“Not that the so-called mob here was any great shakes. It was strictly minor league,” stated one police officer, asking not to be identified. “We never had mainliners; here they came under the jurisdiction of Chicago. Even Kansas City had more of a mob, and more muscle than St. Louis.” |
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 1997.
The trek to St. Louis by Italian criminals came from New Orleans and began shortly after the Civil War came to an end. Black Hand extortion activity was reported in the city as early as 1876. However, Italians would not dominate organized crime in the city until after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
By the time Prohibition arrived, there were five gangs of importance in the St. Louis. The Sicilian Green Ones, the Pillow Gang, the Egan’s Rats, the Hogan Gang, and the Cuckoos.
The Green Ones:
The Green Ones reportedly received their name from the farming communities in Sicily they came from. The leadership of this group, brothers John and Vito Giannola, and Alphonse Palizzola, came from the Stoppagleria faction of the Sicilian Mafia. The trio financed their passage to United States with several robberies in 1915. The three went their separate ways once they arrived in America – John Giannola to Chicago, Vito Giannola to St. Louis, and Palizzola to Springfield, Illinois. A few years, later at Vito’s urging, they rejoined in St. Louis. Soon they imposed a tax in the city’s Italian community on all goods sold. With little resistance, the trio went about establishing a foothold in the rackets. In 1923, Vito moved to take control of the wholesale meat industry. One recalcitrant distributor objected and was brutally murdered as an example to others. His body was found under the Kingshighway viaduct on September 16, 1923.
Finding bootlegging a more prosperous venture, the trio soon found that the liquor trade in St. Louis was dominated by the non-Italian gangs. Their first endeavor in this area resulted in the death of Sam Palizzola, a relative of Alphonse. The murder was believed to have been carried out by members of the Egan’s Rats gang. When members of that gang were sent to prison in 1925, the Green Ones found a new adversary in the Cuckoos Gang.
The Green Ones struck the first blow in this battle. On September 14, 1925, John and Catherine Gray were murdered after complaining about having to purchase liquor for their Eagle Park resort from the Green Ones. The couple was shot dead in their automobile, which was then set on fire. The Cuckoos retaliated by shooting up a farmhouse hideout of the Green Ones where the gang had an alky-cooking operation. No one was injured.
On January 29, 1926, law officers, Ohmer Hockett and John Balke, attempted to shake down one of the Green One’s still operations. After ignoring an opening offer of $200, the two men waited until “the boss” arrived. The two lawmen were greeted by four members of the gang who beat them unconscious. The following day they were taken into the woods and watched as their graves were dug. The two men were then shot and buried.
Pasquale Santino, a member of a rival gang, put the finger on Alphonse Palizzola as he became the first of the Green One’s leadership to be murdered. On September 9, 1927, four gunmen blasted away at Palizzola on Tenth Street. A ten-year-old boy was also killed by one of the ricocheting bullets.
Vito Giannola was the next to die when he was shot 37 times while hiding in the house of Augustina Cusumano on December 28, 1927. Giannola had chased away Cusumano’s husband and had been living with the woman. Two men, claiming to be police officers, came to the house and, after finding Giannola hiding in a secret compartment upstairs, murdered him. John Giannola went into hiding after the death of his brother and was never again a factor in St. Louis. He was said to have died peacefully in his sleep in 1955.
During the short reign of the Giannola – Palizzola led Green Ones, police records show 30 people were murdered and 18 wounded. Among the wounded was James Licavoli, the future boss of the Cleveland Mafia. Licavoli was shot by police as they attempted to arrest Joseph Bommarito, an associate of the Green Ones. The police killed Bommarito when he resisted arrest.
Another associate of Licavoli at this time was Giovanni Mirabella who was arrested at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio in December 1928 during the first known meeting of the national crime cartel. He and Licavoli would eventually work together in Detroit, Toledo and Youngstown. Mirabella was a suspect in the sensational murder of Detroit radio crusader Jerry Buckley in July 1930.
The Pillow Gang:
One of the earliest Italian gangs was the Pillow Gang which began operating in the city around 1910. The gang’s name came from its leader Carmelo Fresina, who carried a pillow with him to sit on after he had been shot in the rear end. Years later Senator Estes Kefauver would sum up Fresina’s career by writing, “Eventually Fresina, an extortionist and bootlegger, was dispatched with two bullets in the head and no longer needed his pillow.”
According to historian Walter M. Fontane, between 1910 and 1914 there was an on going battle between Italian factions in the city that left ten dead and several survivors deported. “Freelancing became the way of the Mafia” until new leadership came in the name of Dominic Giambrioni in the late teens. After the arrival of the Giannolas, Giambrioni was forced out in 1924. He returned ten years later and was murdered. In 1922, Fresina arrived and joined the faction headed by Pasquale Santino. After Santino was murdered in 1927, Fresina took over the gang and became allies of a Green Ones splinter group led by Tony Russo. Together they waged a battle with the Green Ones.
In January 1929, after the Giannolas had been eliminated, Fresina and two members of his gang attended a meeting at the home of a Russo faction member. It was rumored that Fresina had made peace with remaining members of the Green Ones and the Russo faction felt they had been betrayed. In a wild shooting Fresina was wounded in the buttocks and his two associates killed. Whatever was left of the Russo Gang, after the remaining three brothers were deported in 1928, continued to do battle with Fresina and the Green Ones until their faction “disintegrated” around 1932. Pillow gang members then turned and fought the Green Ones again after they blamed them for the death of Fresina near Edwardsville, Illinois in 1931.
