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Barrio Logan History: Jack's Island

So much for treachery and double-dealing.

By Augie Bareno
Published on LatinoLA: February 19, 2013


Barrio Logan History: Jack's Island


Don Jose Puentes, owner of the New Mexico Caf?® and his buddy Jorobado, from Azteca's pool hall, walked into Jack's Island Bar, a funny looking building at the corner of 26th and National Avenue, at the foot of Logan Street.

They are looking for Manuelito Jones, who is the only Mexican-born San Diego Policeman and his partner Vito Bonafortuna. Manuelito Jones and Vito Bonafortuna patrol the area from Shelltown, to the waterfront, and all the way to "Waptown." They are given a great deal of latitude, in how they dispense justice, since a trip downtown, to Police Headquarters, is reserved for the major crimes.

On top of that, they don't always get to use a squad car, since the few that they have, are generally used to service the areas around Horton Plaza, north to Balboa Park and over to Adams. They have to rely on friends, relatives or the street car, to make their rounds, sometimes, if it's urgent they can get a lift from old man Aloysius Farley, who operates a scrap and towing business, at the foot of Crosby and Main. Mr. Farley, is a small man, but very tough, having come to San Diego, in 1911, some say, he had some problem, with the "Black Hand," in his native Brooklyn, New York.

His workers, the Aviles brothers, Slim and Nando called him "Chapo Farley," behind his back, but they know enough to make sure he never hears them. Old Man Farley knows that its good business to be friendly with the SDPD, especially since its Manuelito and Vito, who can authorize the impounding of cars and whatnot. Joseph "Jackie" McCoy, a roughneck who came to San Diego from Boston to work on the railroad, opened Jack's Island Bar in 1905, which was being developed to support the military bases being built along the San Diego waterfront.

Jackie McCoy, for the first ten years or so, ran the bar to serve the railroad workers, mainly Irish and Germans, but as the railroad work started to slow down, the Irish and German workers started to move away. This caused a change in the neighborhood and clientele. Little by little, Italian fisherman and the Mexicans working on the construction projects along Harbor Drive, started to hangout at the bar. Jackie McCoy liked the feeling of his new customers, eventually all his customers were either Italians or Mexicans, but that was ok, since they looked out for each other; it was a sense of family that reminded him of the Irish. It was a tough love they had for each other. J

ackie McCoy learned the importance of the words Compere to the Italians and Compadre to the Mexicans. For Manuelito and Vito, Jack' s Island, was the perfect place, to do police business, they could dispense justice, keep an eye on the bad guys, get information and visit with family all at the same time.

Both men, came from very large families, Manuelito Jones came to San Diego, in 1900 in the first wave of Mexican families coming from Baja California, first to Calexico, then Lemon Grove, then finally to Logan Heights. He still has many relatives and friends living in Tijuana and Mexicali, some of who had a degree of prominence in business and politics. Vito Bonafortuna was born in Brooklyn, New York, he came to San Diego after service in World War I and he came to work for his uncle Tony Rocaforte who operated a small restaurant on the waterfront called "Pepinos."

Pepinos Restaurant was a favorite of many prominent San Diegans because of its fish soup and fresh catch of the day. Uncle Tony Rocaforte also had other attributes that made him, extremely popular, on the waterfront; he was what you call a "Favors Man." It meant, if you had a problem with the police or your job or whatever, Uncle Tony could help you solve your problem and you would owe him a favor in return.

Everything was conditioned on not asking how things got done and pledging your friendship to Uncle Tony. Uncle Tony, being a smart man knew he wanted more for his nephew than what most Italians of the day could expect in the way of opportunities. He was especially proud of Vito, for having distinguished himself in battle. It didn't take Uncle Tony long to figure out what he wanted for his nephew; he was going to get him on the police department, by calling in one of his major favors. Having an Italian on the police force was unheard of for San Diego, let alone one with such family connections, but he knew the favor he had taken care of involved some of San Diego's best families and it was time to collect.

The graduation SDPD Police Training Course No 7B, 1925 had a total of 19 students, 17 whites, one Italian and one Mexican born. Manuelito Jones and Vito Bonafortuna lives would never be the same. Chief Buck Riley, who came to San Diego in 1897 after working as Pinkerton Detective in Wichita, Kansas, knew what kind of men made the best policeman.

