia.
Lining the east side of Lake Lonely, these flush Saratoga establishments were known for their elegant fish and game dinners, infamous extravagent owners and high stakes betting.
Theirs was a world of glamour, steamy encounters, bribery and even murder.
They were skilled in the illusive arts, able to fly under the radar of some of the most crafty law enforcement officers.
There were the lesser known guys like Thomas Fennell, Frank Short and William Dougherty, who owned the Riley Lake House in 1919 and were eventually indicted by a grand jury and charged as common gamblers.
And then there were the heavy-hitters, the most notorious of the gangsters, like Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Joe Adonis, who established themselves at the posh clubs and lake houses of Saratoga.
“Some days I make 20 bets. Some days, I make none…so I wait, plan, marshal my resources. And when I finally see an opportunity and there is a bet to make, I bet it all,” said Rothstein who owned The Brook, an upscale Saratoga Club and hired crime boss Luciano to work there.
Luciano is known as the father of the American mob and was the first official boss of the modern Genovese crime family.
The city’s early connections to the mob got the attention of Saratoga’s current Chief of Police, Greg Veitch. And for the past several years, he’s been poring over historical archives from the Saratoga library and history museum in an attempt to put some of the pieces together.
“There’s always been a darker side to Saratoga,” he said during an interview at Uncommon Grounds on Broadway this month. “The forces of good and evil waged a century-long battle for supremacy at the Spa. Behind the glitz and glamour ... criminals, gangsters and their corrupt political associates made a mockery of law and order in Saratoga Springs for much of its history ... One of the most interesting things is, (today) it is relatively crime free.”
As a fifth generation Saratogian, Veitch said he was interested in the history of the police, the times law enforcement turned a blind eye to the gambling, the resultant crimes, and the people involved, including some of his own family members.
“It’s like stepping behind the headlines,” he said. “With the help of the city historian, every time I investigated something, I learned something new.”
Wanting to share what he was discovering in the city’s historical tomes with others, Veitch started giving presentations about the history of the police department at the History Museum and other locations. “Some of these stories, no one would know about,” he said. “The local reporting was very detailed ... and doing police work made it easier to piece it together.”
But it was the urging of others that pushed him write it down and after five years of work, Veitch recently released his book, “All the Law in the World Won’t Stop Them.”
“The book contains stories about the murder of a constable, extortion of gamblers by public officials, Congressman John Morrissey building the race track and casino, gangsters stealing evidence from the police station,” Veitch said. “Arnold Rothstein, Luck Luciano and Meyer Lansky were working in Saratoga and (they had) a connection to the fixing of the 1919 World Series.”
An early initiation
Lots of kids revel in getting inside scoops about parents or grandparents from other family members.
Vignettes like, “Hey, don’t be upset…your Mom turned her hair fluorescent orange when she was trying to make it blonde. Yep, I still see her pouring that peroxide all over her head.” or “You should have seen the time your Dad got caught driving Grandpa’s brand new station wagon through the fields … he was still in grade school.”
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The more off-beat and punishing the caper, the more interesting the tale, especially when you’re a kid.
But just imagine what it was like for Veitch, while at a family gathering at what is now the Olde Bryan Inn, hearing that his great grandfather was involved in a murder.
The Veitch family lived at the historic home from 1954 until 1979. “My father grew up at the Olde Bryan Inn. They ran a laundry out of the bottom and they lived upstairs,” he said. “My Dad, Michael Veitch, was a history teacher at Saratoga High School and has been a long-time turf writer for the Saratogian.”
One of his earliest childhood memories is walking up the hill at High Rock Park to attend a family reunion in the mid-1970s. “One of the men told me that my great grandfather, Sid Veitch, who was a jockey, was associated with some shady folks,” he said. “The man told me, ‘one night Sid was in a car with a couple of gangsters when they shot a guy and dumped him at the hospital.’”
The tale was about the unsolved murder of Adam Parillo in 1936. “Even as a four-year-old, the story fascinated me,” he said.
Years later, as a lieutenant with the Saratoga Springs Police Department, a detective told Veitch to check out the cold case archives. “I decided to look for the oldest case I could find and there on the top of the box was, ‘Parillo Murder.’”
Veitch said it was a revenge murder from the Canadian mafia that was unsolved, but the file didn’t have the details or documents they have for today’s murder investigations.
He found no mention of his great grandfather.
“He was a jockey and for sure he threw some races,” he said, “The story is plausible, but I didn’t find his name in anything. “
The mob and the track
Besides the upscale lake houses and gambling clubs, fronted businesses at 210 Broadway, 83 Putnam St., on Phila and in bowling alleys, ran roulette wheels and faro card games from what appeared to be legitimate shops.
Guys like Herbert Wood and Daniel Hill, who owned a candy and cigar shop on Putnam, would remove any signs of gambling when rumors of pending police raids spread. “We took a few bets on the races during 1919 and 1920,” Wood testified in court in May 1923, during a hearing for local District Attorney Charles Andrus.
Charged with neglect of duty for not stopping Saratoga’s gambling, Andrus, was later acquitted of the charge.
During the Andrus hearing, the prosecutor pressed Wood, who eventually admitted to a more involved gambling operation. He explained that police didn’t find anything in a raid because he had taken all his gambling props home. “There were two roulette wheels and two faro banks,” he said. “The day after the raid, I brought everything back to my shop.”
Eventually, many of the mobsters moved on to bigger operations in New York City or landed in the federal penitentiary.
And now as Veitch looks at the pages of his book, he said he is happy he wrote it and will eventually create another to bring the city’s history into the present.
“This is not a judgement of the crimes. It’s a celebration of Saratoga’s past, without condoning it; it was clearly wrong. But it’s the fascinating history of this place,” he said. “It has a rich and colorful past.”