Beginning as a political organization forged by St. Louis Fifth Ward Democratic Committeeman Thomas Egan and Missouri State Senator Thomas Kinney, by 1907 the group became known as Egan’s Rats. Early “political activities” included robbery, burglary and theft from railroad boxcars.
In April 1919, Thomas Egan died of natural causes and was replaced as Fifth Ward Boss by his brother William T. “Willie” Egan. During the teens, Rats’ lieutenant Max “Big Maxey” Greenberg was imprisoned on federal charges of interstate theft. Willie Egan was able to pull strings that reached all the way to President Woodrow Wilson to get Greenberg’s sentence commuted. He had served just six months of a five-year sentence. Greenberg repaid Egan by switching his allegiance to the Hogan Gang.
Greenberg soon fled St. Louis for Detroit where he got involved in smuggling liquor from Canada. Needing better financing, he sought out Irving Wexler (Waxey Gordon) in New York, who in turn connected him to Arnold Rothstein. Wexler and Greenberg established a successful rum running operation before Greenberg returned to St. Louis in early 1921.
Upon Greenburg’s return, Egan retaliated. In March 1921, one of his gunmen fired at Greenberg while he was standing with a group of men at Sixth Street and Chester. Greenberg was wounded and political lobbyist John P. Sweeney was killed.
In the fall of 1921, rivals got even with Willie Egan when he was gunned down as he left a saloon at 14th Street and Franklin Avenue. The Rats blamed the murder of their leader on the Hogan Gang, led by Edward J. “Jellyroll” Hogan. Rumors spread that $30,000 was paid for the hit. Egan died in City Hospital refusing to name who shot him. “I’m a good sport,” Egan replied before dying. A week later, Greenberg walked into police headquarters with a Hogan Gang lawyer Jacob H. Mackler and provided an airtight alibi.
The alibi didn’t satisfy William P. Colbeck, Willie Egan’s replacement in the Rats. “Dinty” Colbeck, was a husky plumber and a former World War I infantryman. Taking over the gang, Colbeck had surmised that Greenberg had planned Egan’s death; the attorney was the payoff man, and James Hogan was one of the gunmen. Those three, plus Hogan gunmen John Doyle and Luke Kennedy, were marked for death.
The first to go was John Doyle in January 1922. Next, Rat gunmen fired on an automobile containing Mackler, Kennedy and James Hogan at Eleventh and Market Streets. No one was injured. Mackler was not as fortunate on February 21 when fifteen shots were fired into his automobile on Twelfth Street killing him instantly. The Hogan Gang responded by murdering Rat member George Kurloff in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue. The Rats retaliated by dispatching the bodies of Joseph Cammarata, Joseph Cipolla, and Everett Summers in ditches along lonely county roads. Those murders were followed by the death of Luke Kennedy whose car was riddled with bullets in May 1922. Hogan gunmen retaliated a few days later by blasting away at Colbeck’s plumbing store on Washington Avenue. The following day, Egan’s Rats gunmen shot up “Jellyroll” Hogan’s home.
During the trigger-happy forays that were occurring, several businesses had their windows shot out and once a young boy was hit by an automobile driven by fleeing gunmen. Public anger, caused by the mob shootings, forced police into action and Colbeck moved the gang’s headquarters outside of the city to St. Louis County. The gang converted an eleven-room house into the Maxwelton Club, and took over an abandoned horse and motorcycle racetrack near St. Charles Rock Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. Here the Rats raced around the track taking target practice on tin cans and whiskey bottles, which terrorized the locals.
Over a two-year period, the death toll in the Egan’s Rats-Hogan Gang War reached 23. After the deaths of Doyle and Kennedy, the Rats turned their attention to Greenberg. Colbeck and William “Red” Smith were arrested while waiting outside police headquarters where Greenberg was once being questioned. The police smuggled Greenberg out a back door and the following day he fled to New York where he worked again with Wexler. In April 1933 Greenberg was murdered in an Elizabeth, New Jersey hotel.
In March 1923, the Rats tried to ambush Edward “Jellyroll” Hogan and Humbert Costello as they were driving on Grand Blvd. Two of the shooters, Rat gunmen Elmer Runge and Isadore Londe, were arrested and Hogan was brought to police headquarters to identify them.
“I’ll identify them, all right,” Hogan snapped at police. “I’ll identify them with a shotgun.”
Humbert Costello was known as the muscle in the Hogan Gang and was a suspect in several shootings. He was later convicted of a jewelry store robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After 12 years he was able to obtain a pardon with Hogan’s help. However, upon release, federal agents were waiting with deportation papers. After a long legal battle, Costello was finally deported in 1937.
Rat gang members and Hogan hoodlums next staged a wild shootout on Lindell Blvd. Although no one was injured, again public sentiment was incensed. Commenting on the public’s outburst, Colbeck told reporters, “We are not insensitive to the fact that the public is aroused over what the newspapers have consistently characterized as the violence attending the fights between the Hogan and Egan factions. Our men are not trying to disturb peaceful citizens and it is unfair every time violence occurs in St. Louis to attribute it to myself, my men or the rival gang.”
