Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chicago Cops and the Ambulance Chaser
Here's another great post by Ken Skaggs in his Driver Story Magazine Blog. You can link to his site below or in my side bar. He has some very interesting posts on old Chicago corruption!

Chicago 1981: I had been an ambulance chaser for a while and was already popular with most of the cops in 16th district. But this one incident will always stay etched on my mind because I was beaten for no reason. It worked out in the end because I got the car, but only thanks to a good friend. I can’t remember the cop’s name, and even if I did I wouldn't tell you.
I didn't always chase with a tow truck, I was usually in a car, but on this day I happened to be driving one. I was just cruising around, listening to a police scanner, when I came upon an accident. In fact, I saw it happen. It was on Montrose, between the Edens Expressway and the viaduct- a head-on collision.
Since I was right there and a witness, i jumped out of my truck and made sure everyone was OK. They were relatively unharmed, and the driver at fault (always my favorite to get, because then you can usually get the other car too) asked me to tow his car before I could even suggest it. Of course, I said yes, and waited for the cops to come and fill out their report.
I was standing there with the driver when the cop’s pulled up. Now, in most cases, I’d tell the cop I would “take care of him” if I got the car, but in this case I thought I’d try to get the car without talking to the cops- big mistake.
One of the cops motioned me to the side and said I couldn’t tow this car, that he already had a guy on the way. I said I knew this guy, and he already said I could. The cop insisted I leave the scene immediately, but I remained, and told him I knew my rights, as did the driver, and I was a witness as well. Again he insisted I leave before he arrested me for solicitation. I assured him I would “buy him lunch” but that just pissed him off.
The cop then grabbed by beeper off my belt and smashed me in the head with it a few times. I blocked most of his blows, and that just infuriated him even more. He slapped the cuffs on me and put me in the backseat. As I sat down, since I was handcuffed and couldn’t block, he smacked me a few more times with my now-broken beeper, then dropped in on the squad-car floor at my feet.
I sat there for a while, stunned at what just happened, and tried to figure out what I did wrong. Like I said, I knew most of the cops, but I didn't know this clown.
Just then, a good friend, and fellow chaser showed up. Now this friend (who shall remain nameless) was a very well connected chaser who had been at it for a generation- in fact, he was the guy who took me under his wing early on and taught me the ropes when I first started.
I watched from the squad-car as he shook hands with the cop, and made casual conversation. It seemed like forever before I could get his attention. Finally, my good friend noticed me in the backseat of the cop-car. He said, “Hey, why do they have you in here?”
I answered, “This cop just beat the crap out of me because I wouldn't leave- and I was a witness.”
My buddy told the cop I was “cool” and that he should let me go. The cop opened the door and took the cuffs off me, and apologized, saying he didn't know.
I wound up towing both cars, paying the cop $100 ($50 each car), and made a new “friend” at 16th district.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Strar Trek)
Remember Star Trek and the actor who played Lieutenant Uhura of the crew of the Enterprise? Her real name is Nichelle Nichols and in her autobiography described a couple of brushes with the Chicago and Milwaukee mobsters that could very well have put her in an early grave! 

