Street Smart Chicago

Miss Rose: The Life and Times of the Gold Coast Madam

Chicago History, Gold Coast/Near North, Love & Sex Add comments

Rose Laws with friends.

By Harrison Smith

Rose Laws stands five-feet four-inches, with red hair, glasses and a strong Southern accent she’s retained from a childhood in Tennessee. She once had thirty-six-triple-D breasts, which she lost purposely because they were too big, and a tiny waist, which she lost with age because that’s how things go. She looks and talks like a grandmother, is gracious and warm like the best grandmothers, and at age seventy-seven is, not surprisingly, a grandmother.

Tonight she is without her grandchildren, though two of her sons are with her at the Everleigh Social Club on West Randolph. The club is pretty empty this early in the evening, and most of the people who are there—just about all of whom are friends or family of Rose—are sipping the night’s signature drink, a “Gold Coast Madam” cocktail mixed specially for the occasion.

The drink’s name, though it has become a nice sobriquet for Rose and a nice title for her forthcoming memoir, isn’t exactly right, properly speaking. A “madam,” as she clarifies, is a “woman who runs a house;” when she was in the business she worked as an “agent,” someone who “made dates” for clients. Yet there’s no elegance in a title like “Gold Coast Agent,” and even ten years after pleading guilty to racketeering charges, Rose maintains a certain elegance in talking about what she did: in the stories she tells about her past life she was not a “pimp” or “procuress” but an “agent” or “madam;” the women who worked for her were not “prostitutes,” they were “girls;” and the men who purchased their services were not “johns,” they were “clients.” The whole business, what an outsider or law-enforcement agent or most anyone else would call “prostitution,” was simply “the business.” And for the most part, through the nearly thirty years she was involved in it, “the business” was profitable. At the height of things in the mid-eighties, living in a twenty-first-floor condo in Lake Point Tower with a little black book filled with clients’ names, the “Gold Coast Madam” charged clients four- or five-hundred dollars an hour for her girls’ services, more than a thousand dollars an hour in today’s money. She was part of a national prostitution ring called “the circuit,” sharing girls with other agents in New Orleans, Miami, New York and Los Angeles, and she claims her clients were high rollers and high-ranking men, politicians and athletes and anyone else with the connections necessary to get a referral to her. Her cut was always forty percent.

Rose Laws in the 1960s.

Now, of course, she is no longer the Gold Coast Madam, as much as she would like to be. As far as names go, neither is she “Ms. Laws,” which sounds far too judicious and hard-edged for her character. She is simply Rose (or “Miss Rose,” as her girls used to call her), a mother and grandmother living in Sarasota, Florida with one of her sons and all three of her grandkids, abiding on daily walks and an income almost wholly drawn from Social Security checks. She dresses in modest combinations of primary colors, and there is nothing about her appearance or mannerisms to identify her as a former agent to call girls. She is modest about almost everything; she is never in a bad mood; she has no regrets. She is fond of the phrase “many clouds, many rainbows,” and she is, as she tells me, “what you’d call a ‘happy person.’”

For the past four years she has been working on a memoir, “Gold Coast Madam: The Secret Life of Rose Laws,” which is set to come out this November through Chicago publisher Lake Claremont Press. Rose is not the best writer, however—her poor spelling and tendency to talk faster than she can write being particularly problematic—so Dianna Harris, a family friend whose husband has been best friends with Rose’s son Kenny since second grade, was brought in as co-author. In the past few years, Rose has talked and Dianna has listened, piecing the book together from their conversations and the “boxes and boxes” of audiotapes Rose has recorded since the seventies. The two of them are at the Everleigh tonight to kick off a pre-release book tour of sorts, with Rose in town for a few days this late July and early August to spread the word about the upcoming release. They’ll be speaking at a bar and bookstore, engaging in standard book-tour-type sessions before holding a semi-private fundraiser at Gene & Georgetti’s steakhouse the next Friday, but at the Everleigh the typical book-reading format is replaced by a bill that sandwiches the audience Q&A between a couple of burlesque dances and a reading given by two naked women. It’s unorthodox, but right down to the venue it’s entirely appropriate: the Everleigh Social Club is named after the ritzy bordello run by Chicago’s Everleigh Sisters a hundred years ago, true and literal madams who, like Rose, managed a decidedly upper-class clientele.

