Major A. Riddle and Old Lady Riddle’s House

NOTE: There’s a comment here on this post from DACI (see comments down at the bottom of the page) that corrects much of the information in this post. There was a kernel of truth and much speculation in the story I recount here from my older neighbor regarding Major Riddle, and because of this, it’s important to take my anecdotes with a grain of salt and then read the comment by DACI for a more complete truth. I very much appreciate the updated information from her, because it gives a much clearer picture of Major Riddle and his life.

A while back, I was looking up the history of our house in the Old Northside Historic Plan, and I noted that the third owner of our house was Charles L. Riddle, who owned a lighting store in town in the 1920′s. I found a picture of the store in the Indiana Historic Archives, and posted it to my blog. We found out a bit more about the Riddle family today.

We were out working in the yard this afternoon, and stopped to have a chat with our neighbor Mr. K——, who’s an older fellow (graduated from Arsenal Tech in 1949) who once lived in the house next door. His son K—– owns the house now, and we’ve chatted with him many times, but we hadn’t ever talked to his dad.

He filled us in on what it was like to live there as a kid, and who owned what houses, and what some of the houses that burned down used to look like, and generally gossiping and telling us about some of the scandals in the neighborhood, which is HUGELY entertaining coming from a 77 year-old man.

He was telling us that when he was a kid, (in the late 1930s and early 1940s) the house was owned by “Old Lady Riddle” – her name was Susan, Charles’ wife. Charels died in 1925, apparently, and she owned the house after. Her son was a Major Riddle, who grew up in our house and started a trucking company during the Depression here in Indiana. He was a generation older than Mr. K——–.

He told us that Riddle got rich during the Depression because he would sell rigs to his truck drivers and finance their purchase, then when they were 3/4 paid for, he would lay them off and foreclose on the loans by taking the rigs, so he had a reputation as a shady guy. (See DACI comment for more on this.)

Then he said that Major Riddle (all this time, we’re thinking “Major” as a military rank, but that was his actual first name) took all his trucking money and went to Vegas and bought into the Dunes Hotel, and after that he was really rich.

When he got to that part, I remembered that K—– had mentioned this story awhile back, too, but at the time I was more interested in Kurt Vonnegut, who lived for a while with his grandparents on 13th street, right around the corner from us, so I forgot about the Dunes Hotel story. Our neighborhood had some relatively famous residents in Indianapolis history.

Anyways, Major Riddle was married, but he came back to visit his mom one day with another woman — in a big convertible Cadillac with fins and a set of longhorns on the front. I wish I could describe word-for-word what Mr. K——- said, because it was classic — he said he couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but she was famous: “that woman. You know, that woman they were all shooting each other up for out there in Vegas.” She got out of the car, and took her fur coat out (in was in a garment bag?) and they walked up on to the porch, and Old Lady Riddle opened the door, and said:

“You can come in, but that whore has to stay on the porch.”

Which everyone around heard, because they were all out gawking at the car. And then he talked a bit more about the fancy Caddy, and mentioned that Riddle bought a 1960 Cadillac for Old Lady Riddle “before that, all her cars were Packards.” And because it was too big to fit in the garage, “they tore down the garage and built that one” – pointing at our rather spacious one car garage. He remembered them building it.

And then he went on to talk about Major’s sister, (? don’t know who this was; turns out Major didn’t have a sister) and how she made picnics every week on our front porch and invite all the neighbor kids from all around to eat, and Old Lady Riddle would have fits, because she didn’t want them all at her house.

And from there he talked about the neighborhood changing in the 1950s from an all-white neighborhood to a mostly black one, and how the neighborhood got poorer and many of the lovely homes burned down.

So after we came in I sat down and started searching for Major Riddle and the Dunes Hotel, and found quite a lot.

It becomes apparent that Riddle’s trucking company here in Indiana had some pretty serious mob connections, and that he was involved with the Teamsters in Chicago and Vegas, too. And he was a major figure in early Vegas history, buying into the Dunes in 1956, bringing the very first topless Burlesque show to Vegas, and raking in loads of cash and making Vegas a hot spot for high rollers and wealthy gamblers. Major Arteburn Riddle was a pretty famous guy, and he may have slept in the Murphy bed in our house. (It was installed in 1924. Don’t worry, we bought a new mattress for it.)

Riddle also appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1962 to hawk his book, “The Weekend Gambler’s Handbook” to promote the Dunes.

There’s an entire thread on rec.gambling.poker about “The Takeoff of Major Riddle” which was apparently some huge poker scam involving fleecing Major Riddle at the Aladdin Room at the Dunes.

I haven’t figured out who the floozy on our front porch was yet, but I’m hoping to track her down.

