Louise Vinciquerra, Nebraska’s Bootlegger Queen
“Queen Louise” thumbed her nose at the law throughout the Prohibition era, usually avoiding punishment despite frequent arrests across the state. Her story provides new insight into crime boss Tom Dennison’s Omaha, and shows how a woman could exercise power in the underworld. Kylie Kinley tells the story in the Summer 2018 issue of Nebraska History.
History Nebraska members received the issue as part of their membership; single issues are available for $7 from the Nebraska History Museum (402-471-3447). Here’s an excerpt:
On the afternoon of October 17, 1925, a Ford Sedan careened through the neighborhood of 27th and D Streets in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Queen” Louise Vinciquerra sat in the passenger seat with two gallons of illegal moonshine whiskey on her lap. Her future second husband, ex-Prohibition agent Earl Haning, was at the wheel. A mutual acquaintance named Joseph Holder crouched in the back seat with the burlap sacks that had hidden the jugs only moments earlier. Karl Schmidt, a federal prohibition agent for Nebraska, pursued them for over a mile through Lincoln neighborhoods and finally edged his car closer.
The trio knew they were caught.
Vinciquerra picked up the jugs and smashed them one after the other against the car’s interior. Broken glass sliced her hand, and the moonshine soaked into her dress. Haning stopped the car, and when Agent Schmidt wrenched open the car door, the whiskey ran down the running boards and seeped from Vinciquerra’s skirt. Schmidt borrowed an empty milk bottle from a neighborhood housewife, mopped up what evidence he could, and arrested Haning and Vinciquerra on a charge of conspiracy to violate the prohibition laws.
Haning and Vinciquerra were convicted in March 1926, but served no time and won on appeal in 1927. Joseph Holder served as a government witness and was not charged. At first Vinciquerra said she was on her way to a Nebraska football game. Later she said she was in Lincoln to get a suit of clothes for her brother. Either way, she claimed that she met Haning unexpectedly while waiting for a streetcar. Her defense was that she couldn’t have conspired to violate prohibition laws because she had no idea the moonshine was in the car. Her lawyer argued that the car chase and consequent breaking of the jugs prevented Louise’s transportation and since transportation was the sole reason why she had entered Haning’s car, no conspiracy had been committed. Consequently, Federal Judge Walter Henry Sanborn of the Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, reversed their conviction.
So Vinciquerra and her lover Haning went free, and no one was surprised.
Louise Vinciquerra was the queen of Nebraska bootleggers, and she bribed, argued, or charmed her way out of court more times before she was thirty than many male bootleggers did in their entire careers. The authorities and her peers often underestimated her because she was a woman, and she swindled them appropriately. She was a mother of two, a shrewd businesswoman, a champion for her family members, a habitual criminal, and a ruthless human being.
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Kinley goes on to tell of Vinciquerra’s numerous arrests across the state, her involvement in a fatal shooting of a man by her sister-in-law, the bloody feud between two of her ex-husbands, her courtroom testimony against Omaha crime boss Tom Dennison, and the mysterious circumstances of her death. It’s a fresh look at underworld life in Prohibition-era Nebraska.
For more about Prohibition-era bootlegging, read "The Art of Making Moonshine."