Today’s West Randolph Everleigh is not a brothel, though as an “artistic bordello” its tastes do tend heavily toward the erotic. There are black-and-white photographs and prints on the walls, most of which depict women in various states of artfully posed nudity, and in a corner a woman swings back and forth in black lingerie, nursing her drink atop a red-cushioned swing and remembering, as Franky Vivid told her, to tap her leg if any of the club’s guests start making her nervous. She is, apparently, pretty new at this.

Franky’s name, along with that of co-proprietor Michelle L’amour, is just about the only garish thing in the Everleigh Social Club, which is filled with vintage chairs and couches and a low-volume Jazz Age soundtrack. Michelle has dark black hair, a Zelda Fitzgerald face, and the title “The Most Naked Woman” to her name, with a studio across the landing from the Everleigh where she teaches burlesque dancing at beginner-to-advanced levels. She’s a pretty accomplished burlesque dancer, as she shows later on in the night, and she’s also the originator and frequent contributor to Naked Girls Reading, a self-explanatory series in which girls read, naked. The naked reading tonight is, officially, a Naked Girls Reading reading.

It’s not clear whether the idea of incorporating a naked reading was Rose’s, or the publisher’s, or just the Everleigh’s, but Rose enjoys it all, and has a matriarchal aura throughout. When two friends have to leave early, before the event’s even opened up to the public, their goodbyes are of the utmost respect and devotion: The first friend has to run to make an appointment, though he promises her he’ll be there next Friday—“isn’t that right?”—at Gene & Georgetti’s with Jerry, an old friend who “will come if I tell him you said so.” The second, Jay Emerich, goes through the same routine of kiss, G&G’s, “love you honey,” goodbye. Were Rose serious or grave or withdrawn at moments like this she would be Il Padrone, or a more matriarchal Godfather, but she is none of these things, at any time, and as her friends leave she is happily remembering when Jay used to own Faces, the long-closed Rush Street disco club, and remembering the restaurant Billy’s, which used to be there too, and “you know,” she says, “I know the history.”

Rose Laws

It’s not clear if Rose Laws has always been one for stories and histories or if this is a recent development, a consequence of four years spent reminiscing and talking about her life. She has, now at least, attached people to all the important places in her life, their faces standing in for the places themselves—Jay’s; the Chicago Chop House, Henry Norton’s; her old home in Elmhurst, the one two doors down from Senator “Pate” Philip’s. She is, truly, a people person, not one to forget a name or connection, personally or professionally. She’s done her best to keep in touch with her old friends, and has stayed close to her family, coming to the Everleigh by way of McMinnville, Tennessee, where she just spent time at a family reunion.

A small, green-thumb town of 13,000, the City of McMinnville identifies itself as the “Nursery Capital of the World,” the place to go for all manner of annuals and perennials. Rose grew up just a few miles northeast of the town, living in the unincorporated community of Bone Cave in the shadow of her parents’ poor marriage. Her father, whom everyone in the family called “Pa,” frequently “went out on” her mother, a fact known to both the town and the family. His mother, Rose’s grandmother, had a lot of lovers as well, and Rose says that while none of her brothers cheated on their wives, her sisters’ husbands cheated on them frequently and abused them regularly. At one point she claims she shot one of her brother-in-laws in the heel for “talking about” her sister. Another time, she says, a brother-in-law “was trying to beat up on my other sister, and I went to help her and he put his arm out to stop me and he put it right on my boob. And I drove a knife through it.”

When Rose was younger, her sister Rita performed the unheard-of act of putting on a pair of pants, wearing them so she could join a group of two dozen riders who came to the family’s house. Rose’s mother started crying, though Rose couldn’t understand why, and a few hours later the group came back, the men wearing hoods with “the eyes cut out.” Rita walked in the house, the men rode away, and, later, Rose’s father came home. He was “full of blood, from one end to the other.” The Ku Klux Klan had found him in the barn with one of his mistresses, and when the couple refused to come out the mob burned the barn until they jumped. They captured Rose’s father, tied him to a tree, and “whipped him till all the blood came out.” “So here’s my mother babying him and taking care of him, putting medication all over him and everything. To me it was so awful—why would you baby him after he’s done this, you know?” A few years later, when she put the knife in her brother-in-law’s arm, she remembers her sister took him to the hospital “and she babies him all the way. Ah, I hated that! I never do that!”

