Mike Hoffman: The tale of Carson City and ‘Russian Louie’

From left: Sheriff Lester Smith, Russian Louie and Chief of Police Howard Hoffman.

From left: Sheriff Lester Smith, Russian Louie and Chief of Police Howard Hoffman.

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A shooting at Lake Tahoe 70 years ago brought to Carson City a cast of characters that might be found in a B-rated Hollywood gangster movie; among them, “Russian Louie,” “The Professor,” and “The Trigger.” The story was reported in the Nevada Appeal in 1947.

Harry Sherwood and Louis Strauss ran the posh Tahoe Village gambling resort in South Lake Tahoe. On Saturday, Sept. 13, 1947, a discussion over finances at the resort left Harry Sherwood with a bullet lodged in his chest, and Louis “Russian Louie” Strauss on the run.

Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Erwin Butner telephoned Carson City Chief of Police Howard Hoffman and alerted him to be on the lookout for a Cadillac convertible with Florida plates. Hoffman hurried to the southern entrance of town. A car of that description was easily spotted in this quiet city. Hoffman forced the car over to Stan Peyton’s Shell station at 805 S. Carson St., the present day site of the Plaza Hotel. “Russian Louie” readily admitted who he was and told Hoffman his gun was in the glove box. After Hoffman broke open the gun and removed one used cartridge, he arrested Strauss.

Strauss posted $25,000 bail and the story disappeared from the papers. However, in early October, Sherwood, who had been recovering at Saint Mary’s Hospital, suddenly died of a blood clot. Murder charges were filed, Strauss’ bail was revoked and he was taken into custody again.

The preliminary hearing was held on Oct. 17 in the Glenbrook Inn, Lake Tahoe. A makeshift courtroom was used in order to accommodate the crowds of onlookers and press. Hoffman identified the gun he had removed from the Cadillac the night of the initial arrest. Sheriff Ferrell of Douglas County testified Strauss had identified the gun as his “$86 gun.” This remark brought a grin to the face of the defendant, the first since the hearing had begun.

In what the papers called “a theatrical touch to the grim proceedings,” George “The Professor” Kosloff bounced out of the witness stand to reenact scenes of the fight that led to the shooting. Kosloff told of an argument about “straightening up the money” during which Sherwood was “mad like a lion” and slugged Strauss across the face. Sherwood jumped on Strauss and grabbed him by the throat. Sherwood reached into his pocket and then Kosloff got behind a door for protection. After hearing a gunshot, “The Professor” entered the room to find Sherwood lying on the floor and “Russian Louie” walking away.

The hearing continued with testimony from Abe “The Trigger” Chapman and Sam Hauser, both gambling associates of “Russian Louie.”

The following day, Justice McCleery dropped the charge of murder against Louis Strauss, ruling Carson City Attorney Jack Ross had provided sufficient evidence Strauss had acted in self-defense. Deputy Sheriff Erwin Butner said if he had known all that was brought up in the hearing he never would have signed a murder complaint. “I didn’t believe it was bloody murder.”

Louis “Russian Louie” Strauss was released that day and along with his associates left the area. Carson City’s brush with these alleged mobsters was over.

Mike Hoffman is the son of the late Howard Hoffman. He was born in Carson City and lives here still.


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