Saturday, November 5, 2016

Milwaukee Leg Breaker

Thanks to Gary Jenkins for the following guest post. Gary is a former Kansas City Police Intelligence Unit Detective. It is a blog piece he put together about Milwaukee's Sally Papia and her plot to burn the Northbrook Inn and harm her former chef. It provides additional information on a post I did in 2012 called "The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime". 
Gary has a unique true crime podcast called "Gangland Wire Crime Stories".  Gary and his co-host Aaron Gnirk tell crime stories from Gary's career. He also researches famous Mob investigations and other crimes for content.
Sept, 2016 Gary writes:
I met Gary Magnesen in Las Vegas, he had been assigned to the organized Crime Squad and took part in the investigation of Lefty Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro and the Stardust skim. When I went out to Vegas to interview folks for my film, he cooperated and gave me a great interview. Before I went out, I obtained his book Strawmen in which he tells about his career. I noted a name, Jacob Schlecter and a description 6'6' 250s lbs and a leg breaker mentality. I did a quick check back to a narcotics investigation and surveillance we once did with the DEA and found this was the guy I was thinking of.
To go back, We had a tip and an informant that claimed he could buy weed from a mob guy named Joe Sharpino, who had a tow truck and worked out of a mob associated body shop on Independence Ave. The DEA could find no criminal record on this guy. We checked with the FBI and the Intelligence Unit records and sources and found this guy to be a mystery. The DEA were able to make a few small controlled buys thought the informant. The agent said they would keep offering more money and buying larger quantities and make this guy a big drug dealer. The informant is reporting the guy has some connection with local Italian family, but this family showed no prior organized crime connections, but one of the family members did own this body shop. The guy was an independent tow truck driver who mainly hung around the body shop. The informant was buying more and more weed and laying the groundwork to introduce a female DEA agent in as a big buyer with lots of customers in the suburbs.
We rented a nearby apartment and watched the body shop recording every license number that came and went. No mob guys were showing up. If this was a mob guy, he was not associated with any local mob folks, and if this was his real name, he had no criminal record. The informant would be seen going into the body shop and leaving, then contacting the DEA agent with a story about how Joe Sharpino was going to break somebody's legs that owed the body shop money. I even sent my informant in who was a car repo man. He offered Joe an extra car repossession job that we set up. The guy was suspicious or something because he turned down the job.
After a couple of weeks into this, the informant reported his tow truck driver had a heart attack. He went into St. Luke's hospital for heart surgery. While he was recuperating, the informant relates that he has a Universal Life minister's certificate and the supposedly mob guy wants the informant to marry him and his girlfriend while he is still in the hospital.
After several jokes about how to "wire up" the informant and record the ceremony, we let that go and the informant conducted the ceremony of the target and his new wife. Finally the guy got back to his tow truck and the body shop. The informant makes the introduction to the female agent and she makes her pitch. The guy agrees and claims he can supply 50 pounds of weed. By this time, the DEA has to get the guy identified in order to continue the investigation and put these kinds of resources into it. I ask our Fingerprint Unit supervisor to make personal calls to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) at the FBI headquarters. We had the guy's drivers license record and it showed no arrests. The fingerprint guy noted the license was issued to him at the 811 Grand, KCMO address, then he changed it to his current address.  He then checked on the guy's name and date of birth at NCIC and mentioned that fact. You see, that was the address of the Federal Courthouse, the FBI, ATF, US Marshalls office. The NCIC contact could not say exactly, but indirectly, we learned our friend was in the witness protection program. The DEA took this to the US Attorney's office who contacted the Witnesses Protection folks at the US Marshalls. After a consultation and looking at our skimpy case, the US Attorney ordered the DEA to Stand Down. The guy disappeared shortly after.  
Which gets me back to the Gary Magnesen book. In that book, he tells a story about one his first cases. His first office was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A girl friend of a Chicago Outfit guy named Frank Buccieri moved up from Chicago and opened a nice restaurant called Sally's Steak House on Juneau Ave. She was described as a raven haired firecracker who thought she was the Queen Bee of Milwaukee Organized Crime because of her Chicago relationship. She hired three local mob associates and professional criminals to help run the place. Chicago outfit guys would come into town and eat there and never pay any respect to the Milwaukee mob boss, Frank Balistrieri or Frankie Bal or Fancy Pants. He called her an Outfit wannabe in a fucking skirt. Sally, the mob moll, hired a chef after she paid for his tuition at a good culinary school. He left shortly after to open his own restaurant, the Northridge Inn. She became enraged and hired a local arsonist to burn it down.
On December 29, 1974, Joseph Basile called Jacob Schlechter, an unindicted co-conspirator, instructed Schlechter to set the Northbrook Inn on fire that night. Schlechter did so in the company of his wife, who later contacted the police and began supplying information concerning the ongoing conspiracy. Following the fire, Schlechter went to Basile's home to collect money for his work. Basile gave Schlechter $100 and told him that another $900 would be forthcoming from out of town. Schlechter asked what the fire was all about, and Basile told him that it was ordered because the chef had "screwed over" Sally Papia and because of a "personal grievance" Basile had against this chef.