In 1917 he was appointed San Diego Police Chief because his uncle "Big Bob Kensington," was a major landowner with many friends "Downtown "and the owner of the Bank of the West, which counted as its primary clients, the Treasury of the City and County of San Diego. Chief Riley, like his father, grandfather and uncles grew up in the tradition of the "Lodge of the Western Sun," he knew what it had done for him and he believed every decent and responsible man came from that tradition, no more no less.

Faced with the dilemma of Manuelito Jones and Vito Bonafortuna, Chief Riley knew he had to come up with a way to keep his good officers, the men of the tradition, away from the two "foreigner officers Mannuell and Veeto." Since the damn Volstead Act of 1920, the Police Department, Navy and US Customs had to keep a sharper eye on the Waterfront and Mexican border at San Ysidro, to try and catch the Wilson Bros, who were running a major amount of hooch to Los Angeles and points north.

Wilsons were a big Mexican family out of Ensenada, whose ancestor James Wilcox Wilson, was the first Englishman, to settle in Baja California. They had since, very wisely, gotten into the bakery and candy business and set up shops throughout, Tijuana, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino. They also imported Italian olive oil and wines into Mexico. This provided them with an existing network of stores, warehouses and permits for importing and exporting goods and large fleet of trucks. They only used family members in their businesses and most importantly, they maintained a network of friends in high and low places, on both sides of the border that could be called on for favors.

Their partner in olive oil and wine importing businesses, out of San Francisco, was Black Jack Lanzo, who operated warehouses on the waterfronts of San Francisco, San Pedro, Long Beach and San Diego and Pesqueria Napolitana, SA, in Ensenada. Black Jack Lanzo was reported to be a man of respect, with cousins and uncles and friends working the docks, throughout California.

One of his uncles in San Diego was none other than Uncle Tony Rocaforte, proprietor of "Pepinos" and "Favors Man", extraordinaire. He had a few years back connected his nephew Black Jack, with his friend in Tijuana, Eulalio "Huero" Wilson, the patriarch of the Wilson family. Huero Wilson and Uncle Tony Rocaforte had become friends when a cousin of Tony, visiting from New York, got out of control at a sporting house operated by the Wilson's, in the Colonia Libertad, TJ and seriously injured one of the working girls.

The cousin Giuseppe Mangano was arrested and was being held, awaiting the circuit procurador (prosecutor), to come to Tijuana. Word reached Uncle Tony, through the Aviles brothers, who he had helped before, with some bail problems, about his cousin; this concerned him greatly as his cousin's Father, Don Carlo Mangano, was a major man of the tradition in New York and anything happening to his son, would have to be avenged, either through Uncle Tony or all over him.

Nando Aviles offered Uncle Tony that the only way to solve such a complicated problem would be to reach out directly to Huero Wilson, to see if an accommodation could be made. Since the Aviles brothers worked for Farley's Towing but lived in Tijuana, they volunteered to make the connection for Uncle Tony with Huero Wilson. A payment of $2000.00 was given to Huero Wilson, to release Cousin Giuseppe.

However, unbeknownst to Uncle Tony, he was charged $2500.00 by the Aviles brother, saying that was the price, Huero Wilson wanted. The Aviles brothers had cheated two very dangerous men, a price that would later prove to be fatal. Huero Wilson and Uncle Tony had formed a bond that would be responsible for much darkness. Chief Riley figured that if some misfortune could befall Jones and Bonafortuna in the course of their duties, he could be rid of them and whether it happened trying to catch the Wilsons or some other scum, it would happen sooner by putting them to patrol beat 6-North to Market, west to Waptown, east to Shelltown, South to the Border.

Covering that beat, without much support would prove his point, that only men of the Western Sun tradition should be San Diego policemen. To make sure they would fail, Chief Riley put the word out to his friends, in the Patriotic Sons of West, a white Christian Hunt and Fish Club, which was a front for the United Sons of the Eternal South, that any member who kicks either Jones or Bonafortuna's ass, they would not be prosecuted and would receive $20.00 from the Police Benevolent Association.

He figured by putting a bounty on Vito and Manuelito, they would likely get beaten, and then he could fire them for cowardice in the line of duty. Little did Chief Riley realize that both Manuelito and Vito love to fight, Manuelito grew up on Newton Street next door to Prince Albert Martinez who was California State Middleweight Champion and loved sparring with Manuelito because of his speed and power.

