The Chicago Syndicate: Felix Alderisio
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Felix Alderisio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Felix Alderisio. Show all posts

Thursday, August 05, 2021

With the Street Gangs Shooting Out of Control throughout the City, would Chicago Be Safer if the Mafia was Again in Charge?

When I was a kid and told people not from Chicago, the city of my birth and upbringing, where I was from, it wasn’t uncommon for them to raise their arms as if holding a machine gun, murmur ratatatatatat, then utter “ Al Capone. ” Capone died in 1947, but Chicago and violence have ever after been linked. And now that link is more firmly established than ever, given the murder and shooting statistics announced at the end of every weekend in the city.

After Prohibition, crime in Chicago moved from bootlegging to gambling, prostitution, and loan-sharking. These operations were run by a group of mostly Italian and some Jewish gangsters known variously as the Syndicate, the Mob, the Boys, the Outfit, never for some reason called the Mafia.

Under the Syndicate such crime tended to be perpetrated on those who couldn’t pay their gambling or loan debts or attempted to step into territory thought to be exclusively the Syndicate’s. A friend of mine whose father had a strong taste for corruption bought a controlling interest in a few prizefighters. One thing leading to another, soon he found himself being simultaneously pursued by a murderous thug named Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fortunately, the FBI got to him first.

Occasionally the body of someone with the hubris to betray the Syndicate would be found in the trunk of a car in a church or hotel parking lot. These crimes were horrendous but controlled, their victims carefully targeted, everyone else in the city left to go about his business.

With the uncontrolled and ubiquitous nature of current crime in Chicago, one almost feels nostalgia for old Syndicate figures such as Tony “Big Tuna” Accardo, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik and Sam “Momo” Giancana. They might bully someone on a golf course, or take over the best tables at city steakhouses, but they didn’t shoot into crowds, hijack your car, or wantonly kill children. In their day, the local television news didn’t open with yet another mother weeping over her murdered child.

For a time much of the violence in Chicago was confined to a small number of neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides. More than 80% of such crimes in Chicago are said to be perpetrated by young black men, most of them members of rivaling gangs. Living outside those neighborhoods, one felt sad for the scores of innocent people killed but felt relatively safe oneself.

That has now changed. Muggings and murders in Chicago are now taking place in once quiet middle-class neighborhoods such as Rogers Park and even in swanky ones such as Streeterville. A new crime du jour in the city is the hit-and-run, the perpetrator as often as not driving a stolen car.

Such has been the spread of crime in Chicago, I now find I lock my door as soon as I get in my car; I leave a full space between my car and the car in front of me at stoplights, allowing room to swerve away from any potential carjackers. I don’t check my phone at stoplights. I walk the streets of Chicago warily, even in relatively safe neighborhoods, and seldom go out at night.

Meanwhile, the city’s officials—Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Police Chief David Brown, Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx —pass the buck. The mayor appears to believe that the chief problem is getting the guns off the street, but she is more likely to eliminate mosquitoes than guns from Chicago. The police chief blames Ms. Foxx for releasing people brought in for gun crimes without bail, while Ms. Foxx reports that owing to Covid her office has a backlog of some 35,000 felony cases. So the unmerry-go-round goes, where it stops nobody knows.

Where it ought to stop is at the doubtless difficult but necessary task of breaking up the city’s street gangs. Some argue that gangs are the only refuge for young black men in a country where systemic racism reigns and they are its primary victims. These young men have no jobs, it is said; education for them is a dead end, it is argued. Progress in race relations, they are told, is nonexistent. The people who propagate this nonsense call for more programs: in mentoring, in psychotherapy, in advanced French, in whatever else you’ve got.

One wonders, though, if a start might be made by banishing all such talk, from charges of systemic racism to the cry for more programs, and to back it up by enforcing heavy penalties for gun crimes as a way of letting their perpetrators know that stiff jail sentences remain the best program on record for putting a stop to violent and vicious crime.

Thanks to Joseph Epstein.

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Century of Chicago Mob Bosses

A thumbnail history of Chicago's mob leaders. Dates are approximate.