In April 1923, with Philip Brockman, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, and Father Timothy Dempsey acting as mediators, Colbeck and “Jellyroll” Hogan agreed to peace terms. The truce lasted a few months before Rat gunmen opened up on a crowd, trying to kill James Hogan. They missed and two innocent men were killed. One, William McGee, was a state representative. Colbeck, who expressed shock about the shooting when police questioned him, blamed the incident on “boyish high spirits.”
“I know three of the boys were full of moonshine and were riding around in a big touring car,” Colbeck said. “They might have seen Hogan in the crowd at Jefferson and Cass and maybe took a few shots at him for fun.”
By this time, Colbeck had other matters besides the continuing gang war to worry about. On April 2, 1923, Egan’s Rats gunmen hijacked $2.4 million in negotiable bonds from a mail truck at Fourth and Locust Streets. The following month they struck again, getting $55,000 in cash from the Staunton, Illinois postmaster. Egan’s Rats members had teamed up with members of the Cuckoos to pull off these robberies. However, when police began questioning Rat members, one of them ratted.
With Ray Rennard testifying for the government against his former Rat associates - Colbeck, David “Chippy” Robinson, Oliver Dougherty, Louis “Red” Smith, Charles “Red” Lanham, Frank Hackenthal, Gus Dietmeyer, Frank “Cotton” Eppelshelmer, Steve Ryan, and Cuckoo Gang members Roy Tipton, Leo Cronin, and Rudolph “Featheredge” Schmidt – all were found guilty and sentenced to terms of 25 years in Leavenworth.
Colbeck was released after 16 years in prison. He tried to get back into the rackets, but his comeback was short lived. On February 17, 1943, Colbeck was returning home at 10:30 p.m. After crossing the McKinley Bridge, a car pulled alongside his at Ninth and Destrehan Streets. A man with a Thompson opened up on Colbeck putting half a dozen slugs into him. At the age of 58 Colbeck’s career was over.
After leaving prison in the early 1940s, Louis C. “Red” Smith was convicted of income tax evasion in 1955. He was fined $2,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. Smith was named by authorities as having been involved in the Capone syndicate’s attempted take over of the race wire service. Although questioned in several murders, Smith was never charged. He died of heart disease in September 1959.
Steve Ryan was released from Leavenworth on January 1, 1941. In 1944, he and David Robinson were arrested after a mysterious shooting that took place at the Club Royal, a gambling casino near Belleville, Illinois. Ryan then filed a petition seeking an injunction to halt alleged police persecution claiming to be arrested on many occasions without cause. The detainments, he claimed, lasted from twenty hours to as long as three days. Later in 1944, Ryan and Robinson were again arrested after the murders of Harley Grizzell and Norman Farr on the city’s East Side. Still later, the two were questioned in the murder of a union boss and his driver. On trial in 1946, for extorting $10,000 from a building contractor, a grand jury said there was not enough evidence to indict them. Ryan, one of the last living members of the Egan’s Rats, died on May 3, 1965 after a heart attack.
The St. Louis Egan’s Rats, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be an organized crime power after the imprisonment of most of its members for the 1923 robberies. Two former Rat members would gain notoriety in later years. In 1929, Fred “Killer” Burke participated in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. On December 14, 1929, Burke murdered Police Officer Charles Shelby after a minor automobile accident. Burke fled leaving his car behind. The ensuing investigation turned up a machine gun that ballistics experts tied to both the Massacre and the murder of Frank Yale in New York City in 1928. Burke was later convicted of the policeman’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died of a heart attack in July 1940.
The other ex-Rat to gain notoriety was Leo Vincent Brothers who was convicted of the murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle in June 1930. Many believe Brothers was paid to take the fall for the killing. He received the minimum sentence for the murder and served only eight years. He died of natural causes in 1951.
The Hogan Gang was headed by Edward J. “Jellyroll” Hogan, Jr. and his brother James. “Jellyroll” was one of six sons born to St. Louis Police Officer Edward J. Hogan Sr. “Jellyroll,” born in 1886, like Thomas Egan, was involved in the political affairs of the city. He was elected to the legislature in 1916 as a state representative. After surviving the bootleg wars in St. Louis, Hogan continued in politics. In the 1930s, it was disclosed that one of Hogan’s legislative clerks on the state payroll was a St. Louis brewery worker who found it “unnecessary” to travel to the capital, Jefferson City, even once during the 1937 legislative session.
In 1941, Hogan was part of the Democratic effort to prevent St. Louis Republican and Governor-Elect Forrest C. Donnell from taking office by demanding a recount. The effort failed. Hogan remained in Democratic politics for 50 years, serving five terms in the state house and four terms in the state senate. In 1960, Hogan retired after being defeated by Theodore McNeal, the first Black man to be elected to the Missouri State Senate. In addition to his political position, Hogan was a business agent for a soft drink bottlers’ union. Hogan died at the age of 77 in 1963 after a short illness.
The Cuckoos were headed by the three Tipton bothers, Herman, Ray and Roy. The gang earned a reputation for being “fast and willing shooters who would fight anyone, including themselves. Extortion, from bootleggers and other gangs; robbery, kidnapping and murder for fun and profit were Cuckoo specialties.”