Which is not to say, of course, that Rose Laws is particularly mean or unkind. After people meet her, their response is usually some form of, “She is so nice!” And when I tell Dianna Harris that it seems surprising Rose has no regrets about anything, she immediately brings up the other common description of Rose, that “she’s all about family.”

But it is tempting, given her experiences growing up in Tennessee, to see Rose Laws as a hypocrite. She hated seeing her father cheat on her mother, and hated seeing her sisters’ husbands cheat on them. She was in fifth grade when the son of a local sheriff unsuccessfully attempted to rape her, and was a junior in high school when she was raped, beaten and thrown in a ditch by the son of another local sheriff. She had seen men consumed by sex, willing to have it no matter the cost, and yet went on to make a living off the pocketbooks of men like her father. She estimates that seventy percent of her clients were married men.

To a certain extent, this accusation of hypocrisy rings true. She could have outright rejected, rather than thrived off of and supported, the kind of person who comes to a stranger’s apartment to pay for sex. The way she sees it, however, is that if men want sex, they’re going to get it. She might as well profit off it. At a Q&A session later in the week, a man in the crowd asks her, “What do you think of these men, looking back on it?”

“They were nice men,” she says. “Ninety percent did not ask for anything strange or odd.”

“But I mean, just the fact that guys were going to prostitutes.”

“Now you remember one thing.” There is no humor in her voice. “My father had affairs with women. And I lived in the mountains of Tennessee—Bone Cave, Tennessee. My sisters married men that went out on them. So… If they’re going to do it with me, or any of mine, they’re going to pay.”

Rose Laws in the 1970s.

At some point growing up, Rose says she made up her mind that if she were going to marry at all, it was going to be to a wealthy man. There was a good chance, she figured, that her husband would cheat on her; that was just the way things were. But if it were going to happen, she would go with someone who had some money.

But “I married a man who was completely opposite of that,” says Rose. “He beat me all the time.” Her marriage to her husband Eddie was a gift to her mother, who claimed to be postponing death to see Rose have a child. She didn’t love anyone, she didn’t want to get married, “but my mother kept telling me that her maker was calling her, and she had to go. And she would not go until I had a baby.” So she dated men one at a time, finally marrying the one who got her pregnant. Eddie moved her to Cicero, his old home, and within two months of the marriage, Rose’s mother passed away.

“And I always say,” says Rose, for the first of many times this week, “I hated Chicago, until I left him and found out it was him I hated. I loved Chicago.” She had, in the eight years she was with her husband, eight pregnancies and five children. Two of them, Kenny and David, are with her tonight. Kenny, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, lives with her in Sarasota; David never left Chicago. Along with Paul, Joe and Linda, the family, Rose says, has “never, never, never” fractured or been divided. “My kids and I are too close. Know what too close is?” I’m not sure I do. “Don’t have much private stuff.”

When the youngest turned eighteen, Rose told her kids about what she did, operating a prostitution ring out of their home at the Addison Motel. The motel was as much of an investment for her family as it was for business; when she and her children still lived with Eddie in Cicero, says Rose, the kids “were all suffering from malnutrition.” Her husband was abusive, but she hesitated to file for a divorce out of fear, and finally travelled alone to Georgia to talk to one of her brothers and try to gather herself together to fight the marriage. By the time she returned and filed for a divorce, Eddie had placed their kids in Maryville Academy, a Catholic center for troubled children, and Rose was unable to get them out—she didn’t have a well-paying job, and after her divorce she didn’t have a home that was up to Maryville’s standards.

She went to church, tried to go to school, and worked two jobs, doing everything she could to follow the center’s recommendations and get her kids out. At the end of one year they still wouldn’t let her have her children, and that, she says, was “when I said: I will turn to men. Men will get me my children.” She was uneducated, knew men found her attractive, and felt she had no better way to make the money she needed. In a variant of the same story, she says a Maryville psychiatrist, “one of the top psychiatrists in the state of Illinois,” actually recommended she seek out men. The doctor told her she would need to know powerful people that could help her, and to read the local papers in suburbs like Berwyn and Riverside to find out who was who. “You’re going to have to find three wealthy men,” she remembers him as saying. “And you cannot be with just one man. You have to have three, so that you don’t fall in love with anybody.”

