This article was last modified on March 21, 2020.

State Street Arcade, Mall Books and Red Letter News

These are just poorly written notes about the “adult” book stores in Madison. Maybe someday they’ll be a more coherent article.

State Street Arcade (113 State Street) opened circa 1974 in a building owned by the Caputo family. The business was originally owned by BLH Distributors, which stood for Brian Benson, Russell LaMarche and Gerald Hemp, but only LaMarche would remain after a while. Early on they also had stores in LaCrosse and Milwaukee.

In October 1976, William Charles Evert took over the lease from Tile World (2825 East Washington) with little fanfare (he had already signed paperwork in August to bring the building up to code). Evert had a checkered past – he was expelled from Mazomanie High School in 1958. He had a history of drunken driving arrests, disorderly conduct, and spent one year in the Green Bay Reformatory for burglarizing a Middleton gas station. Shortly before taking out the lease in Madison, he had a warehouse (Longhorn Sales) raided in Dallas, Texas that contained obscene literature, “rubber goods” and pornography – some including animals.

Word began to leak out in October 1976 about William Evert’s plan to open an adult bookstore. Men doing the remodeling told a bartender, who passed word on to the neighborhood’s alderman, Don Murdoch. When Murdoch found out, he said the decision to open a store there was “cruel and callous.” While legal, it was within a block of a high school and multiple churches. Not surprisingly, the high school principal (Dale Watt) and local pastors (e.g. Warren Heckman) were less than thrilled.

Evert said that although he held the lease, he was not going to be the manager. The store was to be owned by Cen-Tex Corp, and they would hire someone. The registered agent for Cen-Tex was Alexander Ray Fletcher, who gave his address as 2526 East Washington. Evert said the corporation asked him to get the lease and handle the remodeling, but that was all. Sadie Stein and her brother Art Schaefer owned the building, and they were told it was going to be a “book store.” They disapproved of the new business, but unless it was illegal, they were bound by the lease.

On October 21, 1976. Alderman Murdoch met with 100 residents at Holy Cross Lutheran Church and urged them to each write letters about how they felt concerning the new store. He said individual letters would be more powerful than a group letter, and if the store had First Amendment rights, so did the citizens.

By November, residents were regularly protesting. One of them was “Diamond Don” Wells, who formerly operated the Tonight Club but now had the Christian Coffee House at 420 State Street. Wells said when he had the Tonight Club, he would have 50 topless dancers and they all had lazy, out of town boyfriends. The boyfriends would have a falling out with their stripping girlfriends and then go rob a grocery store. (Whether any of this was true… a former strip club owner running a Christian coffee shop?)

A meeting on November 18 set up roughly 30 people who planned to protest and picket daily outside the store from 6pm to 8pm. At the meeting was Officer Richard Scanlon, who offered advice on what would be acceptable levels of protest without being harassment. By December, Robert Brennan of the Chamber of Commerce also joined in the protests.

December 13, 1976: Realizing he had no legal remedy to get rid of Red Letter News, Alderman Murdoch switched from reactive to proactive. He introduced a zoning ordinance that kept “adult” businesses away from schools, parks and churches. This would not apply to Red Letter, but would keep future bookstores out of neighborhoods. The ordinance passed easily. Alderman Michael Briggs took exception to the word “adult,” and quipped, “The mental midgets that use these places can hardly be termed adults.”

May 18, 1978: On paperwork filed with the state, Pamela “Tigger” Natarus was identified as the president of Cen-Tex Corporation. Dallas, Texas police files listed Natarus as a girlfriend of Evert’s, and noted she had at one time managed a pornography store he owned in Dallas. In fact, Evert owned two stores in Dallas and one in Fort Worth, along with the Madison store. A Pamela Natarus of Madison worked for Wisconsin Physician’s Service in 1976, and was engaged to a Dennis Laufenberg. While this does not sound like the same person, how many people named Pamela Natarus in Madison could there be?

December 4, 1978: Though Evert long denied any connection with Red Letter, and Alexander Fletcher long denied knowing Evert, when Evert showed up in Dane County court for a drunk driving offense, Fletcher was there with him.

December 6, 1978: Madison media checked with law enforcement and found that William Evert had FIFTY-FIVE obscenity charges in Dallas over the past four years, all of which were still outstanding (he wouldn’t stand trial unless extradited). Texas obscenity law was much more strict than Wisconsin, and magazines that were legal in Wisconsin were “obscene” in Texas.

December 29, 1978: Madison reporters called William Evert in Dallas at one of his businesses, Biti Enterprises. He again denied any involvement in Red Letter News and referred the media to his Madison attorney, Percy Julian.

January 7, 1979: The Wisconsin State Journal ran an expose on William Evert. They found he once paid a man, Travis Reagan Jones of Dallas, $500 to put his name on Cen-Tex paperwork in order to not have his own name there. Investigations showed Evert meeting with Reuben Sturman, one of the nation’s pornography kings. He was based out of Cleveland with financial backing by the Colombo crime family of New York. Sturman was believed to be Evert’s supplier, as he operated through a number of businesses such as Castle News of Milwaukee and Sovereign News of Cleveland. Like Evert, Sturman preferred layers to keep his name away from paperwork and finances.