It was Roy Tipton who planned the 1923 mail truck robbery that netted its participants $2.4 million and 25 years in prison. The Cuckoos suffered minor losses in manpower from the convictions and continued on. A few months later the losses began to mount. Gang members Oliver Hamilton and Clarence “Dizzy” Daniels were sentenced to life in prison, and August “Gus” Webbe was sentenced to ten years, for the killing of St. Louis Officers Edward Griffin and John Surgant during a robbery. This was followed by Joseph “Mulehead” Simon, Jimmy Michaels, and Ben “Melonhead” Bommarito arrested for the armed robbery of a jeweler and the attempted robbery of a shoe company payroll. Next came Milford Jones, implicated in a robbery with Carl, Bernie, and Earl Shelton. Bennie Bethel was a suspect in a Pine Lawn bank robbery, while Joseph Costello, Marvin Paul Michaels and Alfred Salvaggi were questioned in the deaths of the aforementioned John and Catherine Gray.
In 1925, Cuckoo Gang member Tommy Hayes was released from prison after serving time for a mail / payroll robbery in January 1921 in Wood River, Illinois. Hayes was considered an unusual gangster because he came from a respectable family, didn’t drink or smoke, and worked out to stay in shape. Hayes’ police record began in 1913 when he was fifteen. By the early 1920s, he had become “an efficient killer.”
In the mid-1920s the Cuckoos survived a gang war with the Green Ones, in which thirteen mobsters were killed. It was rumored that a truce was declared after a three day peace conference was held between Herman Tipton and Green One’s leader Giannola. The agreement ended when Tony “Shorty” Russo, and his brothers led a splinter group away from the Green One’s. The leadership of this renegade group was short lived when Russo and Vincent Spicuzza were found slain outside Chicago, each with a nickel in their hands, the trademark murder signature of Al Capone gunman Machinegun Jack McGurn. Authorities believed the two were trying to collect a $50,000 bounty put on Capone by rival Joe Aiello.
The war continued for another two years, during which another dozen plus mobsters were killed. Among them were James Russo and Mike “the Chink” Longo, both murdered by Tommy Hayes. The war came to an end on July 29, 1928 after St. Louis police escorted the surviving Russo brothers – William, Thomas, and Lawrence – to the Union Station so they could get out of town alive.
The Cuckoos were soon involved in another gang battle as they lent their guns to Carl Shelton’s East Side Gang to fight the Birger Gang. When the Birger Gang was eliminated in 1930, Shelton ordered the Cuckoos out of the East Side. When Herman Tipton refused to leave because of the sudden bootlegging wealth he was enjoying there, Shelton convinced Hayes to split from the gang and fight Tipton. Another dozen or so killings took place during this faction war. In February 1931, Hayes led an attack on a roadhouse in which three Shelton men were killed. Shelton, suspecting a double-cross, in turn double-crossed Hayes on April 15, 1932. Hayes was found in Madison, Illinois with twelve slugs in his back. His death effectively ended the Cuckoo gang as a force in the St. Louis underworld, although, as with Egan’s Rats members, many ex-Cuckoos would be around for decades.
St. Louis was one of 14 cities where Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings in the early 1950s. Gambling was the focus of the committee, and to expose organized crime in interstate commerce. Colonel William L. Holzhausen, chairman of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, was one of the first to testify and confirmed that organized gambling, facilitated by the race wire service, was the principal law-enforcement problem in the area.
Missouri Attorney General J. E. Taylor next told the committee that efforts in 1938 to cut off the Pioneer News wire service were met by legal actions. A long struggle ensued to compel Southwestern Bell Telephone and Western Union Telegraph to discontinue service to the Pioneer News Company. When service was finally cut off, the company used illegal means to continue to supply race results to the local handbooks.
The largest bookmaking operation in the area was run by J. J. Carroll and John Mooney. Operating out of East St. Louis, the operation was handling $20 million annually in bets. The enterprise functioned heavily in the “layoff bet business” and employed agents to work the various racetracks, betting “come back” money at the pari-mutuel machines. This last action would result in distorting the track odds with the sudden placing of heavy bets just minutes before post time. Carroll, who was the first committee witness to refuse to testify because of the television cameras, later continued his testimony in Washington D. C. at his own expense. Carroll, who saw himself as a respectable businessman and disdained the tag of gambler, glorified himself with the title “Betting Commissioner.”
One of the more unusual gambling operations discussed by the committee was run by C. J. Rich and Company. The enterprise, which grossed almost $5 million a year, used Western Union telegrams, money orders, and Western Union agents to conduct business. Telegrams placing bets would be sent to C. J. Rich in East St. Louis and the bets were then covered by Western Union money orders. Each day Western Union would accumulate the incoming money orders and issue a single check to C. J. Rich. Western Union agents were paid handsomely for their efforts and rewarded with expensive gifts. Western Union profited greatly from this arrangement. During May 1950, their billing to the C. J. Rich Company came to $26,700. With the publicity of a June 1950 raid on the C. J. Rich Company, Western Union finally cancelled the account of the gambling enterprise. The committee surmised Western Union’s reluctance to react prior to this was due in part to William Molasky, a well-known St. Louis gambler, being a major stockholder in the company.
The last item covered by the committee was the Pioneer News Service. Molasky was also a chief stockholder in this operation. The wire service, which once was owned by Moses Annenberg and James Ragen, effectively ended up in the hands of the Capone syndicate in the late 1940s, with muscle provided by East St. Louis gang boss Frank “Buster” Wortman.