And it occurred to us to wonder what might be under the garage floor, and under that weird spot of different-colored concrete in the basement. :-)

In all, it’s made for a very entertaining afternoon of googling, and we have a theme for our next party, too. And my next pet will be named “Major Arteburn Riddle” after our esteemed mobster pal and former resident.

After learning all this, though, we realized we know most of the people who’ve owned/dwelled here: Joseph Caylor, Dennis Jenkins, Charles Riddle/Susan Riddle/Major A. Riddle, the Zimmermans, James Q. Mease, Dylan Wissing and Johnny Socko Band, Julie Wohead and friends, and the Mineart-Koutek family. Our house has a pretty colorful history.

2009/11/21 UPDATE: we picked up the book Bugsy’s Baby: The Secret Life of Mob Queen Virginia Hill
and discovered that the “woman they were shooting each other up over in Vegas” – Virginia Hill – was indeed having an affair with Major Riddle, however, she probably wasn’t the floozy made to stay on the porch. (see comments from Riddle family members below.)

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Posted in House and Home, Indianapolis
26 comments on “Major A. Riddle and Old Lady Riddle’s House
  1. Jason says:

    That is so incredibly cool. It’s gotta be so neat to find that kind of history in your house.

  2. FrankLJ says:

    Speaking of finding history in your house – well, maybe you had better look under that odd spot in the concrete? Just a thought.
    For a story about Major Riddle in the late 60′s, see page 32 of ” The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law Vs. the Mob” (by Dennis Griffin)
    Riddle is not named, but it is him.
    The unlucky band was named ‘Grape Grog’.
    If you read this story, please post here and tell me what you think.

  3. EC Mayo says:

    Great story, my greatgrandma was the nanny to the Riddle kids while in Chicago, then for a while in Vegas.
    And in the 60′s Major brought her out to Vegas for a couple weeks.

  4. Ivory Bill says:

    Hi. I stopped by after googling Major A Riddle (I read _The Weekend Gambler’s Handbook_ years ago). Not surprisingly, much of the statistical analysis in the book is faulty; one wonders whether to fault Riddle’s incompetence as a gambler or his need to fill the Dunes with incompetent amateurs.
    Be that as it may, I wonder if the name of the mob chippy you are looking for is Virginia Hill?

  5. Bobby Irwin says:

    I knew Major Riddle in late 60s & early 70s. His last wife was a good friend of mine before and after moving to Las Vegas and later marrying Mr. Riddle. I visited them many times in Las Vegas. Then I moved out of the US about 35 years ago and lost touch. Her name was Marion Fieffer. I was wondering if someone might know what happened to her after Major Passed. If so, please email me at bobirw@msn.com .
    Thanks,
    Bobby Irwin

  6. celeste Stone says:

    I am Major A. Riddle’s great grandaughter. Daughter of his grandaughter whom lived with him. I would like to say that some of the information was incorrect. He didnt have a sister named sara He was an only child. ANd bobby irwin marian riddle still lives in las Vegas n.v.

  7. N.J. Fulmer says:

    Hi,
    My name is Norma Jean Fulmer. I go by my initials N.J.. Your Great Grandma, Lena was our nanny when we lived outside of Chicago. She was a wonderful Lady. It’s funny but I don’t remember much about my parents in Chicago. But I remember Lena being there, taking us fishing with bamboo poles, chasing me with a spatula when I didn’t listen. I was fascinated when she pulled out her false teeth to tease us. She had a beautiful voice. She made great sacrifices to support her family and to be our nanny. I will never forget her. I have a picture of her standing on our back porch.
    I have been to visit Dorothy Ross in Freeport and talk to her on occasion. Would that be your Grandmother?
    Regards,
    N.J. Fulmer

    • John Lentz says:

      Norma, just a note to say hi and hope you get this response. We knew each other for a while. I was a cadet at Western Military and you were at Montivello. We lost track with each other after I went to Vietnam. Hope you are happy and healthy. I think of you often. John

      • N.J. Fulmer says:

        Hello John,
        I do remember you and times at Monticello. I also remember you kindness and concern toward my brother, Chuck. You probably do not know that he took his life in his senior year.
        I have been married twice, three children, 4 grandchildren. I have a wonderful man in my life, it’s been 5 years
        Hope all is well with you
        Take Care
        N.J. Fulmer (Norma Jean Riddle)

    • Georgi Komon Gold says:

      Norma Fulmer, this message is for you…we were girlfriends at Hyde Park Jr. High. Do you remember the day about 10 of us girls decided to “ditch” school? Of course we were found out! My parents were furious with me because my dad was a bartender in the lounge of the Dunes and they were certain that he would lose his job over the incident. Well, of course he did not lose his job. Your daddy was very kind and a great business man. I moved away, back to Chicago and lost touch with you. I have often wondered where you are and hope that your life has been good. Your bedroom was decorated so beautifully and the white carpeting in your living room must have been 3 inches thick. In my first home, I put the identical carpet in my living room.
      All Best,
      Georgi Komon Gold(Georganne Zapantis)

      • N.J. Fulmer says:

        Hi Georgi, I remember your name however I do not remember the events that you spoke of in you correspondence. Sounds like it was a fun day.
        Best Wishes, N.J. Fulmer

  8. kathy florence says:

    Hi Norma. I met you in the 60′s at Ann Lenzens house, you went to school either at Monticello with her or Penn Hall (it’s been too many years now). I was Ann’s best friend for many years back in St. Louis. I always think of you when I visit Las Vegas. You were always so sweet and unspoiled as a young teenager.