April 1986: Taxes were filed for Red Letter News and Mall Books (231 State Street) by Dave Weaver, who gave his address as 4500 West Montrose in Chicago. Weaver represented Red Letter as an agent of Cen-Tex and Mall Books as an agent of Falls News, Inc. Both Cen-Tex and Falls News had been owned by Evert, then pornographer Donald Gittelson in 1979, and finally Paula Lawrence in the early 1980s.

The Chicago address was listed as the home of Midwest Bookkeeping Services. A few doors down at 4508 was General Video Midwest and Capital News Agency. Both 4500 and 4508 were owned by Capital News. The warehouse at 4508 was home to 80% of the pornography in the Midwest, according to a Congressional report, and the person running the show was Paula Lawrence. Prior to this position, Lawrence was a stock clerk at Castle News porn warehouse in Milwaukee, which was owned by Reuben Sturman. Lawrence claimed to be the sole owner of Capital News, allegedly buying it from pornographer Donald Gittelson of Hollywood in 1980. Government investigations strongly suggested Lawrence was merely the “front” and Capital, Falls News, Red Letter and more were actually owned by Sturman. She was, in fact, indicted as part of a conspiracy to hide Sturman’s money in a Swiss bank account.

On a side note, the newspaper reported that Sturman was believed to be the owner of other pornographic stores in Wisconsin: Carnival and Book Leaf in Milwaukee, Book Mart in Racine, the Wednesday Company in Butler, and a few stores in Kenosha. His Mafia connections included the Cleveland crime family, and both the Colombo and Gambino families of New York. (Personal note: I have never seen any evidence that Milwaukee mobsters had ANY connection to pornography, as strange as that sounds.)

December 6, 1986: The Capital Times printed an interview with Russell J. LaMarche, owner of the State Street Arcade. LaMarche said he ran a “clean” business and did not allow prostitution or hustling on his property, and kept no items under the counter – everything was on view. When asked about organized crime (which was said to control 90% of the pornography business), LaMarche said, “We’re small enough that they’ve never really been concerned with it. They’ve never even bothered to make a phone call.” Yet, LaMarche conceded that his supplier was probably the same supplier for Red Letter News and Mall Books, which allegedly had (very loose) Mafia connections. Store employee Dave Little said he made $4 an hour and said pornography was not the million dollar business people thought it was, at least not anymore. With softcore pornography on cable television and hardcore pornography at most video stores, the “adult” bookstores had more competition to contend with.

October 1988: Mary Lang-Sollinger purchased the building that housed Mall Books from Leon Sweet after 18 months of negotiations. She informed the tenant and the press that when the lease was up in 1990, Mall Books would no longer be on State Street. When asked who held the lease, she would not say other than to say they were in Chicago. Lang-Sollinger already owned 514 State Street, which housed Momentum, a women’s clothing store. The cost for the building was “an embarrassing sum,” but her “love affair” with State Street made her want to do her part to clean it up. (The assessed value was $265,000 so the sales price was likely much more.)

June 25, 1997: The state filed an injunction against Red Letter News and listed owner Roy Robert May of Chicago, ordering them to stop selling nitrous oxide. The business had been selling the gas in sizes larger than would be necessary for “legitimate use.” The sale of the gas had come under scrutiny following the death of a UW student in November 1996 who had overdosed on it. (Nitrous oxide is commonly known as “laughing gas” or “whippets.”)

April 21, 2003: Police officers walking through Red Letter News found two patrons with unzipped pants who admitted to engaging in sexual contact. That same week, police found two patrons masturbating in the store. A summons was sent to attorney Thomas Rostad, agent for the store, concerning permit violations. When asked, Rostad told the press he merely passed the summons on to the corporation and had nothing further to do with it.

June 25, 2003: Roughly 25 people marched in the rain to protest Red Letter News, arguing that such a store was not appropriate for a “family neighborhood.” According to te protestors, the neighborhood (Emerson-East) was revitalized in the past ten years and the store was the one sore spot. Even alderman Brian Benford chimed in, saying, “If you’re here at 3am and looking for a prostitute or illegal drugs, this is the only corner you’re going to come to because it’s open 24 hours.” The store’s attorney, Stephen Glynn, said there was no evidence that the business increased the area’s crime rate.

State Street Arcade closed in July 2006 when the Arcade decided not to renew their lease. There was speculation about why this happened, with the assumption being that the building owner raised the rent and felt they could get a more profitable establishment to move in. Rumors of an “eviction” were false.

On July 18, Dan Milsted, brother-in-law of building owner Tom Caputo, told the newspaper, “The family has been working for quite a while to eliminate that element, and we finally had the opportunity. We don’t have any immediate plans, but the word is out. We have gotten a tremendous number of calls from all kinds of venues.” Neighbor Ian’s Pizza (115 State Street) bought the space and expanded their restaurant.

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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