In the mid-1940s, after what was seen as a lack of Italian leadership in St. Louis, the Kansas City Mafia sent two representatives to oversee the rackets in the city, Thomas Buffa and Tony Lopiparo. Buffa, according to Fontane, actually arrived in St. Louis in 1922 and eventually took over leadership of the Pillow Gang after Fresina’s murder. Buffa was murdered in 1946 in Lodi, California after testifying against the girlfriend of a Kansas City mobster. Leadership of organized crime in St. Louis was sketchy at best during the late 1940s. Believed to be running the family were Lopiparo, Frank “Three Fingers” Coppola, and Ralph “Shorty Ralph” Caleca. Coppola had been involved in the drug trade in Detroit and New Orleans, as well as St. Louis, before being deported to Italy. During this period the St. Louis hoods developed closer ties to the Detroit Family instead of Kansas City. Mob members from both Detroit and St. Louis were involved in narcotics trafficking. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, three men shared prominent roles in the St. Louis underworld; Anthony G. Giordano, John J. Vitale, and James A. “Jimmy” Michaels.
Anthony Giordano was born June 2, 1914 in St. Louis. His police record began in 1938. His more than fifty arrests included charges of carrying concealed weapons, robbery, holdups, income tax evasion, and counterfeiting tax stamps. Giordano was groomed for his rise to the top by his predecessor, Anthony Lopiparo, along with Frank Coppola and Ralph Caleca. The latter two were one-time members of the Green Ones gang.
In 1950, Giordano served as a drug courier for the St. Louis mob. It is not known how many trips he made to Italy, but at least three of them were observed by law enforcement officials. Each time Giordano met with Frank Coppola, the deported ex-Green One who was competing with Lucky Luciano in the drug trade there. Giordano had been under the surveillance of famed Narcotics Bureau Agent Charles Siragusa. On the first two trips, Giordano and Detroit mobster Paul Cimino were unsuccessful in negotiating a heroin purchase. Cimino went back alone in the spring of 1951 and purchased 20 kilos of heroin, bringing it back in a steamer trunk with a false bottom. To the surprise of both Coppola and the Detroit mob, the heroin had been diluted prior to the sale and Coppola needed to make good. Giordano returned to Coppola’s farm in Anzio to pick up the shipment. Upon arriving, the Italian newspapers broke the story of a major international drug smuggling ring bust in San Diego. Spooked by the turn of events, Giordano returned home empty handed. Years later, Siragusa wrote that Giordano had been under surveillance and had he tried to return with the heroin he would have been arrested and given a long prison term.
During his years on the rise, Giordano dressed the part of the big time gangster wearing wide-brimmed, pearl gray hats, expensive suits, coats, shoes, and rings. In the 1960s, he changed his wardrobe and took on the appearance of a blue-collar worker. During this time he and his wife lived in a conservative home in southwest St. Louis. Giordano could often be seen dressed in work clothes at one of the flats he owned in south St. Louis doing carpentry or plumbing chores.
In 1956, Giordano and two others were sentenced to four years in prison on income tax charges in connection with a vending machine business. In February 1968, he was arrested as a “suspected” gambler during a city wide crack down on gamblers.
Giordano had ties with the Metropolitan Towing Company, which had a contract with the police department to remove vehicles from crash sites and to tow stolen or illegally parked automobiles. On November 30, 1970 three members of the St. Teresa of Avila Church drove onto the lot in a van to retrieve a stolen church vehicle. Apparently the lot had a rule that allowed only two people to come in at one time. Giordano, who was in the office, ordered the van off the lot. Words were exchanged. When one of the men identified himself as a priest, Giordano grabbed him by the shirt and told him, “I’m Catholic too. You run your church and I’ll run my business.” He then threatened to blow their heads off with a sawed off shotgun. All of this took place in front of a uniformed police officer who ignored the incident. Warrants were soon issued for Giordano’s arrest.
In January 1971, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that the Missouri Task Force on Organized Crime had released the results of a yearlong study on organized crime in the state. The fifteen-member task force claimed that organized crime in St. Louis was “engaged in labor racketeering, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, loan sharking, and narcotics traffic.” Three factions were identified as cooperating in illegal activities. The first group was “headed by Anthony Giordano, with John Vitale second in command,” and maintained strong ties with the Detroit syndicate.” The second group was headed by aging, former Cuckoo gangster, Jimmy Michaels; and the last group was identified as “remnants of the East Side gang that was headed by the late Frank “Buster” Wortman.”
The report went on to state that the Giordano faction was heavily dependent on gambling, from operations in the north and northwest areas of St. Louis, as its main source of income. It also claimed that in addition to gambling, the group was into disposal of stolen property and had infiltrated legitimate businesses, including the Banana Distributing Company owned by Giordano, a produce trucking company, and the aforementioned Metropolitan Towing Company. The Task Force’s findings accused the Giordano led faction of using the Metropolitan Towing Company to launder illegal income and provide an outlet to market stolen auto parts.
What concerned the committee was that all three factions had infiltrated organized labor. Authorities estimated that at least 30 mobsters were working as business agents for the unions, including relatives of both Giordano and Jimmy Michaels.
In conclusion to the committee’s findings, it is interesting to note that in 1997, a former police official stated, “it behooved police to puff up the local organized crime situation because by doing so, the department became eligible for mob-fighting grants from the Nixon administration.”