    • N.J. Fulmer says:

      Hi, I am sorry that I do not remember you, however I am still in touch with Ann. Have been to St Louis a few times to visit. I have very special memories of Monticello and Anne’s family. Thank you for the nice comments. I hope all is well with you. N.J. Fulmer (Norma Jean Riddle)

  9. DACI says:

    Well, who I am is only important to who is giving the facts here. My grandfather was Major Riddle and he became guardian of me when I was eight years old. I have personal knowledge of many of the things you have written by way of my grandmother’s diary, my grandfathers stories to me, and research. The story you’ve been told is very typical for stories that get handed down and are told by others that end up having very little truth. The facts tend to change, and unless you get the whole picture you can come to a wrong judgment about a person. I would like to set the record straight since my grandfather is not here to speak for himself and only Celeste Stone tried to bring some light on the subject.

    First, the story of how Major got his money is inaccurate. The story of him taking people’s rigs and laying them off and keeping the rig is so far from the truth. Instead he worked for a company that was foreclosing on a loan on several rigs as they were in default, and he asked his company to extend the loan and he made a deal with this other guy who was losing money with his company, that if he would give him a partnership he would turn the company a round and make it a winner. The man agreed, and Major saved his company and the jobs of the worker and made the company money. He was known for turning businesses around. He never took advantage of people he helped them.

    He did have some shady businesses such as the Plantation in Indiana and Chicago, as they up front seemed like a dance place but in the secret rooms they were a gambling and alcohol place during prohibition, and got raided and he paid off officials. He did run some money over the Chicago Indian state line for Al Capone and had a guy on each side of his running boards in a Packard with machine guns as he carried a vast amount of money, and would pay off the cops that stopped him. This is how he also made money as well as investing in oil.

    Then he was asked to go to Las Vegas and help a struggling Dunes hotel out, because he had a golden touch in helping struggling businesses. He did turn around the Dunes and created many jobs, he was a man with vision. He was the pioneer of the buffet for locals and charged very little.

    Susie Riddle was his Mothers name and he had no sister. He was an only child. His wife at the time of the story of a women coming to the house is partially true, however, even though he did date Virginia Hill, he never brought her to his mothers house. He was married to Frances May Reno (Renault).

    The woman that my grandmother did not want him to bring in the house was Norma, Norma Jean Fulmer’s mother. She was a showgirl and having an affair with my grandfather while he was married to Frances, then when my grandmother abruptly died at the young age of 36, shortly after my grandfather brought Norma, to his mother’s house to meet her, as now he did not have to hide the affair. He wanted to marry her, Susie did not like Norma and felt she was a floozy, as in those days if you were a showgirl, you would have been considered this, and compile that she was his mistress. That she would come wanting to marry my grandfather shortly after the death of Frances was not the sign of a wholesome girl, that was bread with morals and class, more of a women who was a gold digger, and she came pregnant in her first trimester.

    My Great grandmother did not want her stepping foot in her house disrespecting the memory of our grandmother Frances who just recently died, who knew and married my grandfather when he was still living at home and did not have money. Frances was 16 when she met Major Riddle. Though Major and Norma married against Susie’s wishes, Norma became an alcoholic and had to live with Major’s infidelity. That karma thing came back to bite her. Susie and Norma never really liked each other ands Susie would often tell her, “Blood is thicker than water”.

    Although the story of him dating Virginia Hill is true, he would never have brought her to his mothers or family as he was very respectful of his mother and loved her very much, and would never bring a woman to sleep there. My Great Grand mother and my grandmother Frances had strong Christian values. Frances worked for charities and also helped in the war efforts and was educated and helped in secretarial work for her husband. She was also very beautiful.

    Setting the record straight,
    Debra.

    • Mike Sion says:

      DACI: I enjoyed reading your comments! I actually am writing a novel partially set in Las Vegas in the early 1960s. Major Riddle is one of the many characters briefly mentioned … he used to play craps at the other casinos, with a pretty showgirl from a cast at the Dunes holding his chips for him (and she was strictly an escort, no funny business). He’d tip her from his winnings. I was wondering how to describe his speaking voice? Deep, muscular, Kentucky accent, Midwest twang??? Any help you can send my way would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Mike Sion says:

      Also wondering if Major Riddle spoke with a Kentucky drawl or Midwest twang.

