1937 was a watershed year for Clark County in more ways than one. That was the year when the great flood came and reshaped the lives and even the physical landscape of our county. Jeffersonville sprang up as red headed stepchild of Louisville Kentucky which itself, became a city because of the Falls of the Ohio. You had to get out of the River at Louisville and ‘Portage” around the falls to move on south. Jeffersonville had always been the homes of a lot of good folks. But, there were also some more dubious denizens…especially those known as ‘River Rats’ who hung about the River banks and were known to cross over in the dead of night and pillage boats shored up on the Kentucky banks and haul back with ‘the swag’.
Before the Second Street Bridge was built ( in 1937 called “The Municipal Bridge”) the main public transport across to Kentucky was the Jeff Ferry. (source http://historiclouisville.weebly.com/jeffersonville.html) The city didn’t look too good back then. Here’s a photo of the city as it appeared from the river…back in the day. You are forgiven for maybe thinking it looks kinda like a rough town. Yeah…it was. So it’s not that big a surprise that even when ‘civilization’ came to Jeff and 31 was run across the river on the Municipal Bridge into the big city of Louisville, business that was less than 100 percent legit sprang up in Jeff and Clark County. Booze came down from Chicago and Detroit during the 20’s and established connections between locals who handled the transfers on South and the organized outfits (including those that sprouted Al Capone and company) in Chicago and ‘The Purple Mob’ in Detroit. By the 30’s and the Great Depression, the ‘good news’ for Jeff was that two depression resilient industries were thriving in Clark County ….Bootlegging and Gambling. The biggest players in the Gambling game were the Gavin Brothers who handles several outfits ‘out in the County’ until they got bold and went ‘big time’ with Club Greyhound which sat between Clarksville and Jeff city limits.
But then, 1937 hit. First the Flood of ’37 laid waste to the County and Jeff in particular. In case you never have seen what it really looked like….. take a gander …it was Apocalyptic:
After something like that happens, a lot of people wonder, “what have we done to deserve that…..?” For some…the answer came in the form of what looked like a gangland slaying of a respectable New Albany Banker….the sin was tolerating Gambling and the shady underworld that sustains it. On July 2 Clarence Amster was gunned down in broad daylight with easily identified gambling outlaw hoods with plenty of eyewitnesses. SURELY JUSTICE WOULD PREVAIL. The Headlines were BOLD!!!
(July 3, 1937 Front page of the New Albany Tribune)
Alas…it was not to be. Though it would be hard for those who read the above story to believe…Not one single person would be convicted of the shooting of Mr. Amster.