A rich and fascinating history of Canada’s first celebrity mobster, the King of the Bootleggers, Rocco Perri, and the man who pursued him, “Operative No. 1,” Canada’s first undercover Mountie, for readers of Erik Larsson, Dean Jobbs and Charlotte Gray
At the cusp of the twentieth century, two Italian men, among many others, arrived in Canada during waves of immigration. One, Rocco Perri, from southern Italy, rose from the life of a petty criminal on the streets of Toronto to run the most prominent bootlegging operation of the Prohibition Era in central Canada, taking over Hamilton and leading one of the region’s most influential crime families. Perri was feared by his enemies and loved by the press, who featured him regularly in splashy front-page headlines in the Toronto Star. So great was his celebrity, following the murder of his first wife and business partner, Bessie Starkman, a crowd of 30,000 thronged in the streets of Hamilton to watch her funeral.
Perri’s businesses—which included alcohol, drugs, extortion and prostitution—kept him under constant police surveillance. He caught the interest of one man in particular, the other arrival from Italy, Frank Zaneth. Zaneth, from the north, joined the RCMP and became its first undercover operative. His work took him across the country, but he was dogged in his pursuit of Rocco Perri and worked for his arrest until the day Perri was last seen, in 1944, when he disappeared without a trace.
The Whisky King is the story of the fascinating rise to power of a notorious 1920s Canadian crime figure twinned with the life of the man who pursued him.