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William G. "Big Bill" Lias

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Race Track Owner and Entrepreneur

July 14, 1900 - June 1, 1970

- from: Duffy, Seán Patrick, and Brent Carney. Legendary locals of Wheeling, West Virginia (p. 62). Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2013.

Bill Bill Lias, Race Track Owner and Entrepreneur

"Big Bill" Lias (1900-1970) was born in Greece; at birth, he weighed 12.5 pounds. He was called "Butt Boy" in school (though, not to his face). Lias controlled the illegal rackets in Wheeling with an iron fist and an extensive web of mob ties. The rotund racketeer was associated with the Purple Gang of Detroit and was also the subject of a Life magazine article. He had four convictions and served a couple of prison terms for illegal booze, though many acquaintances hint that he got away with much more than those charged. 

He was questioned in the death of his first wife, Gladys, the explosion at Nick Frank's Coffee Shop, the bombing of "Skinny" Thorton's home, the fire at Sam Grossfield's, and the car bombing of rival gangster Paul Hankish. He was suspected of being behind the shooting of his cousin Mike days before he was to testify against Lias. 

Bill owned or had interests in the Wheeling Downs Race Track, Zeller's Steak House, Club Diamond, White Front, The Bachelor's Club, and the Roosevelt Restaurant. In 1948, Lias was charged with tax evasion and, four years later, his beloved Wheeling Downs was seized. In 1953, the federal government failed in its attempt to deport Wheeling's most infamous citizen. Lias mimicked an Al Capone gimmick to garner public support, giving away turkeys to Wheeling's poor citizens during Thanksgiving. 

[ - Biography and photo supplied by Brent Carney ]


Newspaper Articles:

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William G. "Big Bill" Lias


Additional Resources

▶ Murder Never Dies: Crime and Corruption in The Friendly City, Sidiropolis, George T., 2017. Circulating, non-fiction stacks. Call#: 364.1 Sidi 2017
William Lias Story, Brent Carney, 2002. Wheeling Room, non-circulating, ask for access at the reference desk. Call#: Wheeling 364.106 L613c


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