Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Shondor Birns & Danny Green: Cleveland's Killer Celebrities

Above the Law

Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio

At the same time, Shondor was building a profitable legitimate business as a restaurateur. His Alhambra Tavern on the East Side became the place to be seen. The genial host oversaw the kitchen and welcomed his guests, who included many police and reporters. Shondor's 1011 Club downtown was another popular nightspot.

Of course, convicted felons weren't supposed to be able to get liquor licenses. Birns managed to get around that by disguising his connections to the Alhambra. At one point, he was simply its "public relations director." The Cleveland safety director denounced the deal in which the state okayed Birns' license as "stinking to high heaven of politics."

Birns did have a patriotic side. When World War II broke out, he tried to enlist. His draft board was willing, figuring that better he should be shooting Germans.

Federal prosecutors felt otherwise.

Birns had never become a citizen. He was sent to an internment camp as an illegal alien. There he remained, bitterly protesting he was a loyal American, until 1944.

The government tried to deport him to his native country, which by now had become Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia wouldn't take him.

After the war, Shondor resumed his old habits. In 1959, he made the mistake of beating up a policeman. He was convicted of assault and battery and sent to the Workhouse for nine months.

He practically ran the place. The superintendent was later fired for the liberties he allowed Birns.

One, it turned out, was masterminding the bombing of the car of numbers operator Joe Allen in an attempt to shake him down for 25 percent of his operation. Twice the state tried Birns for the crime. A Workhouse guard admitted on the witness stand that he had acted as a go-between in trying to arrange a deal with Allen.

The first jury hung. The second acquitted him. He blew kisses to the jury. In a Page One editorial, the Press thundered, "Who Runs This Town — Birns or the Law?"

The prosecutors didn't give up. They accused Birns to trying to contact a juror in the second case. He said he had merely asked an Alhambra waitress to see if the juror would be fair to him. Ten of the jurors signed a statement protesting the charge that they had been unduly influenced.

Shondor had beaten another rap. It would not be the last.

Next: The King & Shondor



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