Podcast 344 – Carl Rettich’s Deadly Footwear and Murder Mansion

In the 1920s during the height of Prohibition, Carl Rettich ran Rhode Island bootlegging with an iron fist and cement shoes.

In Episode 344 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore Warwick Neck, Rhode Island, to search for the Crime Castle of Carl Rettich. In the 1920s, during the height of Prohibition, Rettich ran Rhode Island’s bootlegging game with an iron fist and if you crossed him… with a mobster staple of his own invention: cement shoes.

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Carl Rettich aka Charles Ryerson - the bootlegging mobster of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Carl Rettich aka Charles Ryerson – the bootlegging mobster of Warwick, Rhode Island.

The Crime Castle / Murder Mansion of Carl Rettich in Warwick Neck, Rhode Island.

The Crime Castle / Murder Mansion of Carl Rettich in Warwick Neck, Rhode Island.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

JEFF: Ray, your shoes are looking a little ratty. Are they going to hold together?
RAY: I probably am due for some new ones. Uhhhm… why do you suddenly care about my footwear? Are we heading someplace rugged here in Warwick, Rhode Island?
JEFF: No, we’re not going on any epic hikes today. Far from it. We’re actually headed to a swanky section of Warwick called Warwick Neck on the Warwick Point peninsula.
RAY: Too swanky for my beat-up sneakers?
JEFF: Probably, but still, not my point. Though this week’s legend is indeed about footwear.
RAY: What kind of footwear? Wingtips? Chucks? Loafers? High heels? Stilettos?
JEFF: No, not anything like that. This is about the kind of shoes you never want to find yourself wearing.
RAY: What kind of footwear is that?
JEFF: Ray, we’ve come to Warwick Neck, Rhode Island, to meet the inventor of… cement shoes.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 344 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Did you know most of our story leads come from you? This one did! Thanks to Lisa Offiler for writing in to us from our Web site. If you’ve got a strange tale you think we should check out, please reach out to us anytime. It takes a community to do this, so thanks for being part of ours, Lisa.
JEFF: We’ll go searching for the inventor of cement shoes right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Cement shoes?
JEFF: Yup.
RAY: We’re talking mobster stuff here, right? As in a way to execute someone?
JEFF: That’s exactly what we’re talking about Ray.
RAY: Cement shoes got started in Warwick, Rhode Island? Not out in Vegas or Chicago or someplace like that?
JEFF: Nope, right here in humble little Warwick, thanks to a guy who lived in this swanky neighborhood in a mansion that would later be called a Crime Castle. So let’s head back to 1924, and meet this shady character.
[1920s JAZZ MUSIC]
RAY: It’s April of 1924 here in Warwick, Rhode Island. Calvin Coolidge is in the White House, “Rhapsody in Blue” by Paul Whiteman and His Concert Orchestra is the number one song, and the 1920s are roaring!
JEFF: They ARE roaring despite the fact that alcohol was made illegal nationwide four years ago.
RAY: Alcohol may be illegal, but you’d never know it around here! There are speakeasies almost everywhere. Finding illegal booze is pretty easy.
JEFF: It’s pretty easy because though Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state, it has 400 miles of coastline. That’s 400 miles of possible landing places from tiny beaches to inlets to private land where boats can dock with bootlegged liquor. The police and Feds can’t watch all of that coast.
RAY: No they can’t.
JEFF: Enter Charles Ryerson, a lawyer from New York who recently moved to Warwick to take care of his elderly father… at least that’s the story he tells people, and they have no reason to doubt him.
RAY: So he’s not really Charles Ryerson?
JEFF: No, he’s Carl Rettich. Rettich was born in New Jersey, but got his start in the mob and organized crime at age 17 through the poultry business. By 1924 he was suspected of murder in New York, so he moved to Rhode Island, teamed up with a big time Rhode Island horse breeder named Danny Walsh, and very quickly, they took control of the region’s bootlegging operations. Business was so good, Ryerson bought a 20-room mansion overlooking the cove in Warwick Neck.
RAY: As you can imagine, with 400 miles of coast, and with motor-powered boats, it’s almost too easy to ship alcohol down from Canada and other places by boat, bring them close to the shores of Rhode Island, and send out some motorboats to load them up and bring the hooch to shore for sale in the speakeasies.
JEFF: The racket is so easy, others get in on the act. Just about anyone with a few connections can be a bootlegger… and that makes Charles Ryerson mad.
RAY: There’s lots of ways, Ryerson manages the problem of competition. First, he knows how to grease the political wheels.
[1920s JAZZ MUSIC]
RAY: How throws some big parties at his mansion, inviting elected officials, politicians, and anyone else he needs on his side.
JEFF: And Ryerson doesn’t even try to hide who and what he is. At these parties he’s known to flaunt it. He even… Ray… what is that in his hands?
RAY: I… I think it’s a machine gun!
JEFF: Ryerson just fired off his machine gun toward the sky for all to see.
JEFF: These people seem to love it!
RAY: The gregarious Ryerson may seem like a lot of fun at parties, and lord knows he is. There’s never any shortage of libations at his bashes. But he’s all business when it comes to rum-running.
RAY: Ryerson builds a fleet of speedboats outfitted with Liberty airplane engines and plated with armor. The insides of the hull are lined with New York telephone directories.
JEFF: I guess that’s one way to stop a bullet.
RAY: The speedboats cruise out 12 miles to international waters, offload the booze from waiting vessels…
RAY: And speed back to shore easily outrunning anything else on the water. The speedboats bring the hooch to the stone dock outside of Ryerson’s mansion, then they store the booze in a secret underground vault in his basement. From there. Locals working for Ryerson and Walsh come distribute the liquor to area speakeasies.