On New Year's Eve, two days after the fire, Papia ran into the Chef at a local restaurant. Dropping a lighted match into an ashtray, Papia said, "I told you this was going to happen."
In early January, Schlechter asked Basile for the balance of the money due him for setting the fire. Basile deflected the request by advising Schlechter that they were getting pressure from a Frank Balistrieri, who had lost some juke boxes in the Northbrook Inn fire, and that Schlechter should not tell anyone of his involvement in the fire.
On January 7, Russell Enea approached Schlechter in Papia's restaurant and asked him if he knew anything about the fire. Schlechter, complying with Basile's order to keep mum, said that he did not. Three days later, apparently satisfied that Schlechter could be trusted, Enea again approached Schlechter and directed him to break the Chef's  wrists "so he never cooks again." Enea said that "Max" would get in touch with Schlechter to talk about the job. Shortly thereafter, Max Adonnis contacted Schlechter and told him to kidnap the Chef and take him to a garage so that Adonnis and Enea could break his wrists personally. Schlechter and Adonnis then discussed the plan with Herbert Holland, who was to assist in the endeavor. Adonnis explained to Schlechter and Holland that this Chef owed Sally Papia $5,000, that he had "screwed over Sally," and that he wasn't going to get away with it. Adonnis gave Schlechter a slip of paper listing the Chef's address, the make of his car and its license plate number. A week later, Adonnis passed along a photo of the Chef taken in Papia's restaurant on which Papia's handwriting appeared.
During the next couple of weeks, Holland, Schlechter and Adonnis attempted to locate the Chef without success. On January 18, Enea, disturbed by the lack of progress, approached Schlechter and, gesturing with his wrists, inquired what Schlechter was doing about the chef. Schlechter and Holland renewed their efforts to locate the Chef but failed to do so, much to the expressed chagrin of Enea and Adonnis. Finally, Adonnis saw the Chef at a local restaurant and obtained his new address, place of employment and license plate number, which information he passed on to Schlechter with instructions to do the job right away.
After purchasing a baseball bat and two ski masks for use in the battery, Schlechter and Holland went to The Chef's  place of employment in the early morning hours of February 9, 1975. While waiting for him to leave work, the two were confronted by police because the auto in which they were riding matched a description of a stolen car.
The Milwaukee police were going to the Chef's apartment. As they arrived at the guy's apartment, they saw two suspicious men cruising the area. They got them stopped and found two baseball bats in the car, two ski masks, the Chef's photo and his address inside the car. They arrested them for CCW and they spent the night in jail. Gary Magnesun and his partner went to the jail the next morning after being notified that one of the suspects wanted to talk to the FBI. This was Jacob Schlecter who was 6'6 250 lbs with a leg breaker's mentality. He was not as tough as he looked. Schlecter agreed to work with the Bureau and set up Sally and her underlings. Soon, he was out of jail and wearing a wire. He was able to record Sally and her co-conspirators talking about this plot to kill or injure the former chef.
During this time Joseph Basile, the guy who originally ordered the arson, was picked up and taken to Fancy Pants.  He was livid and told the guy that Sally did not have the clout to approve this arson and he should not have done it without checking with Fancy Pants first.
Jacob Schlecter would testify against Sally Papia and her co-conspirators and they would go to jail for the arson and attempted murder of the Chef. Schelcter would be relocated in the Witness Protection program to Kansas City Missouri, until he got into trouble acting like a mobsters and selling a little weed. he was relocated somewhere else.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Milwaukee Mobster Frank Balistrieri Had Alleged Interest In Gay Bar Pink Glove During Late 1950s
Article source: Links provided. 
The Pink Glove was a wildly popular gay bar in Milwaukee, WI in the late 1950s, and none other than mob boss Frank Balistrieri allegedly had a hidden interest in the watering hole which otherwise was operated by Marvin Klein as license holder who was a brother of suspected mob associates Harold and Bernard. A 1958 FBI report provides the following:
FRANK BALISTRIERI is alleged to have an interest in the "Pink Glove," which is newly opened, a cocktail lounge at 631 North Broadway, and which is operated by [name redacted]. An informant has advised that he has seen an employee of FRANK BALISTRIERI's observe the activities at the "Pink Glove" cocktail lounge and check the cash register and report his findings back to FRANK BALISTRIERI.  The informant advised he had no information which indicated that this "Pink Glove" cocktail lounge was a part of a country operation which catered to the "gay crowd." A "gay crowd" is described as individuals who participate in various acts of sexual perversion. It was the understanding of this informant that the "Pink Glove" may be a name used to designate a certain spot in various parts of the country where gay crowds meet.
Balistrieri apparently had interests in straight bars, too, and another 1958 FBI memo alleges he had involvement with the "licenses for the Roosevelt Bar, the Melody Room, the Downtowner Bar, the Tradewinds Lounge and the Knights Tower Bar, all in the city of Milwaukee."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Wisconsin's Northwoods: the real gangsters' paradise

