Wednesday, 8 September 2010

American Gangsters: Bill Clinton & Owen Madden

In the final part of my essay on American gangsters, I mentioned the retreat to Hot Springs, Arkansas of Owen Madden, the ex-bootlegger who owned the Cotton Club in Harlem and who was incidentally the only major gangster to have been born in England. Madden lived there until his death in the 1960s, long enough to have met the young Bill Clinton, and I wondered whether they did ever meet. In Clinton's autobiography, "My Life", I have found the following information on page 25-26:-

Hot Springs, says Clinton, was run by a corrupt Mayor, Leo McLaughlin, who operated a gambling racket alongside Madden. After the war, a reform group under Sid McGrath took control, but gambling continued, with payoffs to police and politicians. There was never any Mafia involvement (perhaps because of Madden's presence?), and overt mob violence was limited to a couple of firebombings in which nobody was hurt.

Although Bill Clinton never met Madden, his mother once had to anaesthetise Madden for surgery. The X-rays showed twelve bullets in his body (a relic, no doubt, of the gangster's early days as a street-fighter), which she "laughingly" told Bill reminded her of stars in a planetarium!

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