Karla News

Hot Springs, Arkansas – One Time Organized Crime Haven

Al Capone, Hot Springs, Organized Crime

Hot Springs, Arkansas has mostly been known for being President Bill Clinton’s hometown. Before Clinton, Hot Springs was known for being one of the centers of organized crime in the United States. In fact, at one point, it was known as the largest illegal gambling operation in the country.

The rise of Hot Springs as an organized crime outpost can be credited to a New York City Hell’s Kitchen gangster named Owen “Owney the killer” Madden, who was best known as the proprietor of Harlem’s world famous Cotton Club. In the thirties, Madden left New York after serving a stretch in Sing Sing and experiencing a bout of bad health. He wound up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, then known not only as a wide open gambling town, but also for its healing natural hot springs.

Once in Hot Springs, Madden fell in love with the local postmaster’s daughter, and they got married. At first, he supplied the wire service that brought race results to Hot Springs bookies. At the time, illegal gambling was out in the open with the full knowledge of its flamboyant Mayor, Leo P. McLaughlin. Eventually, Owney Madden became the controlling partner of the Southern Club, the biggest gambling establishment in town.

Soon, well known East Coast and Chicago gangsters began visiting Hot Springs and their own pal Owney Madden. They included Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Al Capone.

In 1936, Lucky Luciano fled New York after being indicted for running a $12 million prostitution ring. He was later arrested in Hot Springs, but was later released by a local judge.

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New York prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey contacted Arkansas Governor Futrell and demanded that Luciano be re-arrested and extradited back to New York. Twenty state troopers from Little Rock re-arrested Lucky in Hot Springs, and the Governor upheld the extradition warrant. Luciano was returned to New York, where he received a thirty to fifty year sentence.

Chicago gangster Al Capone was also known to hide out in Hot Springs. In fact, he maintained a year-round suite at the Arlington Hotel. He was also known to “import” local Hot Springs moonshine to his Chicago nightclubs during Prohibition.

As for Owney Madden, soon after he died in 1965, illegal gambling was gone from Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Tourists still come here to experience the natural hot springs and a full spa treatment, or to attend the annual Hot Springs Music Festival or Documentary Film Festival.


“Owney Madden”, Shirley Tomkievicz, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, URL: (http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1702)





“It’s getting hot in here”, Shirley Amatenstein, URL: (http://www.nydailynews.com/travel/2007/05/20/2007-05-20_its_getting_hot_in_here.html)