Allan May, Crime Historian
Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He teaches classes on the history of organized crime at Cuyahoga Community College. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
San Diego Hitman, Boss & FBI Informant
By Allan May
Few hoodlums ever handled the dual responsibilities of being a ranking member of a Mafia family and a FBI informant like Frank Bompensiero and James “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno. Ironically, the two mobsters were best friends. However, when the FBI decided that Fratianno was a bigger fish than Bompensiero, they left him out on a limb that was quickly cut off by the Los Angeles mob.
Bompensiero was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1905. Not much is known about his early years. The first murders he was involved in for the mob turned out to be “messy” ones. In California during 1937, newly arrived Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel laid down the law and stated that all West Coast gamblers would have to share their profits fifty-fifty with him. The lone dissenter was Lew Brunemann, a gambler from Redondo Beach who had aspirations of controlling all the gambling in southern California.
In July 1937, Brunemann was strolling along Redondo Beach with a beautiful blonde hostess from one of his clubs. Bompensiero and another gunman walked up behind him and put three slugs in his back. Brunemann survived. During his recovery period Bompensiero found out that Brunemann was leaving the hospital and having his dinners at the Roost Café, a classy Redondo Beach restaurant, with one of his nurses. On October 25, Bompensiero showed up with gunman Leo “Lips” Moceri.
Moceri had made a name for himself in the Mid West with the murder of popular Toledo bootlegger and gambler Jackie Kennedy in 1933 as a member of Detroit’s Purple Gang. Thomas “Yonnie” Licavoli was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. Moceri was never tried.
Moceri, who didn’t trust Bompensiero, told Jimmy Fratianno about the murder of Brunemann:
“I’ve got a forty-five automatic and the place’s packed with people. I walk right up to his table and start pumping lead. Believe me, that sonovabitch’s going to be dead for sure this time.
“Bomp’s supposed to be by the door, watching my back to make sure nobody jumps me. I turn around and I see this football player … coming at me. Bomp’s nowhere in sight. Now I’m either going to clip this (guy) or he’s going to knock me on my ass. So I blast him and run out, and there’s Bomp already in the fucking car … waiting for me. That guy showed me his color…”
Moceri then warned Fratianno, “If you ever work with Bomp, get him out in front of you instead of behind you.” The police arrested another man for the murder of Brunemann and he was convicted and sent to prison.
Moceri then told Fratianno that on February 28, 1938, Bompensiero abducted Phil Galuzo off a Los Angeles street. Forced into an automobile, Galuzo was given a vicious beating before he was dumped in the gutter and shot six times. Galuzo died in the hospital a week later.
Bompensiero then disappeared from the West Coast for three years. Moceri gave him the names of some people who would safe-keep him in Detroit, where he remained for two years. He then went to Tampa and was protected by the Trafficante Family. When he returned to Los Angeles in June 1941, the murder charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.
After the murder of Bugsy Siegel in June 1947, hapless Los Angeles Mafia boss Jack Dragna attempted to take over the local gambling operations. He ran into a road block in the form of Mickey Cohen, one of Siegel’s top henchmen who was not willing to relinquish any of the rackets and the war was on.
Cohen did not see Fratianno as his enemy yet. On August 18, 1948, Fratianno, and his wife and daughter visited Cohen’s haberdashery shop under the guise of picking up tickets to see the musical Annie Get Your Gun. Outside was a hit squad waiting for the Weasel’s signal. Fratianno thanked Cohen for the tickets and, before leaving, shook the pint-sized mobster’s hand. What Fratianno wasn’t aware of was that Cohen had a strange fetish for cleanliness. As soon as Fratianno left, Cohen immediately retreated to a bathroom to wash his hands.
Once outside, Fratianno signaled Frank DeSimone and a car containing four men pulled up and three jumped out. At the same time, Cohen bodyguard, Hooky Rothman walked out. Bompensiero, wearing sunglasses and a white Panama hat pulled low over his forehead, stuck a sawed-off shotgun in Rothman’s face and ordered him back in. As the other two gunmen ran past him, Rothman swung at the shotgun causing it to go off obliterating his face and killing him instantly. Two other Cohen associates, Al Snyder and Jimmy Rist, were slightly wounded, but the gunmen never got to Cohen who throughout his life had a miraculous record of avoiding murder attempts.