  10. william redinger C says:

    Wow the last comment from DACI made me cry because the first time I read this article it upset me because I always thought of the major as having a huge heart and actually carried about people. My mom and my dadboth told me story’s about how he helped the community he even gave money to open boys and girls clubs that are still open and used to this day in Las Vegas. He wasent perfect but he had a really big heart.

    • N.J. Fulmer says:

      Hi William, Your great grandfather, Major was a very complicated man. He had a large heart for children but yet could be all business. I remember some very special, cute times that he & I spent, although only a few. He loved to fish and loved to work. He was very smart at making a business work, although he was not always successful. Major was a charming and successful man who attracted women. His wives were his best friends. He had other acquaintances but few were trustworthy friends. No he wasn’t perfect but he left a legacy during an exciting and glamorous era.
      Hope all is well with you and give my best to your Dad. Love, N.J. your great aunt (Norma Jean Riddle)

      • John Lentz says:

        Just a short note. I met Norma Jean While I was at Western Military Academy in Alton I’ll. I was lucky to have dated her afor a very short time and have fond memories of Norma. I was also privileged to meet Major Riddle and his wife. They, along with Norma Jean took me to diner and a movie in St. Louis. I don’t know anymore about Mr Riddle but know that he was very nice and a class gentleman. N.J., I wish you all the best. John Lentz

  11. Dan says:

    Thanks for setting the record straight Debra, I have no idea why the stories surrounding Major’s life is stretched. Heard Major was a very charitable and generous man to employees, friends and the community of Las Vegas. He was related to James Riddle Hoffa, both coming from the Hoosier state.

    Major was entrepeneurial at very early age in his life and authored a book. The lights were turned out in Las Vegas for one minute with respect to Mr. Riddle after learning of his passing.

    RIP Major A. Riddle

  12. Georgi Komon Gold says:

    Norma Fulmer, this message is for you…we were girlfriends at Hyde Park Jr. High. Do you remember the day about 10 of us girls decided to “ditch” school? Of course we were found out! My parents were furious with me because my dad was a bartender in the lounge of the Dunes and they were certain that he would lose his job over the incident. Well, of course he did not lose his job. Your daddy was very kind and a great business man. I moved away, back to Chicago and lost touch with you. I have often wondered where you are and hope that your life has been good. Your bedroom was decorated so beautifully and the white carpeting in your living room must have been 3 inches thick. In my first home, I put the identical carpet in my living room.
    All Best,
    Georgi Komon Gold(Georganne Zapantis)

  13. Majors friend says:

    This message is for the dispiteful debra, who part of her story was correct about major being very helpful to the community and part of the story on how he got started, but her slander has gone overboard. How dare you slander Norma Riddle as she was the sweetest most caring person I’ve ever known. Your grandmother was no saint as were none of majors wives. He lived on the wild side and he attracted wild woman.Do you even reallize how many times he was married. He brought on the infedelity, dont blame any of the wives or even girlfriends. If you want to tell the truth on history, why dont you tell the story that I heard that debra, majors granddaughter stole all of major riddles daughter nancy’s money and she has continually stolen from whats left of the riddle estate with her personal lawyer fees. Everyone of her family members including her daughter would have some inheritance if it weren’t for her greed and a few others. This author wants to hear facts not your personal quirks with the Norma Riddles family, and your theory on whether it was Norma or Virginia. I’ve heard both were there before. You don’t realize major riddles story didn’t die when he died, as it still continues. Every adult at the time of his death stole from every child under 18 at the time and every unborn greatgrandchild, by changing majors will, with your family settlement agreement that gave all adults a larger share than the minor grandchildren and great grandchildren. The adult grandchildren including debra gave theirselves a higher share than minor grandchildren. Absolutely disgusting what the adults did to the children. Also I heard his last wife Marion stole from the family and had to sign away her rights to anything else. All this is part of major riddles history and is heard through stories and online research, so these stories are not my opinion, just part of his saga, maybe fact or fiction.

  14. N.J. Fulmer says:

    Norma Riddle was a wonderful lady, very devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She was kind to everyone she met and loved by everyone I knew. She did everything she could to support her husband Major Riddle including caring for his mother, Susie Riddle for several years prior to her death. Norma & Susie had become very close over the years. Norma also cared for 4 of Major’s Grandchildren for several years when they needed a home. She did the best she could. Yes she was an alcoholic but she was self-sacrificing to help others. Comments that were made regarding affairs of Major with Norma or Virginia Hill are unsubstantiated, and only allegations made out of spite toward me by a granddaughter that my mother, Norma Riddle, took into her home. Too bad that one has to resort to bad mouthing the deceased, when they cannot defend themselves. signed N.J. Fulmer (Norma Jean Riddle)

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