Crime and Corruption
Prohibition led to a rise in organized crime, as gangsters running well-organized bootlegging operations protected their profits from federal officials enforcing the law.
Fairfield experienced a taste of the violence and disregard for law that plagued Prohibition across the country. Without its own police force, the town found it challenging to enforce the law.
In 1923, one of the town's part-time constables stopped a truck on the Post Road while directing traffic. The driver said he was carrying sausage casings, but it was 1,200 barrels of bootlegged beer. Three months later, the constables raided a 100-gallon still on Hoyden’s Hill.
After bootlegger Thomas Gray was arrested, his brother fired a gun from a car window at another constable; the gun misfired and the shooter was captured by townspeople and sent to jail. When Gray was released from jail a year later, he wired two sticks of dynamite to a constable's car ignition system – fortunately it was discovered before causing harm.
In 1925, constables tried to stop a truck speeding on Kings Highway in 1925. The driver of a "high-powered touring car" that was in a convoy with the truck tried to wreck the constable's car, then jumped out and into the truck, leading to a car chase through Fairfield and Black Rock.
In Westport, town officials did not cooperate with federal authorities to ban liquor. They denied federal agents permission to search trucks travelling on the Post Road, and dismissed reports that sixty stills were operating in town. Abandoned onion warehouses were rumored to hold booze shipped down the coast from Canada. Residents on South Compo Road once gave food and dry clothes to a nearly-drowned bootlegger who had swum ashore after his boat hit the rocks off Sherwood Island.
Philip Musica … or Frank Donald Coster?
Fairfield became the home and hideout for one of the most infamous swindlers of the era.
In 1920, Philip Musica started Girard & Co., a hair tonic business permitted to use large quantities of raw alcohol during production. Musica sold the products to bootleggers, who distilled out the alcohol to make illegal liquor. However, his company collapsed when he reported its own violations to authorities - in order to get rid of his unsavory partner.
Using the name "Dr. Frank Donald Coster," he set up another company in Fairfield and assumed a commanding position among New England bootleggers. "Coster" held secret conferences with racketeers, and even paid for police protection to cover the movement of trucks carrying alcohol away from his warehouse.
In 1925, he and his new wife moved to a stately mansion at 400 Mill Plain Road in Fairfield, and in 1926, he acquired McKesson & Robbins, a well-respected drug company. Musica not only used the company for bootlegging; he also diverted money into his own pockets and stole from his investors. For years, "Donald Coster" enjoyed his business and wealth in Fairfield, with a yacht, racing horses, and an assortment of luxury cars, attracting so much attention that he was even courted for a presidential bid against Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1937, the company's treasurer became suspicious, and uncovered forgeries, duplicate books, and massive fraud. In all, it is believed that Musica stole over $3 million from McKesson and caused upwards of $18 million in damages in one of the largest financial scams of the 20th century. On December 15, 1938, with police closing in on his home in Fairfield, Musica committed suicide.