"Big Jim" Colosimo (1910 to 1920). Chicago's vice lord runs brothels and nightspots, shot dead in 1920 at his popular restaurant. Death cleared way for Capone

Johnny Torrio (1920 to 1925). Reserved boss, eschews violence, retires in 1925 after a fouled-up hit leaves him barely alive.

Al Capone (1925 to 1932). Made Chicago mob famous. Perhaps the most successful mob boss ever, the subject of countless books and movies, done in by the IRS for tax evasion.

Frank Nitti (1932 to 1943). With help from Jake Guzik, rebuilds the Outfit after Capone's departure. Commits suicide after he's indicted in 1943.

Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (1943 to 1950). Has a son who's a drug addict and decrees no Outfit member can have anything to do with narcotics trafficking.

Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo (1950 to 1957). Considered the most capable Outfit leader ever. Never spends significant time in jail. Always plays key role as adviser, but facing a tax case, he officially hands reins over to ...

Sam "Mooney" Giancana (1957 to 1966). Attends the infamous Apalachin, N.Y., meeting that draws national attention to organized crime, draws even more focus on the Outfit with his flamboyance, shared a girlfriend with JFK, flees country for eight years, slain in 1975 at his Oak Park home.

Sam "Teets" Battaglia (1966). Tough leader who is convicted in federal court same year, dies in prison.

John "Jackie" Cerone (1966 to 1969). Considered one of the smartest underworld figures, a strong leader, then the feds pinch him.

Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio (1969 to 1971). The mob killer is an unpopular leader, then he's convicted of bank fraud.

Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa (1971 to 1986). A Cicero mobster who ran gambling and strip clubs and grows into the job, with help from Accardo, Gus Alex and, later, Cerone. He is convicted of skimming profits from a Las Vegas casino.

Joseph Ferriola (1986 to 1989). Heads the Outfit for only a few years before succumbing to heart problems.

Sam Carlisi (1989 to 1993). Protege to Aiuppa and mentor to James "Little Jimmy" Marcello. Carlisi and his crew are decimated by federal prosecutions.

John "No Nose" DiFronzo (1997 to 2018). Called mob boss by Chicago Crime Commission, but other mob watchers disagree.

Salvatore "Solly D" DeLaurentis (2018 to Current?) Although not official, Solly D is considered by many mafia experts to be one the highest ranking mobster on the streets in Chicago although he has long denied these claims. It is said that his 2nd in command could be convicted mob enforcer, Albert "Albie the Falcon" Vena. Time will tell.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Week that Frank Sinatra Performed at the Villa Venice for the Chicago Mob

In 1962, at the height of his fame, Frank Sinatra gave a benefit performance at the behest of a British princess. He gave another for the head of the Chicago mob.

In February, he sang at a ritzy London fundraiser for a children's charity favored by Princess Margaret. Later that year, he did a week's gig at the Villa Venice, a gaudy but financially ailing nightclub near Northbrook in which mafioso Sam Giancana had a piece of the action.

Will Leonard, the Tribune's nightlife critic, reported that Sinatra and his pals, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., "croon, carol, caper and clown to the biggest cabaret audiences this town has seen in years." And no wonder.

Gossip columnists had bestowed the honorific "Chairman of the Board" on Sinatra, whose 100th birthday on Dec. 12 is opening a floodgate of nostalgia. Giancana was the flamboyant face of the Chicago Outfit. The linking of the two luminaries turned those seven days in November and December into a requiem for an older show-biz era.

Chicago's entertainment scene was changing. Comedian Lenny Bruce had brought his obscenity-leavened act to the Gate of Horn, a hip club where the Chad Mitchell Trio also appeared. Their kind of folk music was already sufficiently popular for the Smothers Brothers to satirize it at the State-Lake Theater. The Rat Pack, Sinatra and his friends, were strictly old-school but still a magnetic draw to nightlife veterans of a time when Rush Street was home to celebrated nightclubs, not dating bars.

"The old Chez Paree crowd has yanked itself loose from the TV sets just once more," Leonard observed in another account of the goings-on at the Villa Venice. "The old waiters and doormen are back, showing the same old palms of the same old hands. There's a great big band on the stand, playing great big music. The chairs are pushed so closely together you can't shove your way between them. Flash bulbs pop in the audience during the show. All that's missing is the girl selling the Kewpie dolls and giant sized postcards."

