Biography Of ‘Big Bill’ Lias To Be Presented

WHEELING — Judi Hendrickson and Jeanne Finstein will present the biography of Bill Lias, written by novelist and historian George Fetherling, at the Ohio County Public Library at 7 p.m. Dec. 10. The presentation is free of charge and open to the public. The event will include a visit by Lias portrayer, Dave Clutter.

When newspapers and magazines wrote about William George Lias, they called him “Big Bill.” Most everyone did so as well.

Gangster William George ”Big Bill” Lias (July 14, 1900-June 1, 1970) was born in Wheeling or Greece, and christened William George Liakakos. By 1920, he had left the family grocery business and became a bootlegger, gambler, racetrack owner and wide ranging entrepreneur who was more than simply notorious, he was famous. He made his fortune in his hometown of Wheeling, which he transformed into a wide-open city and reigned as the king of its demimonde..

The United States Government, which expended a great deal of effort to convict him of tax fraud whenever possible, was also determined to declared him an undesirable alien, claiming that he had been born in Greece, not in Wheeling as he insisted and was living in the United States illegally. It took him decades and millions in legal fees, but he beat the rap and was finally declared a native-born citizen.

Lias’s rise was accompanied by violence, including gang wars and the mysterious death of his first wife in 1934. Yet Big Bill was lionized as well as feared by ordinary citizens as much as he was despised and feared by the local establishment and press. He survived more than one assassination attempt and lived out his life in obvious but never ostentatious comfort.

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