Sex-trafficking victims helped the U.S. attorney for Minnesota prosecute hundreds of traffickers in the ’50s

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 5, 2021.

ST. PAUL – When law enforcement began their crackdown on prostitution and sex trafficking in the Midwest in the 1950s – setting their sights on the Minneapolis “fun house” that had become a center of crime – it was in They have unusual partners: the victims.

It began on Thursday, August 14, 1952, when police raided a house in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis where visitors had come to “see a show,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. . Officer Pat Walling, who led the team, told the Star Tribune that he is a businessman who welcomes in two cities outside the city. The police were charged $20 per piece of paper to witness a “show in which (officers) were accused of immoral behavior.”

When the Minneapolis Police raided the house at 428 Groveland Ave. in August of 1952. in Minneapolis, is just the beginning of a years-long legal effort to prosecute prostitution in the Midwest. Archival photo circa 1910 courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Minneapolis police arrested four adults who were there – Nile Grand Morrison, his wife Darlene Morrison, Gloria Jean Jordell and Phyllis June Bennett – and charged them with sodomy.

Jordell and Bennett were North Dakotans who traded throughout the region. They will prove to be a valuable resource for officials and the US Attorney’s Office in the years to come, as key witnesses in many of the cases their testimony prosecuted some of the men and women who are trafficked. in the region.

By 1956, US Attorney for Minnesota George MacKinnon would prosecute 110 men and women in the region for violating the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibited the transportation of women over railroads. the state for “immoral purposes.”

US Attorney for Minnesota George MacKinnon.jpg

US Attorney for Minnesota George MacKinnon, circa 1939. Archival photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

At the center of the development in the Midwest was a modest brick building on a street corner in northeast Minneapolis: John’s Bar and Funhouse, owned and operated by brothers John and Frank Gawron. If you visit the same street corner today, you’ll find new apartments and a new Twin Cities celebrity hanging around: Betty Danger’s Country Club.

From 2500 Marshall St. NE, the trafficking business extended a network hundreds of miles in all directions, connecting prostitutes and pimps in Chicago; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Superior, Wisconsin, etc. Along with John Gawron, Chicagoans Dee Wheeler and Frances Elliot ran the Minneapolis game.

2500 Marshall St.  NE John's Bar.jpg

Investigators with the US Attorney’s Office located John’s Bar and Funhouse, formerly located at 2500 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis, became a center for prostitution in the Midwest in the early 1950s. File photo circa 1953 courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

In March 1953 Jordell and Bennett’s pimps appeared in federal court. Austin Hatch and Harry Long, who own 428 Groveland Ave. facility where women were arrested for “showing,” was found guilty of transporting women across state lines from Minneapolis to La Crosse, in violation of the Mann Act.

Once Hatch and Long were convicted, other dominoes fell. In view of Hatch and Long’s sentences, Gawron, Wheeler and Elliot pleaded guilty to their charges.

At the trial of Gawron, Wheeler and Elliot in May 1953, Federal Judge Gunnar Nordbye mused to Gawron, “It is hard to understand how a man like you could be involved in such an act,” according to and Star Tribune records.

Gawron was sentenced to two and a half years for his crimes, Wheeler to four years and Elliot three.

In April 1953, Jordell returned to court from his sentence at a Minneapolis workhouse – where he was serving time for his sodomy conviction – to tell the court the story of how he was forced in sex trade. Along with a victim named Sally Peters, the women described being “drunk with alcohol, manipulated and ‘misled’ into lives of prostitution,” the Star Tribune reported. That evidence led to four more indictments of businessmen based in Sioux Falls, Anoka and Minneapolis.

Bennett and Darlene Morrison continued to testify against Robert Mast, a former Superior police officer, who was accused of transporting women between Minnesota and Wisconsin and directing them to work at a home. prostitution in Superior. He said he didn’t know it was a brothel.

A jury found Mast guilty in October 1953, and the Star Tribune reported that as he left the courtroom, he shouted to an FBI agent, “I hope you satisfied, you will never get anything.”

Leave a Comment