Herb Lyon, the Trib's gossip columnist, proclaimed the hordes of screaming fans "Madness at the Villa." He quoted Sinatra and his buddies (or perhaps their publicist) as saying: "We've never seen anything like it anywhere — Vegas, New York, Paris, you name it."

Indeed, the Villa Venice had been tricked out in a style imported from Las Vegas. Giancana reportedly spent upward of $250,000 to restore it and its canals plied by gondolas. The showroom seated 800, was furnished with satin ceilings, tapestries, and statuesque, lightly clothed showgirls. Nearby was the ultimate accouterment of a Vegas-like operation: a gambling casino in a Quonset hut a few blocks from the Villa. High rollers were whisked between the supper club and the dice and roulette tables in a shuttle supervised by Sam "Slick" Rosa, identified by the Trib as "the syndicate's chief of limousine service," and his assistant, Joseph "Joe Yak" Yacullo.

The Tribune reported that among the mobsters on hand for Sinatra's opening night were Willie "Potatoes" Daddano, Marshall Caifano, Jimmy "The Monk" Allegretti and Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. It was noted that "Sinatra's gangland fans from other cities appeared too." For a week, the Rat Pack's presence turned Milwaukee Avenue at the Des Plaines River into the hottest address in show biz.

Shortly before the Sinatra show closed, the casino shut down under belated pressure from law enforcement authorities who told the Tribune that the gambling operation had grossed $200,000 in two weeks. That threw a monkey wrench into Giancana's business plan, which depended on recouping his investment by attracting gamblers with a parade of big-name acts. But how could he hope to book stars like Sinatra and his buddies into a scarcely known venue in the hinterlands of Chicago? What kind of money did he dangle in front of them? Wondering if there might have been a nonmonetary enticement, the FBI interviewed the Rat Pack during their engagement. Perhaps the feds took a clue from Dean Martin's rewording of the old standard "The Lady is a Tramp":

I love Chicago, it's carefree and gay

I'd even work here without any pay.

According to James Kaplan, author of the recently published "Sinatra: The Chairman," the question was put to Davis. "I got one eye, and that one eye sees a lot of things that my brain tells me I shouldn't talk about," Davis told the agents. "Because my brain says that, if I do, my one eye might not be seeing anything after a while."

Kaplan's verdict was that it was unclear whether the Rat Pack got paid. As a favor to Giancana, Sinatra had previously persuaded a reluctant Eddie Fisher to play the Villa Venice, reportedly for chicken feed. Sinatra owed Giancana for lending his muscle in the critical state of West Virginia when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, according to Giancana's daughter Antoinette's memoir "Mafia Princess: Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family."

Still, the Rat Pack's Villa Venice appearances were wildly successful, as the Tribune's Lyon reported: "It is now estimated that the total Villa loot for the seven-day Sinatra-Martin-Davis run will hit $275,000 to $300,000, a new night club record." But Dinah Shore, the next scheduled performer, canceled at the last minute, and Sheilah Graham, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote: "I've been told that Sinatra picked up the hotel tab for his group, to the tune of $5,000. The whole business sounds somewhat odd."

In fact, the Villa Venice never again hosted big-name stars, operating thereafter as a catering hall, with a new management taking over in 1965. Two years later, it was destroyed by a spectacular, if mysterious, fire. The spot is now a Hilton hotel.

Giancana was gunned down in his Oak Park home in 1975.

To the end of Sinatra's days, he sang the Windy City's praises. But fellow Rat Packer Peter Lawford reportedly said the song was an encomium not to the city but to Giancana, calling the song "his tribute to Sam, an awful guy with a gargoyle face and weasel nose."

Either way, "Chicago" was Sinatra's theme song:

I saw a man and he danced with his wife in Chicago

Chicago, Chicago that's my hometown.

Thanks to Ron Grossman.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Upholding the Legacy of Al Capone

To me the Chicago Outfit has always meant a Bears shirt and some loud sweatpants.

That's how little I've followed our neighboring city's organized crime syndicate until this week's verdict nailing five of its aging leaders and associates.