During the mid-1970s, Giordano was indicted after he attempted to gain hidden ownership in the Frontier casino in Las Vegas. Convicted with him were Detroit mobsters Michael Polizzi and Anthony Zerilli. Giordano was sent to prison in 1975 and released in December 1977. Giordano was nominated for Nevada’s Black Book on March 4, 1975, but because he had been sent to prison for the infraction, he was removed in April the following year.
Another tie between St. Louis and Las Vegas was through Morris Shenker. Described as veteran defense attorney from St. Louis, Shenker represented Teamsters’ President James R. Hoffa beginning in the mid-1960s and quickly made his way up the ranks of the “Teamsters’ Bar Association.” He also represented leading racketeers in St. Louis and was active in Democratic politics. His client list of organized crime figures not withstanding, Shenker was appointed by St. Louis Mayor A. J. Cervantes to serve as chairman of the city’s new Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement. He resigned amid allegations that money from a $20 million dollar federal grant to fight crime was going unauthorized to the commission.
Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ronald J. Lawrence says of Shenker:
“There is a tendency to dismiss as inconsequential the tremendous influence and power wielded inside and outside the underworld by Morris Shenker, a functionary for the St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago and other families. This largely was because most local law enforcement officers were unable to comprehend the complexity of the man and his operations.”
“Shenker, a lawyer who once represented Jimmy Hoffa, was a mover and shaker and a financial genius of the caliber of Lansky. It was Shenker who tapped the Teamster Union’s Central States Pension Fund to finance much of the mob’s penetration of Las Vegas casinos and other ventures. Shenker’s influence extended far beyond the underworld and he was able to get two of his own federal indictments killed.”
“St. Louis underworld interests controlled two Las Vegas casinos – the Dunes, owned by Shenker, and the Aladdin.”
As early as November 1974, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was reporting that Vincenzo “Jimmy” Giammanco and Matthew M. Trupiano Jr. (both sons of Giordano’s sisters) were in line to replace Giordano before he was sent away to prison. The paper also discussed the possibilities of a mob war between the Mafia and the Syrians, led by Jimmy Michaels, for control of several labor unions.
On February 12, 1979 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story that Giordano was directing organized crime activity in Colorado. The paper quoted an unnamed source as stating, “Giordano is not just an errand boy. He is overlord for Colorado and he is the commission’s representative here. Territories and geographical boundaries are not important. Relationships between people are paramount, and Giordano provides that relationship with the top of the mob.”
The article went on to say that Giordano, working with the Smaldone Family – Eugene “Checkers,” Clyde “Flip Flop,” and Clarence “Chauncey” – oversees gambling, loansharking, major fencing and investments into legitimate businesses. Giordano’s dealings with the Smaldones began in 1973. Authorities believe it was through this relationship that “organized crime attempted to gain control of the Pueblo, Colorado Police Department in 1977 through the selection of two St Louisans as candidate for chief of police.”
The article also revealed that influences in Colorado by the St. Louis mob went back to the mid-1960s when St. Louis gangster Sam Shanks went there to help the Smaldones re-establish control of the gambling interests after they were released from a long prison term for jury tampering. During this time, Shanks murdered a gambler turned informant. Later Shanks retired to St. Louis and was a confidant of Giordano.
On August 29, 1980, Giordano died from cancer at his South St. Louis home. He was 67. Ten days before his death, a meeting was held at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge at Interstate 44 and Hampton Avenue. The meeting, with members of the Colorado underworld present, was called to choose a successor. Giordano’s choice was said to be his nephew, Jimmy Giammanco. However, some family members balked at the decision and instead supported Joseph Cammarata, an ex-convict who had been keeping a low profile. Reports stated Giammanco threatened Cammarato when the decision was made to promote him. When neither candidate seemed to emerge, Anthony M. “Nino” Parrino, an officer of Teamster’s Local 682 was considered.
In the meantime, government sources indicated that John J. Vitale was acting boss of the St. Louis Family. Vitale’s status was never really clear over the years. He was reputed to be the family’s consigliere. However, in 1967 the U.S. Justice Department identified him as “representing the national cartel in St. Louis.” Little is known of Vitale’s early years. In the 1940s he served two years in prison for a narcotics violation. Over the years he had been called to testify before several congressional committees, including one into alleged ties between professional boxing and the St. Louis Family. Vitale had been a suspect in several killings, including the 1968 murder of Thomas Rodgers, owner of a mortuary supply company. In addition, he had close ties to the Aladdin Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and may have had connections to the Tropicana along with members of the Kansas City mob. In October 1980, Vitale was stopped and searched by FBI agents at St. Louis’ Lambert Field airport. Agents seized $36,000 in cash hidden on Vitale.
Just 19 days after Giordano’s death, Jimmy Michaels was blown to bits on Interstate 55 in South St. Louis County. The black Chrysler Cordoba Michaels was riding alone in had a bomb planted under the driver’s seat and was set off by a remote control. The bomb, which bounced the car three feet high, blew Michael’s legs to pieces and sent the rest of his body into the center of the highway fifty-five yards from where the car came to a stop.
