Arsonist, author, candidate George Poulos dies

11/02/2010 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:00 AM

Through the years, Wichitan George Poulos was convicted of vagrancy, disturbing the peace, gambling, aiding racketeering, assault, burglary, larceny and arson.

He could be tough and dangerous.

But he could also charm. And for years, Wichitans often had a love-hate relationship with the man who, in recent years, ran for mayor of Wichita.

Sedgwick County officials confirmed Monday that Mr. Poulos, one of Wichita's most noted crime figures, had died.

Mr. Poulos, 85, was found dead Friday at the bottom of some stairs in his home. Although the cause of death is pending, it is suspected he may have fallen and hit his head.

Vern Miller admitted Monday that, through the years, he and Mr. Poulos were often adversaries.

Still, Miller — a former Sedgwick County sheriff, district attorney and state attorney general — said down deep he was fond of Mr. Poulos.

"I really kind of liked the guy," said Miller, who as district attorney sent Mr. Poulos to prison.

"I surely didn't approve of his activities. I was always trying to catch him. ...

"But if you met him on the street, you couldn't help but like the guy."

Mr. Poulos had convictions dating back to 1948, and he recounted some of those episodes in the book "George, You Rascal, You."

"There aren't any three-syllable words — I don't make anybody go to the... dictionary every page — and I don't make me out to be a hero. George gets his in the end, just like everybody else."

Mr. Poulos was convicted in 1980 on charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson. That led to a 25-year sentence when he declined a plea bargain that would have required him to inform on his associates. He was declared a "special dangerous offender" under the Habitual Criminal Act.

It was in prison that he began that first book. In more recent years, he ran for mayor and wrote a second book.

"People are going to have to get up awful early in the morning to get scams past me," Mr. Poulos told an Eagle reporter in 2002 when he ran against Carlos Mayans in the mayoral race.

His second book, "The Rascal's Back," included more details about his life as a criminal.

Miller said his and Mr. Poulos' careers often ran parallel through the decades.

"Let's face it, a lot of these things happened a long time ago when he was notorious," Miller said.

"There was a club on South Broadway, Freddy's Brass Rail, that Poulos got beat up at real bad. A couple of nights later, the club exploded and burned down. We all knew it was George, but nobody could prove it. In his book, he took credit for it.

"There were a lot of those kind of stories. Some were true. Some had no truth at all. I even saw George one time and told him that some of the stuff in his book was just egregious. He said, 'Shoot, Vern, I want to sell books. I'm not worried what is true or not.' "

Mr. Poulos was born and raised in Wichita. He went to Linwood Elementary, Hamilton Intermediate and East High School. His father died when he was 9 years old.

He told a reporter that he developed his reputation for being street tough because schoolkids picked on him because he was Greek.

"I remember one time being kicked off the streetcar because I was a little Greek boy," Mr. Poulos told The Eagle in 1978.

"In them days, you went to school and the teacher would call the roll — Smith, Jones — down the line. Then, she'd get to my name and she'd say, 'Pooolis', or Pohlus,' and then she'd look back at me and say, 'What nationality is that, Greek?' And all the kids would look around, and I'd slide down in my seat.

"Look, I thought I'd committed a sin. Then, after school, the kids would jump on you, really tough kids, and you had to be tough to survive."

In 2002, when he ran for mayor, Mr. Poulos said he had changed his life and told a reporter, "I'm tired of being a damn fool."

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