It's like "The Sopranos" episode that Tony hoped would never come. Tough guys with colorful nicknames were dragged into court by the feds to answer to charges of racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, obstructing justice and 18 murders dating back to 1970. The jury returned guilty verdicts on the other counts but has yet to decide on the murder charges.

A panel of 12 peers, if that word can apply to a mobster trial, convicted James Marcello, 65, said to run the Outfit; Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78; Paul "the Indian" Schiro, 70; Frank Calabrese Sr., 70; and Anthony "Twan" Doyle, 62, a former Chicago cop.

The summer-long trial followed an investigation code-named Operation Family Secrets because two star witnesses were the brother and son of accused hit man Calabrese, who shouted, "Them are lies!" as the prosecutor told the jury he had left a trail of bodies.

Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, who pleaded guilty, said he peed his pants in fear as they dug a shallow grave for one victim. And he recalled that "Strangers in the Night" was playing on the jukebox at the restaurant where one guy was whacked.

There was plenty of mob-speak about high interest "juice loans" and grownup bullies collecting "street taxes" from fearful merchants. The jury saw surveillance photos and listened to tape recordings made in secret. They heard about "made" guys and "capos," bookies and henchmen. There was even talk of a severed puppy head and a dead rat being left to get someone's attention.

Wisconsin, long a vacationland for gangsters, got only brief attention at the trial. The Outfit buried a few hundred thou in cash up here but found it soaked and smelly when they dug it up.

Calabrese's lawyer tried to put a wholesome sheen on his client by saying he might as well be "a cheese salesman from Wisconsin."

One old-time Outfit figure mentioned at the trial was Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. According to the Journal Sentinel archives, he oversaw organized crime activity in Milwaukee for his Chicago bosses in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 1971.

Much better remembered here, of course, are the Balistrieris - dad Frank P. and sons Joe and John. They lacked a cool name like the Outfit, but they were the faces of our reputed Milwaukee mob. All three went to prison in the 1980s but were later released. Frank died in 1993, and his sons still live quietly here in town.

The FBI in Milwaukee has an organized crime detail, but these days they spend more time on groups from Eastern Europe and Asia, and street gangs.

"We don't see the Italian organized crime as being a large threat in the Milwaukee area," said special agent Doug Porrini. "There just haven't been any cases since the Balistrieris," Milwaukee U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic added.

That's OK, we don't miss it. The level of disorganized crime here is bad enough.

The U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago admitted that this prosecution wounded the Outfit but did not kill it. As these men go off to prison, new leaders will step in.

It just wouldn't be Chicago without someone upholding the legacy of Al Capone.

Thanks to Jim Stingl

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Joey the Clown Becomes Court Ringmaster

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Irwin Weiner, Allen Dorfman

After stopping momentarily to flirt with the blond court reporter and swearing to tell the truth with a raspy "I do," Joey "the Clown" Lombardo lowered himself onto the witness stand with the help of a cane.

The 78-year-old with a Caesar haircut leaned toward the microphone Tuesday afternoon and took off his rounded eyeglasses, settling in to answer his lawyer's questions at the landmark Family Secrets trial.

Joseph 'Joey the Clown' Lombardo Testifies at Family Secrets Mob Trial.With the revelation last week that one of the city's quirkiest reputed mob figures would take the stand in his own defense, his testimony became one of the most anticipated moments in a trial that already has earned a place in Chicago mob lore.

A long line of spectators waited for a seat in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse's largest courtroom, filled to capacity with federal judges, FBI supervisors, veteran federal prosecutors, a flock of reporters and dozens of the simply curious.

Defense attorney Rick Halprin wasted no time in getting to the heart of the charges, asking Lombardo whether he took part in killing federal witness Daniel Seifert in 1974 and whether he was a "capo" in the Chicago Outfit.

"Positively no," Lombardo responded to both questions.

Lombardo is a reputed organized-crime figure with a flair for humor and theatrics, known for once leaving a court date with a mask made of newspaper to hide his face from cameramen. Another time he took out advertisements disavowing any mob ties.

When the Family Secrets indictment came down two years ago, he vanished, writing the judge letters asking for his own trial before he was apprehended in the suburbs sporting a beard that resembled the one Saddam Hussein grew while hiding in his spider hole. Brought to court for the first time in the case, Lombardo announced he simply had been "unavailable."

