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Stone marks grave of woman who took bootlegger's bullet

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Bonnie and Ken Dickson, left, and Jack and Barbara Kennedy listen as the Rev. Robert Wilhelm reconsecrates the grave of Louise Bell, slain during Toledo s turbulent Prohibition days.


On a bright blue day 73 years ago, a 4-year-old boy walked through Calvary Cemetery and, with his tearful mother and hundreds of spectators, watched as they buried his murdered father.

Yesterday, the sun cast the same sharp shadows that it did July 10, 1933, and Jack Kennedy, Jr., returned to the West Toledo cemetery - this time to another grave just a few yards from his father's.

His purpose, he said, was to tend to unfinished business.

"It's the right thing to do - simple as that," said the gray-haired retiree.


Louise Bell


During a service that lasted just under four minutes yesterday, a local priest blessed a new headstone on the long-unmarked grave of Louise Bell, a 20-something manicurist from Kentucky.

She died Dec. 1, 1932, in a spray of machine gun fire meant for her boyfriend, popular Toledo bootlegger Jack Kennedy, Sr., and father of the man at the graves yesterday.

For all of the popularity of the senior Mr. Kennedy, as well as the public hand-wringing that followed his girlfriend's murder at Superior and Jackson streets in downtown Toledo, Miss Bell's grave had long gone unnoticed and unmarked.

Several years ago, Ken Dickson, a local history buff, was researching the Kennedy gangster years. With his wife, Bonnie, he located Miss Bell's unmarked grave and decided to buy her a stone.

Cemetery crews quietly placed the simple marker last week, and this week, Mr. Kennedy - the only known son of the slain bootlegger - invited the Rev. Robert Wilhelm to bless it.


Louise Bell was buried in an unmarked grave with no service.


Said Mr. Kennedy's wife, Barbara: "It does give you a sense of coming full circle."

Like a circle, it's impossible to say exactly where this story began. But during Toledo's spectacularly violent Prohibition days, Toledoans saw Jack Kennedy, Sr., as a daring young nightclub owner who sold cheap beer and stood up to the murderous Licavoli gang as they muscled in on the city's illegal liquor trade.

Seven months after Miss Bell's death, Mr. Kennedy would be murdered too, and Thomas "Yonnie" Licavoli and several "hoodlums" were eventually sent to prison for his death after a high-profile trial that transfixed a city tired of gang warfare.

But long before that, there was Miss Bell.


Her boyfriend s funeral months later was laden with flowers and tears.


"She was a completely innocent victim in all this," said Mr. Dickson, who self-published ' nothing personal, just business " with the help of the junior Jack Kennedy.

Described as a "pretty brunette manicurist," Miss Bell and Mr. Kennedy had been dating for several weeks and decided to take in a movie that December evening.

Leaving the theater, Mr. Kennedy stopped his Pontiac coupe at a traffic signal at Superior and Jackson streets and leaned forward, presumably to change gears or tinker with the radio. It was at that moment that gunmen in a second car sprayed the car with machine-gun fire. Mr. Kennedy escaped unharmed; Miss Bell was killed.

Headlines in the following days screamed for justice for the slaying of "Jack's girl" and the attempt on Mr. Kennedy's life, while the mayor and police chief bickered publicly as the case went nowhere.


An offi cer points to one bullet hole from the many slugs that hit Jack Kennedy s Pontiac coupe and Louise Bell in 1932.


But unlike Mr. Kennedy's funeral service on July 10, 1933, that overflowed with both flowers and gawkers, Miss Bell was buried with no service and no family. A funeral director said a single prayer.

Just as scant is Miss Bell's official record.

Newspaper reports said she was 22 years old when she died (a date Mr. Dickson settled on for his book), but other records place her at 20, 24, or even 26 years old. Police files have vanished. So have coroner's records and trial transcripts.

That leaves speculation and guesswork to fill in the blanks about Miss Bell. And while it proved frustrating for Mr. Dickson while writing his book, it was personally annoying for Jack Kennedy, Jr.

He grew up hearing about the stories about his father - as a popular "tough guy" and local hero, but also as a womanizer and absent father. "I want to know so many things about him," he said. For one: Why didn't his father buy a headstone for Louise Bell's grave?


Jack Kennedy, Sr., cradles his son, Jack Kennedy, Jr. The younger Mr. Kennedy was just 4 years old when his father was killed.


"I mean, she took bullets that were meant for him," he said.

Yesterday, the Kennedys and Dicksons made up the tiny gathering at Miss Bell's gravesite, which now bears a flat granite stone similar to her bootlegger boyfriend a few yards away.

Across town, there is perhaps the only other commonality between the two young lovers. It is their death records. After manner of death, their death certificates - seven months apart - stated: "shot by gangsters."

"It's very sad," Mrs. Kennedy said. "You can just imagine this young gal, she talked to her girlfriends and said 'You'll never believe who I have a date with,' and then she dies this terrible death. She's just gone."

Contact Robin Erb at:

or 419-724-6133.

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