Vito had learned to fight to survive; he enjoyed the bare-knuckle brawls of Hell's Kitchen and of course his courage in battlefield, made him one tough Bambino. Many a member of the Patriotic Sons of the West, paid dearly for Chief Riley's miscalculation. The New Mexico Caf?® and the Azteca Pool Hall, located at the north and south corners of 27th and National Avenue were operated by two of the most colorful characters in all of Logan Heights and possibly, all of San Diego.

Don Jose Puentes and Juventino "Horobado" Penalemus, both natives of Jerez, Zacatecas, old men who loved telling stories of their times in the revolution, drinking tequila and womanizing. They both had despite all their efforts to the contrary, turned into successful businessmen.

The Azteca Pool Hall was the meeting place for all the workers in the area. Since, Don Jose and Horobado had come to Logan Heights together in 1907, from Las Cruces, New Mexico and they were compadres, they always tried to work little deals to help out each other. Jorobado and Don Jose had particular fondness for "Manito's," transplanted New Mexicans who had come to California; they especially liked anybody from Las Cruces and Grants, New Mexico.

They were very proud, that one of their compadres from Grants, New Mexico, Don Felipe Usquivarno had sent them a letter asking them to look out for his son Anthony and his friend Freddy Lopez, who were working on the Railroad Construction in San Diego and also involved with the Alianza Trabajadora and some gavacho chingadera called "The Progressive Worker League." Captain Wellington Burnside, SDPD, hated dealing with all the complaints about Worker's rights rabble rousing in the most important construction projects in San Diego's history, the Naval District at the foot of Harbor Drive.

He was especially sick of hearing that some of the Mexican laborers were complaining about not getting the same wage as the white workers. This really incensed him as he felt they should be happy to have a job, any job, especially at the height of the depression. Every investigation about the problem always turned up the same two names as the principal troublemakers: Tony Usquivarno and Freddy Lopez, both good workers, fairly good with their fists, and members of some Mexican group called "Alianza Trabajadora."

The pressure from downtown to take care of the "Mexican Problem," was intense on both Captain Burnside and Chief Buck Riley, they needed to do something right away. They damn sure couldn't trust Manuelito Jones and Vito Bonafortuna to take care of this, it had to be done in such a way so that these bastards wouldn't become heroes and stir up the rest of the good Mexican workers.

Marcos Aviles had attended San Diego High School, graduated in 1927, and still maintained school friendships. One of his friends was Billy Adams, whose parents owned Adams Real Estate. Billy had, through Marcos Aviles, developed a major marijuana habit, almost to the point where he could no longer function and had in fact unsuccessfully tried suicide, when he was high on especially strong "Loco Weed."

During his treatment, he confessed to his parents and blamed it on Marcos Aviles; this incensed his parents, the Adams, and they were going to make Marcos Aviles pay for what he had done to their son. Adams Real Estate traditionally paid for the annual Police Benevolent Association Fourth of July Family picnic, the program always ended with Chief Riley and Captain Burn-side, thanking the Adams family for their generosity and pledging their appreciation and support to them.

Little did Chief Buck Riley and Captain Burnside, know that their expression of support for the Adams would be severely tested and yield such devastating results. Valerie Williams, society editor for the San Diego Sun liked doing stories about Agua Caliente Race Track and Casino and the Hollywood stars visiting there. She also attended and wrote a nice article about a reception for General Isidro Camacho Gonda, who had just been named Territorial Governor for Baja California Norte, by his boyhood friend, the president of Mexico.

Much to her surprise, the Wagner National Press Distributers had picked up her stories on Tijuana. The Tijuana stories, because of their wide circulation, reached, the desk of Kingman Stevens in Washington D.C. Stevens had been US Ambassador to Mexico since the first Presidency of Porfirio Diaz. Kingman Stevens was regarded as the expert on all things Mexico. His office staff had indicated in the newspaper margins, that Valerie Williams and her articles was someone worth watching, especially since Tijuana with its vices and charms attracted so many prominent Americans and now the

Territorial Governor Camacho Gonda was operating a Territorial Office, on Revolution Avenue, Downtown Tijuana. His press Attach?®, Pepe Grijalva, had taken a special liking to Valerie Williams, introducing her to all the TJ "influyentes" and giving her red-hot tidbits about what the stars do in Tijuana. She was impressed with some of the wealthy Tijuana families.

She had taken special liking to the Chief of the Military Sectional Police, Gustavo Meza Jones, cause of his boyish charm and movie star looks. This image however, belied a reputation of a very tough man, who was feared by all. Kingman Stevens hadn't seen his sister Francis "Muffin" Stevens Adams, since she moved to San Diego in 1923, her son, Billy Adam, his only nephew was the apple of his eye. He thought that perhaps, an official visit to the Territorial Governor in Tijuana would give him a chance to see Muffin and Billy, in San Diego. He regretted not having had a family and dedicating himself only to his career.