On Tuesday, he was at center stage again, telling jurors how he worked the streets as a youngster, shining shoes of police officers in his Grand Avenue neighborhood. They paid him only a nickel a shoe, he said.

"Very cheap people," said Lombardo, sending a wave of laughter through the courtroom.

"Let's not press our luck," shot back Halprin, trying to keep his client focused.

"You told me to tell the truth," countered Lombardo, drawing more laughter.

The guffaws, some from other defense lawyers in the case, brought a stern warning from U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who said he didn't see anything funny about a sweeping conspiracy case that includes the murders of 18 individuals.

Lombardo, one of five men on trial, took the stand as the best way to flesh out his defense that he was essentially an errand boy for powerful mob-connected businessmen such as Irwin Weiner and labor racketeer Allen Dorfman, who ran an insurance agency that did business with the Teamsters. He contended he has always held legitimate jobs and got caught up in criminal conduct through friends.

The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.

Lombardo set about to describe his work history, starting with shoe shining and detouring briefly to his dice game. Lombardo acknowledged he ran one, blessed by city aldermen, from 1976 until the bribery indictment. "I didn't have time to play dice because I was on trial," he said matter of factly.

Lombardo, dressed in a conservative gray jacket and silver tie, sometimes rubbed his hands in front of him as he testified and sometimes played with his glasses. He often gave brief answers in a sing-song tone and looked toward the jury as he talked.

Lombardo said he worked a dumbwaiter at a hotel, drove trucks, built two six-flats in a small construction business and worked at a salvage warehouse.

Through his relationships with Weiner and Dorfman, Lombardo said, he met Outfit figures such as Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio and Anthony Spilotro.

Lombardo testified that Weiner also led him to International Fiberglass, where he worked with Seifert. Prosecutors contend Lombardo had Seifert killed before he could testify against Lombardo in a pension fraud case.

The business was failing when he got there, Lombardo said, telling jurors he agreed to round up out-of-work "kids" in the Grand Avenue area to help make sinks and other company products. He helped Seifert pay bills and manage the business, Lombardo said.

A host of nicknames used for Lombardo have surfaced during the trial, including "Lumpy," "Lumbo" and "Pagliacci," the Italian word for clowns. On Tuesday, Lombardo acknowledged he used another name for himself in some of his business dealings in the 1970s: Joseph Cuneo. "Because my name, Lombardo, was always in the paper for different things," he said.

Halprin tried to take on evidence that prosecutors say points to Lombardo's involvement in Seifert's killing. But Lombardo appeared confused on one critical issue and Halprin moved to another topic.

Lombardo's fingerprint was found on the title application for a car used by the gunmen to flee from the scene of Seifert's shooting at his Bensenville business. In addition, Lombardo was identified as having often bought police scanners like the one found in the getaway vehicle.

Lombardo acknowledged buying police scanners from a local store but said he was running errands for Weiner and his bail-bonding business. But Lombardo said he was puzzled about the fingerprint. Halprin asked how it could have been left on the title document.

"What are my prints on? On what?" he asked. "Is that document in Irv Weiner's office?"

Halprin promised to come back to the subject.

Lombardo also denied that he had attempted to bribe Sen. Cannon. He said he was recorded in Dorfman's office discussing his idea to have the senator buy a Las Vegas property that was being purchased by someone else with a large loan from a Teamsters pension fund. He got nothing out of the deal, Lombardo said, except "15 years and 5 years probation."

Earlier Tuesday, Lombardo's lawyers called a series of witnesses who testified that they saw Lombardo at work at legitimate jobs, including International Fiberglass.

Among those testifying was Johnny Lira, 56, a Golden Gloves boxing champion and a one-time lightweight title contender. Lira said he renewed a relationship with the reputed mobster when Lombardo left prison in the early 1990s. Lombardo worked every day at a business that dealt with concrete-cutting machines, he said.

He described Lombardo as "a grease monkey" who worked on equipment in the business' warehouse on Racine Avenue until his arrest in early 2006. Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk asked whether Lira knew Lombardo was a fugitive in his final months on the job. "He didn't act like a fugitive," Lira said. "He came there every day."

