Parkersburg writer pens book about Wheeling crime lord

“The Czar of Wheeling” by author Stephen Hupp of Parkersburg is available on amazon.com. (Image Provided)

PARKERSBURG — A Parkersburg man has written a crime story based on a true-life character from Wheeling.

“The Czar of Wheeling” is based on Big Bill Lias, who controlled vice in the Wheeling area in the early and mid 20th century, said author Stephen Hupp. The inspiration for the book, Hupp’s sixth, was based on a story about Lias aired by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in June 2019, “This Week in West Virginia History.” covering daily what happened in the past.

“Lias controlled vice in the Wheeling area during the early and middle 20th century, when the steel mills were in full operation along with riverboat traffic carrying goods,” Hupp said. “Lots of men with lots of money to spend on booze during Prohibition, gambling and sex.”

Hupp is director of libraries at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

His previous books have dealt with the world of automobile racing and NASCAR, including the “On a Sunday in May,” published earlier this year.

Big Bill Lias,1900-1970. (Photo Provided)

Hupp began research for a “The Czar of Wheeling” in the summer of 2019 while he was putting the finishing touches on “On a Sunday in May.”

“The actual writing began in March 2020, just when the pandemic began,” Hupp said.

The two lead characters in the story are Leo Ganas, the fictional crime boss, and Dr. Eugene Sanborn, his reluctant biographer who teaches history at a college in Wheeling, Hupp said. Sanborn and Ganas engage in a series of interviews where the crime lord reveals the details of his life.

Hupp describes the book as a crime novel with a confessional.

“Ganas is dying and, inspired by the success of Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather,’ wants to the world to know his story,” Hupp said.

Steve Hupp has written a story based on a crime figure in Wheeling. “The Czar of Wheeling” is his sixth novel. (Photo Provided)

People interested in crime stories and West Virginia history would be attracted to the book, Hupp said.

“Towns along the Ohio River have a colorful history over the last century,” he said. “Wheeling was called ‘wide-open Wheeling.’ Steubenville, Ohio, ‘Little Chicago.’ Parkersburg, ‘the wickedest town on the Ohio.'”

Lias was born July 14, 1900, and died in 1970. He quit school in the sixth grade to become a bootlegger.

Besides gambling, booze, slots, the numbers racket and other forms of entertainment, he purchased Wheeling Downs at a bankruptcy sale in 1945 for $262,500. Another $500,000 was invested in the track and it started turning a profit.

“The Czar of Wheeling” is 335 pages and costs $19.99 for the paperback and $2.99 for the ebook. The book and others by Hupp are available on Amazon.

In addition to “The Czar of Wheeling” and “On a Sunday in May,” he has written “Born to the Breed,” “Daughter of the Valley,” “Wings in the Night” and “Of Gods and Spirits.”

His next endeavor will be a novel about the events of 2020 and what will occur in 2021.

“Response to the pandemic, divisive politics in an election year, call for reforms in policing and racial social justice,” Hupp said. “There is a lot to talk about and I have things to say.”

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)


Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today