Marie Waite – “Spanish Marie”

Marie Waite – “Spanish Marie”

It was said Marie Waite fell heir to the rum running business when her husband’s corpse washed ashore on Biscayne Bay in 1926. Charlie Waite, known as “king of the rum runners,” had been killed in a shootout with the Coast Guard.

Known as “Spanish Marie,” she set up shop in Havana where she “ruthlessly ruled a little rum running empire.” As a savvy businesswoman and formidable female admiral, she eventually became the controlling principle in the illicit booze trade from Havana to Key West. She commanded a flotilla of fifteen contact boats, the fastest in the business, and ran booze along Florida’s southern coast from Palm Beach to Key West.

At six-feet-tall, Waite is said to have been well-proportioned and very attractive with black hair and blue eyes, a product of a Swedish father and Mexican mother. With a hot Latin temperament to go along with her allure, Rum War at Sea, described her as, “a fickle and dangerous person, with morals as free as the four winds.”

It’s said she attracted a stable of men, but alas, not all survived her bedroom charms. Discarding her lovers in as few as three months, she would encase them in concrete and have them dropped into the salty brine in the Florida Straits between Havana and Key West. Dead men tell no tales.

A formidable foe, Waite used every means at her disposal to counter those who opposed her rum running activities. If her beauty didn’t woo them to keep their lips zipped, then her money did. Many a fine upstanding lawman fell into her well-laid traps, and upon several occasions she even approached the Coast Guard with promises of plenty of green. To no avail, enmity with the Coast Guard prevailed throughout her days on the seas.

It was difficult for the coast Guard to intercept Waite’s boats. Often using a convoy system of four boats to elude their grasp, three of the boats would be loaded with liquor with the fourth loaded with firepower. The latter would hold off the advancing Coast Guard while the others made a run for it.

When the Coast Guard obtained faster boats and communication advantages, they were able to put a dent in Spanish Marie’s inventory. But she countered with radio-equipped boats and an unlicensed radio transmitting station on Key West. Sending out seemingly innocuous words and phrases in Spanish, she continued to conduct her trade until the Coast Guard broke the code. Using information gleaned from her transmissions, they gathered valuable and continuous information about her business.

Spanish Marie’s empire crumbled on March 12, 1928 when she and her crew were caught in Cocoanut Grove in Miami unloading liquor from her boat, Kid Boots, into waiting trucks. Waite, Fred Harvey, Rolland Stuart, boat master, and four truck drivers, Will Johnson, G. A. McKinney, J. McKinney and F.A. McKinney were arrested for the transportation of 5,526 bottles of whiskey run, gin, wine, alcohol, champagne and beer.

A $500 bond was originally posted, but when Waite failed to show up in court the next day, that amount jumped to  $3,000. Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt in her book, The Inside of Prohibition, gave this account:

Not being certain of the honesty of those to whom she had entrusted the land delivery of this liquor cargo, Marie left her home and two sleeping babies that morning in response to a telephone call telling her of the safe arrival at its destination of the rum vessel from Bimini. Having employed a special pilot boat to scout the coast near the landing place to “spot” coast guardsmen, and to direct the landing movements of the rum boat’s crew by means of flash-light signals, she entertained, it appeared, no doubt as to the rum boat’s safe and unmolested landing.

   Overcome with emotion during interrogation on the flagship after her arrest, she pleaded for immediate release to enable her to go home to her children. Under the circumstances, she was released under a five-hundred-dollar bond for her appearance for a preliminary hearing the following day. On the appearance day she was absent, but was represented by an attorney who moved for a continuance on the ground that his client was at home in bed suffering from nervous prostration. Had not her attorney forgotten to obtain a doctor’s certificate showing her condition to be as represented, and had not Marie met and talked with a special under-cover customs agent in Bimini the night before, it is quite possible that a continuance would have been granted and the embarrassment of furnishing a three-thousand-dollar bond in place of the original bond avoided!

Spanish Marie was never brought to justice. She disappeared along with her boats, money, and pistol, leaving no record of what eventually happened to her.

Click here to order a copy of Run the Rum In, which includes  more fascinating stories about South Florida during the Prohibition era.

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5 Responses to Marie Waite – “Spanish Marie”

  1. Why are there no pictures of this woman?

  2. Jacques says:

    Hello Mrs. Ling. Clicking from link to link, I came across your site and this page. I actually did find a picture in a blog featuring Marie Waite. See the link hereunder. To be honest, I did not check the genuinety of it: http://bahamabobsrumstyles.blogspot.nl/2013/01/prohibition-key-west.html

    Given your description of the lady, the possible “marine background” on the picture with the rope and the apparent topic interest of the author, it just might be that it is her. But I guess you would want to check with the author of that blog what he knows about the picture, if you did not already do that. Best regards (nice reading BTW). Jacques

  3. Jacques says:

    Ahh, I should have checked a little further on your site…. the photo on the page that I just linked to you in my previous post, seems to be a crop-out of a picture that you already showed under Gertrude Lythgoe… So, no picture of Ms. Waite still… Kind regards, Jacques

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