Sunday, December 18, 2005

Landlord Chat Leads FBI to Mob Slaying Suspect

Friends of ours: Frank "The German" Schweihs

An FBI agent arrived at the sprawling Blakewood Apartments complex in Berea, Ky., Friday with a photograph and a question for the landlord. Had she seen the old man in the picture? Her answer was yes--he was the polite gentleman who had been sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a woman for the last two months, the landlord and FBI officials said.

The agent, who was from the FBI's small office in Lexington, Ky., did not tell her she was renting an apartment to Frank "The German" Schweihs, the reputed Chicago Outfit hit man and enforcer. Schweihs had been one of the bureau's most wanted fugitives since he was charged in April in connection with 18 unsolved organized crime murders.

"I assisted only in that they asked me if I could see him in a photograph," the landlord said. "They showed me a picture, but I didn't know anything about him."

After talking to the landlord, the agent parked his car where he could see the front door of the two-bedroom townhouse apartment and called for backup from fellow agents in Lexington and local Berea police, said FBI spokesman David Beyer. But help was still at least five minutes away when Schweihs and a woman emerged from the apartment and got into the sport-utility vehicle parked out front, Beyer said. Afraid of letting the fugitive slip through the FBI's fingers if he drove off, the agent swung his car forward and blocked the path of the SUV, got out and made the arrest alone.

Schweihs, 75, was being held Saturday at the county jail in Lexington. He waived extradition proceedings and would be taken back to Chicago by U.S. marshals, Beyer said. The FBI in Chicago developed a lead that Schweihs might be in southeastern Kentucky, and asked local agents to search the area, Beyer said Saturday.

Berea, a scenic college town of more than 12,000 people about 40 miles south of Lexington, was one area of interest, but Beyer would not elaborate on the information that aroused the FBI's attention. "He went to Berea to check various addresses, and the agent learned of this address," he said.

The complex's owner and manager, who spoke on condition that her name not be published, said she had spoken to Schweihs "on three or four occasions" but had no idea who he was. She had visited the apartment recently to give him a new furnace filter, and as usual he was a "very, very nice guy. Very respectful," she said.

After the arrest, FBI agents interviewed the woman Schweihs was living with but she was not in custody or charged with a crime, Beyer said. The landlord said all she knew about the woman was from a reference sheet the woman provided when she rented the apartment. The woman has a one-year lease for $425 a month, the landlord said. FBI officials said the couple had paid the rent in cash.

The landlord described the nine-building complex as a mixture of families, retired people and students at Berea College.

Thanks to David Heinzmann

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