Frank Wortman

Frank L. "Buster" Wortman (December 4, 1904-August 3, 1968) was a St. Louis-area bootlegger and gambler and a former member of the Shelton Brothers Gang during Prohibition. Wortman would eventually succeed the Sheltons and take over St. Louis's gambling operations in southwest Illinois until his death.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Wortman worked at various jobs in his youth. Eventually, he turned to crime and was arrested for burglary. By 1926, he had begun running errands for the bootlegging Shelton Brothers. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Wortman was a prominent member of the gang, acting as an enforcer in southern Illinois. Even though he would be arrested between 35 and 40 times, Wortman was never convicted on any criminal charges.

In 1933, a federal agent was beaten during a raid on one of the Shelton's distilleries, which he had been guarding. Wortman was taken into custody along with Monroe "Blackie" Armes. The two were convicted of assault and sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Wortman served his sentence from 1934 to 1941, gaining an early release. Contrary to sensationalized reporting and stories over the years, Wortman did not serve any time in Alcatraz prison.

During Wortman's incarceration, the federal prohibition laws were repealed, which again legalized liquor sales in the U.S.

Following his release in 1941, Wortman briefly worked as a steamfitter before organizing an army of gunmen whose ranks included "Black" Charlie Harris, Elmer Sylvester "Dutch" Dowling and brothers Monroe and Tony Armes. He then launched a campaign to driving the Sheltons from southern Illinois.

Establishing Wortman's Plaza Amusement Company, he would soon obtain a virtual monopoly on gambling, specifically slot machines, pinball machines, horse parlors, crap games and card games. He would also establish legitimate businesses, including trucking firms and taverns, run by his younger brother Ted.

By the late-1940s, Wortman assumed control over illegal gambling in southern Illinois and St. Louis.

Involved in local politics as a young adult, by the 1950s Wortman reportedly had extensive political connections on both sides of the Missouri-Illinois border including Illinois politician and state auditor Orville Enoch Hodge who was convicted of embezzling over $1 million in taxes in 1956.

That same year, an IRS agent was assaulted by Wortman while at "The Paddock" tavern and would result in his being audited. Although eventually accused with two associates of conspiracy to evade taxes on February 26, 1962, they were acquitted.

During the 1960s, a black street gang known as The Warlords began moving in on Wortman's territory and, in one incident, threw a hand grenade into McCoy's Tavern. With the threat of retaliation, members of Wortman's organization were sufficiently able to intimidate the street gang into backing off.

Although his power began to decline in his later years, suffering financial losses from legal battles and closure of gambling operations, Wortman remained in control of southern Illinois until his death following complications from larynx cancer surgery on August 3, 1968.

Ironically, gambling was legalized in East St. Louis after Wortman's death and the local gambling casino is now the city's largest employer.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License