In his testimony, Lombardo tried to portray himself as a normal working guy who liked sports. He can "ice skate, roller skate, Rollerblade and bowl," Lombardo testified.

Prosecutors are likely to go hard after that image during their expected cross-examination on Wednesday, and there will be no chance for "the Clown" to disappear.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Morgan Mint

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Police Sergeant Recalls Battles with Mobsters

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frankie "The German" Schweihs, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli, Jimmy Hoffa
Friends of mine: Richard Hauff

Among the observers paying close attention to the “Family Secrets” mob trial in Chicago is retired police officer John J. Flood who boasts about having one of the first law enforcement run-ins with two of the key defendants in the case.

“Joey Lombardo and Frankie Schweihs: in my lifetime and career as a police officer I have been fighting those guys in different matters of law enforcement over those years,” Flood told WBBM’s Steve Grzanich during a recent interview from his home in Las Vegas.

It is the first meeting with Lombardo and Schweihs that Flood remembers best back in 1964 when Sgt. Flood, with the Cook County Sheriff's Police, interrupted Schweihs and Lombardo and thwarted an attempted hit on mob associate Richard Hauff. “It was happening up on Mannheim Road and Lawrence Avenue at a hotel up there. I came upon it and almost got killed making the arrest,” Flood said.

That was back in the early days for Schweihs and Lombardo, before they hit police radar, said Flood. “I called into Chicago Intelligence and asked who is Frankie Schweihs and they didn’t know. I had to call a knowledgeable Chicago detective who told that’s Phil Alderisio’s bodyguard. He’s a bad guy. Find out who was in the car and who they were going to kill,” said Flood.

While the Family Secrets trial may close the books on 18 mob murders, Flood expects that other mysteries may go unsolved.

“The significant murders that Lombardo would know about would be the murders of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. They were supposed to testify before the Church Commission on the assassination plot against Fidel Castro but they turned up dead. If Lombardo was talking, which I doubt he ever would because he lives by his code, he could tell you who killed (Jimmy) Hoffa and what happened.”

Will guilty verdicts mean the end of the Chicago outfit? "Someone will replace Lombardo. All you have to do is look at the fabric of the American system – corporate crime, white collar crime, organized crime. There is no way in the world organized crime people are going to be leaving gambling, going to be leaving pornography, the lending of money, prostitution – it is not going to happen,” Flood said.

According to Flood, the “Family Secrets” trial will likely be the final chapter for the likes of Lombardo and Schweihs. The retired police officer said the trial also brings to a close his own 40 year career as an organized crime fighter.

Flood is the founder of the Combined Counties Police Association, one of the most well-known and respected independent law enforcement unions ever formed in the United States. He is also one of the foremost experts on organized crime and an authority on the Chicago Outfit.

Thanks to Steve Grzanich

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hitman: Blood Money - Reviewed

Friends of ours: Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Richard "The Ice Man" Kuklinski, Gambino Crime Family, Roy DeMeo

How often do you get the chance to sneak up on a balloon-clutching clown, grab him, kill him, take his outfit and put it on, then dump him in his own magic trick trunk and saunter off pretending to be him? Okay, maybe this says a little something about my own personal mental fiefdom, but when I found I had the opportunity to do just this - and so very much more - in Eidos amazing Hitman: Blood Money, by Jove I was as pleased as punch!

Now, where to start with this thoroughly engaging and dare I say awesome game�

I'm a fan of the genre to begin with. Having played through Rockstar's frightening stalk n' slash epic, Manhunt and the Thief and Splinter Cell series' I have developed a genuine passion for such stealth-orientated gameplay. There is something enormously satisfying about thinking and planning your every move, calculating and (hopefully) shrewdly putting into practice your own mapped out directives and above all doing your 'job' as a professional assassin.

This game is what it is. If you are familiar with the previous titles in the Hitman saga you will know that it comprises of a number of missions - all to 'hit' various designated bad guys. There is a storyline, but it's your murderous objectives that hallmark this classic. Blood Money is, of course, more of the same, but with a number of important improvements which I'm sure you'll be delighted to know includes new kill techniques.

So how does this game look and feel?