Part two follows, Part one was posted last night:
Nichelle, born in 1932, studied in Chicago as well as New York and Los Angeles. Her first big break came in an  appearance in Kicks and Co., Oscar Brown, Jr.'s highly touted, but ill-fated musical. Although the play closed after its brief try-out in Chicago, she attracted the attention of Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who was so impressed with her appearance that he booked her immediately at his Chicago Playboy Club. While still in Chicago, she performed at the "Blue Angel", and in New York, Nichols appeared at that city's "Blue Angel" as a dancer and singer.  Between acting and singing engagements, Nichols did occasional modeling work.
While making a name for herself in the Chicago clubs, she received a two week offer to open a posh new supper club in Milwaukee. It was a dream job, headliner status, a two week contract with options for up to six, and great pay. The newly remodeled club was magnificent with a spacious stage that was a performer’s dream. She met the musicians, chorus-line dancers and Laura, a singer whose specialty number was a scintillating bolero. Everyone seemed like one big happy troupe.
The first week went very well, with great reviews and packed houses, but she sensed something peculiar about the place. The dancers would giggle nervously between acts, then dash from the stage, dress in a flash, and head upstairs to mingle with the customers after each show.
From Nichelle’s basement dressing room, she would hear Louie the bartender snapping at the girls, “all right, let’s move it. Ya know, Mr. B. don’t like nobody bein’ late. Let’s go!” Within minutes, they’d be gone. What these pretty young girls were doing was going upstairs to “B-drink”. This was an old practice where the girls mixed with the audience to encourage male customers to run up large bar tabs. If you were B-drinking with a customer, you might order
a glass of champagne, then the bartender would pour you a ginger ale. The customer, who probably ordered champagne, also, got billed for two champagnes. This allowed the club to make a fantastic profit on the bar and also created an atmosphere conducive the other business of prostitution. Of course, in the better B-joints, prostitution was not openly practiced, but many a girl made her “dates” on the side. Nichelle was sitting in her dressing room one evening when Louie the bartender came banging on the door. “ Miss Nichols! You’re wanted upstairs!” She replied “Thanks but no thanks. I’m getting ready for my next show.”
“Look,” he replied firmly, “I’m not askin’ ya, I’m tellin’ ya: You’re supposed to be upstairs. NOW.”
Nichelle: “Excuse me? Who do you think you are talking to?” Louie’s mouth dropped as she closed the door in his face!
When Nichelle got a chance to talk to Laura, the bolero dancer, she found out what was going on. “This used to be a strip club” she said matter-of-factly. “Leopards don’t change their spots, they just change the decor”. Nichelle: “You mean it’s the same owner who owned it when it was a strip joint?” “Yeah replied Laura, “we were the strippers. Or did you think we were all legit?” She then realized that this was probably a mob connected joint that she was working.

The Meeting
The next night the club’s owner came to the dressing room, Frankie Balistrieri. Nichell described him as small, stocky, yet always impeccably dressed. “I understand from Louie that we’re having a problem.” Nichelle: “I don’t have any problems, I go upstairs every night, do my two shows, then I go home.” “Yeah, I know,” he said patiently, then proceeded to explain to me what my job really was. “So you see, that’s how we do it here.”
“I’m sorry”, Nichelle replied. “I don’t B-drink and I don’t play B-bars. My agent told me this was a legitimate supper club.” “But I want you should do this,” he said gently as he calmly cracked each knuckle.
After going back and forth for awhile, with Nichelle asserting that she was raised by good parents, didn't drink, didn't smoke and had a young son to raise, she threatened to leave if that’s what Frankie expected of her.
Frankie stood there silently, looking at her. “Okay,” he said at last. “You’re bringing in lots of customers. They like you, so it’s okay. You always mind you mother and father, you will not go wrong. Anybody tells you anything, you tell ‘em to talk to Frankie Balistrieri. I like ya. You got class kid.” “Thank you”, said Nichelle.
Note: Mobsters seldom take no for an answer. They just think of another way to get to you! This was in the mid-1950’s and Frankie was not yet the “godfather” of the Milwaukee mob, that wouldn't happen until 1961, but he was training hard for it!

