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Back in the day, Feb. 14, 1934: Notorious Omaha political crime boss Tom Dennison dies

Back in the day, Feb. 14, 1934: Notorious Omaha political crime boss Tom Dennison dies


This 1927 photo of Tom Dennison, left, and W.E. "Billy" Nesselhous was taken at Dennison's country home. The Two were partners in controlling Omaha's most sprawling and powerful political machine. 

Tom Dennison and his powerful political machine ran Omaha on patronage and favors from 1900 to 1933. For the first third of the 20th century, the Dennison machine provided jobs to immigrants, arranged city hall privileges for businesses, and protected wide-open bootlegging, prostitution and gambling. By 1910, Omaha had an estimated 100 brothels and 2,500 prostitutes.

Dennison never held public office. "Cowboy" Jim Dahlman was mayor during most of the Dennison years. But Dennison's men were on the police force and usually controlled city government.

Dennison's hold on Omaha finally broke in 1932. A federal grand jury indicted Dennison and 58 of his underlings on charges of conspiracy to violate Prohibition. It was a long trial and the newspapers were filled with it. Ultimately the jury failed to reach a verdict, and the prosecution decided against a retrial. But the trial took a toll on the health of Dennison, then 74, and reform forces began organizing for the next election.

Dennison went to California to recover his health and never returned, except to visit. He had never named a successor, fearing loss of power. The reform slate won the 1933 city elections. Omaha's era of boss rule was over. Dennison died of injuries from an auto accident near San Diego on this day 87 years ago.

Photos: Tom Dennison through the years

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