The rackets in Phenix City were run by a local mob without connections to the crime syndicates of America's big cities. A slow start in the 1930s preceded a bonanza with the onset of World War II and the transformation of nearby Fort Benning into a huge army training facility, which it remained after the war. George Patton, once commander of Fort Benning, threatened to level Phenix City for the vice he saw ruining his troops and the dead soldiers occasionally found in the Chattahoochee River. The city teemed with honky-tonk casinos, prostitutes, moonshine rebottled as high grade whiskey and loan sharks ready to take the boots off of any G.I. who couldn't pay his gambling debts. Anyone who spoke out against the mob was in danger of violent retribution. Journalist Ray Jenkins recalls how he saw thugs attacking members of the Russell Betterment Association, a reformist group, in broad daylight on a public street.

Pete Hanna, who helped clean up Phenix City in 1954 as part of the National Guard, recalls John Patterson's angry emergence as his father's successor in the war against the mob and his unique qualifications for the job.