Regardless of whose idea it was, Rose eventually discovered Byron, a builder who owned a local construction company and was involved with an orphanage in Wisconsin. She went into his office, unannounced—“and he’s sitting down with blueprints spread out everywhere”—and refused to leave until he promised to come see her at the Jewel-T where she worked. Four days later he met her at her cash register, they agreed to meet at a diner on her day off, and there, on one of her free Thursdays, she told Byron that she wanted to have sex with him, that she “would be the best thing he ever had in his life,” and that if he didn’t agree, he never had to see her again. That if he did agree, he would promise that within a year he would put a down payment on a business that would support her and her children.

“I told him I’d be the best sex he ever had and I was,” Rose laughs. At the end of the year, Byron put a down payment on the Addison Motel, a rundown eighteen-unit getaway on West Lake and Route 83.

At the same time she was seeing Byron, says Rose, she was going from bar to bar attempting to meet rich men. “I would go in and I would flirt with the men, and I would figure out who had the most money of anybody in there, and normally—it’s hard to believe but it happened—men would hand me a roll of money.” She’d say she had to leave, walk outside to count the money, “and it’d be probably a thousand dollars.” The next time she went in the guys “wanted something for the money,” but, says Rose, “I didn’t want to put out! And they would start getting mad.”

By this time she “had girlfriends”—she means this literally—and they would offer to take care of the men in exchange for some of the money. “So I’d give the girl a couple hundred and the guy’d be happy. I didn’t know I was becoming a madam. But I was.” The men gave her money or, as she requested, donated to Maryville. A man who owned a mattress company donated beds, and another who was involved in baseball donated baseballs and bats. “The nuns,” she says, “were very appreciative,” and she was soon able to get her kids out and move the family to the motel. The girls would stay with clients in some of the rooms, and Rose would stay with her children in the others. Kitchenettes were converted into “sex rooms,” and additional mirrors were placed in all the bedrooms, so “you could see yourself any way you wanted to see yourself.” She advertised her business with suggestive slogans on the motel sign, changing the messages every few weeks from things like “STAY HEALTHY, EAT YOUR HONEY HERE” to “CAPTAIN HOOK NEEDS A HANDJOB,” a particularly embarrassing sign that led men to repeatedly come up to the front desk saying they were Captain Hook. Penthouse magazine came to photograph some of the rooms, and Playboy offered her a contract for weekly updates to her motel sign (she turned it down, saying she wouldn’t be able to come up with new ones every week). Sybaris, a regional chain of romantic hotels, came to ask her advice and copy some of her ideas.

It was, she claims, the first time a hotel openly advertised hourly rates, and became so popular that clients were telling her she should serve popcorn and watermelon while they waited for rooms. When the motel’s entrance was obstructed to build a cloverleaf for the highway, she threw massive New Years’ parties to advertise her girls, inviting hundreds of people—Maryville nuns included—to come to the motel or, in later years, clubs and other rented venues. In the first year, more than five-hundred people showed up, and she took the doors off the bedrooms to keep people from having sex during the three-day, three-night party. All her girls went home with dates.

A room in the Addison Motel

And then, twelve years after she bought it, Rose sold the Addison Motel and quit the business. She had moved herself and the kids out of the hotel shortly before that, buying a home in Elmhurst after receiving threatening phone calls: a man had called to tell her that he and five others had raped a girl in one of her rooms; Rose’s daughter, the man intimated, was next. But even then, after moving to Elmhurst and finally separating work life from home life, she was overwhelmed, tired of taking care of five kids, a motel and three sugardaddies. (A “sugardaddy,” Rose gently explains, is “somebody you have an affair with for many years.”) After she sold the motel, she took her teenage kids to Fort Lauderdale.

The five years she spent back in the South were, given her reasons for moving there in the first place, rather unsuccessful: she bought a house in Fort Lauderdale, and tried to buy a restaurant. The mob wanted a cut, she wouldn’t do it, and so she sold the house and again moved the family, this time to Atlanta. She tried out real estate, selling a house in her first day at Century 21, but on the following day her license was taken away when it was discovered she had a criminal record. She decided to try and open a restaurant again, and seemed to have had success until two months into the business, when a liquor license inspector came to see her. She was a felon, he said, so in order to keep her license and keep the restaurant going she would have to “put a cot in” her office. She “took care of him” for six months until she gave up on the whole thing and moved the family once more, to Savannah. So she tried opening a restaurant again, and again, as in Fort Lauderdale, the mob told her they were going to run drugs out of it. “You can accept it,” they said, “or not accept it. We’re doing it.” So she quit the restaurant business again and spent time as a salesperson—cars and later, in what she says was the low point of her working life, funeral plans—before returning to the food industry and working as a restaurant supervisor.

