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Harris Lee Parcus--The Godfather of North Alabama

The Chicken Shack and The River Club....


"Once I was driving through Jackson County with three of my men and I made arrangements with the local law to haul us in for questioning. I stayed downstairs in the sheriff's office, drinking Jack Daniels, while they carried my men upstairs. They worked on them for two or three hours, asking questions about my business and threatening them with jail time if they didn't talk. Finally one of the deputies came downstairs and said, "They're all right, Mr. Parcus. They ain't going to talk."

Parcus never explained what would have happened if they had failed the test.

With his whiskey operations prospering he began to invest in other businesses, some of which earned their own marks in Huntsville's folklore. Along with his father, he built the River Club with money he sent home while in service. The grocery store was converted and became the Chicken Shack, followed later by the Pine Villa. Many an old Huntsvillian can tell stories about going to the Chicken Shack or River Club on a Saturday night after all the other clubs had closed.

As people flocked to the after-hours nightclubs Harris Lee saw an opportunity for yet an

other business. Many of these people wanted a place to gamble and he was happy to oblige them by setting up a house with poker and dice games. The joint quickly became a Mecca for professional gamblers across the Southeast.

Money rolled in faster than he could give it away, which is what he did in many cases. He was also attracting a lot of attention. "I never worried too much about the state or county law," Harris Lee remembered. "Most of them were paid off. It was the Feds you had to watch out for."

In 1958 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (also known as the Feds or revenuers) began building a case against Parcus. Almost immediately their investigation ran into trouble. Harris Lee by this time had employed hundreds of people, but not one of them would talk. The ATF tried to make a deal with one bootlegger who was in prison, saying they would let him out if he would testify. The man refused. Next they tried to set Parcus up by sending undercover agents to make buys. That, too, failed.

With no one willing to talk the government had no way of determining exactly what Parcus's position in the organization was.

Unable to charge him as a major offender, the government indicted him several months later on "Conspiracy to distribute illicit liquors." At his trial he was found guilty and sentenced to 3 months in prison.

"Prison wasn't really that bad, but I wouldn't recommend it either," said Harris Lee. "Making moonshine wasn't considered all that horrendous like murder or armed robbery. A lot of the people in prison already knew my reputation so they left me alone."

More Moonshine on next page!

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