History of mob influence in River Quay detailed in speech

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

How warring factions of Kansas City mob families destroyed a popular venue with the hip crowd was the subject that a former Kansas City, Missouri, police officer told at a meeting Sept. 10 of the Fairfax Industrial Association.

Gary Jenkins, the policeman, spent 13 years as an undercover officer gathering information about the Mafia. He told the history of the River Quay (pronounced key). Marion Trozzolo, a former college instructor from Chicago who owned a plastics company, developed the River Quay in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a great place to bring the family. There were various artisan and boutique shops. Trozzolo patterned the area after the Old Town area of Chicago.

Jenkins said the mob operated bars on Twelfth Street, but were being pushed out to make way for a hotel which is now the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. The mob wanted to move into River Quay.

Trozzolo had difficulty in obtaining capital and sold his interest of some 20 parcels of real estate to a New Orleans developer, Joseph Canizaro. An article in The New York Times referred Trozzolo‘s dream as Canizaro’s nightmare. Jenkins said what happened in the next few years was a violent gangland war.

Jenkins said one faction of the mob wanted strip joints and prostitution in River Quay. However, another faction, led by Fred Bonadonna, owner of Poor Freddie’s restaurant, opposed that type of business. Bonadonna’s father was murdered in gangland style. Jenkins said there were several other criminal incidents including execution-style homicides and bombings.

Today River Quay is now known as River Market. It is a mix of offices, restaurants and apartments and shops. The strip joints are gone. It is perceived as a place that is safe for families.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

Coronavirus compared to Spanish flu

by Murrel Bland

More than 100 years ago, in the fall of 1918, Kansas and Wyandotte County, along with the rest of the world, faced a severe challenge because of the Spanish Influenza.

Front page stories in The Kansas City Kansan, told of the pandemic with such headlines as “ALL STATE CLOSED,” “FLU SPREADS FAST” and “A FLU DEATH HERE.”

The present coronavirus pandemic has caused a comparison to the influenza illness in 1918. Many historians who have studied that illness agree that it had its origin in hog pens in Haskell County near Dodge City, Kansas, in early 1918. Young men from southwest Kansas joined the U.S. Army and were sent to Camp Funston which is now Ft. Riley at Junction City, Kansas.

Reports indicated that about 500 soldiers had the flu in early March of 1918 at Camp Funston. Many of these soldiers were sent to Europe to fight in World War I. It didn’t take long for the disease to spread across the globe. By the fall of 1918, the flu made its way back to Kansas.

Dr. Frederick Holmes, a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Kansas, has researched and written about the disease and the larger role of KU professors had in training and assisting in World War I. He was a featured speaker at a quarterly meeting of the Wyandotte County Historical Society marking the centennial of the end of World War I in the fall of 2018.

The University of Kansas at Lawrence was closed during October 1918. A front page story in the University Daily Kansan told students not to go to class, but were forbidden to leave Lawrence. Students suffering from the flu were ordered to report to the University Hospital. The KU varsity football schedule was cut from eight to four games.

A review of records of the Kansas State Board of Health from 1918 indicated that 2,639 died of influenza. Of those, 298 were from Wyandotte County. Estimates are that more than 646,000 Americans died of the flu—more than twice the number of United States personnel that were killed or wounded in World War I. As many as 30 million persons may have died of the flu worldwide.

Looking at the numbers from the coronavirus, we see that more than 60,000 deaths in the United States have been recorded so far with more than 226,000 deaths worldwide. As of late April 2020, there have been 55 deaths in Wyandotte County, mostly in nursing homes.

The fact that it was called the “Spanish flu” was a misnomer. During World War I, Spain was neutral and therefore was not subject to censorship. It could report all the gory details of war. Its ruler, King Alfonso XIII, was afflicted with the flu. Some people in Spain refer to it as the “French flu.”

Information for this article was taken from history.com and the files of The Wyandotte County Museum and the Kansas State Historical Society.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is editor of History News.