Still Waters Run Deep

By Andrew Young

Note: This essay first appeared in the June, 1998 Bulletin of the Contra Costa County Historical Society

During prohibition, many individuals ran afoul of the law. One of these was Joe Ciardella, of Richmond. He was also known as Joe Gardela and as Pete Leonini. In August 1930, he faced C.A. O'Dell, Richmond Police Judge, and freely offered information without benefit of counsel.

A friend had given him a still just prior to leaving town. It was big, having a capacity of 125 to 150 gallons. Its function was to help his wife who was sick.

After setting up the equipment in his basement, Joe used three sacks of sugar, some cracked corn and two pounds of yeast. After setting for eight days the mash was transferred to the still's copper top. Underneath was a kerosene burner. In time, the product tested 96 proof.

Each lot was 25 gallons, and according to Joe, none was sold. Instead, the brew was made for Joe, who had rheumatism, and his wife, who was sick. She drank two pints a day. Total consumption was fifty gallons during a seven month period.

No witnesses were called and there was no testimony regarding sales of liquor, so the charge was solely "possession of apparatus for the sale of intoxicating liquor."

The probation officer rendered his report, which stated the defendant started school at nine years of age and attained only the third grade. When living in Oakland he was arrested several times and fined or jailed. Currently he was unemployed, but doubtless this was due to the economic situation.

On the basis that there wasn't evidence warranting punishment, A. B. McKenzie, Judge of the Superior Court, suspended sentence and granted three years probation.

How about the still? Well, it was moved from Joe's cellar to the cellar of the police station.


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