Now at age 70, Kingman Stevens wanted to be closer to his family. It shocked him when he received a telegram from his sister Muffin Adams saying, that Billy had suffered some "nervous" problems and was being treated in a Pasadena sanitarium and could he please come to San Diego. She needed his help. The Adams were going to get the bastard "Marcos Aviles" no matter what it cost and the consequences be damned.

Captain Burnside knew all about the Aviles Brothers and what the Adams wanted done to Marcos, he figured if he caught Nando or Slim, on a rap, in San Diego, he could squeeze them, to produce their brother Marcos. He would promise them, that Marcos would do a short stretch of county time and after that, everything would be ok. What he couldn't say and hoped that the Aviles Brothers wouldn't figure out that most likely Marcos Aviles would have a serious accident, while in custody. He really didn't want to do what the Adams family wanted done to Marcos.

He had made Captain because he had been smart enough, to make the right moves. This thing with Billy Adams stunk all to hell; he figured the Adams should have expended the same amount of energy loving and nurturing Billy, that they used trying to destroy Marcos Aviles. Most importantly, there would be no way for him, to escape being involved and if the wheels came off this thing, he knew Buck Riley, would sacrifice him.

He told Francis Adams, that he thought, it would be impossible to get Marcos Aviles, since he has not crossed the border in three months. Apparently he was tipped off that the authorities were looking for him. He didn't tell her, that people in Tijuana could do the job. He assumed they would figure that out and work a deal, with someone with connections on the other side.

Privately, Burnside thought that his whole mess would blow up on the Adams, working deals in Tijuana, always turned out to be, a three headed serpent, dangerous on many sides. This might be a good time to go see his sister in Montana; he just needed to take care of the Mexican labor problem at the Naval District, before he went. Valerie Williams is told by her editor, that Ambassador Kingman Stevens will be staying at the Hotel Del Coronado, prior to his visit to the territorial Governor Gonda Camacho, in Tijuana.

He has requested to be interviewed by Valerie and has invited her to join his party for the visit. The party will include several prominent San Diegans, Chief Riley, Big Bob Kensington, Edgar and Muffin Adams and the police escorts of officers Jones and Buonafortuna. The visit will consist of a formal reception, followed by private meetings and a tour of the Cachanilla Damn, being built on the eastern edges of Tijuana.

After the reception, the majority of the guest will return to San Diego and Ambassador Steve-ns, the Adams and Valerie Williams and the police escorts Jones and Buonafortuna will stay at the home of retired former Mexican Consul General, Bola??os Gomez, who had been a long time friend of Kingman Stevens. His home sat on a hilltop, in an area called "La Mirada De Lomas". Bola??os Gomez had been friends with Kingman Stevens, for many years, they had shared many things, including secrets that were very important.

It was then, with a degree of confidence, that Kingman Stevens asked Bola??os how could his sister and him, seek justice in Tijuana for what had been done to Billy, by Marcos Aviles. Perplexed by what he was hearing, Bola??os asked Kingman, in Spanish to join him, outside in the patio, where they could talk, out of earshot, of the others. Slyly, Bola??os inquired of Kingman, whether he was certain, that his nephew Billy was truly a victim or might there be some other reason.

Angrily, Kingman responded that his sister and Billy were his only family and anything, hurting them, hurts him and that he would not tolerate. Convinced Bola??os Gomez reflected that if he had to do something like this, he would use his old friend Eulalio "G??ero" Wilson, to take care of it, with of course the understanding and accommodation of Gustavo Meza Jones, Chief of Military Sectional Police.

He emphasized, how important it would be, to develop a system of buffers between them and anyone connected with the Mexican side, in case anything should go wrong. Bola??os warned his friend to expect a bit of treachery and double-dealing and plan to pay, more than the initial agreed upon fee, as they will try to squeeze you, for more money.

The patio doors were surrounded by an alcove of bougainvillea trees and just beyond it was a Spanish tiled bench, where Vito and Manuelito had gone to take a break, it was perfect cause, they could still observe the Ambassador and Bola??os and be close enough to hear and just enough out of the line of site to be able to observe, while not being observable from the patio or the house. To their shock, they overheard, the plans to get Marcos Aviles and how they planned to use intermediaries, to hide any involvement of the Ambassador, the Adams or anybody from San Diego, especially the authorities.

