Monday, July 16, 2012
How Defective Bullets Turned Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto into a Government Witness Against the Chicago Outfit
Nothing says July in Chicagoland quite like the bodies of those two bumbling Outfit hit men found stuffed in the trunk of a car almost three decades ago this weekend in Naperville.
They'd tried to kill Outfit bookie Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto, whom Outfit bosses considered a liability after he was indicted on federal gambling charges. But the hit men botched the job. After Eto was shot three times in the head, the hit men walked away, thinking their labors were done. But Eto miraculously survived and turned government witness. For 17 years, he testified against mobsters, against labor union and political figures. He even spilled secrets on the Chicago Outfit's top cop, Chicago Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt. And for their failure, the two hit men, Jasper Campise, 68, and John Gattuso, 47, a deputy sheriff, were found strangled and stabbed on July 14, 1983. They'd been missing for a few days.
"These two stooges really screwed up, and they paid for it," said Arthur Bilek, 83, then the incorruptible chief of the Cook County sheriff's police and now the executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission.
I asked Bilek about the story I'd heard: That the hit men used defective bullets taken from the Cook County sheriff's office. "Exactly," he said Friday. "One put the gun right against Eto's head, pulled the trigger, and the bullet hit the skull, ricocheted under the flesh, ran all around his head. There were three shots, and with blood all over, they thought he was a goner, so they left. But he wasn't dead. He was alive. And later he testified on the Outfit."
Bilek went on to become a professor of criminal law, and most recently he's been at the crime commission. He knows the secret of organized crime: Without corrupt law enforcement and corrupt politicians, organized crime isn't very organized.
The feds had arrested Campise and Gattuso and tried to flip them, but they refused to talk. Still, the two made bail. Each was able to put up cash bond of about $1 million. In the fascinating Japanese documentary film on Eto titled "Tokyo Joe: The Man Who Brought Down the Chicago Mob," former FBI Agent Elaine Smith lamented their decision to make bail. She was Eto's case agent. "Why did they even want to get out (of jail)?" Smith said. "The bosses gave them that money. Because they were going to have you caught. They were going to kill you."
As she speaks, she makes a slicing motion with her hand across her throat.
Why did they decide to bond out? They must have thought there was a happy ending somewhere, but instead all they got was the trunk of that metallic blue Volvo. A 1983 Tribune story quotes a Naperville resident noticing a foul odor coming from the car. The neighbor said "it stunk to high heaven. It was covered in flies."
The documentary, directed by Ken'ichi Oguri, uses law enforcement photos of the time to show the open trunk. A man's leg is raised and bent oddly, but I couldn't tell which hit man it belonged to. What you could see were gray trousers pulled up past a pale calf. And black socks scrunched down to the ankle. The black dress shoes had a decent shine.
In his years in the federal witness program, Eto would often testify while covering his face in a pointy black hood, holes for his eyes, slits for his mouth. To one federal commission he told the story of how he drove to a meeting near Grand and Harlem, Gattuso beside him in the front seat, Campise behind him.
"As soon as I parked, 'bang!' I got shot in the head," Eto testified, with his hood on. "And I thought, well, I knew it. Second time I got shot. And I thought wow, it's not taking any effect. So the third time happened like the first and the second shot, and I thought I better play dead. So I put up my hands like that … and I laid down on the seat (shaking his hands above his head, leaning to the right). I heard the door slam shut. I heard feets (yes, he said "feets") running away."
Eto later testified against Outfit boss Ernest "Rocco" Infelice, and he told federal authorities about Hanhardt and many other figures. He even testified against influential former state Sen. James DeLeo, who was charged with tax evasion in the federal Operation Greylord probe of court corruption. Eto told the court that he bribed DeLeo with $900 to fix parking tickets when DeLeo was a bailiff.
"I would present the tickets to Mr. DeLeo, and he'd go to the back room," Eto said in court. "He'd come out and tell me what it would cost me."
The jury deadlocked at 11-1 in favor of acquittal. DeLeo later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge in a plea deal.
In 2004, Eto, living under the identity Joe Tanaka, died of cancer at the age of 84. Agent Smith said that in all his years helping the government, Eto never changed his story. "I just wonder if America will ever realize how much we gained from Ken Eto," she said in the film. But Campise and Gattuso deserve some credit, too, don't they? In a way, they were just two more victims of corrupt local government. Maybe if they hadn't used lousy Cook County bullets, we wouldn't know their names. Or the color of their socks.
Thanks to John Kass.
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