Saturday, January 20, 2007

The "Big Guy" From Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang Dies

The late Tony Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit's fearless, brutal soldier in Las Vegas, who once tortured a man by putting his head in a vise and squeezing it until one of his eyes popped out. But even Spilotro was unnerved by one man -- a member of Spilotro's own Hole in the Wall Gang, -- Lawrence Neumann.

Long before Neumann joined, he left a trail of violence.

In 1956, when Neumann thought he got shortchanged at an Uptown bar, he went back and shotgunned three people dead. Later, Neumann would be convicted of one more murder, and suspected in two others in McHenry County.

Neumann had a steady income from a trust fund, so he didn't need to steal, rob and kill to make money. Apparently, he just enjoyed it.

Now, his long history of violence has ended. Neumann, 79, in advanced stages of cardiac disease, died of natural causes Jan. 9 at Menard Correctional Center located Downstate. He was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m. in the medical unit of the prison where he was serving a life term for murder.

"As long as they don't remove the stake out of his f - - - - - - chest, we'll be all right," said onetime mobster Frank Cullotta during a telephone interview Wednesday from an undisclosed location. Cullotta was not particularly saddened to hear of Neumann's death.

Cullotta turned federal informant and testified against Neumann in a murder trial in 1983 that resulted in putting Neumann away for life. Neumann killed mob-connected jeweler Robert Brown during a robbery. Brown was strangled, hit on the head and when he wouldn't die, stabbed with a bayonet. "He was a real animal, the world's a better place without him -- a safer place I should say," Cullotta, who has written an autobiography that's soon to be released, said of Neumann.

Neumann was born in St. Louis, the son of a successful sporting goods salesman. He was kicked out of a Missouri military academy when he was 14, then attended Amundsen High School in Chicago, where he started running with a rough crowd and eventually dropped out, according to a published interview with his father in 1956.

It was in June of that year when Neumann went into Mickey's Miracle Bar with a shotgun he had bought on sale and unloaded on one of the owners, an employee and a patron, killing them all. He felt the bar had shorted him on change. The triple slaying sparked a citywide manhunt. Neumann's efforts to contact a "pretty divorcee" -- as she was described in news accounts -- helped police track him down. Neumann had vowed to kill one of the lead detectives trailing him. After a gun battle between Neumann and police, he surrendered peacefully. Neumann was sentenced to 125 years in prison but because of a change in parole laws, he was released after serving a little more than 10s.

Cullotta met Neumann when they were in Stateville Prison, and Neumann sought out Cullotta after both were released. "He wanted to be involved in my type of life," Cullotta said. So Neumann got into mob life, including Spilotro's burglary crew out in Las Vegas, called the "Hole in the Wall Gang" because members knocked holes through the walls of buildings to avoid alarm systems.

Dubbed "The Big Guy" and "Lurch," Neumann's hands were so big, authorities sometimes had trouble fingerprinting him. More than one top mobster -- who scared people for a living -- was frightened by Neumann, a fitness buff who reportedly did 1,000 sit-ups a day.

"Tony [Spilotro] was scared of him," Cullotta recalled. "He said, 'Please . . . don't ever get the The Big Guy mad at me or you.' "

Retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy said, "Larry would always go overboard," even by Spilotro's loose standards.

After Neumann died last week, no one claimed him. The state paid to cremate him, said Downstate funeral director Mike McClure. The prison chaplain will say a brief service next week over his cremated ashes in a plastic urn at Evergreen Cemetery in the nearby town of Chester.

At his request, Neumann, who was Jewish, was cremated with his yarmulke on his head.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir and Robert C. Herguth

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