Idaho History

Boise moonshine operation busted in 1923

The decade of the 1920s has been called the "Roaring Twenties" for its widespread lawlessness and changing moral and behavioral patterns.

America's participation in World War I had sent more than half a million men to France, and tens of thousands of women into war industries.

"How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm (After They've Seen Paree)" was a popular song of the day. Women felt a new sense of liberation as well, and short skirts, bobbed hair, and dances like the Charleston reflected it.

Returning veterans were ready to have a drink, but were frustrated almost at once by passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution banning alcoholic drink.

Idaho would experience much of the lawlessness attributable to Prohibition, with the exception of the large-scale organized crime that flourished in Chicago, New York, and other big cities.

Rival gangster organizations that fought for control of liquor, drugs, and prostitution did not develop here, but in one spectacular Boise case in 1923, a would-be gang of moonshiners was nipped in the bud.

Boiseans awoke on a frosty Feb. 13, 1923, to an Idaho Statesman headline that read "City and County Officials Named in Liquor Intrigue."

Among those indicted by a federal grand jury were Boise Police Chief Henry R. Griffith, city detective Ed Hill, Ada County Sheriff James D. Agnew Jr., Deputy Sheriff Sylvester Kinney, Dr. Henry Goodfriend, a prominent local physician, three rooming-house managers, and a rancher. All were indicted on charges of manufacturing for wholesale and retail sale "certain intoxicating liquor commonly known as 'moonshine whisky.' "

The prosecution's evidence included the confiscated still, with several barrels of whiskey and other apparatus, and the spectacular testimony of an unshakeable witness who had eavesdropped on conversations in Goodfriend's office in the Empire Building at Tenth and Idaho streets.

From her husband's office adjoining the doctor's, Marie Curtis had listened in and taken notes on all she heard.

Curtis testified that when she first began listening to the conversations next door, she overheard Goodfriend discuss setting up a still. She was able to identify the speakers by peeking through a crack in the wall between the offices.

Convinced that what was going on was a criminal conspiracy, she contacted federal prohibition officers.

They helped her set up a recording device known as a "Detectograph" under the doctor's desk. Veteran attorney and former Gov. James H. Hawley, representing Sheriff Agnew, characterized the actions of Curtis as "verging on criminality, and certainly against public policy."

Whole pages in Boise newspapers were devoted to the case for a week, with the testimony in federal court printed verbatim.

After more than six hours of deliberation, the jury announced its verdict at 1:16 a.m., March 4, 1923. Goodfriend, the alleged brains of the conspiracy, along with Agnew, Kinney and three others, were found guilty of all six counts in the indictment.

Griffith was found not guilty of the charges filed. He resigned, but was later rehired and served an honorable career as a captain in the Boise Police Department.