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Dayton’s sordid past is one for the books

The Far Hills Speaker Series in Oakwood is set to begin.

Are you ready for “A Short History of Dayton’s Dark Side?”

It’s a captivating tale about Jack Egan, prominent defense attorney for a dubious assortment of bank robbers, bootleggers, hit men, con men, and gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s. It will be presented at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21, at the Wright Memorial Public Library by David C. Greer. He is a lawyer and author of “God is Merciful” and “Sluff of History’s Boot Soles.”

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It’s the first lecture this year of The Far Hills Speaker Series, a partnership between the Wright Memorial Public Library and The Oakwood Historical Society.

Greer wrote “God is Merciful: The Colorful Career of John E. Egan.” Commonly referred to as Jack, the defense attorney was drawn into the “the murky underworld” of his criminal clients.

“As a young lawyer involved in the daily grist at Cockroach Castle he was generally the spokesman for a variety of petty thieves, loiterers, drunken brawlers and ladies of disorderly houses,” said Greer. “The Dayton Daily News reporter who had the police court beat in 1906 described such defendants as a better vaudeville show than could be found in any theater.”

That real-life theater was turned into blockbuster movies. Fred Gondorf was played by Paul Newman in “The Sting.”

“John Dillinger and Alvin Karpis came later and were figures for grand opera palaces rather than vaudeville halls,” said Greer.

The author will also tell tales about the cronies of Al Capone, and crimes that made headlines like the Postal Telegraph Murder.

“One colorful character of whom I was unaware until I got into the research…was Crane Neck Nugent, one of Egan’s clients who after some 21 murders as a hitman, was hired by Al Capone to be part of the team responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of the Bugs Moran mob,” said Greer. “As a reward for his efforts, Crane Neck was set up by Al’s brother Ralph as the proprietor of a Florida bar. All went well until he ordered liquor from a Capone competitor. He then disappeared, reportedly fed to an alligator in the Everglades.”

The Cockroach Castle was located on the south end of Sixth Street in Dayton, across from what is now the entrance to Jay’s restaurant. The first floor was the city hall, and the Dayton Police Court occupied the second floor. The building was destroyed in the 1913 flood. After that, the Police Court was moved to the Market House on Main Street, in the space now occupied by the RTA hub.

Greer enjoys his writing endeavors. For more information about his books, visit

“The best part of writing a book is simply the pleasure that writing provides. It is like the pleasure of playing an instrument or singing a song,” said Greer, also the leader of the Classic Jazz Stompers, an eight-piece jazz band in Dayton.

Regarding the Far Hills Speaker Series, a few future subjects include: Railway Transportation and the Rise of the South Dayton on Feb. 18; Street Names of Dayton on March 18; and The Classic Architecture of Oakwood on April 15.

“In its 5th year, the program offering free presentations continues to grow, inform and entertain. The 2018 Speaker Series includes a wide variety of interesting topics and speakers,” said Oakwood Historical Society president Leigh Turben. “We have several new speakers, and are presenting our first “series” of presentations in the fall, where we are highlighting Dayton in WWII. You’ll want to mark your calendar for all of these presentations.”

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