Story thanks to Max Gorden, Multimedia Journalist and Links provided:

MINOCQUA (WAOW) - October, 2015

Wise guys like Al Capone and John Dillinger ruled Chicago in the late 1920's and early 30's. These infamous men reaped riches and often left a trail of destruction.
But when these gangsters weren't out and about on the town in Chicago, they were often in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. During the 20's and 30's, the Northwoods area became a playground for those who made their living in Chicago's underworld.
Brothels dotted the area, catering to their gangster clientele.
In Minocqua, the boathouse of BJ's Sporting Goods was once home to a different sort of business. In the 20's and 30's, it was known as "Trixie's Brothel." According to local lore, when Trixie the matriarch died, her body and her jewels were buried on an island on Lake Minocqua.
When Chicago's most infamous weren't hanging out with local call girls, they were relaxing at the Northwoods' numerous resorts, such as Little Bohemia in Manitowish Waters.
"[It was] a place for the gangsters to get away, a place for everyone to get away," Little Bohemia owner Dan Johns Jr. said.
It was at Little Bohemia that John Dillinger and his gang almost met their end one night in April of 1934.
"The gang was inside, having a good time, always suspicious, but not thinking that anything was going to happen at that minute,” Johns said. “And then the FBI shows up."
A shootout ensued, bullets flying through the windows and walls of Little Bohemia – bullet holes that can still be seen by visitors in Little Bohemia's dining room.
"The gang realized that the jig was up,” Johns said. “So they busted out and started running in all different directions."
Dillinger's gang scattered after their shootout with the FBI, but few know the story of what happened after the escape.
Dennis Robertson, the President of Dillman's Bay Resort, owns a piece of history connected with the plight of Dillinger's gang – a cabin used by George “Baby Face” Nelson as he evaded the FBI. Nelson was wanted for his connections to various murders and bank robberies. After two getaway cars failed on him, Nelson trekked 18 miles in a suit and wingtip shoes from Little Bohemia through the woods until he came upon a cabin inhabited by a local family.
"He had three guns with him,” said Robertson. “And he said, 'I'm going to possibly stay here with you for a little while and nobody can leave.' He ended up staying, what we know of, two nights and three days there. And he finally left and went back to Chicago."
The structure that Nelson stayed in is now known as Cabin Five at Dillman's Bay Resort. Though Cabin Five has been expanded and moved since Nelson's stay, visitors still have the opportunity sleep in the room that once housed the notorious gangster.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Old Mobster Now on Trial for the Massive Airport Heist from ‘Goodfellas’

Photo by REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Story thanks to John Surico and Links provided:

Oct. 20,2015  In a Brooklyn federal courtroom on Tuesday, Gaspare Valenti did the one thing mobsters like him aren't supposed to do: talk.

As his son glared at him from the gallery and his cousin sat enraged at the defendant's table, Valenti recounted how the first time he went on a score, he showed up in a seersucker suit, not quite understanding that "come dressed" meant come with a gun. He even told the court how he "got rid" of a body by pouring lime over it. "I was told it helps it decompose faster," the 68-year-old said, nonchalantly.

But when asked what his biggest crime was, Valenti replied with one word: "Lufthansa."

That answer marked the first time a gangster has admitted in court to helping carry out what was once the largest cash theft in American history: the 1978 Lufthansa heist at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. The robbery was a key plot point in Martin Scorsese's 1990 gangster classic Goodfellas, and the way Valenti described it, you could see why it showed up in a movie.

"I was separating gold chains and watches and the diamonds and emeralds and rubies," the criminal told the court of the spoils.

Valenti is the key witness in the trial of Vincent Asaro, his 80-year-old cousin, who is charged with taking a cut from the $6 million heist, as well as murdering Paul Katz—who was believed to be a snitch—with a dog chain a decade earlier. That's the man Valenti graphically described burying, exhuming, and then "getting rid of" a second time, years later.

Valenti was arrested in 2013 for racketeering conspiracy, pleaded guilty, then agreed to wear a wire to help the Feds catch his cousin mouthing off about the heist. A year later, Asaro was arrested. When asked by a federal prosecutor on Tuesday what the penalty is for talking to law enforcement—one of the biggest no-no's in Mafia politics—Valenti responded quickly: "Death."

Throughout Valenti's testimony in the courtroom on Tuesday, Asaro stared at him, his hands clasped below his chin. At one point, when Valenti described a robbery where he dressed up like a woman to avoid detection, Asaro broke character, laughing to himself, perhaps at the memory of a mafioso in drag getting cat-called on the streets of Queens. It was clear that at one point, the cousins were friends.

In many ways, Asaro and Valenti's relationship closely resembled the one famously shared by the two other major players in the heist: Jimmy Burke and Henry Hill, the Lucchese family associates respectively played by Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta inGoodfellas. According to Valenti, Asaro and his father, who were both part of the Bonanno crime family, brought him into organized crime. Asaro apparently taught him how to rob, signed off on all of his scores, and, in one situation, instructed Valenti to brutally beat a bartender "who showed him disrespect" after a Fourth of July party.

But most importantly, Asaro always wanted to make sure he was making money, Valenti said, which is why he was invited to get in on the multi-family Lufthansa heist led by Burke. Fortunately for prosecutors, Valenti was able to offer a play-by-play of the caper.

If true, Valenti's account of the Lufthansa heist represents pure gangster gold.

He reeled off a list of alleged participants—something that the feds were never able to fully compile—and discussed the meetings held beforehand at Burke's club in Queens to plan just exactly how they'd rob the airport hanger. (Blueprints were apparently provided by Henry Hill's friend, Marty Krugman—the guy in Goodfellas who keeps pleading to Liotta for the heist money. He was later allegedly murdered in cold blood.)

On the night of the heist, Burke and Asaro waited a mile away in a "crash car," according to Valenti, and before arriving at the scene, Tommy DeSimone—Joe Pesci's character—bragged about using his silencer. Valenti then recounted how he and Burke's son, Frank, held up two terminal workers at gunpoint, hiding them in a van while the two mobsters cleaned the place out.

What happened afterward, though, is where the key details lie. "A robbery that big and nothing discussed of where anyone would go afterward," Valenti recalled thinking to himself.

Apparently, the group hadn't chosen a place to store the money, so at the last minute, according to Valenti, his own house in Brooklyn was chosen to stash the burlap sacks filled with the stolen $6 million. It was initially divided up around Christmastime to the families involved who were guaranteed a cut. Valenti asserted that he and Asaro were promised $750,000 at the onset. "Jimmy and Vinnie said, 'Don't spend anything,'" Valenti said. "'Don't catch any heat.'"