This was all in the span of five years. Her problems with the mob, she says, could have been solved with a phone call: she had been friends with Chicago mob boss Joey Aiuppa, capo di tutti capi, since the time she was struggling to get her children out of Maryville. He had helped her then—sending a body guard to Maryville to protect Rose’s son David from abuse, and later shielding Rose from political interference when she worked out of the Addison—and he was just a phone call away. “It would’ve ended” had she made the call, and Joey was always a close friend; he never asked for girls, and he never asked “for any money at no time.” “But I didn’t want to be obliged,” says Rose, and she never made the call. Instead, she kept looking for work, until she finally had enough of the long hours and relatively low pay at her restaurant job in Savannah. Sitting down to have a drink with a friend from work, she decided she was going to “run girls” again.

Rose Laws (in white) and her family in the late 1970s.

As at the Addison, she was highly successful at it. She got so busy, she says, “that private planes were flying in from all over” to do business with her girls. Private planes in Savannah—particularly private planes in Savannah in 1984—tend to draw attention, however, and her success led her to decide to move back to Chicago, where she figured her work would be able to fly under the radar. A good friend, “a very good friend,” gave her money to make the move with her family, “and then,” she says, “I came to downtown Chicago and that’s history. I made history.”

At the Everleigh, Rose is treated with the deference of a historical figure. She plays the part of hostess well, mingling and introducing herself to strangers and strangers to friends. “Gold Coast Madam” cocktails are popular at the bar, and on the opposite side of the room a small group is seated at tables near the woman on the swing. It turns out that Franky’s instruction to just tap her leg is an unnecessary one, given that people are more interested in talking about the risqué than engaging in it. When Lily Bloom takes the stage in a red boa and black dress, dancing in front of a triptych of mirrors and a red gold-leafed couch, it’s more funny and amusing than any sort of erotic pleasure. The same goes for Michelle L’amour, who has “The Ass That Goes POW!” The crowd laughs, the crowd claps, and everyone, Rose Laws included, thoroughly enjoys themselves.

And when she goes on stage to answer questions from the audience—“What prompted you to go into the business?” “Did you ever pay protection to the city?” “How do you view men?”—there are no shouts or jeers or vocalized accusations. If anyone has doubts about the morality of her business, they do not voice them, and when the talk is through a number of people get up to place advance orders for the book. The only people to leave are a couple who, a little hesitant about the upcoming naked reading, had “thought it was just a book signing.”

But the reading itself is, despite the nudity, just a reading. Michelle and Gretta, her partner for the night, do not look at the audience with a wink as they read. They take their time with the words, reading thoughtfully, like first-grade teachers, and they don’t seem to be aware of the fact that they’re naked, sitting on a couch, in front of forty people. When one of them reads, the other sits legs together, hands on knees with a good posture that could only be described as ladylike. The woman in the corner is still slowly swinging, though like the crowd she is thoroughly engrossed in what Michelle and Gretta are reading. Each time they finish a section of the memoir, Rose softly says “thank you,” and when they finish she’s quick to compliment them, saying “you’re wonderful readers.”

And when all is said and done, when the girls walk off the stage, nonchalantly covering themselves with pages of the book’s manuscript, Rose invites everyone to the following Friday’s fundraiser at Gene & Georgetti’s. She anticipates that most of her old clients will be there, and some of her old girls, and many of her old friends, and she doesn’t mind if anyone else joins them. There is nothing strange to her about having people see her girls and her old clients, though to be fair she doesn’t advertise this fact too much: the steakhouse event will be a get-together, and as a get-together it’s open to anyone, old friends and new.

Rose Laws in the 1980s.

Friday night, a week later, there are just a few people in the Chicago Room of Gene & Georgetti. There is Rose, of course, and Dianna Harris. Kenny and David are there to support their mom, and Paul has made it as well, to their brothers’ surprise. There is the publisher, Sharon Woodhouse, and Rose’s lawyer and good friend Rico Mirabelli, who is grieving over the death of a close friend. There is Barbara, a best friend of Rose’s. A former client nobody seems to know, who pesters Rose with questions and advice throughout the night. A doctor, a friend of the family, who leaves quickly after saying hello to everyone and causes David and Kenny to wonder why people keep coming in and leaving. Serpent, director of the Chicago branch of SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project), and Patryce, a friend. A few older friends and acquaintances as well, but little more than twenty people in the room, a wet-bar-equipped space that has been outfitted to seat and feed a crowd more than three times as large. The $20 entrance fee covers appetizers; mostly it is to support Rose, who is mingling once again, albeit with a little less enthusiasm than she had at the Everleigh.