Michael’s career began in the 1920s when he was known as “Horseshoe Jimmy,” and was a member of the Cuckoos Gang. At 19, he was arrested for robbing the Illinois Central freight depot in East St. Louis. He skipped bond, but was recaptured a year later. He was convicted of the robbery and sentenced from ten years to life in prison in 1929. Michaels was released briefly while the U. S. Supreme Court reviewed his conviction. While out, he was arrested as a suspect in several gangland killings. Michaels served a total of thirteen years for the robbery and was paroled in 1944. He quickly got involved in gambling. In 1959 he was arrested for operating an after hours joint on Hampton Avenue.
Michaels obtained a Missouri insurance broker’s license in 1959, but under a new state law introduced in 1962, it was revoked because of his felony conviction. In December 1963, Michaels, Giordano and Kansas City mobster Max Jaben were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in a hotel room where they were registered under the name of Mrs. Frank Wortman. The charges were dismissed. When Frank Wortman went to prison on tax evasion charged in 1962, authorities believed Michaels was being groomed to take over for him. In the mid-1970s, Michaels was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but the charged were dismissed.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a bloody struggle going on for control of Laborer’s Local 42 in St. Louis. The fighting had begun almost two decades earlier. Around 1965, a “hoodlum element” led by Louis D. Shoulders, Jr., George “Stormy” Harvill, and William “Shotgun” Sanders, took control of the local. Leadership was officially in the hands of Thomas “T. J.” Harvill, due to the criminal records of the others. In 1966, “Stormy” Harvill was gunned down, and in 1972 Shoulders was killed in a car bombing. When Thomas Harvill died of natural causes in 1979, ex-Cuckoos member Jimmy Michaels backed John Paul Spica for the leadership position. Spica was described as a contract killer who was released from the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1973 after serving ten years of a life sentence for the first-degree murder of a local real estate agent. This move brought him into opposition led by Raymond H. Flynn.
Flynn contacted Chicago mobster Joseph Aiuppa and asked for permission to challenge Michaels’ move. Flynn was told that the St. Louis Family would not interfere with Flynn’s actions as long as Michaels was not harmed, due to his long-standing friendship with Giordano. In November 1979, Spica was murdered by a car bomb outside his home in Richmond Heights, Missouri. After this killing, Michaels met with Giordano to appeal for help against Flynn. Giordano was rebuffed by Aiuppa and told not to interfere in the power struggle. However, he could assure Michaels that no harm would come to him.
Flynn moved against Michaels again by approaching Anthony and John “Paul” Leisure, members of Michaels’ Syrian faction, and luring them away with high salaried jobs within the union. The greedy double-cross enraged Michaels who had supported the Leisures for years and gave Anthony an officer’s position in Local 110. When Giordano died from cancer in August 1980, Flynn was informed by Aiuppa that any arrangement that Giordano had to protect his friend Michaels was “cancelled out” by his death. Less than three weeks later, Michaels was blown to pieces.
With the death of Giordano and the subsequent murder of Michaels, Vitale tried to keep peace between the warring factions. Vitale, sometimes called the “gentleman gangster” was unsuccessful. In 1981, Vitale became an informant for the FBI and fed information to them on the war going on between the Michaels’ gang and the Leisures. At the age of 73, Vitale was becoming frail to the point that he needed two canes to walk. On June 5, 1982, he died from heart disease at Faith Hospital in Creve Coeur, Missouri.
One of the hoodlums Vitale tried to set up for the FBI was Jesse Stoneking a lieutenant of Arthur Berne the East St. Louis rackets boss who had replaced Buster Wortman. Stoneking, an ex-choirboy, had made a name for himself in the mob after being taken under the wing of Berne. Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ronald J. Lawrence describes Stoneking as follows:
“Stoneking’s reputation for violence was partly the result of the man himself. His presence, alone, was menacing. Built more like a bull than a man, he could talk, fight or shoot his way out of a jam. His stentorian (loud) voice demanded attention and obedience. His eyes could be as piercing as laser beams, as innocent as a baby’s, depending on what he wanted to convey. His words could beat a man into submission or relieve him of his wealth.
“The other part of his reputation was built on his deeds.”
Stoneking was a hitman with a conscience. On October 22, 1979, he murdered a man who had raped a girlfriend of his mentor Berne. In December 1979, he killed two men who had tried to set him up for a hit. However, when Joe Cammarata found a bomb in his pickup truck and ordered a hit on the man he suspected – Tommy Callanan, a union business agent whose legs had been lost to a car bomb in 1973 – Stoneking refused to carry it out because Callanan was confined to a wheelchair.
Stoneking’s rise to the top and eventual possible leadership of the East Side rackets, then under Berne, went into a tailspin after the death of Jimmy Michaels. First, Vitale tried to set him up for the FBI by offering Stoneking $5,000 to get a bomb. Then on September 16, 1981, FBI agents arrested him for his involvement in an interstate stolen car ring and chop shop operation. Before he went to prison, he attended a party at Berne’s home. Berne’s wife, who dabbled in astrology, told Stoneking that one day he was “going to go straight.”
“Go straight” in the mob usually means going straight to the authorities, which Stoneking did. While having time to reflect on his life in prison and seeing that his family, or families – he had two, a wife with three children and a girlfriend with three more – were not being taken care of, Stoneking flipped. His undercover informant role for the FBI over the next two years would result in the imprisonment of 30 members of organized crime including Berne and Matthew Trupiano.
