It was the late evening of April 23rd, 1935 when a well dressed couple stepped down the stone walkway that descended the front of their Pelham Road mansion for a night at the movies. As the affluent pair climbed into their parked sedan in the driveway and shut the doors, a figure emerged from the shadows. It was a man armed with a gun. Instantly thinking they were being robbed, the wife started to remove and hide her valuable jewelry.
“Eddie, you know you’ve got it coming,” the armed shadow blurted as he stepped up on the running board of the sedan. The assailant then stuck a .45 caliber pistol through the driver’s side window and pulled the trigger. The blunt shot hit the driver in his right cheek and exited top of his head, killing him instantly. His wife saw the killer’s “snake-like eyes” before shrieking and passing out. The shooter quickly disappeared back into the shadows. And so ended the intriguing and corrupt life of Eddie Guyol, the numbers king of Atlanta.
While the fatal end of an Atlanta gangster, Guyol’s murder begins our story, which delves into the underworld of Atlanta history during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Who was Eddie Guyol? What is the numbers racket? In short, it’s an illegal lottery sometimes referred to as the lottery racket, numbers racket or policy racket. The lottery racket was developed as an illegal street lottery where local salesmen and runners in old Atlanta neighborhoods collected bets from thousands of residents. Each person picked certain numbers or a sequence of numbers, placing a bet similar to the modern state lottery. Instead of having a public drawing of numbers (like we do today on television), the illegal lottery syndicates relied on public information such as United States Treasury reports, policy numbers, bank clearance records, total baseball scores and other regularly published numbers in newspapers that were uncontrolled and random.
For Eddie Guyol his heavy association with the lottery or numbers racket began in 1933 when his primary form of income, illegal alcohol, was suddenly stopped. It’s widely known that with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 gangsters and bootleggers across the United States were sent scrambling for new jobs. Eddie Guyol was one of these bootleggers. Guyol had been a salesman for one of Atlanta’s packing houses before liquor became illegal. But during Prohibition he built an illicit empire; for years Guyol was known to Solicitor General John Boykin as the “liquor king” of Atlanta, apparently from a successful illegal whiskey business Guyol operated throughout the Roaring Twenties. In fact, Guyol had served time in a Federal prison during Prohibition for importing illegal whiskey. He was a career criminal, and quite good at his occupation.
“Every lottery company in Atlanta is operated by bootleggers or ex-bootleggers. Stop patronizing the numbers racket and a great deal of crime will be stopped. Lotteries lead to gang warfare inevitably, and from this warfare come death and destruction.” – Solicitor General John A. Boykin
Guyol was the original Atlanta wunderkind when it came to the lottery or policy racket. It was the brilliant Guyol that first developed the concept in individual Atlanta neighborhoods. After 1933 when his income from illegal whiskey was erased, it was Guyol who ran the largest of the Atlanta lottery syndicates, The Home Company. There were four syndicates that operated lottery schemes in Atlanta during this time: The Manhattan, The Metropolitan, The Golden Dollar and Guyol’s massive Home Company, which employed somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals, collected bets from many times those numbers in Atlanta and the surrounding counties and netted Guyol an estimated $50,000 per day. In fact, Guyol had $2,500 in his pocket for his night at the movies when he was shot and killed in 1935.
To the couple’s square neighbors they were just another well-to-do pair that lived alone in their $260,000 mansion in the “Morningside section of Pelham Road”, as the newspapers described the crime scene (the home still stands in Lenox Park at 1753 North Pelham Road). But to any person familiar with the workings of the underworld, Eddie Guyol was a known criminal kingpin. The Pelham Road mansion held many trap doors and hidden compartments; police later determined it was Guyol’s headquarters for his syndicate.
When Myrtle Guyol awoke in the passenger seat of her car next to her murdered husband the first person she summoned was Eddie’s right-hand man Walter Cutcliffe. It was Cutcliffe who would call police and an ambulance, who quickly arrived with members of the press. But already rumors swirled through legal hallways downtown that Eddie Guyol, the numbers racket king, had been shot, circulated by an unknown lawyer. The arriving police officers found Eddie Guyol was quite dead in his driveway, and so the murder investigation fell into the hands of Lt. C.E. McCrary.
What followed was either one of the more remarkable investigations in Georgia criminal history, or a police frame job, depending on who you believe. Lt. McCrary’s story for the newspapers indicated that as he investigated the murder and the victim, he discovered Guyol’s identity as the leader of The Home Company. Lt. McCrary was baffled by Guyol, a millionaire many times over, one of Atlanta’s financial 400, which he made off of illegal activities. What baffled McCrary was Guyol’s reputation; the gangster was known as a square shooter in the underworld, and was quite popular for being fair and just despite his illicit occupation. According to the story he fed the press, McCrary couldn’t figure out who would want to kill Guyol, and the trail went cold for several months.
McCrary received his big break in the Guyol case while investigating an unrelated Atlanta robbery. In that investigation he traveled to Birmingham to interview two suspects. When he arrived in Birmingham a police detective indicated that one or both of the men he was investigating for the unrelated robbery was rumored to have fled to Birmingham after murdering Guyol. One of these two men was the 28-year-old Odie Vernon Fluker. Fluker and an accomplice were quickly tied to the unrelated Atlanta robbery by McCrary, convicted and sentenced to prison. With the two men in jail for the unrelated robbery, McCrary continued his investigation into the Guyol slaying.