JEFF: Ryerson and Walsh control just about the whole thing, too. They’ve paid off a few elected officials, and they pay of some police officers from the Warwick police department. The police look the other way, and business continues.
RAY: Years go by, and Ryerson and Walsh just keep getting richer. Which brings us to the second way they deal with competition. Sure once in a while some small-timer will try to carve out his own piece of bootlegging in Rhode Island…
RAY: But Ryerson or his goons simply have a polite conversation with said competitor and the competition suddenly stops.
JEFF: It’s February of 1933. Political winds are changing in the United States. And things are getting tense between Ryerson and Walsh. Walsh recently got arrested and he suspects his partner ratted him out for a $40,000 dollar reward.
JEFF: Ryerson and Walsh are seen arguing in public.
JEFF: And then… nothing. Danny Walsh disappears.
RAY: Rumors abound. Ryerson’s girlfriend gets a little too loose-lipped about things she’s seen and heard about. For one, she said Ryerson had Danny Walsh placed in a barrel of cement. Then he was sealed up and dumped in the ocean.
JEFF: Pretty soon others sort-of corroborate that story, but with a pretty big difference.
RAY: What’s that?
JEFF: Other associates point out a barrel full of a body and cement would be pretty tough to lift and carry to a boat. They said what really happened was Walsh was tied to a chair with his feet placed in a bucket of cement until it dried around his feet. Then…
JEFF: Still very much alive, he was brought far out onto the ocean and…
JEFF: Dumped overboard.
RAY: That’s awful!
JEFF: Pretty soon, Ryerson’s girlfriend also disappears. More months pass and then… something really big happens. It’s December 5th 1933 Constitutional Amendment 21 has just been ratified.
JEFF: The majority of the United States cries tears of joy! Booze is legal once again!
RAY: That’s great news for all of us!
JEFF: But extremely bad news for bootleggers like Charles Ryerson. Overnight his business dried up.
RAY: I would guess so. When you can buy alcohol legally at the corner store again, there’s no need to sneak around a speakeasy to find a bootlegger.
JEFF: Not at all. Still, Ryerson has amassed a lot of money, but his main source of income is now gone. It’s April of 1935, when Charles Ryerson’s world truly begins to crumble.
RAY: Acting on a tip, police search shores of Lake Pearl in Wrentham, Massachusetts…
RAY: Look! Up ahead!
JEFF: It looks like an old Chevrolet.
RAY: But check out the driver’s seat!
JEFF: Oh man… there’s a body slumped over the steering wheel. There’s a bullet hole in the driver’s head.
RAY: Police identify the body of Andino Merola, a known associate of New York mobster Carl Rettich. Merola had been a suspect in the disappearance of Danny Walsh. Now police connect the dots between Carl Rettich and Charles Ryerson.
RAY: Soon police raid Ryerson’s mansion. They’ve been told of secret chambers in the basement.
RAY: But looking around at this basement… I mean… it’s spotless.
JEFF: It’s too spotless. One of the officers is suspicious. No basement is this clean.
RAY: Look—over there by that cement pillar.
JEFF: Huh… there’s a metal wheel attached to a large screw.
RAY: The officer is turning the wheel and a door is lifting in the basement floor!
JEFF: Look down there… it’s a concrete room, but there’s nothing in there except for a few beer cans.
RAY: Though the basement is empty, the police find plenty of other evidence on the property. They find weapons, guns, stolen money, and a car with bullet holes in the side.
RAY: It’s enough to arrest Charles Ryerson AKA Carl Rettich.
JEFF: Police have enough evidence to convict Rettich of the disappearance of Danny Walsh, 12 bank robberies in Massachusetts, and four murders.
RAY: As more details make the newspapers, crowds begin to gather outside of the massive home of Ryerson here on Warwick Neck. So many people are here that one local businessman seeing an opportunity.
RAY: A local ice cream truck pulls up to sell ice cream to all the looky-loos.
JEFF: Carl Rettich is put away for life in prison. And that’s when more details emerge about his method of killing both Danny Walsh and his girlfriend: Cement shoes. Both were alive when they were thrown over the side of the boat. Their bodies have never been found. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: The newspapers referred to Rettich’s Warwick Neck home as the Crime Castle and the Murder Mansion. It’s obvious a lot of the illegal booze ran through the house, but then there’s the suspicion of some of the murders taking place in the basement. Or the cement shoe fittings at the very least.
JEFF: Can you imagine how awful that form of execution would have been?
RAY: I can’t imagine. As they make you sit in a bucket big enough for both feet, and then they start pouring in cement, you must know this isn’t going to end well for you.
JEFF: This would be a slow, torturous death.
RAY: I looked it up. You’re looking at 24 hours AT LEAST for new cement to dry. 48 hours is better. So your victim has to sit there for a day or two.
JEFF: Awful.
RAY: And then! Then you ride out in the boat to deep water. If they hadn’t told you their plans by now, you’ve probably figured it out.
JEFF: It must have been horrible anguish right until the end.
RAY: The only upside is once you go overboard it wouldn’t take long between the pressure and inhaling water before you die.
JEFF: And what’s become almost a mobster cliché… making someone wear cement shoes… was born right here in Warwick.
RAY: Don’t go anywhere! We’d hate for anything bad to happen to you if… you know… you miss After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some pictures of Carl Rettich and the murder mansion, click on the link in our episode description, or go to our Web site and click on episode 344.

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Until next time remember… cement shoes are closer than you think.

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