But the final amounts weren't fully doled out, he said. Some participants were apparently killed for disobeying Burke's orders (you might remember this scene from the movie, set to "Layla"), and others went missing. So the rest of the cash and diamonds allegedly remained in Burke's possession, especially when Burke later came under fire for unrelated crimes—something that apparently particularly pissed off Asaro, as he and Burke were partners for some time.

Years later, Asaro's frustration was caught on Valenti's wire. "We never got our right money, what we were supposed to get... Jimmy kept everything," Asaro is reportedly heard saying. Prosecutors claim that whatever cut Asaro did end up with, he blew it all on gambling. (That vice ran in the family: Valenti testified that he, too, went straight to the racetracks and social clubs with his end of the heist.)

After an explosive first-day primer of Mafia life, the key witness's testimony made up the entire second day of Asaro's trial, and could provide the feds with their best chance at booking Asaro for the age-old crimes with a life sentence. However, just as Valenti's memory serves the prosecution nicely, it also lays the groundwork for the defense to argue that his knack for details is suspicious—or too good to be true.

Regardless of Asaro's fate, Brooklyn federal court saw history on Tuesday: an admission from someone who was apparently involved in a legendary crime nearly four decades ago. In the process, old grudges—these rivalries and relationships that once dominated the New York City crime underworld—were given a dramatic public airing.

Follow John Surico on Twitter.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review - The Milwaukee Mafia: Murder in the Heartland

I purchased this book several weeks ago authored by Gavin Schmitt and here is my review.

After learning many years ago that some of the people I dealt with back in Milwaukee in the 1970’s were mob “connected”, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past many years trying to learn about the history of the Italian mob in Milwaukee.

Gavin Schmitt has spent decades researching the history and has been a valuable resource in my own education. After learning that his second book had been published, I immediately ordered a copy and finished reading it this week.

The book covers in great detail the events from the early 1900’s up until Frank P. Balistrieri was anointed the head of the Milwaukee mob in 1961. There is a chapter on John Alioto, Balistrieri’s father-in-law who was the boss preceding Frank from 1952 to 1961. If you grew up in Milwaukee, you will read many familiar names from back in the day, it’s a very well researched book, very detailed and provides a lot of little known historical facts.

As written in the book’s description on Amazon:
From the time Vito Guardalabene arrived from Italy in the early 1900s, until the days the Mob controlled the Teamsters union, Milwaukee was a city of murder and mayhem. Gavin Schmitt relies on previously unseen police reports, FBI investigative notes, coroner's records, newspaper articles, family lore and more to bring to light an era of Milwaukee's history that has been largely undocumented and shrouded in myth. No stone is left unturned, no body is left buried.

Milwaukee's Sicilian underworld is something few people speak about in polite company, and even fewer people speak about with any authority. Everyone in Milwaukee has a friend of a friend who knows something, but they only have one piece of a giant puzzle. The secret society known as the Milwaukee Mafia has done an excellent job of keeping its murders, members and mishaps out of books. Until now.

There is a lot of investigative detail in the book, names, addresses, dates and times. I found it easy to picture the locations in my mind as I was familiar with a lot of the areas  and locations mentioned. The murders of John Di’Trapani and Jack Enea are covered in detail.

All in all, this is a good book for people interested in Milwaukee Mob History and I highly recommend it. Just be aware, the book only covers the time period up until 1961, when Balistrieri took power. I’m hoping that Gavin will look to publish another book covering the Balistrieri years up until the present!
Also, Gavin has another book titled “Milwaukee Mafia (Images of America) consisting of about 125 pages of fascinating photos and captions of the early mob days in beer town. Click this Link for a previous post that I wrote about it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Last of the Milwaukee Mob Bosses - Joseph "Joe Camel" P. Caminiti
Revised 1/29/2015  Thanks to One of my blog contributors reported that Joe was a resident of Menomonie Falls and drove a big Cadillac. I didn't realize that he had died this year. Links provided:

Joseph P. Caminiti (born 1926- died January 30, 2014) also known as "Joe Camel", was the last known reputed boss of the Milwaukee crime family. He was heavily involved in labor unions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Caminiti was married to Mary Alioto, daughter of former Milwaukee family boss John Alioto, with whom he had three children. He came to prominence when he was installed as Frank Balistrieri's Consigliere, a position he allegedly held from 1961 when Balistrieri became boss until the 1990s. In 1993, Frank Balistrieri died and his brother Peter Frank Balistrieri, succeeded him as boss.
When Pete Balistrieri died of natural causes in 1997, longtime family Consigliere Joe Caminiti became the new boss of the Milwaukee crime family and had Joseph Balistrieri, Frank's son, installed as his underboss and made Angelo Alioto, the son of John Alioto his Consigliere (Angelo died on February 3, 2011 of complications of pneumonia at age 87). Caminiti was a former secretary-treasurer of local 257 of the International Brotherhood of Teamster's truck drivers and allied industries Union which was a very influential union in Milwaukee's garbage removal and gasoline transportation and a former secretary treasurer of local 982 of the service station attendants, bulk plant and garage employees union. Under Caminiti's leadership the family was reportedly composed of no more than twenty members and 15-20 associates operating primarily in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Law enforcement claimed that Caminiti shared much of the power with Frank Balistrieri's son Joseph who died in 2010. In the 2000s, Law enforcement also believed that the Milwaukee LCN Family nearly extinct, with less than 15 "made" members and the most lucrative rackets controlled by the Chicago Outfit.
Caminiti died on January 30, 2014 at the age of 87.

Another point of view follows from a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous:
Somehow the modern Milwaukee Family has some very dubious information floating around the Internet. There are "member lists" that keep getting recycled and include people who are very dead, and some who are just made up. (The name Rico "the Killer" Bono is a common one, and he never existed.)

