Thursday, April 26, 2007

2007 Summer Blockbuster to Feature the Chicago Mob

Friends of ours: Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Paul Schiro, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, John Fecoratta, Tony Spilotro, Billy Dauber, Nick Calabrese., Mario Rainone, Gerald Scarpelli, Richard Cain
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt, Michael Spilotro

As president of the Chicago Crime Commission, former schoolteacher Jim Wagner naturally has an academic interest in the big upcoming "Family Secrets" trial of Outfit bosses and hit men accused of 18 previously unsolved murders.

Founded in 1919 by local business leaders to fight the Outfit's influence in local politics and law enforcement at the dawn of the Al Capone era, the Chicago Crime Commission continues that fight to this day. The commission, at chicagocrimecommission.org, is now developing two invaluable documents: a new organizational chart of the Chicago Outfit and an index, drawn from federal testimony, of Outfit-friendly Chicago businesses.

"Over the past several years, there has been an attempt to convince the public that the Chicago Outfit is passe, that it's dead," Wagner told me Tuesday in his office. "You've seen the same headlines that I've seen," he said. "But as 'Family Secrets' continues, the public will realize that the Outfit is very much alive, that they have incredible reach and power and that they're capable of unspeakable brutality, not only toward their own but to business associates."

There's more than academic interest at work here. Wagner, from a small Illinois farm outside of Newman, south of Urbana, became a teacher before he was recruited into the FBI, where he spent 30 years. He ran the FBI's Organized Crime section, which helped build cases against hit men like Harry Aleman.

Wagner also helped initiate the recent investigation of the Outfit's favorite cop, William Hanhardt, former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department. It was a secret investigation, run off-site because of Hanhardt's vast intelligence network, and it sent fear through City Hall and police headquarters when Hanhardt was charged. Hanhardt later pleaded guilty to running a nationwide jewelry theft ring, aided by intelligence from local law enforcement. By pleading guilty, he spared Chicago, and himself, a trial.

Wagner could not speak specifically about the federal case because he may be called as an expert witness. But he knows the history of the 11 reputed mobsters soon to go on trial. The list includes boss Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, mob enforcers Frank "The German" Schweihs and Paul Schiro, and overlord Joseph Lombardo, called Joey "The Clown," even though he stopped laughing awhile back.

Some of the killings include those of Michael and Anthony Spilotro, reproduced in graphic detail in the movie "Casino" with baseball bats in a ditch in an Indiana cornfield, though it turns out they weren't killed in the corn, but in a suburb after being lured to a meeting.

Also killed was John Fecoratta, who was in charge of hiding the Spilotro bodies that were found too soon. Later, he would go on a robbery of a bingo game where he must have felt like the guy at the crooked card game. He sat down, probably wondering which one of the losers at the table was the sucker, only to realize the sucker's identity, too late, in a brief moment of excruciating clarity.

And the Will County killing of hit man Billy Dauber and his mouthy wife, Charlotte, chopped to pieces on a farm road with automatic weapons fired from cars, including one presumably containing Calabrese. And so on.

One killing not on the list is that of Eugenia "Becca" Pappas, 18, shot to death around Christmas in 1962 after she had been dating Schweihs over the objections of her family. Missing for weeks, she was later found in the Chicago River by a tugboat captain.

Schweihs was brought in for questioning by Richard Cain, then the homicide chief of the Cook County Sheriff's Police, but Cain released him. Wonder why? Cain at the time was on the payroll of the late Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. Cain himself was assassinated at Rose's Sandwich shop on the West Side in 1973, and that killing also is touched on in the government's outline of the Family Secrets case.

Outfit killings haven't stopped.

Wagner says Family Secrets would not have been possible without Nick Calabrese. Others who have spilled include Mario Rainone, who then clammed up after a bomb damaged his mother's porch, and Gerald Scarpelli, who reportedly strangled himself with plastic bags in prison.

Their information, combined with Calabrese's statements, provides an inside look at the Chicago Outfit, which maintains itself through intimidation, vast political connections and supporters in local law enforcement.

"Obviously, Calabrese's cooperation was a significant development, a monumental development," Wagner said. "And you put his information together with what we've learned from other Outfit witnesses over the years, well, there's a treasure trove of information."

And you can read all about it, when the trial begins this summer.

Thanks to John Kass

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