Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wintry grave may be part of mob's legacy

Friends of ours: Frank "the German" Schweihs, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, William Hanhardt, Paul Schiro, Richard Cain, Sam "Momo" Gianacana

In a few days, U.S. marshals will drive the fugitive Chicago Outfit enforcer Frank "The German" Schweihs from Kentucky back to Chicago. Here, he will stand trial for two gangland murders that are part of the FBI's Family Secrets investigation of unsolved mob killings. But once in the Chicago area, on the way to the federal lockup, the marshals might think about taking a short detour to Elmwood Cemetery in suburban River Grove.

They should drive about a half-mile past the cemetery office and start looking for a giant Norwegian pine that throws shade on the gravestones in the afternoon. From the road, with that tree as a marker, it is only a few paces to Section 47-Lot 15-Grave 2.

After that long drive up from Kentucky, it might be good for Schweihs to stretch his legs a bit, to take a short walk on the snow and stand at the grave I have in mind, one of those graves in the shadow of the big pine tree. That's where Eugenia Pappas, also known as "Becca," is buried. She's been there a long time now. She wasn't a tough guy. She wasn't a jewel thief or an iceman, wasn't a burglar or extortionist. She wasn't a puppet master, giving politicians orders. She was young and beautiful, with big brown eyes, only 18 years old when she dated Schweihs, a bodyguard for mobster Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio.

Her father, Christopher, and her mother, Helen, didn't like it that one of Chicago's most fearsome and untouchable hoodlums had taken a fancy to their daughter. Christopher moved the family to Arizona, to start a new life, to give his daughter a chance away from Schweihs. Eventually, though, she returned to Chicago. A few weeks later, she stopped dating Schweihs. She stopped dating him about the time a bullet pierced her heart.

I spoke to Pappas family members, but they were too afraid to be quoted in this column and declined to be interviewed. I also spoke to a family friend who told me about Pappas on the condition her name was not used. I understand. Every so often, some writer announces that the Outfit is dead. But if it's so dead, why are people in Chicago still afraid?

"The whole family, they were so close, so loving," the family friend told me Tuesday. "When Becca was found, it was so horrible, devastating. It was like somebody scooped their insides out and left the shells. Her mother, Helen, was a strong woman, she was American, but she wore black from that day on. She died later, but she really died the day Becca was found."

Becca was last seen a week or so before Christmas of 1962. Her distraught father went to the newspapers for help in mid-January. An article in the Tribune, under the headline "Girl Sought" ran in the Jan. 12, 1963, editions. "Left behind in the apartment, Pappas said, were all her clothes, except those she was wearing," the story said.

On Feb. 9, a tugboat captain found her body floating in the Chicago River. She'd been in the water about two weeks. Authorities surmised she was killed while sitting in the passenger's seat of an automobile. She was buried on Feb. 15, 1963. "You've seen those wakes where people get emotional and loud," the family friend told me. "This wasn't like that. It was silent, completely silent. That was worse."

Schweihs was hauled in for questioning by a celebrated crime fighter, Richard Cain, the homicide chief of the Cook County sheriff's police. After much questioning and investigating--or simply the appearance of questioning and investigating--the case against Schweihs, if there ever was one, fizzled. He was let go and no charges regarding the Pappas murder were ever filed against him. Schweihs, the papers noted, had a long police record, but no convictions. That's not hard to figure, since he was usually being investigated by one of those celebrated crime fighters.

It's a Chicago thing. The relationship between mobsters and top local cops isn't new, and it isn't old. William Hanhardt, the former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, was recently convicted of running the Outfit's interstate jewelry theft ring, using police information to set up the victims. One of Hanhardt's convicted accomplices in the jewel ring is Paul Schiro, an Outfit enforcer. Schiro and Schweihs have been charged by the feds with an Outfit killing in Arizona.

When the victim is another mobster, Chicago shrugs. But this victim was a girl, a civilian, whose family had no power. So the local law spit on her and the Outfit spit on her and the investigation was dropped.

I said that Richard Cain, the detective who cleared Schweihs of the Pappas killing, was a celebrated crime fighter. He was celebrated, sure, the way Hanhardt was celebrated, in gushing media accounts as some heroic tough guy, ready-made for Hollywood. Cain was a bodyguard for Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. On Dec. 20, 1973, Cain was in Rose's Sandwich Shop on the West Side when two men entered with shotguns. He took two blasts to the face. The second one was just to make sure.

Schweihs is an old man, now, at 75, and Cain is dead. And Eugenia Pappas' grave was silent in the shadow of that pine tree in the snow. "Elusive in life," reads the inscription on her gravestone. "Elusive in death."

Thanks to John Kass

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