The Chicago Syndicate: Onlookers Flock to Family Secrets Trial

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Onlookers Flock to Family Secrets Trial

"There he is, there's Calabrese and there's the Indian and there's Joey the Clown," said Lee Anne Roggensack, excitedly pointing out three of the elderly defendants in the Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial, where closing arguments conclude Thursday. Roggensack, 48, skipped a planned vacation so she could attend, sitting in the courtroom for at least 18 days.

The 10-week trial has spawned a subculture of its own: Chicagoans who feel as if the mob was a shadowy but ever-present force as they grew up in this city, and who wanted to see some of its most flamboyant characters in the flesh -- and put behind bars.

In Roggensack's case, a mobster's godchild was her stepdaughter's godfather, she said, "but he wasn't in the mob." And her son-in-law worked at a hot dog stand owned by a jailed mobster.

"Everybody of a certain age and beyond in Chicago has an organized crime story," said John J. Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit," a history of the city's mobsters. "They either lived near someone or their grandfather drove a beer truck during Prohibition or there was this bar they used to go into."

Decades after its heyday, the Chicago mob is still famous around the world. Untouchable Tours buses weave through the city daily, showing the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and other notorious locales. When the Biograph Theater reopened last year, much was made of its fame as the spot where federal agents gunned down John Dillinger.

Mobsters are often romanticized and glorified, but most people at the trial had a decidedly negative view of the five defendants -- Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Paul "the Indian" Schiro, James Marcello, former cop Anthony Doyle and Frank Calabrese Sr. -- who among them are charged with 18 murders, racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, gambling and other crimes. The alleged victims include Outfit members Michael and Anthony Spilotro, brothers who were beaten and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

"It's been undermining the integrity of our city forever," said Pat Reynolds, 73, who spent 24 days in the courtroom and fears that a planned vacation to Telluride, Colo., will make her miss the verdict. "I've always had to explain my city, that it's wonderful and beautiful in spite of this."

Paul Bird, 83, and Robert Madden, 80, said they went to Oak Park High School just west of Chicago with reputed mobsters and their children. Al Capone lived not far from them at one point, they said, and Bird said he went to summer school with a daughter of William "Sweet Willie" Bioff, known for extorting Hollywood studios through the movie projectionists union.

The trial featured Calabrese Sr.'s own son, Frank Jr., as well as Frank Sr.'s brother Nicholas, himself a member of the Outfit, both testifying against him. In conversations secretly taped by Frank Jr. in a federal prison in Milan, Mich., Calabrese Sr. described burning prayer cards on the hands of "made" members and covering a body with "the lime that eats."

He testified he was merely trying to impress his son, since he was jealous of Frank Jr.'s close relationship with Nicholas.

Thanks to Kari Lydersen

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