The story of Joe Camel is another stretch, with people mixing up father and son.

Joseph Caminiti (1904-1995) is the guy with the labor connections. He is the one who was the consigliere. Before coming to Milwaukee, he grew up in Chicago alongside Carlo Caputo and Joe Aiello.

Joseph Caminiti (1926-2014) is his son. This Joe DID marry Mary Alioto, the daughter of John Alioto. But there is little evidence he had any real role in the mob. He was not involved in labor like his father, but sold life insurance.

Both men lived in Menominee Falls.

Joseph Caminiti's Obituary from
Caminiti, Joseph P.  Found Eternal Peace January 30, 2014, at the age of 87. Loving and devoted husband of Mary (nee Alioto) for 64 years. Loving and caring father of Madelynn (Daniel) Woodward and Catherine (Franklin "Rocky") LaDien. Proud and loving nano of Kathryn Woodward (Marco) Nasca, the late Mary Elizabeth Woodward, Daniel Woodward, Joseph and John LaDien. Cherished great-nano of Matthew and John Nasca. Beloved brother of Rosalie (Mike) Enea and the late Bernadine (the late Dominic) Cifaldi. Also survived by nieces, nephews, cousins and many, many good friends. Visitation Monday, February 3 at the HARDER FUNERAL HOME from 3:30 PM to 6:45 PM with a Prayer Vigil Service at 7:00 PM. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Tuesday, February 4 at OLD ST. MARY'S PARISH, 844 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee at 10:00 AM. Procession to Holy Cross Cemetery for the committal prayers, military honors and entombment to follow. Joe was a proud member of M.S.S. Addolarata Society, Society of San Giuseppe, Pompeii Men's Club, the Italian Community Center and past president of Wisconsin Association of Life Underwriters. The Caminiti family wishes to extend their sincere gratitude to caregivers, Lori Heppe, Shawenee Willis, Karen Sieben, the staff of Franciscan Woods and Elmbrook Hospital and the family friends who graciously loved and supported Joe and our family. - See more at:

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mob History and Ghosts at Madison's Wonder Bar Steakhouse

The 85-year-old Wonderbar Steakhouse in Madison was a mob
hangout for many years. It was built by Roger "The Terrible"
Touhy and run by his brother Eddie, who disappeared in
the 1950s.
Brian E. Clark
Article thanks to Brian E. ClarkSpecial to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Links provided:
Oct 31, 2014  In the late 1920s, Chicago gangster and Al Capone rival Roger "The Terrible" Touhy was making bucket loads of money from his bootlegging and gambling operations on the northwest side of Chicago. Some sources say he was making an impressive $1 million a year by 1926.
To help out his bartender brother, Eddie, as well as launder illicit earnings and get booze into Wisconsin, the Irish-American mob boss and his sibling built a small, castle-like restaurant — complete with turrets — on a dirt road on the outskirts of Madison.
They dubbed the place on E. Olin Ave. Eddie's Wonder Bar, and it gained a reputation as a gangster hangout that served good meals and drinks. In addition to locals, it also entertained the likes of John Dillinger, Capone, Baby Face Nelson and other gangsters. In the '70s, it was a gathering place for politicians and University of Wisconsin-Madison heavyweights such as football hero and former athletic director Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch.
The Wonder Bar Steakhouse continues to serve patrons today. And while the area has grown up around it, the ivy clad brick building — complete with the original back bar — looks much as it did in the 1930s. Moreover, it serves steaks popular 80 years ago, including porterhouse, sirloin and T-bone cuts. (The latter two sold for $1 and 75 cents respectively, according to a 1934 menu.)
Better still, for those who believe in such things, the restaurant is said to have ghosts.
Shawn Bortz, Wonder Bar chef for the past six years, said the restaurant has had other names in years past, including the Cigar Box, M.O.B. and The Bar Next Door. In the old days, it was often under surveillance by the FBI and had removable sections in the turrets through which the mobsters could poke their Tommy guns. No shootouts were recorded at the place.
"The gangsters came here to escape the 'heat' on their way up north and to stash money," he said. "They also gambled and did other things, both legal and illegal. And while no one was ever said to be killed here, the story is that Eddie, who disappeared in the 1950s, may be buried behind the second-floor fireplace. We also think some nasty stuff might have taken place in the basement — 'corrections' and that sort of thing."
Bortz said the Wonder Bar also had a tunnel that ran toward Lake Monona that was used to smuggle booze and help the racketeers escape from "G-men and other cops who were on their tail." The Touhy brothers were the sons of an honest Chicago cop who had six boys, Bortz said. Many of them became involved in organized crime, and some were killed by Capone hit-men.
The 93-seat restaurant has dark paneling, which manager Rick Shuffle said may be original. A portrait of a voluptuous and scantily clad redhead hangs over the downstairs fireplace, perhaps a niece of the Touhy brothers, Shuffle said.
The painting is 60 years old, and the young woman, who looks to be about 25, is said to haunt the restaurant.
Equally popular is the 1938 police booking photograph of a young Frank Sinatra. It was taken in his hometown of Hoboken, N.J. The ticket shows he was arrested for "seduction," which means he was busted while having an affair with a married woman, Shuffle said.
Bar manager Jason Kiley said the specter of a man wearing a 1930s-era Fedora hat and a trenchcoat has been seen standing at the top of the stairs, as well as a young girl. They're not certain about her connection to the place.
Bortz said he's heard the young girl laugh. And once, when he was alone in the basement, he said, he heard a heavy door slam near him, causing him to flee upstairs.
Bortz said his menu focuses on steaks and seafood. His favorite meal is the cowboy steak, a 23-ounce cut with the bone in it. Another popular dish is the Chilean sea bass with a banana curry served with sweet potato shoestrings. In season, he said, the halibut served with a garlic panko crust is a winner.
Cooking at the Wonder Bar is something of a family affair, too, Bortz said. His mother, Elizabeth Bortz, prepares all of the restaurant's desserts. Bortz said she makes a mean cheesecake, chocolate torte and creme brulee.
Though Eddie disappeared in the mid-1950s, Roger lived until 1959. He was convicted — wrongly, Kiley said — of kidnapping John "Jake the Barber" Factor, a sibling of cosmetics mogul Max Factor. Roger was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1934 but escaped from the Stateville Correctional Center in 1942. He was arrested by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover several months later in Chicago after robbing an armored car of $14,000. He was sentenced to an additional 199 years at Stateville for the escape and robbery.
He was finally released on parole in 1959, 25 years after he was first incarcerated. It's not known if he ever made it back to the Wonder Bar. He was shot and killed 22 days after he got out of prison on the doorstep of his sister's Windy City home.
Though Capone had been dead for 12 years, his "associates" were blamed for the hit. On his way to a hospital, the dying man told a reporter from a Chicago newspaper: "I've been expecting it. The bastards never forget!"
Getting there: The Wonder Bar Steakhouse is at 222 E. Olin Ave. off John Nolen Blvd. near the Alliant Energy Center. Madison is roughly 80 miles west of Milwaukee via Interstate 94 and Highway 12.
More information: Call (608) 256-9430 or see the restaurant website at
For the scoop on other things to see and do in and around the capital city, see the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau at
Brian E. Clark is a Madison writer and photographer.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Mobbed Up - Giovanni (John) DiBella and Wisconsin's Grande Cheese

