Odessa Madre, flamboyant, rich, and one of the biggest hustlers of Washington, D.C. She was dubbed as the “Al Capone of Washington.”
Madre built her empire in the 1930s. Her empire consisted of juke joints that served liquor. She was often seen making her grand entrance when big names including Billie Holiday, Count Basie, or Duke Ellington would appear at the joint. Madre would enter wearing her finest mink, with an entourage of gorgeous women for sale.
Madre attended Dunbar High School and graduated with honors in 1925. In those days, prominent black families around the country tried to send their children away to Dunbar as though it were a college.
Madre was her fortune as madame. She had over a half-dozen bawdy houses with 20 women employed. There were write-ups in the newspapers about how much money she spent on her shopping sprees. Knowing all the big time gangsters nationwide, Madre often served as a mediator between the blacks and whites during disputes. She was known to be very generous and often loaned money to the needy. Whenever she left her house, she usually traveled with a couple of bodyguards.
At her peak, Madre’s net income was estimated at more than $100,000. She never left the Washington area, remaining within the protection of the policemen she had grown up with, and their sons.
In 1961, she was arrested with a one-ounce bag of cocaine and sentenced to seven years in prison; she has arrested again in 1975 on a gambling charge. People began to take advantage of her, and she lost her house and all her money. Madre died broke in 1983, her friends were only able to raise $51 dollars for her funeral. W.H. Bacon of the Bacon Funeral Home on 14th Street NW stepped in to make sure she didn’t have a cheap wedding.