The gathering is the capper for the week, following events at the Highball Lounge and Logan Square’s Uncharted Books. Serpent, Patryce and a woman named Paige have attended them all, and after having known little about Rose before last week have become passionate about her story and what she has to say about “the industry.”

“Paige,” properly speaking, does not exist anymore. After working as a prostitute for six years and filing taxes as an “entertainer,” she has just relinquished her phone number, “a big step” in leaving the industry and returning to a normal life. She is a strong supporter of prostitution, however, and loved her job. Like Rose, she sees sex—men’s need for sex, in particular—as a part of life. A lot of her clients, she says, sought her out because their wives stopped doing something they really liked or needed before they got married.

“Needed” is, for Rose and Paige both, perhaps the essential thing about their profession. Sex, as they see it—and Paige is much more open and interested in talking about this than Rose—is simply a part of life, a need that must, inevitably, be satisfied. Thus “unconditional love,” says Paige, includes “saying it’s okay for someone to go somewhere else to get something. If someone I was with were looking at a girl thinking, ‘Oh wow, isn’t she beautiful,’ I’d rather have him talk to me about it, or about the possibility of doing something with her, than have him say nothing and stew over it forever. Because if he doesn’t talk about it, it’s just going to grow into something bigger and bigger. And if he does talk to me about it, then, well, it’ll probably just turn into nothing anyway.”

“I think this industry leads to better relationships,” she says. “And I respect the client more than I respect the guy who runs around having an affair. Because what he can get during sandwich time, on a break from work, the other guy gets during time he could be playing with his kids and seeing his wife.”

Rose never makes a claim quite this large. That sex is a fact of life, and men need it badly, is enough; as an agent, she justifies herself saying that if anything, what she did was a good thing. “The way I figure it,” she says, “is I kept girls from going on the streets…. And I helped girls get off drugs—I would not let them work for me if they did drugs.” When asked how many girls worked for her over the years, she’s quick to say five hundred, most of whom were “girls that couldn’t get a job that made enough money to support their children,” and many of whom were divorced and “needed help. Those were good girls,” she says, girls who “were in the same shape that I had been in when I was with mine [my children]. So they congregated towards me. They come to me.” Many were college girls, who, Rose says, were able to avoid jobs that worked long hours by working for her “once or twice a week, maybe three times a week, for one hour each time. And they made enough money to pay their college bill.” They came from all over the world (except from China and third-world countries—“we had plenty of all-American people and I liked it that way”), introduced to Rose by a friend or, in some cases, by a client. One girl was introduced to Rose through a judge, who told her to come out to Savannah to get her because “The honey is so good.” In many cases, girls and clients would fall in love, and Rose says that in one particularly bad year for business she lost nine of her girls to clients who proposed to them.

The girls, when she operated out of the Gold Coast, lived in apartments Rose rented out to them. She furnished all the supplies—“like toilet paper… Scotch, gin, whatever”—and hired maids to take care of cleanup a couple of times each week. She sighs when she remembers how “you had to do laundry all the time.”

Anticipating police or FBI raids, she paid off the doormen at all her buildings to give her a heads-up if anyone tried to come after her. In 1988 she finally got a call from the lobby at Lake Point Tower telling her the FBI was on its way up, and she just had time to hide her money and her books in “Harvey,” a favorite potted plant, before they burst through her door. She had accidentally given herself away to an undercover vice officer chatting with her at P.J. Clarke’s; the officer arranged for a party with a couple of her girls, and was able to get her address and information from them. The sting led to a three-year court battle and gave Rose the public name “Gold Coast Madam,” as well as a $2,000 fine and two years probation. The sentence was light, and Rose prides herself on the fact that she managed to overturn a perceived injustice through her lawyer’s handling of the case: it used to be that an agent or madam could get a felony, while a client and prostitute were only granted misdemeanors. People v. Rose Laws 1988 overturned this.

