Charlie’s Last Shave
By Scott M. Deitche
Charlie Williams sat back in the barber chair, and settled in for a shave on the early evening of February 18, 1953. The barbershop, Taribio’s, was located in the heart of Ybor City in Tampa, many miles away from Charlie’s modest home on 1st Ave S in St Petersburg. But Taribio’s was Charlie’s favorite barbershop, and every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday Charlie drove across the bridge and got himself a shave and occasional cut.
Charlie was not alone that day. His feet had been bothering him earlier on and he had his secretary, Ethel Coar, drive his Chrysler sedan into Tampa. He needed to get some cases of liquor for a meeting later that evening of the Florida Negro Elks, of which Charlie was second in command. He was in Tampa that Saturday evening to check up on the night’s bolita throwing as well.
Although Charlie Williams was a respected man in St. Petersburg, a civilian deputy sheriff, and second in command of the Elks, he was also the biggest bolita banker in St. Petersburg. His career started when he was young, and he first got in trouble in 1933 when fifteen officers raided his home looking for gambling equipment. Nothing of substance was found. By the time the police raided his home again in 1937, however, they found over $50,000 in cash.
Along with his deep civic ties, Williams was also reported to be in a partnership with the Tampa Mafia, then under Santo Trafficante Sr. Charlie’s contacts were with Santo Trafficante Jr., and his brother Henry. While William’s was running his operation smoothly, taking in the bets and making a sizable income for himself as well as sending money across the bay to Tampa, he was about to step into a war for control of bolita between the Cubans and Italians in Tampa.
A month prior, on January 3rd, Santo Trafficante Jr. was shot in his car as he rode through Tampa. The underworld was on edge and certainly Charlie was sensing real danger. Many of his close friends and family noticed his changing demeanor, especially on that Saturday evening before he went into Tampa.
“He was just jittery, didn’t act right all day.” said his wife to police.1
Later that afternoon, after Charlie picked up the liquor for his Elks party, Ethel decided to take a short nap in his car, while Charlie went in for his shave. Charlie seemed to be in good spirits in the shop, and walked out of Taribiro’s with a fresh shave and a bounce in his step. He made a beeline for the car, and failed to notice a young man, slouched over, with a hat on, approaching Charlie. When the unknown man got near Charlie, he pulled out a .45 and pumped two bullets into William’s chest, then ran off down the street.
Ethel was awakened by the blasts and saw her boss dying on the street. The police and an ambulance were immediately called. Although the ambulance arrived quickly, Charlie was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Police canvassed the neighborhood and actually managed to find one witness who reportedly saw the gunman, but his description was too vague to be of any assistance. Police started spinning the case into another gangland killing. Police in Tampa already had fourteen unsolved gangland murders, and hopes that the killer of William’s would be found were low.
Rumors circulating around the bars and backrooms of Tampa chalked William’s relationship with Trafficante as the reason for his slaying. The Cubans were looking to make a play in St. Petersburg, and took Charlie out of the picture.
Charlie’s death didn’t give the Cubans the upper hand, however, and by the end of the fifties, many of the independent Cubans fell in under Santo Trafficante Jr.
1 St Petersburg Times, February 19, 1953
© 2000 Scott M. Deitche
Copyright © 2000 PLR International