Courtesy of/Belt Publishing
Charlie "Rags" Warring and son Leo at Pete Dailey's, a Foggy Bottom neighborhood tavern.
Courtesy of/Belt Publishing
Leo Warring remembers exactly when he realized that his father was a mobster: As a teen, he discovered newspaper clippings under the bed that detailed the chronicles of the so-called Foggy Bottom Gang.
"That was kind of new to me and somewhat shocking at the time," Warring tells DCist. He had already known that his dad had a hand in illegal betting — Warring says he had been instructed to tell anyone who asked about his father's work that he was "in the barrel business" (his extended family did have a barrel business under the Whitehurst Freeway).
But he didn't know the extent to which his father, Charles "Rags" Warring, and his uncles, Emmitt "Little Man" Warring and Leo Warring, were involved in the city's underbelly of organized crime in the early and mid 20th century, including bootlegging and a gambling venture worth millions of dollars at the time. (The money from the booze business ultimately provided the financial backing for the numbers racket.)
Years later, Warring's son had a similar experience when he searched his own name (also Charles Warring) in a legal database. He found a Supreme Court case in which his grandfather and grand-uncles stood accused of tax evasion, and learned the storied family history.
So Leo Warring has written a book, The Foggy Bottom Gang: The Story of the Warring Brothers of Washington, D.C. as a companion piece to the hundreds of newspaper clippings now digitally available about his father and uncles. "My purpose for writing was not to recast them as saints, just human," he says. "I certainly acknowledge that my dad and my uncles were criminals in the sense they broke, you know, unpopular laws — and most of the time they were they were unpopular laws —by providing services to the public who wanted them."
While many of these articles rehashed the news generated by the group, like their criminal cases, turf wars with other groups, shootings, and their imprisonment, some feature stories from the time were nuanced in their depiction of the Warring brothers. One 1951 Washington Post article about Emmitt Warring described him as "a financial success in a multi-million dollar local business; a contributor to many worthy causes; the employer of hundreds of workers; the first-name intimate of policemen, lawyers and leading citizens" who had been "a hidden power and a secret force in this city." It was reporters who originally dubbed the enterprise the Foggy Bottom Gang or, alternately, the Georgetown Mob.
Written with research from archival materials, interviews, and his own memory, The Foggy Bottom Gang is full of characters with names like "Ryebread" Schulman and cinematic anecdotes, like an escape from a hospital room with the help of a hay-filled truck parked beneath a window.
Back then, Foggy Bottom was a very different place than the affluent area it is today. The Northwest neighborhood served as a major industrial outpost in the District for about a century starting in the mid-1800s, replete with manufacturing plants and crowded housing for the workers who staffed them, especially in the area's alleyways.
The high density of the area made it easier for the Warrings to distribute alcohol during Prohibition, and a portion of their distilling and selling happened in populated alleys like Snow's Court. While a 1914 Senate hearing described the alley as having among "the worst reputation of any alleys in the city," per Urban Turf, The Foggy Bottom Gang says it was "a close-knit community. People watched each other's children and observed who came in and out of the alley." Now, the alley, located between 24th and 25th streets and I and K streets NW, is comprised of pricey condominiums and townhouses.
White bootleggers, Warring writes, often employed Black men to deliver the booze, which was a job with comparatively higher wages than manufacturing. But it was dangerous work that placed them on the front lines of shootings and other violence, crimes that largely went unsolved by police: "Shooting or killing a Black man did not arouse the same interest among law enforcement and civic officials as the killing of a white person ... Thus, a gang could send a message to a competing gang by shooting one of their Black 'rum runners' with near impunity."
Part of the Warring Brothers' cornering of the bootlegging and gambling business came from their cache of informants throughout the city and payments to local law enforcement to turn the other way. Indeed, Leo Warring says that, because the brothers "were so popular with the police, you know, if I ever got pulled over, I made sure they knew who I was. And most of the time that was a plus."
When the Federal Bureau of Investigations took over gambling enforcement following the passage of federal laws in 1951, Rags Warring took to attending the FBI's sandlot team games at the Ellipse. His goal? To recognize all of the agents so he would know when he was being tailed.
The author maintains that his dad, who died decades ago, always tried to protect him from the more unsavory elements of the organized crime world, and never tried to entreat him to join the family business. He ultimately went to work at the Treasury Department, but still remembers accompanying his dad at times as he went about his business.
"[My dad] had this set-up out in Virginia where they were taking the bets and he would bring me out there," Warring says. "So he was kind of into 'Bring Your Kid To Work Day' before it became fashionable. I don't know what he would have done if the place got raided or anything like that while I was there."