Retlaw Hotel
Excellent story thanks to Stan Gores and the Fond Du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Story was published Saturday, March 12, 1966. Links provided:
DiBella Lived At Hotel, Headed Grande Cheese Firm, Meetings With Bonanno Kept Him In Spotlight 
Two months before his 18th birthday in 1908, Giovanni "John" Vincenzo DiBella, a native of Montelepre in the Province of Palermo in Sicily, made his first trip to the United States. He apparently liked what he found. There were more than a half dozen journeys after that and, always, he seemed to be doing at least moderately well. Born June 24. 1890, John DiBella came from a family of eight, with four brothers and three sisters, most of whom also settled in this country. They even established a business, called DiBella Bros. Co., Inc., in Brooklyn, N.Y., importing and exporting Italian food products. During his early years in the United States, DiBella listed his occupation as a "peddler." On later occasions, however, he would be classified as an olive oil and cheese broker in Palermo, a grocery and business management representative, a salesman and buyer, a businessman, a factory manager, an executive, and manager of the Grande Cheese Co. -- a firm that had its beginning in Illinois in 1941 but moved its headquarters to 1 S. Main St. in Fond du Lac in 1949. Not many people in Fond du Lac got to know DiBella closely during his years as a resident at the Retlaw Hotel, but those who met him liked his friendly, gentlemanly manner. He was not a big man, standing only 5' 6" and carrying well over 200 pounds. He was full-faced, with ruddy complexion, and his dark brown eyes looked out from under heavy brows and once- black hair now streaked with gray. Most persons didn't notice it, but he had a scar on his right eyebrow. His speech was described as "broken English" by those not fluent in Italian. There was a "mystery" about John DiBella. He was a man whose record showed no arrests, yet he was listed in rather extensive detail in police files across the nation.
 Linked With Bonanno
He had been linked repeatedly with Joseph (Joe Bananas) Bonanno, regarded as one of the kingpins in the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra underworld. What's more, Bonanno's wife, Faye, was a minor stockholder in the Grande Cheese Co. Bonanno sometimes came to visit him at the hotel, and on occasions reportedly even used his name. (Dan's Note: As Gay Talese wrote in his book (Honor Thy Father) about the fall of the Bonanno family, Joe's son Bill, needing a car to drive down to Phoenix, just went to Grande Cheese and "borrowed" one.) So what sort of man was John DiBella? Was he the polite, charming naturalized (1951) American citizen many saw him to be? Or was he, as some police investigators claimed, the Cosa Nostra's "cheese man" in Wisconsin? Did he have knowledge of four, or six, former Grande Cheese affiliates who were murdered in brutal gangland style? Or was this all a confusing web of falsehoods in which the amiable DiBella found himself strangely entangled, simply because he knew Bonanno?
Joe Bonanno, allegedly one of the kingpins in the Cosa Nostra underworld organization occasionally visited the late John DiBella in Fond du Lac. Bonanno resided in Arizona , where he owned considerable real estate. Police in New York and throughout the nation have been trying to find him since 1964, the year DiBella died. DiBella wasn't a man who talked much about himself. But on one occasion, Al Olson, manager of the hotel, approached DiBella and asked him, point blank, how it was possible that so many seemed to assume he was "mixed up in that sort of thing." DiBella's answer was short. "They're trying to smear my name," he said. So to understand DiBella, you have to look into records, talk to people who knew him, read what was written about him and then try to put the pieces together. When you do this it's like working on a human jigsaw puzzle. Records reveal that on at least one occasion, long ago, DiBella was listed as having a Fond du Lac address of 2554 Lewis St. There is no such address--but there is a warehouse at 254 Lewis St. So you give DiBella the benefit of the doubt and figure that perhaps the warehouse once served as a storage area for his company or that, through speech difficulties, the street number was recorded erroneously. When he moved into the Hotel Retlaw he didn't have that problem.
Another Of Same Name
You also discover that another DiBella has lived in Fond du Lac. He is Joseph DiBella, John's nephew, according to the records. Joseph has been associated with the Grande Cheese Co. and the Gourmay Cheese Co. of Lomira. There also have been reports that Bonanno has sold cheese for Gourmay. The addresses listed for Joseph are 14 Doty St. and 13 S. Maim St. There is evidence that John DiBella in 1928 had some minor difficulty with immigration authorities. A letter at that time, signed by DiBella, indicates he had married an American woman and they had become parents of a child. There is a later record that refers to a phone call having been made by a "daughter." Yet on other documents DiBella is listed as unmarried, with no children. And on the day he died his obituary said he never married. DiBella's last trip to Italy ended in 1940, when he returned, as a visitor, to the United States. He brought with him 30 cases of cheese, with Detroit, Mich, serving as his port of entry. A study of a state police report reveals that DiBella was believed to have had a primary interest in the Grande Cheese Co. dating to 1941. The next two years, during which time he also appears to have acquired a Fond du Lac address, he was a salesman working on commission for Grande while also keeping busy as a salesman, manager and buyer for DiBella Bros, of Brooklyn. His average weekly wage was about $115.
Firm's Purpose Outlined
Thereafter DiBella seems even more closely identified with Grande. The firm's purpose, according to articles of incorporation filed on Oct. 21, 1944, was to "own, lease and manage dairies, dairy farms and creameries, and to engage in the business of manufacturing, distribution, and shipping cheese, milk, cream, butter and milk products and by-products of all kinds, as well as machinery and equipment used in connection with the foregoing." Capital stock at this time was listed at $50,000, with 1,000 shares offered at $50 each. For a number of years later, however, the annual report of the company showed "the corporation has not held its first meeting" and that no stock had been issued and no officers elected. In 1945. when he reportedly was making about S400 monthly from Grande Cheese. DiBella sought an extension on his temporary permit to remain in the United Stales. He became a naturalized American citizen on Nov. 28, 1951. in Milwaukee. DiBella and Bonanno invested in an Arizona real estate contract on April 1, 1955. The property was said to involve between 175 to 200 acres of undeveloped land in the Tucson area, where Bonanno was living. In the summer of 1959 Bonanno visited Wisconsin. Police said he conferred with DiBella in "both Milwaukee and Fond du Lac." On one occasion, while at the Retlaw Hotel to see DiBella, the well dressed, smiling Bonanno was pointed out to an employe as having been connected with the underworld, "Oh, no," the astonished employee replied, "not Mr. Bonanno!" By 1959, however, DiBella found his relationship with Bonanno and others had brought him sharply into police focus. He reportedly was questioned in a Los Angeles Grand Jury probe on Jan. 23, 1959 and in a Phoenix, Ariz, investigation Jan. 6, 1960. But business for the Grande Cheese Co. was good. In 1959 one source claimed the firm grossed $735,000, of which $68,775 was in Wisconsin. It has been estimated that more than 90 million pounds of Italian cheese were being produced annually in the state, with mozzarella one of the fast movers because of the national pizza craze.
President Of Company
In 1960 John DiBella was president of Grande, with AI J. Caruso, a former Madison resident, serving as vice president. DiBella, Caruso, and Rose DiBella of Brooklyn served on the board of directors. During the same year DiBella headed Cloverdale Dairy of Fair Water, Gourmay JOE VALACHI made the Cosa Nostra a household expression in 1963 when he testified on TV before a Senate investigating committee. His mention of Joe Bonanno touched off news stories in Wisconsin on Bonanno's visits to this state. allegedly said he hadn't anticipated the "sudden termination of hostilities," meaning World War II, and added that he needed time to settle business matters before going back to Sicily. As thing*; developed, he neier went back. He became Cheese of Lomira, and was connected with the Kohlsville Cheese Co. of Kohlsville. It was claimed that Grande also had a connection with Valley Cheese Co. of Los Angeles. On May 22, J862 Leroy Sommers of Fond du Lac, owner of the Full Cream Cheese Co. of Malone, was found dead with the exhaust hose piped into his partly burned car. The death was ruled a suicide, but his wife Amy, with Peter Porath serving as her lawyer, later said she believed he had been murdered. Five weeks after burial, the body of Sommers was removed from its grave at Rienzi Cemetery and a post mortem confirmed carbon monoxide fumes as the cause of death. Mrs. Sommers started legal proceedings to collect on her insurance policy -- an action that meant the difference between $4,476 or payment of more than $190,000. A court ruling was shoved back to 1963. On Jan. 23,1963 former Gov. John Reynolds charged publicly that organized crime had invaded the cheese industry in Wisconsin. Called upon to produce evidence, he cited the gangland slaymgs of four men once associated with Grande. Later two other names were added. The six included: . Tom Neglia: Shot to death Dec. 6, 1943 while being shaved in a barber chair. Back in 1940, according to one informant , he frequently played golf in Fond du Lac and later became affiliated with Grande. James DeAngelo: On March 11, 1944 police found his body stuffed in the luggage compartment of his car. Sam Gervase: Slain in 1944 in his refrigerator repair shop. On the night of the murder, he allegedly had as guests at his home Fred Romano and wife. Romano, a Chicago attorney, was the first president of the Grande Cheese firm. Onofrio Vitale: His trussed body was found in a sewer not far from the home of Vmce Beneiento in Chicago in April of 1945. He reportedly had been a $5,000 a year cheesemaker for Grande. Vince Benevento: He was shot five times in front of his place of business in September of 1946. He was identified as being in the "Chicago cheese ring" and also was said to have been a former partner of Neglia and Angelo i the Grande Co. Nick Dejohn: Murdered gangland style in San Francisco in 1947. His body was found in the trunk of his car. A week after Reynolds had fired his blast, federal narcotics agents, spurred by the Sommers controversy, said they were going to investigate dope shipments reportedly made in Italian cheese coming from the Fond du Lac County area. In less than three days, however, the investigation was dropped, with agents admitting there was no evidence.
Walks To Safety Building
