The Racketeer Restaurateur: Guest Post Thursday

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All Photos courtesy of Guest Blogger

June 16, 1991

Affable. Bright. Caring. Loving. Sensitive. Those words were used by friends and acquaintances to describe Richmond, Virginia, restaurateur Leo Koury.

Manipulative. Vicious. Ruthless. Vengeful. Murderous. Those words were used by business associates and the FBI to describe Leo Koury.

Both descriptions were accurate as Leo Koury was a classic example of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. The devoted church goer and volunteer softball umpire was also an underworld boss and a cold-blooded killer.

For over a dozen years, Leo Koury was one of the most wanted men in America. He eluded detection by living a spartan existence while in hiding, enabling him to never answer for his crimes.

In the mid- 1970s, Leo Koury opened Richmond’s first nightclubs catering to homosexuals. In a time when gays were still frowned upon and could legally be refused service by businesses, Koury saw a great opportunity. His bars were venues where gays could gather and feel comfortable. Koury made a bundle as he was able to charge excessive prices because of his virtual monopoly on the homosexual bars. He became known as the “Godfather of the Gay Community,” and one associate described him as “the Jack Ruby of Richmond.” Koury himself was not gay as he was married with four children.

Rival bars catering to homosexuals soon opened, forcing Koury to lower his prices. The newer establishments were nicer than Koury’s “dives” and soon the patrons were flocking to them. Most of Koury’s bars became ghost towns. Koury, wanting to re-obtain his monopoly, attempted to buy out his competitors. When most would not sell, Leo became lethal, sending armed thugs into the rival clubs to terrorize the patrons. Three people were shot to death and more were injured. Chuck Kernahgan, a bouncer at a rival club, was also believed to have been murdered on Koury’s orders. Koury’s cohorts told investigators Kernaghan was shot to death after being lured to a home on the premise of discussing a business deal. His body was placed in a trunk, weighed down with the bumper from a 1957 Chevy, then dumped into the Rappahannock River. His remains have never been found.

The shootings were investigated as hate crimes until one of the gunmen, Eddie Loehr, was caught trying to kill, on Koury’s orders, rival club owner Jim Hilliard. In exchange for a lesser sentence, Loehr revealed he was a hired gun of Leo Koury. Loehr agreed to wear a wire enabling police and the FBI to gather information and build a case against Koury. After several months, Leo’s laundry list of crimes was exposed.

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With his Hyde side exposed, Richmond’s racketeer restaurateur went into hiding. The week before the indictments, Koury fled, allegedly with over $1 million stuffed into the trunk of his car. On April 20, 1979, he was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

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Nearly 200 sightings of Koury were reported over the next dozen years. Among the most promising was that he was living the circus life, traveling with the carnivals along the east coast. Others suggested he had gone abroad and was living the good life in South America. Still, others claimed he had fled to Lebanon, from where his father had emigrated and where he had many relatives. None checked out, and as it turned out, the truth was far less glamorous.

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On June 15, 1991, over 12 years after Koury fled, a convenience store clerk known as Bill Biddle was admitted to a San Diego, California, hospital in failing health. The following day, he died of complications following a stroke. The hospital received an anonymous phone call, saying the name Bill Biddle was an alias; the man who had died was Leo Koury. The FBI made a positive identification and, after nearly thirteen years, was able to close the voluminous file on the senior member of its Ten Most Wanted List.

Richmond’s reputed racketeer had been living as a recluse in a small rent-controlled apartment in east San Diego. The Gay Godfather who was believed to have had millions of dollars had been working a minimum-wage part-time job at a convenience store. He did not own a car and he lived a very sheltered life, rarely socializing with anyone. As far as could be determined, “Bill Biddle” lived as Jekyll; the FBI found no evidence of criminal activity by Koury during his years on the lam.

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In the pre-Internet days, the FBI often used billboards in an effort to track down their most wanted.

In 1991, at the time of Leo Koury’s death, the FBI offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of a Ten Most Wanted Fugitive. Today, the minimum rate for a Top Tenner is $100,000.

San Diego County officials believed the county was entitled to the reward, because a county investigator had called the FBI, enabling them to confirm Koury’s identity. The FBI said the reward money applied only to the tips that led to the capture of fugitives, not to those leading to their remains. However, after some negative publicity, the FBI relented and agreed to pay San Diego County the $25,000.

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As a volunteer umpire, Koury worked several charity softball games in which FBI employees played. Jack Colwell, the FBI agent who would later be in charge of tracking Koury, played in one of those games. He described his later prey as an overall good umpire, though he thought Koury’s strike zone was a little too liberal.

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Further Reading:
New York Times
Richmond Post-Dispatch
Washington Post
WTVR CBS Affiliate Channel 6 Richmond, VA


Recommended Reading:

For more FBI stories check out these books on Amazon today!


More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)


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