I class myself as a visual person and therefore if a game's graphics are below par this seriously dilutes the overall experience for me. It's very important that I be able to absorb every detail, down to minutiae. Fortunately Hitman: Blood Money's achievements in this area are nothing short of breathtaking and I struggled to contain my excitement from the very outset, quickly discovering that I could not tear myself away from a particular level until I had completed it so that the next would be revealed. Stunning, panoramic locations made this a journey I could not resist embarking on. Whether it's brightly little jungles or dingy warehouses, the eye for detail is sharp and quite incredible. I knew as soon as I got my first glimpse of the game that it was going to be a thing of beauty.

Right from the word go, the player - as silent protagonist Agent 47 - shows up at a deserted fairground, and is hauled directly along for the hugely atmospheric ride. Being a man who understands the nature of hardcore murder and having been fortunate enough to have books published in the true crime world, I'll take just a moment to discuss the psychopathologies inherent within the game's characters before getting back to the plot.

Though he has dispatched many victims in his time, cue-ball-headed, suited-and-booted Agent 47 is not a serial killer. He does not kill for pleasure, and he does not rape, torture or eat other human beings, which the charming sorts I normally deal with are more inclined to. 47 is an assassin, the best of his breed as a matter of fact, the type of 'guy' (he's not strictly human but I won't give away too much of the story) that undertakes his various assignments with a required cool detachment and abject professionalism. For our ice cold ice man, the soup of the day here is organised crime rather than the dark realm of serial predators. Still, vicious, evil and above all powerful figures wind up on his hit list. Surely the world will be a better place with them removed and there is only one master-assassin that fits the employment description, a hitman competent enough to take out this dangerous kind of trash. And in Blood Money, there is certainly a lot of it.

Fearsome organised criminals are marked for death at the hands of Agent 47 and whereas most of them display signs of 'enjoying' their murderous exploits, our 47 is motivated by another factor, namely - money. As a bonus he gets to dispense his own brand of justice on some very nasty individuals indeed.

Celebrated real-life counterparts; mob hitmen, such as the Chicago Outfit's Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio and Murder Incorporated's Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, took a certain amount of pleasure in their contracts. Richard "The Ice Man" Kuklinski - recently deceased in prison - and his contemporary, the legendary Gambino Crime Family executioner, Roy DeMeo, who are thought to be responsible for some 400 murders between them, lack distinctly the cool dignity of Agent 47. More than a match in sheer ferocity and death toll as these and others of their ilk are, this is not the purpose of Hitman: Blood Money. You are not an organised crime-connected, bloodthirsty killer, who actually enjoys his assignments, but rather a reluctant created entity. One who does this because it is what he knows.

Back to the game, the environments as I say are totally mesmerizing. From garish techno nightclubs straight out of Hell - and Heaven - and winter playgrounds oozing with busty babes, steaming outdoor pools, and stone killers in Santa Claus hats, to a trip to the witness protection haven of suburban U S of A and a New Orleans Mardi Gras to remember, the slick presentation of each scenario will knock you sideways.

The varied ways of dispatching victims is a lot of fun too. Whether it's a simple garrotting, knifing or more creative method of execution, such as a patiently orchestrated poisoning or the careful engineering of a fatal 'accident', the result is always the same. Mission accomplished. Particularly rewarding is the discovery of makeshift weaponry throughout your quests, which can be used to take those who get in your way down - hard. Agent 47 will always find a way to complete his homicidal objectives.

Luring and annihilating his route throughout the game, each of 47's missions involve slaying a 'Mr Big' target. There are a number of ways this can be achieved, from a Gung Ho blood fest of bullets and mayhem to the more subtle, stealthy approach. As this is a game that rewards you for methodical and restrained manoeuvring, being sneaky and quietly efficient are the ingredients to conquering Hitman: Blood Money.

One of my favourite touches are the often amusing newspaper reports that conclude each level, describing the various massacres you have been responsible for in getting at your latest target. These can range from the ghost-like strike of a highly effective phantom killer to the carnage-soaked frenzy of a human butcher. Depending on how you played it, the ultimate goal is in your skill and cunning at executing not only your task but your designated 'whacks', to use the parlance of the top mobsters that Agent 47 is so often sent after.