Nichelle knew she had to get out of there and was counting the days until her two week contract was up. A couple nights before what was to have been her last night came another knock on the door from Louie. “Oh, uh, Miss Nichols,” he said in his cretinous voice, ”by the way: Frankie wants ya here anuddah two weeks.”
Frankie exercised that first two week option with a raise, then another bigger one, by which time, Nichelle was dying to leave. She began to get the idea that Frankie was fond of her when he invited her up to visit his family. His wife and children were said to have never been seen at the club before.  While staying at a very nice hotel around the corner and up the block from the club, she began hearing stories about Frankie and the local rackets. He was not yet the Midwest Don he would become, but was working hard at it. His gang and his rivals were entrenched in a turf dispute, and right before she left, a stripper at another club was shot on-stage and killed by a rival mob. They had no compunction about making sure that their girls never got away. The implied threat of a savage beating or a shattered nose kept all the girls in line. Nichelle became increasingly afraid and more determined than ever to get away. Ironically, her show was growing increasingly popular and for the first time in Frankie’s career, one of his shows was reviewed in the local paper. The better she got, the deeper the hole she was getting into.
  When finally marshaling the nerve to tell him she was leaving, she first saw the dangerous glimmer in Frankie’s eyes. “You know,” he said menacingly, “nobody quits on Frankie Balistrieri.”
Scrambling to find an excuse, she blurted out “But it’s my dad. He’s had a heart attack and my family needs me back home. I have to go.” It was the performance of her life. “Your dad, huh?” Frankie considered as he eyed her carefully, her thinking that he knew she wasn’t telling the truth, but he “seemed” to go along with it.
Remember, they just start thinking of another way to get to you!

“Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do: You leave and go care of your father. I respect you. That’s beautiful. Then you come back here and bring your little boy. We’ll find you a nice apartment. You’ll love it here!”
Smelling the trap, Nichelle responded, “I’m not bringing my son here. And I’m not moving to Milwaukee. I’ve been here 10 weeks and I’m dying inside. I’ve got to go.”
Frankie’s response was a statement, not a question: “Okay, go home, and come back, and you’ll give me six weeks. Then you’re free.”   Nichelle went home for a couple of weeks and told her parents some, but not all of what was going on. Her father had enough experience with the mob that he also knew she couldn't just walk away. She had observed Frankie carefully and started to formulate a plan. So did Frankie. Thinking that if she stayed the whole six weeks, he’d be able to convince her never to leave, he started turning up the heat. Enter Frankie’s lawyer, Dominic Frinzi or Mr. F. as everyone at the club called him. In his $1000 silk suits, he was slick, suave and cunning as a snake. He tried to buy her with a key to an apartment, fur coat and jewelry, which Nichelle had to continually refuse.
It was now time for Nichelle’s plan. Three or four weeks into her run, she contacted a reporter that had written a great review of her. She told him she had a real scoop for him and proceeded to enthusiastically reveal how because of the terrific exposure she’d gotten working for Balistrieri, she was on her way to New York! She told of how she owed everything to Mr. B, she gushed, because he was so kind to feature me in his club. The writer ate it up and when Frankie read the item in the paper, he did too! “Why dincha tell me you were going to New York?” he asked proudly. Whether Frankie really believed that she really believed that he had discovered her, or was simply saving face and deciding to give her a break, we’ll never know. Frankie went around for years boasting that he discovered her. Nichelle’s engagement was mercifully shortened a couple of weeks and she finally got away. However, not before a girl from another club was found dead one morning, her body disposed of in a trash can!

Credit and thanks to Nichelle Nichols and her 1994 book Beyond Uhura. The book is still available at Amazon (link provided below) and is a very good read, especially if you were a Star Trek fan!

More of my posts about the Mob:
The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Remember Star Trek and the actor who played Lieutenant Uhura of the crew of the Enterprise? 

Part One:
Her real name is Nichelle Nichols and in her autobiography described a couple of brushes with the Chicago and Milwaukee mobsters that could well have put her in a very early grave twice!
Nichelle was the daughter of Samuel and Lishia Nichols and was born in 1932 in Robbins, IL, a small town about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. Her father, Sam was the town  mayor and chief magistrate.
Earlier that year came a headline in the Chicago newspaper “Capone Gin Mill Smashed: Small Town Busts Mobster’s Booze Factory”. The small town that the gin mill was in was Robbins! As soon as Sam read the paper, he knew he was going to get a visit. He sat on his porch all day waiting, a long black limousine finally appearing and proceeding up the driveway. Sam told his wife to get the kids and go into the the house. “Sit the kids down and don’t make a sound”. She sat down on the sofa with a pillow in her lap and hugged her youngest child, Frank, sitting next to her.