With suspicion beamed at the Grande firm, DiBella maintained his law-abiding image by walking into the Fond du Lac Safety Building on Feb. 1, 1963, announcing he was willing to open the company's records to inspection. All he requested was that an attorney accompany him on the prescribed date. On Feb. 13 he was back again, along with Atty. Dominic Frinzi of Milwaukee (Dan's Note: Frinzi was Milwaukee mob boss Frank Balistrieri's attorney and represented many of Milwaukee's mafia figures.) and Caruso. A closed door meeting with Fond du Lac District Atty. Thomas Massey and LeRoy Dalton of the state attorney general's office, plus Fond du Lac law enforcement authorities, was held on the second floor. This meeting, according to some newspaper reports, resulted in the "opening" of the Grande Cheese Co. records. Massey and Dalton both deny that the records were presented for scrutiny. Both also tried to pry information from DiBella on his relationship with Bonanno and the men who had been murdered. DiBella insisted he didn't know the men who had been slain. What's more, he said he was there to discuss the business of Grande Cheese, not his personal relationships. Occasionally, DiBella and Frinzi exchanged comments in Italian. The session was said later was translated. While the meeting received widespread publicity, it accomplished little and no photographs were taken. The public was informed that no evidence of criminal activity could be found involving DiBella or Grande Cheese. It seemed for awhile as though things would calm down. However, on March 22, 1963 Mrs. Sommers accepted a $30,000 settlement from her husband's insurance company while admitting that she had no real proof that he had been murdered. The Sommers case did not implicate anyone, but the publicity it received exerted a steady pressure on Fond du Lac County elements of the Italian cheese industry. It so happened that 1963 also was the year that Joe Valachi, the one time Cosa Nostra member, decided to tell all. Among those he named in October was Bonanno, referring to him as a "godfather" in the underworld organization. This resulted in immediate revival of Bonanno's ties with the Wisconsin cheese industry, and his relationship with DiBella. A narcotics agent charged that Bonanno had used the cheese industry as a front for dope traffic.
'No Evidence'
Fond du Lac law enforcement officials again were called upon to make public statements that "there was nothing" in regard to visits Bonanno made to Fond du Lac. But for aging John DiBella, then 73, the spotlight never dimmed again. One man who knew him, and was aware of the insinuations that surrounded his business career, said he just seemed "like a nice old guy." Another claimed he was "one of the nicest men I've ever met." Former Police Chief James D. Cahill and present Chief Harold Rautenberg both had similar views. "You can't convict a man because of his friends," Chief Rautenberg explained. "A man is innocent until proven guilty." There was no legally acceptable proof that DiBella was anything other than what he appeared to be -- an elderly businessman living at a Fond du Lac hotel and who never did anything for which he could be arrested. But time was running out for DiBella. On Sept. I, 1964 he died, the victim of a heart attack. On the day of his funeral, plainclothesmen from Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, the FBI, federal narcotics bureau, and local law departments were in attendance. Cameras clicked and notes were taken. Ordinarily, a "marching" procession is held at Italian funerals. In DiBella's case that was called off. Instead, a motorized procession was held following services at St. Mary's Church. Then the body was taken to Milwaukee for shipment to New York. From there, DiBella went home -- by ship -- as he had come from his beloved Montelepre as a youth in 1908. In his will he made it clear that he wanted to be buried in Montelepre's Roman Catholic Cemetery. Moreover, he left $3,000 for perpetual care of the DiBella family plot and to "have masses celebrated for the repose of my soul and the souls of the faithful de-parted at least once each month." Yet even in death, DiBella remains tangled in controversy. Because of his residency in Wisconsin, an inheritance tax conflict has erupted, with the state of New York. When he died he was living in Fond du Lac. But his will lists his home at 8715 Chevy Chase St., Jamaica, Queens County, New York.
Claims Filed
One of his brothers, Guiseppe, has filed a claim of $788,497 on DiBella's will. The executrix and chief beneficiary Rose DiBella, has filed a claim for $27,800. It now seems likely that the will -- which also stipulated a total of $2,000 for each of two orphanages in Montelepre -- will be tied up for a considerable time. A man who got to know DiBella quite well told the writer that the late Grande Cheese Co. executive "received undue publicity right up to the time they buried him." He added that newspapers n e v e r said anything "about the good people he knew," always playing up his association with Bonanno. While DiBella admittedly knew Bonanno, the man explained, "he didn't associate with him." Strangely, there is another, added bit of irony. Joe Bonanno has beem missing since Oct. 21, 1964 when, he was hustled into a car on Park Avenue in New York City on the eve of his scheduled appearance before a Federal Grand Jury. His attorney, William P. Maloney, who was with him at the time, said Bonanno was kidnaped. Later he indicated that Bonanno is alive, but still hasn't been found. Federal officials are skeptical. In the meantime, investigation into Bonanno's life, according to the New York Times, has revealed that he "rules over a larger empire of crime than had been previously known." The investigations continue. But John DiBella sleeps fore v e r in the graveyard at Montelepre. --
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