Perhaps no Montrealer has simultaneously been a hero and a villain as much as boxer Charlie Chase.
Chase, of Barbadian ancestry, was born in Little Burgundy in 1931 and was raised alongside jazz great Oscar Peterson, who achieved a different sort of fame.
As a skinny young man Chase won the prestigious Golden Gloves in 1952 and traveled that same year to Helsinki to fight for Canada at the Olympics.
Chase fought and won Canada’s heavyweight title two years later, stepping up from his natural middleweight class due to a shortage of opponents.
Just five months after winning a late-September 1952 split decision in front of 1,000 fans in Ottawa, Chase was in front of a judge on charges of punching a Montreal woman named Rosalie Lord.
Chase’s back-and-forth between sports hero and criminal became his unique modus operandi as in March 1954 he bested Tony Percy, a telegenic great-white-hope from Drummondville. (Percy was stabbed to death seven years later in his attempt to bully and rob restaurant owner Nicolas Vriniotis).
Chase was soon playing the villain again, as he was part of a team of thugs that laid waste to a pair of bars, the All American Cafe on Dorchester (north side, just west of Peel) and the Montmartre. Also involved in the ransacking were several other black Montreal English-speakers, boxer Lionel Deare, William Bowman and Joseph Chambers.
The ransack attack proved a major underworld development in Montreal, as mob boss Frank Pretula had ordered the bars smashed up in a poorly-thought out escalation-of-petty-feud situation. Pretula had been ruling the underworld in a duopoly with Louis Greco who apparently didn’t appreciate the heat the fiasco brought down upon himself.
Pretula was disappeared and presumed murdered.
Chase kept doing his thing in the ring throughout his legal issues, however and formed part of a group of 12 who attacked the Manoir Venise nightclub near Three Rivers in July 1958. Chase was arrested along seven French Canadian men and three other black English-speakers.
The gang, for some reason, had decided to beat on clients with baseball bats, leading to at least three serious injuries.
But Chase’s most serious arrest took place in December 1961 when he was exposed as the King of Montreal pimps, indeed a Midnight magazine newspaper headline called him just that in a blaring headline after he was cuffed.
Chase was arrested on 30 December 1961 and sent to Bordeaux while awaiting trial. Three days later he suffered injury when shot through the cheek during a lengthy prison riot.
His pimping case went before a judge two weeks later and saw Beatrice C., 22, who came from Massachusetts tell of being sold from one pimp to another for $500, with Chase getting a cut.
The woman attempted to flee on a bus back to Boston but her handlers caught her, beat her and got her back working at the Chez Paree on Stanley.
(Irish Montreal gangster legend has it that mobster Johnny McGuire once beat Chase badly with a baseball bat inside the Chez Paree in retribution for trying to get the female talent hooked on heroin.)
A 15-year-old girl recounted a similar situation. leading Chase behind bars along with Larry Furlong, 22, Andrew Leroux, 24, and John McLean, 26
Chase hadn’t boxed for six years when he was released in 1964 but was back in form by 1966 when he was winning bouts and angling to get another chance at the Canadian heavyweight crown with a battle against George Chuvalo.
Chase’s reputation was sufficiently rehabilitated to allow him to take part in an exhibition bout against four different fighters in Three Rivers in 1967. Chase battled twice against the tough-as-nails Bob Cleroux in 1969, losing both bouts.
Chase, now 39, was still in the ring hoping to get the heavyweight title back in 1970 when he beat Frankie Bullard in a 10-round battle in Toronto.
Around the same time a Quebec Crime Commission testimony saw a loan shark confess to using Chase as a collector.
Chase finally got his crack at the crown but George Chuvalo knocked him out in January 1972. Four months later Chase traveled to Hamburg Germany to suffer one last loss, to Jurgen Blin.
Chase hanged it up after that with a record of 21-12-1.
Cops busted Chase along with two dozen others in 1975 and sentenced him to four years for dealing heroin and marijuana.
His attempt to persuade a judge to give him a lighter sentence due to his plan to move to Toronto was ignored. Chase stayed in Montreal.
He lived in relative obscurity thereafter, dabbling as a volunteer boxing instructor in Little Burgundy and roaming around the Cote des Neiges mall and returning to his small apartment at 3941 Barclay.
Chase was found dead of natural causes at his home on 25 February 1997.
Chase left ex-wife Mary, sister Judy as well as three daughters, Sharin, Diane, Darlene and grandkids Shawn, Deon, Tara and Tyler.