Kefauver Investigation and Knapp Commission

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The pervasive reach of ORGANIZED CRIME in the United States has made it a target of investigations and legal action since the nineteenth century. Two of the most noteworthy attacks were the Kefauver investigation in the 1950s and the Knapp Commission hearings in the 1970s. Both investigations brought a new focus to this fight; the Kefauver hearings gave it national prominence, and the Knapp hearings underscored what can happen when corrupt law enforcement officials ignore the criminal element.

Estes Kefauver, a U.S. senator from Tennessee, introduced Senate Resolution 202 in January 1950, which called for a national investigation of organized crime. The rapid growth of crime syndicates in major cities across the United States meant an increase in illegal gambling, drug trafficking, EXTORTION, and prostitution. Many of the syndicate leaders had set up legitimate business fronts to hide their illegal operations. Kefauver believed that the syndicates had grown so strong that local law enforcement was unable to exert any control.

In May 1950 Kefauver and four other senators were named to a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Because the committee's focus was interstate commerce, the hearings were held across the United States?14 cities in 15 months. Suspected and known organized crime leaders in these cities were interrogated by the five senators, which generated local interest. In Detroit, a local television station broadcast part of the hearings in that city. The Kefauver committee voiced disapproval of legalized gambling operations in Nevada and that disapproval was credited in part for helping defeat legalized gambling proposals on the ballot in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and Montana.

When the Kefauver committee began hearings in New York City on March 12, 1951, a local station provided live broadcast feed to the major networks. The hearings were televised in 20

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New York City firemen watch William O'Dwyer, the city's former mayor, testify before the Kefauver Senate Crime Investigating Committee. These first major televised Senate hearings had an audience of 30 million.


cities, ultimately generating an audience of 30 million. The Kefauver investigation marked the first time a major Senate hearing had been covered on national television, and it made a strong impression on the public. One of the most...

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