During 1938 shootout, spectators packed Main Street
This is third in a series about a web of violence and vice in Grand Junction, or as some called it, “Little Chicago,” that came to a head in the late 1930s with the formation of a grand jury investigation.
When Greek immigrant Pete Leventis moved to Grand Junction in 1938, residents had no idea that by the end of that year his arrival would spark a grand jury investigation that would turn the city upside down.
Leventis opened a coffee shop at 339 1/2 Main St. It didn’t take long before police suspected he was running a gambling operation. Police Chief Hardy E. Decker talked to him, telling him coffee and conversation were all right, but gambling was not.
Leventis didn’t heed Decker’s warning. On Aug. 2 a complaint was filed that a pensioner had lost all of his money gambling at Leventis’ “coffee shop.” Leventis pleaded guilty, was fined $150 and spent seven days in jail.
Then, midday on Aug. 17, 1938, Felix Romero jumped out of a second-floor window on the south side of Main Street in the 300 block. He said he had jumped because a man had just been murdered, and he knew he was going to be the next victim if he didn’t get out.
Romero said he and George Nezeris (aka George the Greek) had been hired to move furniture from Leventis’ coffee shop under the supervision of Jim Patsios. When they entered the coffee shop, Leventis locked the door. Leventis ushered the trio into the kitchen, where he drew a couple of guns and told Nezeris and Romero to take Patsios into the main gaming room, place him in a chair and tie his hands and feet.
Leventis was angry at Patsios because he thought Patsios had told the police about the gambling operation and was responsible for Leventis’ earlier arrest. Leventis then told Romero and Nezeris to go to another room, and Leventis then shot Patsios through the right temple.
At the sound of the gunshot, Romero jumped out the front window. Nezeris made a dash for the back porch, jumping to the alley as Leventis fired two shots at him.
Every available law enforcement officer on the Western Slope was summoned, as Grand Junction’s most spectacular criminal siege began.
Tear gas bombs were thrown into the building, Leventis didn’t budge. Leventis fired four times at an officer. The officer returned fire. Officers donned gas masks and entered the building. They located Leventis in a closet and ordered him to come out. Leventis answered by firing two shots through the door. The officers fired numerous rounds back, shattering the door. Leventis returned the fire, failing to score a hit. The door gave way, and Leventis was sprawled on the floor, badly wounded, his head resting on his hand, which clutched a .38 revolver.
By now the Main Street area was packed with spectators.
Reportedly, there were three messages found at the scene. The Denver Post also had received a letter from Leventis.
The messages, written before Leventis shot Patsios, had the words, “to pay $50 protection … I couldn’t be able to pay $75” and implicated police Chief Decker and District Attorney W.F. Haywood.
Leventis claimed to have paid for protection, four months in all, to keep his club room open.
Leventis, in a hospital room interview with a Daily Sentinel reporter, claimed he had paid money to Decker.
The Sentinel reported four days before Leventis’ eventual death that he had ingested rubbing alcohol, “which had been mysteriously left within reach of his bed.” He later told his guards, who had momentarily left the room, he thought it was water.
Leventis died Aug. 30, still insisting he had been double-crossed, without going to trial.
The autopsy report said the bullet wounds were the primary cause of death and that the rubbing alcohol speeded up his death to some extent.
At the end of the inquest, Decker announced that he had nothing to cover up and had never received one penny from Leventis. He pledged to stop illegal gambling in the city and blamed the media for trying to get something on the police. Haywood also took the opportunity to deny any wrongdoing.
Both Decker and Haywood gave up their positions with the city because of the fallout of the grant jury investigation.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.
LOS ANGELES — “American Idol” viewers were cruel to Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens.
The 24-year-old musician from Moreno Valley, Calif., and the 17-year-old high school student from Middlebury, Conn., received the fewest viewer votes Wednesday on the Fox singing contest.
Both failed to wow the judges with Elvis Presley tunes Tuesday. Stevens received a mixed reaction to “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” while Garcia was lambasted for “Hound Dog.”
“I’m glad I’ve been through what I’ve been through,” Garcia said after his dismissal.
Stevens and Garcia were both sent packing on the double-elimination episode because the judges saved 26-year-old personal trainer Michael Lynche of Queens, N.Y., last week. “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest revealed that Lynche, who impressed the panel Tuesday with a low-key rendition of “In the Ghetto,” was not one of the bottom-three vote getters on Wednesday.
Garcia was ousted at the beginning of the show, but Stevens didn’t learn her fate until after performances from two past “Idol” contestants. Brooke White, the seventh season’s fifth-place songstress, crooned Presley’s “If I Can Dream” with model-singer Justin Gaston. Adam Lambert, the eighth season’s runner-up, performed his own “Whataya Want From Me.”
“If you want to win this competition, you’ve got to wake up,” Lambert advised.