On July 25, 1935, CT State Police Trooper Henry Mayo was sent to the Bethany Inn to conduct a routine investigation. The police had been alerted that a White Plains, NY man had deserted his wife. He intended to hide out at the Bethany Inn, located at the corner of Beacon Road and Litchfield Turnpike. As Officer Mayo approached the Inn, he noticed a luxurious car with NY plates parked in front. The expensive, out-of-state car parked on a deserted Bethany road looked out of place and piqued his curiosity.
As Mayo approached the Inn, he heard loud music so he knew there were people inside. As he worked his way through several locked doors and past an ugly, growling dog, he heard a back door slam shut. Mayo found the three Inn owners – Michael and Mary Taverner and Joe Abbate -- listening to the radio, acting unconcerned, when he entered the living room. Officer Mayo took the trio to the police station for questioning. Their lack of resistance made Mayo suspicious. His curiosity level increased when Abbate admitted that he had been Gangster Al Capone’s chauffeur in Chicago and a member of the notorious Luciano mob gang of white slavers.
Mayo left the trio at the police station and played a hunch. It appeared to him that the gangster in his custody had tried to lead him out of the Inn so as to hide something. Mayo returned to the Inn to conduct a thorough search. As he walked across the living room, his foot caught on a gaudy red rug. As he bent down to replace the rug, he saw a trap door artfully concealed beneath it. As he pried open the door, he aimed his flashlight downward. The light rays revealed the frightened faces of two girls crouching on a rat-infested mattress. Mayo’s flashlight revealed a short flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs were two scared girls huddling together, blinded by the light. They were in a rat-infested space on a filthy straw mattress, in an area about seven feet square. The girls, blinded by the light, couldn’t see who was behind it. Officer Mayo told the scared girls to come up the stairs. They came up slowly and looked around fearfully. The girls pleaded with him not to beat… them until they saw Mayo’s State Police uniform. After reassurances from him, the girls told Mayo they had been locked in the box since he had taken the owners for questioning at the police station.
Mayo’s discovery was the first step in identifying one of the largest gangs of white-slavers to operate in the country up to that time. The gang left a trail of kidnapping, seduction, criminal assault and disreputable dens across eight states. The girls – Helen Kane and Mary Leonard—were sisters who had been abducted from Wilkes Barre, PA by Joe Abbate, one of the owners of the Bethany Inn, currently in custody by the police. After Abbate drove the girls to New York, he beat them and drove them to the Bethany Inn, one of “the disorderly houses in the territory.” Officer Mayo brought the sisters to the police station where the owners were being interrogated. When Abbate was confronted by the girls, he started talking. He thought if he pleaded guilty to running a disorderly house, the local judge would give him a light sentence. Abbate didn’t know that the FBI had been working undercover in the area – investigating white slavery in CT. He didn’t know to whom he was talking as he opened up about the Bethany Inn “business.”
Abbate admitted that he had brought the two girls to Bethany to work in a “circuit” of “disreputable dens.” The human-trafficking ring had a very organized operation. No girl could “work” in a house unless she had a “procurer” who, in turn, had a “booker.” The booker received ten percent of the girl’s earnings when she was placed in the “circuit.”
When the girls were asked why they didn’t run away, they responded that they couldn’t. They had no money and lived in constant fear of the “strong arm squad.” That squad dealt quickly and brutally with any white slave victim who rebelled against the “system.” The enforcers also demanded a percentage of the “profits” from the women who ran the circuit houses. They charged $12 for each girl that they “booked” and a “service charge” for terrorizing them.
Joe Abbate, one of the owners of the Bethany Inn, admitted that he had brought the two girls discovered in the cellar, to the Bethany Inn. Hoping to get a light sentence by cooperating with the police, Abbate provided details about his operation. Abbate revealed that there were many notorious houses within 50 miles of New Haven. These establishments catered to various types of “clientele,” ranging from the plain “Lena’s Place” in Wallingford, patronized by factory workers and farmers, to the more elegant “gown houses” in West Haven, where “Madame Becky Schwartz catered to college students and the girls wore pretty evening gowns.” None of the girls ever left because they were never given any money and were petrified of the “strong arm squad.”
The Federal agents involved in the Bethany investigation learned that the most feared members of the strong arm squad were Enrico Bentozzi, Joseph Perrucino, and Boccacini Toselli. These men were notorious for brutally keeping the girls in line while charging a $12 fee per girl and “squeezing” a fee from the women who ran the circuit houses. The strong arm member who supervised the Bethany Inn and Waterbury area was “Bethany” Joe Saledonis, an egotistical, defiant mobster. Before his conviction, Saledonis boasted, “We run Waterbury. What we say goes.” Unlike the other members of the strong arm gang who pleaded guilty to the Federal charges, Saledonis demanded a trial. He received a considerably longer prison term and greater fine than his colleagues.
The Federal agents continued their investigation. Acting on information provided by Bethany Inn proprietor Abbate, the Feds visited banks, post offices, and telegraph offices looking for money orders and checks being sent out of state. The money trail eventually led to Joseph Ferrara from Jersey City. The agents discovered that Ferrara had 12 bookies working for him, each responsible for 12-20 girls. After Ferrara was arrested, it was discovered that he had a yacht and a fleet of luxurious automobiles, much of which had been purchased by the more than 1,000 “bookings” he had made in the past six months.
Meanwhile, Officer Mayo, whose slip on the Bethany Inn rug had initiated the whole investigation, continued his search for Joe Megliari, the man who had deserted his wife in White Plains, New York. Mayo eventually found Megliari in Waterbury where he was tied to the white-slave ring and eventually imprisoned, as were all of the owners of the Inn – Abbate and the Taverners.
The U.S. Assistant District Attorney in charge of the prosecution summarized the 1935 “scandalous goings on at the Bethany Inn: “The largest white slave ring in America has been completely smashed.” Their business netted $2,500,000 a year. They operated in MA, RI, CT, NJ, NY, PA, OH, and VT. “Their victims numbered in the hundreds; they had their own strong arm men, booking agents, and transporters. They were exceedingly well organized. But their downfall started when Officer Mayo’s foot slipped on that rug….”
--[Information taken from a 1936 American Weekly publication by Terri Miles in a June 1, 2000 Observer article]
As State Police Trooper Mayo bent down to replace the rug, he saw a trap door artfully concealed beneath it. As he pried open the door, he aimed his flashlight downward. The light rays revealed the frightened faces of two girls crouching on a rat-infested mattress. Mayo’s flashlight revealed a short flight of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs were two scared girls huddling together, blinded by the light. They were in a rat-infested space on a filthy straw mattress, in an area about seven feet square. The girls, blinded by the light, couldn’t see who was behind it. Officer Mayo told the scared girls to come up the stairs. They came up slowly and looked around fearfully. The girls pleaded with him not to beat… them until they saw Mayo’s State Police uniform.