By 2002, her daughter Linda was helping her with the business. This time she received no phone call, and when the FBI came there was no fighting them. The FBI claims to have received a tip from a girl working for Rose who, serving a Middle Eastern client, was told there would be an impending terrorist attack, one bigger and more destructive than 9/11. Rose denies this ever happened, on the basis that she never had any Middle Eastern clients—just those “all-American people.” “Instead of the FBI looking for some people like the people who did 9/11,” says Rose, “they came looking for prostitutes.” This is the one occasion she uses the word “prostitutes.” “And they didn’t just get me…they went on a hunt for prostitutes instead of looking for who blew up the country. That makes me mad at the FBI.” Agents on “the circuit” from Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York were all arrested as well. “All the girls that were there [in New Orleans] told them that they made more money in Chicago than anywhere else… Dumb girls.” She was sent to prison for twenty-two months and got out in seventeen.

With the exception of insurance magnate Michael Segal, none of Rose’s clients were ever charged or brought to court—and allegations were only made against Segal when he was convicted of fraud, racketeering and embezzlement for stealing millions from his firm. Rose has named no names with the exception of Segal and Dennis Rodman, whom she named in a 2010 interview because she’s still mad he never paid her, though she has said that her clients have included several members of the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl team. She’s still upset at three of those players for nearly drowning the girls she sent them, ordering, says Rose, the girls to perform oral sex in a hot tub. And her little black book of clients’ names was, she says, seized by Chicago Vice and sold to her former competitors several years ago.

Answering a question at the end of the Q&A at Gene & Georgetti, Rose says that after she was released from prison she spent time at a halfway house in Fort Myers before trying, once again, to open up a new business. She came back to Chicago, attempting to start a coffee shop in Lincoln Park, but “everything went bad about the whole episode.” She is, for one of the few times all week, sad when she says this. “It was not right. So I went broke.”

As usual she picks up her good humor after she says this, talking about how she moved to Florida to be with her children and her grandkids. She’s had knee-replacement surgery and surgery for arthritis, though she’s still walking every day. She doesn’t want to get married again, though in the interview she gives at the Highball Lounge she says she did fall in love once, but was the cause of his getting killed. And as much as she wishes she could, she couldn’t run a circuit today—because “now with the Internet, everyone can do anything themselves,” and because now, after 2002, she’d go away for good if she went back into the business again.

And even when she tries to go back, to see her old clients, her old friends and girls, everyone she was close to in Chicago, she is still not quite able to do it. At Gene & Georgetti, a man ends the Q&A with “Not a question:

“The reason you were successful,” he says, “is because in twenty-five years of knowing you, I never had a customer or a friend of mine ever complain about any service that they got… I talked to all of your girls for twenty-five years, and none of them ever complained about the way you treated them.”

“I loved all of them. I loved men. I really love men. I’d like to be with them all but I can’t.” She laughs.

“You were a perfect business woman.”

The small crowd smiles at her, and she smiles at them. After a moment, when people start to talk to one another and the room gets just a little louder, she says, “Seventy-five people told me they’d be here tonight.”

Rose Law’s mother and her son David in 1957.

Four women who worked for Rose cancelled at the last minute, and Segal was, according to a source, expected to be there as well. David, sitting at a table by the door as the crowd dwindles down to include only Rose, her closest family, and friends, blames the poor turnout on the fact that it is Friday, “not a good night to hold anything.” Rose counts the money they were able to make: $500. She indicates to the servers that they’re getting ready to go, and the party moves to leave. The Chicago Room has already been split in half, a divider wall erected, to allow the restaurant to use all the room’s empty tables for its customers.

The wait staff that are nearby don’t look like they’ve been around long enough to remember the nights when Rose and company would stay for hours, drinking, eating and talking. Back then, back in the eighties, she was widely known, and bleached her red hair during her long trial to keep people from recognizing her on the street. Now her hair is red again, though it does not matter: she is a miss, not a madam, and on the street she is conspicuous only as a grandmother—lost, surely, amid the River North nightlife of drunken twentysomethings and young professionals who are celebrating Friday night at some place other than Jay Emerich’s Faces. She is going to the dentist on Monday, to get her teeth cleaned for the first time in a long time, and although she still does not feel financially sound—never did, even at her peak—it does not matter too much. She is, as she says, what you’d call a happy person.

One Response to “Miss Rose: The Life and Times of the Gold Coast Madam”

  1. Scotch Wichmann - Home Says:

    […] even better, we got to hug Rose Laws, Chicago’s oldest and most notorious madam (she’s retired, though you wouldn’t […]

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