Less than a year after Jimmy Michaels’ murder, his supporters retaliated by planting a bomb under Paul Leisure’s car outside his home on August 11, 1981. The ensuing blast cost him his right leg and left foot. In addition, his face was severely disfigured. Members of the Flynn faction struck back a month later on September 11, by wounding Charles John Michaels, Jimmy’s grandson, outside the Edge Restaurant. Authorities were surprised at the shooting because Michaels, who had no record, was not involved in the union power struggle. On October 16, George Faheen, Jimmy’s nephew, was killed by a car bomb. Again, authorities were baffled because Faheen was a city worker and not involved in the union power struggle.
On March 24, 1982 James A. Michaels III, another grandson of Jimmy Michaels, and Milton Russell Schepp, a former St. George, Missouri police chief, were charged with the Paul Leisure car bombing. Michaels was convicted of the Leisure bombing by a federal jury on October 19, 1982. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
In another twist, Michael E. Kornhardt, charged with the murder of George Faheen, was killed on July 31, 1982 while free on bond. Police theorized he was silenced to prevent him from striking a deal with the FBI. Paul, Anthony, and David Leisure, Robert Carbaugh and Steven Wougamon were charged with Kornhardt’s murder.
On April 14, 1983 eight members of the Leisure faction were indicted on state capital murder charges and federal racketeering charges. The charges would be handled in separate trials. The eight men indicted were Paul Leisure, business agent for Local 42 and part owner of LN & P Company, a towing company owned by the Leisure family; Anthony Leisure, Paul’s brother and a business agent for Local 110 and part owner of LN & P; David Leisure, a cousin of Paul and Anthony and a part owner of LN & P, charged with murder and assault; John F. Ramo, an employee of LN & P charged with making the bomb that killed Jimmy Michaels; Ronald J. Broderick, a business agent for Local 110; Charles M. Loewe, a LN & P employee charged with the wounding of Charles John Michaels; Robert M. Carbaugh, a part-time employee of LN & P charged with killing Michael Kornhardt; and finally Steven T. Wougamon also charged with the murder of Kornhardt. Testifying against this group would be Fred Prater, an ex-LN & P employee who had become a protected government witness.
On April 2, 1985 Paul, Anthony and David Leisure, along with Steve Wougamon and Charles Loewe were convicted. Ramo and Broderick had pled guilty to charges earlier in the trial. With the last defendant, Robert Carbaugh, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. On May 1, 1985 Paul and David Leisure were sentenced to 55 years in prison. The sentence consisted of 20 years for conspiracy, 20 years for racketeering, 5 years for obstruction of justice, and 10 years for manufacturing the bombs. Anthony Leisure received 40 years and Charles Loewe received 36 years. Wougamon was sentenced at a later date. Within weeks of the convictions, the five men and Carbaugh would be indicted on state murder charges. In the second trial, Paul Leisure was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for 50 years on December 7, 1987. Later, Anthony and David Leisure were found guilty and received the same sentence.
Raymond Flynn, who was tried separately, was convicted by a federal jury for his role in the car bombings and sentenced to 55 years in prison in March 1987. An appeal in 1988 reduced his sentence to 30 years.
Meanwhile the new St. Louis mob boss finally emerged. Described as low-key and elusive, Matthew M. “Mike” Trupiano, Jr. was identified by the FBI as the heir apparent to Giordano in the wake of Vitale’s death in 1982. Trupiano, a nephew of Giordano, was born in Detroit and as one federal investigator stated, “He got messed up in gambling in Detroit and was sent here for some guidance from his uncle.”
In May 1986, Trupiano was fined $30,000 and sentenced to four years in prison for running a gambling ring that handled bets on college and professional football games. During the trial, witnesses testified that Trupiano’s bookmaking operation lost money. It was the first time federal agents had ever heard of an underworld bookmaking operation running in the red. Some insiders believed it might have been due to Trupiano’s own gambling in which he lost more than won. In transcripts of recorded conversations, Trupiano was heard to say “he got no respect, either from mob, either from mob chapters or his own underlings.” Other comments overheard indicated that Italian-American businessmen kept him at arms length, and mob families cheated him out of money from the sale of a hotel in Las Vegas. Trupiano claimed his own soldiers were holding out on him from their bookmaking take. He served 16 months of the sentence. By the time Trupiano was released from prison, the St. Louis mob “had dwindled to a handful of soldiers.”
The newspapers described Trupiano as “flashy, temperamental, profane, averse to neckties and a compulsive gambler.” The FBI kept him under so close surveillance that he was arrested in 1991 for running an illegal gin rummy game in the back room of a used car dealership on South Kingshighway. Prosecutors stated that since Trupiano was an officer of Laborer’s Local 110, and was playing cards on union time, that he was in effect embezzling from the union. In June 1992, the Local 110 membership voted him out of office. In October, Trupiano was convicted on one of six counts and sentenced to two and a half years in prison and told by the judge to “shun gambling in all forms.”
Trupiano’s health deteriorated in prison. He suffered from diabetes, underwent daily kidney dialysis, and had suffered one heart attack. He died after suffering a second heart attack at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in south St. Louis County on October 22, 1997.
In the wake of Trupiano’s death, the two names that still float around as family leaders are Joseph Cammarata and Anthony Parrino. According to Ronald Lawrence, both men are retired, “at least from their legitimate jobs.” He claims Stoneking’s testimony was really responsible for putting away the mob in St. Louis.