Monday, July 30, 2007

Gangster Graveyard

Friends of ours: Joseph "Jerry" Scalise, Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto, Joseph Ferriola, Gerald Scarpelli, James Peter Basile, Harry Aleman

After learning his mobster brothers planned to kill him, the stocky bank robber figured his only way out alive was to turn FBI informant.

So, for 16 months, the self-professed soldier secretly recorded 186 conversations with his Chicago Outfit associates. He also detailed about 40 unsolved mob murders.

It was during one of those chats that FBI agent Jack O'Rourke said his informant nonchalantly mentioned a mob graveyard in southeast DuPage County near the former home of syndicate enforcer Joseph "Jerry" Scalise, imprisoned at the time for a London jewelry heist. "What are you talking about?" O'Rourke, now a private consultant, recalls asking. "He said it was common knowledge."

For five months, an elite FBI-led task force excavated many acres near Route 83 and Bluff Road, near Darien. They found bodies of two low-level wise guys before calling it quits in October 1988.

Nearly 20 years later, the group's early intelligence work remains significant. It laid part of the foundation for the Family Secrets trial under way in Chicago in which five defendants are accused of racketeering conspiracy in an indictment that outlines 18 murders, gambling and extortion.

A construction crew also resurrected the field's ominous past in March 2007 after unearthing a third body just north of the site.

It's unknown if more vanquished mobsters remain there undiscovered. A fabled 45-carat gem known as the Marlborough diamond that Scalise stole also was never found. Some theorize he hid it on his property. And, finally, just who is the turncoat who led FBI agents long ago to the burial site?

For decades, Chicago gambling kingpin Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto was a loyal soldier. That changed in February 1983 when he survived three gunshots in a botched hit. Eto played possum, and later turned informant. His would-be killers were later found dead in a trunk in Naperville - the price for not getting the job done right.

Eto proved to be a valued government witness before his Jan. 23, 2004 death, but he was not the one who led authorities to the graveyard. His attempted assassination, though, in part sparked the formation of the organized crime task force of FBI, Chicago, state and local officials in the mid-1980s to curb such mob violence.

An early goal was to bring down the crime family or "crew" of mob boss Joseph Ferriola of Oak Brook, who operated lucrative gambling rackets from Cicero to Lake County until his 1989 death.

Members of the task force said they focused on Gerald Scarpelli, who along with Scalise, known as Whiterhand because he was born minus four fingers, were Ferriola's busiest hitmen.

About this time, another mob guy started getting cold feet. O'Rourke identified him as James Peter Basile, a convicted Chicago bank robber best known as "Duke." Basile already had the FBI zeroing in on him for a 1983 race track robbery in Crete. So, after he also learned Scarpelli, his longtime associate, was planning to kill him, Basile realized he had no other choice but to break the mob's code of silence.

For 16 months, he helped the FBI listen in on his chats with Scarpelli and other associates before serving a few years in prison for the race track robbery and slipping into a witness protection program in the early 1990s.

Basile re-emerged briefly in June 1996 at a U.S. Senate judiciary committee hearing. "I finally decided to do something because it seemed there was no way out," he testified. "I began informing on the mob."

It was during one of his recordings of Scarpelli that the FBI first learned of the DuPage County graveyard. Basile later took them to the site, near Scalise's former home. The FBI heard there could be as many as seven bodies buried in the field.

It was painstaking work. For five months, task force members traded in suits, badges and guns for jeans, chain saws and shovels. They dug up acres of soil, trees and drained a pond. Members hand sifted truckloads of dirt through mesh screens for trace evidence. "We were meticulous," said Jerry Buten, a retired 30-year FBI supervisor. "This was way before CSI, but we knew the way you solve most major crimes was through physical evidence."

Authorities speculated the field held victims of the infamous chop shop wars of the 1970s, when the mob seized control of the stolen auto-parts trade and wiped out uncooperative dealers.

State police stood guard 24 hours a day. Large canopies were erected to block circling media helicopters. But they weren't the only pests. "I gave an order that anyone who came in was given a pair of work gloves because I got tired of all the suits showing up just to look at us," former DuPage Coroner Richard Ballinger said. "We'd spend 12 hours out there, come back to the office to do more work and sleep, then go back out the next morning."

On May 16, 1988, members unearthed the first skeletal remains. On June 9, a second shallow grave was found. Both men were shot to death.

Authorities brought in experts from across the country, from archaeologists to soil scientists, including top forensic anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow of Oklahoma. Snow had identified the remains of Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele in Brazil and some victims of John Wayne Gacy and the 1979 American Airlines crash near O'Hare.

Using dental records and facial reconstruction, Snow relied mostly on computerized skull-face superimposition to identify the corpses. The second body, buried in a ski mask and with a cache of pornographic materials, was that of Michael S. Oliver, 29, a Chicago machinist who vanished November 1979.

In the FBI recordings, Scarpelli is heard saying that Oliver was a minor hoodlum shot during a syndicate raid on an independent porn shop near Elk Grove Village.

Not sure how to dump the body, in a scene similar to that in Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas," his underworld pals talked over a bite to eat as the corpse sat in the trunk.

It took more than one year to identify remains in the first grave as Robert "Bobbie" Hatridge, a 56-year-old Cincinnati man with a distinctive Dick Tracy square jaw, flat feet and a flair for fashion. The FBI said his girlfriend later told agents that Hatridge came to Chicago in April 1979 to meet with Scalise and Scarpelli about a big robbery. He never made it home.

Basile's graveyard tip was considered one of the task force's first big scoops. Nearly 20 years later, its intelligence work reverberates still.

The secret tapes Basile made led to Scarpelli's arrest in July 1988. He killed himself a year later, but not before making a 500-page confession that exposed many mob secrets. He also admitted to 10 murders, including some in the Family Secrets trial.

The task force also made history with another big bust. It brought down Ferriola's nephew, Harry Aleman, for killing a union steward in 1977. He was acquitted, then retried and convicted. Aleman, 68, and still in prison, is the only person tried twice for the same crime. Double jeopardy was discarded after it was learned his first judge took a bribe. "The entire (Ferriola) crew was prosecuted as a result of the task force," Buten said. "It marked the beginning of the Chicago Outfit's end."

The mob graveyard made news again in March when crews building townhouses unearthed a third body several blocks north of the field near 91st Street.

The remains were identified as Robert Charles Cruz of Kildeer, who vanished Dec. 4, 1997. Cruz, who was Aleman's cousin, had been on Arizona's death row just two years earlier until his conviction for a 1980 double murder was overturned.

The discovery of his body begs the question - Could more graves be found there?

Members searched far and wide, with one exception. At the time, a large drug rehab facility was being built there. Many wonder if beneath its foundation lie the bodies of more hoodlums. It's possible, task force members say, but unlikely. The bodies were unearthed in shallow graves less than 5 feet deep. They argue crews dug deeper when laying the foundation and probably would have found more graves if they existed.

Also still missing is the fabled $960,000 Marlborough diamond that Scalise stole during a 1980 London jewelry store heist. It was once owned by Sir Winston Churchill's cousin, the duchess of Marlborough.

Years ago, O'Rourke visited Scalise in his cell on England's Isle of Wight - the British version of Alcatraz - where he was imprisoned for the jewelry heist. "Scalise would do a lot of talking but never say anything," O'Rourke said. "Informants told us he shipped it to Chicago, where it was broken up and sold."

Scalise, 69, has kept a low profile since returning to the Chicago area after finishing an Arizona prison stint on drug charges. But, long ago, he was rumored to be working on his memoirs.

So far, though, he has upheld the mob's code of silence.

Thanks to Christy Gutowski

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