As the limo came to a stop, four men exited the car, all wearing black camel-hair coats and black fedoras. One of them opened a back door and a fifth man emerged wearing a pearl-grey silk suit, white silk shirt, and tie.
“You Sam Nichols?” he asked. “Yes, I’m Sam Nichols and the mayor of this town” was the reply.
The man then asked Sam if he knew who he was and Sam replied “I know why you’re here. I read the newspaper. I just don’t know why you’ve come to me”. The stranger said “Well you’ve got a problem Sam, my name is Mr. Capone and I’m here because my brother Al is very displeased with you.” Sam asked “Can we talk privately in my study? My wife is pregnant, and you’ve frightened my children. No need for them to witness this, is there?” “Lead the way” replied Capone.

One man remained outside as the other three following Sam and Capone into the house. Two posted themselves in the parlor with Lishia and the children, while Capone, the other goon and Sam went upstairs to the study. Lishia, hugging the pillow tightly, stared straight ahead.
Sam offered Capone a brandy, which he accepted, and began “I know your mill was raided by one of my officers. He was a rookie and thought he’d make a good impression.”
“He made a helluva impression, Sam” snorted Capone. Sam: “Yes. Well. What I don’t understand is why you’re here to settle your displeasure with me. I didn’t even know your mill was in my township.” Sam knew by the look on Capone’s face that he didn’t believe him. Sam: “I know you’re here to kill me. But I ask two things: One, why hold me responsible, and two, whatever you do to me, don’t harm my family-please.”
Capone snarled “For five big ones a week is why you’re responsible, Sam” He set his glass down, rose from his chair, turned and softly commanded to his bodyguard: “Be quick and clean.” As Capone had his hand on the doorknob Sam firmly stated, “I never received a dime of your goddamned money!”
The gangster turned and ordered “Explain, Sam”. “YOU explain", said Sam, "I should at least know why I’m about to die! Who did you give money to?” Capone exploded “What are you, pazzo?” “Your police chief, Sam! Two for him and three for you, in cash, on time, every week for the last 18 months. Now, I’ve had it with this game. Arrivederci!”
Sam jumped from his chair. " I never received a dime from that weasel,nor did he ever approach me about it! He knew if he had, I’d have handed him his head on a platter. I’d have never let you put your gin mill in this township! This is a clean, honest town and I’d rather die before I’d help it be corrupted, dammit!”
Capone and his goon exchanged a quick glance before relying, “You almost did, Sam. I’ll tell you what, we’ll check out your story. It checks, we won’t be back.”

They then went downstairs and Capone crossed the room and patted Lishia’s shoulder, and said “You can relax sweetheart. Sam’s OK. For now.”
For the first time, Lishia’s eyes met the visitor’s, and as she stared through him, slowly removed the pillow from her stomach to reveal a pearl-handled six-shooter, fully loaded. The children gasped and Sam held his breath. “It’s a damn good thing he is”, she hissed.
Startled, Capone’s goons all drew their guns, but their boss gestured for them to relax. “You had this all the time?, he asked incredulously. “Why didn’t you use it?”
“You hadn’t done anything,” she answered icily. “, You were guests in my home.”  Capone’s nervous guffaw crashed the silence. “You’re all pazzo!” Turning to his bodyguards, “Out of here, you goombas!”.
Turning at the door, Capone said, We won’t be coming back Mrs. Nichols.” Then to Sam, “ You've got yourself one helluva lady there, Mr. Mayor.” Capone and his henchmen then drove off and never bothered them again.
And where was Nichelle Nichols? Under the pillow, next to the gun, inside Lishia, waiting to be born!

Had Sam been killed that day in his study, it’s frightening to think of what would have happened next. It’s highly unlikely that Capone would have intended not to harm Sam’s family. That would have left witnesses who could have put him away for life! Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow. It’s the story of Nichelle’s encounter with the Milwaukee Mob and leader Frankie “Mad Bomber” Balistrieri!
Link to Part II below!
Beyond Uhura "Star Trek and Other Memories" by Nichelle Nichols
Good reading, and highly recommended, especially if you are a Star Trek fan!

Other of my related Mafia Posts: