Gangster history found inside Peoria county bar - WEEK.com: Peoria-area News, Weather, Sports

Gangster history found inside Peoria county bar

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Peoria was once known as a "wide open" city. In the 1930s that paved the story for the Shelton brothers, the area's most famous gangsters.

The story begins on the corner of McClure and Linn. Today it's a law office, but this building once belonged to Clyde Garrison, a main player in local gambling clubs.

"They pulled into the garage and there were three other gangsters waiting for them here. They were going to kidnap Clyde and hold him for ransom", said Bernie Drake.

Researcher Bernie Drake says Garrison's wife was killed during that incident. He explains the murder is believed to have lead Garrison to seek protection. 
Garrison reached out to the Shelton brothers, a powerful force in bootlegging during the prohibition.

"By 1940 the Sheltons were no longer headquartered in East Saint Louis, they had moved their headquarters to Peoria", said Drake.

By that time they were prominent in the gambling business. Carl Shelton was the eldest brother of the gang, and the leader. Bernie was the enforcer, because of his toughness and Earl operated as the organizer.

Carl fled back to southern Illinois when Peoria cracked down on the clubs. But because one building of theirs was on Farmington Road in West Peoria, Bernie kept operations rolling.

"They bought this building, it was called the Parkway Tavern, and this was kind of their club house. They had gambling on that side... slot machines, craps tables and then this side was the bar", said Matt Weaver, co-owner of the current restaurant in that building.

Bernie was shot and killed leaving the club in 1948, ending the Shelton gang reign in Peoria. Earl fled the state ending the gang entirely.

Since then, the Farmington road building has held many names. Today it stands as Shelton's Bar.  The historic name brings in many to learn about the gang... and others to remember them.

"Bernie Shelton gave me a five dollar bill when I was a kid. Back then, it was a lot of money", said Dick Van Norman. Van Norman met Bernie Shelton when he was just 12 years old. He says that he now returns to the restaurant for the historic twist.

"We've got a pizza called the Big Earl, we've got a bootlegger sandwich, a prohibition melt", said Weaver.

Van Norman says you've got to try the chili.

If Van Norman isn't in the building to share some stories, there are a few books at the end of the bar that guests can read for a deeper look into the lives of Bernie, Carl and Earl Shelton. 

Shelton's bar is located at 2016 W Farmington Rd, West Peoria.

(309) 981-5635

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