The Bootlegger

directed by Ryan Geoffrey Walker

The bootlegger left no written records.
— John E. Hallwas


THE BOOTLEGGER is the story of Henry "Kelly" Wagle, a hometown gangster turned folk hero in the town of Colchester, Illinois—population 1,493.

It is a nonfiction feature film, based on the 1998 book by John E. Hallwas, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and the National Book Award for Nonfiction.


Although he died in 1929, Wagle remains controversial in Colchester, where alcohol is still illegal to sell. He is legendary for his good deeds and slick driving, but he is also notorious for his violent temper and dark secrets. To this day, Wagle is the central figure in not one but two unsolved murder cases.


Visually rich and tightly paced with no narrator, no reenactments, and no period music (except one song), THE BOOTLEGGER is a one-of-a-kind historical crime thriller.


Production Notes

Seven years in the making, self-funded, family-funded, and crowd-funded with no grants or fellowships, THE BOOTLEGGER is a triumph of grassroots independent filmmaking. Six months into its release, it has generated over $31,000 in revenue.

THE BOOTLEGGER made its world premiere at a historic venue in Colchester on July 8-10, 2016 (before submitting to a single film festival). The following week it played at a history museum in Quincy and a 104-year-old movie theater in Macomb. All in all, over 1,100 people attended the screenings. 

The DVD was released on November 22, 2016. Three hundred copies sold before Christmas. THE BOOTLEGGER has still not played at a film festival or appeared on television....

Ryan Geoffrey Walker (director) with Kate E. Walker (assistant director) in 2013.

Ryan Geoffrey Walker (director) with Kate E. Walker (assistant director) in 2013.