With Us Since Dec. 23, 2001



 Prostitutes prospered under
the aegis of Madam Sherry
...until Pop Murcia came to town.

Busting a brothel-keeper
with 'important' friends


When author Robert Tralins co-wrote the autobiography of Miami’s infamous Madam Sherry (aka Ruth Barnes) in the 1950s it was considered a real shocker.

The book, now out of print, gave the inside story of how Madam Sherry paid off politicians and remained in business for 26 years. She claimed to have a john list that included top names in show business, politics and business. She even claimed to have serviced ex-King Farouk of Egypt.

Of course Farouk protested and filed a libel suit against Robert Tralins and the book. The author won the libel suit filed against him for a $1 dollar judgment. The book claimed that Farouk had secretly entered the U.S. in Miami at one point and “bought” the entire “house” for a merry time with the dolls. Farouk claimed at that time that he had never set foot in the U.S.A. The courts later found otherwise. This is a very interesting story and, after all these years, the film rights were just optioned in 2005.

The Dade County Florida States Attorney back in the 1950’s was a good man by the name of Dick Gerstein. Gerstein went after the book under the state's obscenity statutes. Florida courts eventually banned the book until Tralins convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the state ruling in a landmark decision.

My father, Andrew Murcia, had just retired from the NYPD at age 43 with the rank of lieutenant and moved his family to Miami. I was about 12 years old and loved it because I thought we’d see lots more of my father. But he soon became bored with going to the beach every day or hanging around the house. He was used to working and was really much too young to retire.

There was an election about to take place for the Dade County Sheriff. Pop looked the candidates over and decided that “Honest” Tom Kelly should be the Sheriff. Tom Kelly had no real urban law enforcement experience (except for his high rank in the military occupations overseas), but they called him “Honest Tom Kelly” and my Pop liked that.

Dade County Florida includes Miami and Miami Beach. These cities in the 1950’s were still corrupt because of the New York and Chicago mob guys who were entrenched there. The gambling joints and whorehouses were going strong, which told my father that someone was getting paid off.

If Kelly won, he’d be wise to enlist the support of a man who knew these gangsters on sight. My father, with his family living there now, wanted it cleaned up. Pop met with Tom Kelly at his election headquarters and once Kelly learned of Pop’s 20 years on the NYPD--with his specialty in vice and gambling operations--he asked him to come back to work if he won.

Pop campaigned hard for Kelly, who eventually won the position of Sheriff. One of the first things Kelly did was name my father to be his top deputy in charge of vice and gambling enforcement. Pop was given a mandate by Kelly to “get those undesirable people out of Dade County”. Pop went to work and formed a special squad of handpicked men. He liked working with State's Attorney Dick Gerstein, who Pop felt was honest as the day is long. Together he felt they could wrestle south Florida out of the mob's stranglehold.

Because Madam Sherry was so famous, Pop figured to knock her out first, even if he had to do it himself. It was important, he felt, to go after the biggies first and the lesser operations would run for the border.

Madam Sherry operated out of her multi-room El Rancho in Miami. Pop maintained surveillance there and tailed some of her more elite customers upon their exit. He got one of these “customers,” who was very “married” and well known, to act as a reference for him to Madam Sherry.

Pop’s cover story was that he was a Spanish-speaking general from South America, just loaded with stolen cash, who wanted all Madam’s prostitutes for an evening of lust. I remember my Pop dressed up like a South American general as he left our house, wearing a borrowed costume from a local theatre group.

Pop arrived at Madam Sherry’s El Rancho with a fleet of three limos driven by undercover deputies. She rolled out the red carpet for him. Madam Sherry (who spoke a little Spanish) had a prostitute, who was fluent in Spanish, act as the interpreter. Pop made a deal for cash with the Madam and subsequently with each of the prostitutes. He paid her in high denomination, marked bills, with serial numbers recorded.

Once the money had changed hands and the girls began to take off their nighties to go to work, Pop signaled his back up. As he flashed his badge to Madam Sherry and placed her under arrest, she ran into a bathroom and locked the door. The angry General (Pop) quickly kicked the door open in time to see Madam Sherry tossing the marked cash into the toilet water.

Pop put his right hand in the water and was gathering the bills when Madam closed the lid on his arm, then sat on it. She almost broke his arm because she weighed close to 200 pounds. When she attempted to flush the toilet, Pop popped her with an open-handed left hook. The blow knocked the Madam off the potty and onto the floor. Pop had his evidence and all were arrested.

While they were loading up the arrestees, Madam Sherry asked to speak to my father. She said things like, “You’re a new man. Let's be friends. Come see me every month and I’ll have a nice envelope for you and the new Sheriff.”

Pop told her that she would not be there every month because he was closing her down for good in Dade County. All were convicted and the El Rancho was in fact closed eventually after a few more raids. Some say Madam Sherry just moved out of Dade County while Honest Tom Kelly and his deputy’s were in the saddle, but she was closed down as Pop had promised her she would be.

This case sent a message to the mob guys that Honest Tom Kelly was no hick and had in fact hired the right men to get the job done. After numerous gambling raids and many more vice raids, most of the mob guys were looking for greener pastures. Miami and Miami Beach was a much nicer place to live back then as a direct result of Sheriff Kelly and my Pop and his men.

I suspect the above scene will be in the film just optioned in 2005 and should it come to pass I can’t help wondering who will play the part of that handsome, generous, South American general with all that cash and a great left hook?

Yes, that was my Pop and how proud I am to tell you his stories.

©2005 by Andy Murcia. The caricature of Andy Murcia is ©2003 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Dec. 5, 2005.

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