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True Crime Tales

Date Sunday - September 21, 2014
Host George Knapp
Guests Doug SwansonStapleton GreyBill Friedman

George Knapp presided over an evening of true crime stories, beginning in the first hour with investigative journalist Doug Swanson, who shared the astonishing tale of Benny Binion—a rip-roaring saga of murder, money, and the making of Las Vegas. Swanson traced the evolution of Binion's criminal career from his early years traveling throughout Texas with "roving tribes of gamblers," to his days in Dallas where he amassed enormous wealth and power, and ultimately to Las Vegas at a time when organized crime was just beginning to take hold in the city. Over the course of his appearance, Swanson detailed how the charismatic Binion ruthlessly eliminated his rivals yet also became a beloved figure in Sin City, creating the World Series of Power and mentoring casino magnate Steve Wynn.

In the second hour, Stapleton Grey, the son of a Mafia hit man and a Bible-thumping, scripture-quoting Southern Baptist mother, recalled growing up in a family of crime and Jesus, while shadowed by the FBI and mercenaries. He explained that his father "took a wrong path in life" after his professional football career was curtailed following an injury and he took a job as a "knee breaker" for the mafia as a way of feeding his pain pill addiction. As his father's criminal career escalated, Grey said, he eventually got arrested for trafficking stolen art which led to him working with the CIA running guns to Latin America. Following that, the horrific murder of a family in Texas saw Grey's father become a wanted fugitive for nine months until he died in a shootout with the police who sought to bring him to justice.

In the latter half of the program, Bill Friedman, author and researcher of mafia casino crimes, detailed the true history of organized crime, illegal gambling, and the politics of law enforcement. He observed that the mass production of cars caused a massive change in both crime and law enforcement throughout America. Friedman explained that it allowed criminals to quickly flee the scene of their crime and establish safe havens in cities which were accessible via the newly created highway system. Additionally, he said, it forced authorities to adapt to new challenges such as high speed chases and jurisdiction issues. The automobile proved to be such a powerful tool for criminals, Friedman revealed, that infamous bank robber John Dillinger once wrote to the Ford Motor Company and thanked them for producing such a fast car that it allowed him to escape capture.

Regarding the politics of law enforcement, Friedman was specifically critical of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who he described as vastly unqualified for the job and focused more on consolidating his own power. "He believed that his job was not to catch criminals," Friedman said, "but to make people feel safe in their beds at night." As such, the FBI under Hoover did not attempt to take down organized crime and, instead, became "an enormous publicity agency" which released falsified statistics and celebrated Hoover as a quasi-celebrity. Additionally, Friedman declared, the FBI focused on collecting dirt on politicians and celebrities as a way of protecting Hoover's status as director of the agency and influencing national politics.

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The Mysterious Hellhound of World War I
BLM Weighs Wild Horse Impact Much More Heavily Than Cattle

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