After this failed attempt, Moceri would once more question Bompensiero’s ability:
“It was Bomp’s contract, and he blew it. Listen, (the others) didn’t know Mickey from a lamp post, but Bomp did. They go in there and blast away at Al Snyder thinking he’s Mickey. Then they shoot him in the arm, for Christ’s sake, While this’s going on, Mickey’s in the shitcan, standing on top of the sink. They didn’t pump one slug through that door. Like a bunch of cowboys, they panicked and ran out instead of finishing the job.”
Around this time Jack Dragna appointed Bompensiero boss of the San Diego territory. He and Dragna jointly owned several bars in the area and Bompensiero had his office at the Gold Rail. In the early 1950s, Fratianno met with Bompensiero there to discuss plans to murder Frank Borgia, an ex-bootlegger still tied to Dragna. Bompensiero explained to Fratianno that Gaspare Matranga was trying to extort money from Borgia and he went to Dragna to lodge a complaint. What Borgia didn’t know was that Dragna was in on the shakedown and he ordered Bompensiero to murder him. Bompensiero told Fratianno what a double-dealing rat Dragna could be. This was a habit of Bompensiero’s, making disparaging statements about fellow Mafiosi behind their backs, which he would continue for years until it eventually led to his downfall.
The murder plot called for Borgia’s best friend to set him up – a standard Mafia murder practice. Anthony Mirabile brought Borgia to the home of Joseph Adamo. Once inside the front door, Mirabile grabbed Borgia in a bear hug, while Bompensiero and Fratianno performed what the Weasel called the “Italian rope trick.” That is they looped a rope around the victim’s throat and two men pulled from opposite ends until the person was choked to death.
A side note to this incident, Joseph Adamo’s brother was Giolamo “Momo” Adamo, a onetime underboss of the family. In 1956, Frank DeSimone was about to become boss of the Los Angeles Mafia. That year, according to a police informant, DeSimone raped Adamo’s wife, Marie, in the presence of Momo. The humiliated Adamo later shot his wife and then committed suicide in their San Diego home. Marie Adamo survived her wounds and later married Bompensiero.
Next on the hit parade was Louis Strauss, better known as “Russian Louie.” Strauss had attempted to blackmail Benny “the Cowboy” Binion, a former Dallas bootlegger and now a Las Vegas developer. Apparently Strauss made his threats unaware that Binion had known Jack Dragna for many years. Binion promised Dragna a twenty-five percent interest in a future casino if he would handle this problem. It took eighteen months, but in April 1953, Fratianno enticed Strauss into a setup in California. When Strauss entered the house Joe Dippolito performed the bear hug routine, while Bompensiero and Fratianno turned the Italian rope trick again. This time, oddly enough, four other mobsters were on hand to observe the strangling.
The casino deal never materialized and several years later Fratianno brought this to Binion’s attention. Binion agreed to pay Fratianno $60,000 for his work, which the Weasel promptly split among his co-conspirators – Bompensiero, Dippolito, and “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, who drove Strauss to the murder house.
In 1955, Bompensiero was convicted on three counts of bribery in the sale of a California state liquor license and was sentenced to three to fourteen years in San Quentin. He would serve a total of five years. A year before Bompensiero’s release, Fratianno was transferred to the same prison. While together, Bompensiero related to the Weasel that while he was awaiting trial on the bribery charges, he killed “Red” Sagunda, an ex-Cleveland thug who had made his way to San Diego.
During the time Bompensiero and Fratianno were away in prison, major changes were taking place in the Los Angeles Crime Family. Jack Dragna died in 1957 and was succeeded by lawyer-turned-mobster Frank DeSimone. The family, which would become known as the “Mickey Mouse Mafia,” grew weaker under his leadership. When DeSimone died in 1968, his replacement, Nick Licata, would prove to be even less effective.
From 1960 to 1965, his probation period, Bompensiero avoided problems with the law. However, both he and Fratianno made overtures to get transferred to the Chicago Family. Only the Weasel was successful in this endeavor.
To be continued next week.
Copyright A. R. May 2000