With the above tip in mind, McCrary kept an eye on Birmingham pawnshops looking for a .45 caliber pistol. He found nothing. Then, on a return trip to Birmingham, Lt. McCrary received another tip: it was Fluker who had shot Guyol and he had done it with a .45 caliber pistol he had received from a Birmingham man.
According to this second tip, the Birmingham man had traded a 3.80 automatic for the .45 caliber pistol at a Birmingham pawn shop, and then loaned the .45 to Fluker who traveled to Atlanta to gun down Guyol. Lt. McCrary again checked the pawn shops for this type of trade, and discovered a man named Hagan had made the exact trade: a 3.80 auto for a .45 caliber. When McCrary finally tracked down this man Hagan, Hagan corroborated the tip, indicating he had loaned the .45 caliber pistol in question to Fluker and had never seen the gun or Fluker again.
Initially stymied by what seemed to be good information but ultimately a dead end, Lt. McCrary asked Hagan a crucial question: “Did you ever test fire the gun or have target practice?” Hagan responded that yes, he had fired the gun into a tree in his backyard before he had given it to Fluker. McCrary located the tree and with Hagan’s axe removed several bullets. He promptly sent the bullets off to the FBI, which identified the bullets from the tree as being fired from the same gun that had blown Guyol’s brains all over the interior of his high-powered sedan.
With a case built on circumstantial evidence, McCrary and Atlanta city prosecutors brought charges against Odie Fluker for the murder of Eddie Guyol, and Fluker was pulled out of a prison camp to stand trial. Myrtle Guyol identified Odie Fluker and his “snake eyes”; with her help Fluker was quickly convicted for the murder in 1936 and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Fluker always maintained his innocence, insisting the police framed him.
The case for Fluker being framed isn’t farfetched when you look at the case and evidence. He was convicted on nothing but circumstantial evidence and shaky testimony. And to think that nobody else wanted to kill Guyol, as McCrary asserted, seems a bit crazy.
Guyol had been receiving special attention right before his murder, attention not welcome by members of the underworld and certainly Guyol’s business associates. In the summer of 1934 DeKalb County police raided a Brookhaven home, arresting 18 people and breaking up a complete lottery outfit. Either during this raid or afterwards Guyol and his right-hand-man Cutcliffe were both indicted and convicted for running the lottery in DeKalb County. Guyol was fined $300. Around the same time Fulton County came after Guyol with more fines and actual prison time for running the lottery, but he never served a day and paid only a portion of the $1,000 fine (Guyol’s occupation in the city directories was listed as a “lawyer”, so perhaps he somehow used this distinction to avoid the punishment, but it was probably his pocketbook that truly helped). Because of this attention and his lavish lifestyle, W.E. Page, Collector for the Internal Revenue Service, included Eddie Guyol on his 1935 list of individuals the federal government should investigate for income tax evasion.
The heat, as they say on the streets, was on Guyol when he was murdered. Perhaps his business associates decided it was time Guyol “retired” from the business and either hired Fluker to kill him, or hired another killer and then paid the police to frame Fluker. McCrary never found a motive that could tie Fluker to the killing, just an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence.
Again, Odie Fluker always maintained he was framed by the Atlanta police. He would lead a long and lengthy battle with the state of Georgia throughout the 1930’s over his conviction; Fluker was sentenced to death five different times for the murder of Guyol. After his sixth retrial Fluker’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Over this time period of repeated battles in court Fluker’s defense team included a former metro police department detective, a superior court judge and even a governor. This list is telling; some people in the political elite of Atlanta believed Fluker had been framed.
Fluker was released from the Georgia prison system in 1950, but had to serve another sentence in Florida for an unrelated crime. He was eventually released from Florida and lived out the remainder of his years in California, where he passed away in February of 1981 in Oakland. Myrtle Guyol died in 1984 in Alabama.
Walter Cutcliffe, Guyol’s right hand man, stepped right in where his boss had left off. In fact, it was Cutcliffe that seemed to gain the most with the demise of Guyol. By the outbreak of World War II Cutcliffe was known on the Atlanta streets as “King”, operating not only the remnants of Guyol’s lottery scam, but a loansharking business with fellow crook Harold J. Smoot known as Walter’s Finance Company located on Edgewood Avenue. Interest rates on a loan with Cutcliffe and Smoot ranged between 240 percent and 260 percent. It was a lucrative business.
Like Guyol before him, Cutcliffe benefited from having many Georgia politicians paid and in his pocket. For example, when he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1941 for operating the lottery racket, he never served a day. Cutcliffe was quickly pardoned by Georgia Governor E.D. Rivers, along with many other convicted criminals that conveniently had cash to spend, including the two rich murderers “Dapper Dick” Gallogly and George Harsh (read about these two Oglethorpe University bad boys here).
Walter Cutcliffe led a long life for an alleged gangster, passing away at the age of 75 in 1976. His son Walter Cutcliffe Jr. also ran a loansharking firm, the Pacific Finance Company in the 202 Mortgage Guarantee Building. With their place in Atlanta history, the Cutcliffe family deserves more attention; we plan on featuring them in a future History Atlanta article, so be sure to check back!