Manuelito Jones and Vito Buonafortuna quickly figured out that the only authorities, which knew or worked with the Adams Family, was either Burnside or Chief Riley. They knew that the Chief was too smart to be that close to trouble, so it could only be Burnside, who was the "Authorities" that needed protecting.

This left two puzzling questions for Manuelito and Vito, first who would be the "Buffer," to make the contact and payment to G??ero Wilson and then second and most important, was what the hell, could they do with this information. They couldn't tell anybody about, what they heard, because it involved two very important persons and it happened in Mexico and no doubt if they did tell, who would believe them.

They both agreed to do nothing and wait and see how this thing played out and if they were to be in anyway implicated, they could use what they knew as a way to bargain for themselves. Don Jose Puentes had grown concerned about his compadre's son Tony Usquivarno, when he heard that the cops had arrested him and Freddy Lopez, for starting trouble at the Naval District construction project and that a Captain Burnside had handcuffed Tony and in front of the workers given him a major ass kicking and promised, the same for anybody, who was thinking of causing problems. He went to Jack's Island looking for Manuelito Jones, to see if he could help him find out what happened to Tony and see if he was in the County hospital or if he was in the "bote," Don Jose could pay Dr. Meshack, to visit him in jail.

Him and Jorobado had made some money, helping that reporter lady; Valerie Williams make contact with G??ero Wilson, in Tijuana. It seemed strange that she would pay two hundred dollars, for that kind of help, but what the hell, if she was stupid enough to pay it, him and Jorobado were smart enough to keep it. The money they both agreed, would be used to help com-padre's son Tony, once they found him. Nando and Slim Aviles were very worried, about Billy Adams, the gringo rich kid who couldn't handle his mota, got crazy, and tried to kill himself.

They are blaming Marcos Aviles and all the San Diego authorities are out to get him. They need to go to see G??ero Wilson, to try to figure out, how they can get their brother Marcos, out of this mess. G??ero Wilson listens sympathetically, to Nando Aviles; he reflects that I might not be a bad idea if all the Aviles Brothers left Tijuana for a while, until this Billy Pendejada blows over. He can hide them out at one of his ranch, in Navajoa, Sonora. In fact, one of his trucks was leaving for Navajoa, in the morning and they could go with him, to sneak out of Tijuana.

The Aviles Brothers figured that if only a few people, know where they went, later it will be easier to sneak back into Tijuana. Little did the Aviles Bros know that the day before, G??ero Wilson and his compadre Gustavo Meza Jones had agreed to take care of Marcos. The fee of $8000, which was paid by a lawyer from Fresno, would be split between G??ero Wilson, Gustavo Meza Jones and Uncle Tony Rocaforte. G??ero Wilson and Tony Rocaforte had not forgotten that the Aviles Brothers cheated them both during the cousin Giuseppe Mangano problem. G??ero Wilson and Tony Rocaforte were men that nobody cheated and got away with it.

Marcos Aviles had to go, Nando and Slim Aviles, were dead men in waiting, that night on the Rumorosa, Truck 17, Dulceria Wilson, bound for Sonora, caught fire and blew up; miraculously, the driver Bebo "El Bombero" Rojas survived, three other unknown occupants perished. A post card sent to the Lawyer in Fresno, would be the sign that the job was done. Ironically, Billy Adams after his stay in the Sanitarium, confessed to his uncle Kingman and his parents, that upon reflection, he, not Marcos Aviles, was responsible for his problems and that Marcos was just trying to help out a friend. He was looking forward to seeing Marcos and apologizing for all the trouble he caused him.

Uncle Tony Rocaforte, invites his nephew Vito and his partner Manuelito Jones, to lunch at Pepinos, having worked with Mexicans over the years, uncle Tony has become very adept at speaking Spanish. In Spanish, he tells them both that the Aviles Brothers are pan tostado and that they should stop looking for them and they don't have to worry about Captain Burnside anymore.

Apparently, Chief Riley, Ambassador Kingman Stevens and the Adams have gone to the grand jury, charging that Captain Burnside had been the one selling the marijuana thru the Aviles Brothers and other drug runners from Tijuana and that he was responsible for their disappearance, after the Adams family rejected his extortion attempts. So much for treachery and double-dealing.

About Augie Bareno:
Local writer and featured writer for La Prensa de San Diego
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