A life on the fringes vanishes into shadows

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

October 21, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Another Marylander who took a walk into the shadows was Julius "The Lord" Salsbury, the one-time colorful Block nightclub owner and gambling figure who vanished 36 years ago.

Salsbury, who was awaiting the outcome of an appeal on a federal gambling conviction and facing a 15-year federal prison term, walked away from his home at 2912 W. Strathmore Ave. in Northwest Baltimore on a warm summer's evening.

Thirty-six years have passed since Aug. 13, 1970, when Susan Salsbury saw her husband for the last time.

"It was very hard for me the night he left," Salsbury told the Sun Magazine in a 1971 interview. "To serve 15 years in prison ... he couldn't do it. When you see your husband going down the walk for the last time, it's heartbreaking. That was it."

Described by federal officials as Baltimore's "kingpin of gambling" and one of the city's best bookmakers, Salsbury operated his empire from a basement office of the Oasis Nite Club, at Frederick and Baltimore streets.

Where he is now is anybody's guess.

"I even heard he went to Cuba but I don't think he'd have been welcome there," said Sgt. Roger Nolan, supervisor of the Baltimore Police Department's cold case squad. "After he left, we watched his home and friends, but nothing came of it.

"Salsbury was a man of the world, and he didn't have to stay here," said Nolan, a 39-year veteran of the department. "What happened to Julius Salsbury 36 years ago continues to be one of the great mysteries of our town."

Salsbury, who was born in 1912, arrived in Baltimore from Norfolk, Va., with his family in 1927 and settled in East Baltimore.

He dropped out of school, drove a cab, and during the 1930s, became acquainted with gambling and Block figure Maurice "Moe" Cohen, who would play a major role in his life.

During World War II, Salsbury was court-martialed after going AWOL and sentenced to six months of hard labor. Upon his release he drifted back to Baltimore.

Even though his old friend gave him a job working in his real estate business, Salsbury itched to get into gambling.

"He was a roaming gambler. He didn't have any address. He worked out of his hat," Cohen told the Sun Magazine in 1971.

In 1948, he had his first brush with the law when he was arrested and charged with ten counts of bookmaking. He pleaded guilty to three charges and paid a $1,000 fine. In 1950, he was arrested again on bookmaking charges and fined.

A 1952 raid by Anne Arundel County police found Salsbury and two confederates in a small building off Ritchie Highway, surrounded by $9,000 worth of bookmaking slips.

While serving as "manager" of Kay's Cabaret on The Block, which was owned by his sister and brother-in-law, Salsbury was charged with operating a disorderly house after police observed five nude exotic dancers performing under a purple light.

Salsbury paid the $500 fine but the next day the U.S. District Court fined him $2,000 for failing to register as a gambler and obtain a $50 betting stamp.

After being found guilty of tax evasion in 1963, Salsbury was sentenced to one year at Pennsylvania's Allenwood Prison Camp and fined $5,000.

More trouble came Salsbury's way in 1965 when the federal government placed liens of $745,000 against him, alleging that he had failed to pay gambling tax, income tax, employees' withholding and Social Security taxes and cabaret tax.

The pressure against Salsbury was mounting when a raid on his Oasis office by federal agents in 1968 netted them $31,000 that was taken from Salsbury's pockets and another $40,000 from one of the office's two safes.

Steven Sachs, then U.S. attorney for Maryland, described the operation as being part of "an elaborate underworld that did $60 million business in gambling across the nation."

"A few hours after the raid, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal tax gambling law under which Salsbury was arrested," reported the Sun Magazine. "A remarkable coincidence. The Block figure was jubilant. Here was a 100-to-1 shot that came in."

But the feds wouldn't go away. Later in 1968, they indicted Salsbury in two cases involving the interstate transfer of gambling checks in violation of the Travel Act.

In 1969, Salsbury was convicted of sending checks across state lines to collect gambling debts on sports bets. He appealed, and when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals announced its unanimous upholding of Salsbury's sentence, FBI agents rushed the apartment he kept in the Horizon House in the 1100 block of N. Calvert St.

They found nothing more than a couple of empty rooms and a copy of a Sunday newspaper.

A high-ranking Baltimore city police official told The Sun at the time that it was believed that Salsbury had jumped his $80,000 bail and flown to Israel.

Friends rushed to explain what a good man Salsbury was, and how his generosity was graciously extended to those whose hard-luck stories he patiently endured or others who had suffered financial reversals. Even his enemies, they said, were embraced by him.

"He never threatened anybody in his life. He never carried even a nail file, a weapon of any kind," his friend Cohen told the Sun Magazine. "He had no bodyguard. He'd walk out of the club at 2:30 in the morning and get into his car."

In 1974, he was added to Interpol's "most wanted" international fugitives list.

Did Salsbury ever try to contact the family in the intervening years of his self-imposed exile? No one knows, and those who may aren't saying.

When his wife died in 1994, a daughter, Anita Paul, told a Sun obituary writer: "I will answer no questions about my father."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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