It was Christmas Eve 1996, and reputed Outfit hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. was seeing his brother Nicholas out the door after breaking out the Napoleon brandy, when his brother made an unusual request.
"He walks to the door and says, 'Can I kiss you on the lips?' " Calabrese Sr. recounted to jurors in the Family Secrets trial Monday. "He kissed me on the lips," Calabrese Sr. said. Only later, Calabrese Sr. testified, would he realize "the kiss he gave for Christmas was a Judas kiss."
That night would be the last one when Calabrese Sr. would hear his brother talk at length -- until Nicholas Calabrese, now a confessed Outfit killer, took the stand in the Family Secrets trial to bury his brother and tell jurors how they murdered people together for the mob.
Calabrese Sr., on trial for allegedly killing 13 people for the Chicago mob, struck back against his family on Monday after first hearing his brother, Nicholas, and then his son, Frank Jr., testify against him.
Frank Calabrese Jr. told jurors how he secretly recorded his father while they were both in prison. Then jurors heard those recordings of Frank Calabrese Sr. apparently describing in detail various mob murders.
On Monday, in his first full day of testimony, Frank Calabrese Sr. tried to counter his family's testimony and explain his own recorded words.
Calabrese Sr., accused of being a mob crew leader, said his brother Nicholas was really in charge and compared him to the weak brother, Fredo, in the 1972 mob movie "The Godfather."
Except Calabrese Sr., in one example of many verbal slips throughout the trial, used the name "Alfredo."
"My brother was like Alfredo in 'The Godfather,' " Calabrese Sr. testified. "If he wasn't running things and screwing things up, he wasn't happy."
Weak though Nicholas Calabrese may be, he still turned Calabrese Sr.'s two eldest sons, Frank Jr. and Kurt, against him, Calabrese Sr. testified.
Calabrese Sr. accused his oldest son, Frank Jr., of repeatedly leading him into conversations while they were both in prison to make him sound like a murderous gangster. "He can make Jesus look like the devil on the cross," Calabrese Sr. said.
On one secret recording, Calabrese Sr. describes how top mobsters inducted him into the Chicago Outfit as a full member, how his finger was cut, how a holy card was burned in his hand.
On the stand, Calabrese Sr. scoffed at the notion that he was a made member.
So how did he know the ritual? "The Valachi Papers," Calabrese said, referring to the 1968 memoir by gangster Joseph Valachi. "I seen that in the book."
In another recording, Calabrese Sr. tells his son that he stripped the clothes off a man he had just killed. "I told him that to humor him," Calabrese Sr. explained.
Other times, Calabrese Sr. said, he just lied to scare his son out of mob life.
Calabrese Sr. blames his family for conspiring to keep him in prison, so they could steal his money. "Joe, I love my kids and my brother . . . it's just that they gotta grow up," Calabrese Sr. told his lawyer, Joseph R. Lopez.
Calabrese Sr. has strived to appear even-tempered, but his anger flared earlier in the day when the judge refused to let him detail how his family stole from him.
Calabrese Sr. snapped after the judge upheld another prosecution objection to his testimony.
The judge declined to let Calabrese Sr. testify about matters he couldn't prove and threatened him with contempt. "Your honor, how am I supposed to defend myself?" Calabrese Sr. said, his jaw clenched, his lower lip quivering with rage, the face of the kindly grandfather long gone.
"My brother was like Alfredo in 'The Godfather.' If he wasn't running things and screwing things up, he wasn't happy."
Thanks to Steve Warmbir
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