And the handling is spot on. Fluid controlling and smooth operation is vital in a game such as this, and here again Hitman: Blood Money delivers. It's easy to pick up after a half hour curve and having gotten used to it, you will find yourself most comfortable with the action of shooting, stabbing and stealthy 'up close and personal' moves on your (again, hopefully if you're playing it the way it is intended) unwitting prey.

It's such an experience that when you eventually finish the game you are left wanting much more. A tight, story-driven plot with some truly great characters and awesome villains to take down, make this an instant must for those fans of the genre. Hitman gets in your blood, immerses you in the subterranean world of murder-for-hire and actually charges you up while playing. Who after all would not wish to kill as many evil people as their skills merit and read their own sensational headline at the end of each gore-splattered foray.

Eidos have done it again and I devoutly hope that there are more Hitman offerings in the pipeline. I will never grow tired of assuming the role of Agent 47, the cool, collected killing machine, sent to faraway destinations to carry out the most exhilarating contracts.

I absolutely loved this game. Could you tell?

Thanks to Steve Morris

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wintry grave may be part of mob's legacy

Friends of ours: Frank "the German" Schweihs, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, William Hanhardt, Paul Schiro, Richard Cain, Sam "Momo" Gianacana

In a few days, U.S. marshals will drive the fugitive Chicago Outfit enforcer Frank "The German" Schweihs from Kentucky back to Chicago. Here, he will stand trial for two gangland murders that are part of the FBI's Family Secrets investigation of unsolved mob killings. But once in the Chicago area, on the way to the federal lockup, the marshals might think about taking a short detour to Elmwood Cemetery in suburban River Grove.

They should drive about a half-mile past the cemetery office and start looking for a giant Norwegian pine that throws shade on the gravestones in the afternoon. From the road, with that tree as a marker, it is only a few paces to Section 47-Lot 15-Grave 2.

After that long drive up from Kentucky, it might be good for Schweihs to stretch his legs a bit, to take a short walk on the snow and stand at the grave I have in mind, one of those graves in the shadow of the big pine tree. That's where Eugenia Pappas, also known as "Becca," is buried. She's been there a long time now. She wasn't a tough guy. She wasn't a jewel thief or an iceman, wasn't a burglar or extortionist. She wasn't a puppet master, giving politicians orders. She was young and beautiful, with big brown eyes, only 18 years old when she dated Schweihs, a bodyguard for mobster Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio.

Her father, Christopher, and her mother, Helen, didn't like it that one of Chicago's most fearsome and untouchable hoodlums had taken a fancy to their daughter. Christopher moved the family to Arizona, to start a new life, to give his daughter a chance away from Schweihs. Eventually, though, she returned to Chicago. A few weeks later, she stopped dating Schweihs. She stopped dating him about the time a bullet pierced her heart.

I spoke to Pappas family members, but they were too afraid to be quoted in this column and declined to be interviewed. I also spoke to a family friend who told me about Pappas on the condition her name was not used. I understand. Every so often, some writer announces that the Outfit is dead. But if it's so dead, why are people in Chicago still afraid?

"The whole family, they were so close, so loving," the family friend told me Tuesday. "When Becca was found, it was so horrible, devastating. It was like somebody scooped their insides out and left the shells. Her mother, Helen, was a strong woman, she was American, but she wore black from that day on. She died later, but she really died the day Becca was found."

Becca was last seen a week or so before Christmas of 1962. Her distraught father went to the newspapers for help in mid-January. An article in the Tribune, under the headline "Girl Sought" ran in the Jan. 12, 1963, editions. "Left behind in the apartment, Pappas said, were all her clothes, except those she was wearing," the story said.

On Feb. 9, a tugboat captain found her body floating in the Chicago River. She'd been in the water about two weeks. Authorities surmised she was killed while sitting in the passenger's seat of an automobile. She was buried on Feb. 15, 1963. "You've seen those wakes where people get emotional and loud," the family friend told me. "This wasn't like that. It was silent, completely silent. That was worse."

Schweihs was hauled in for questioning by a celebrated crime fighter, Richard Cain, the homicide chief of the Cook County sheriff's police. After much questioning and investigating--or simply the appearance of questioning and investigating--the case against Schweihs, if there ever was one, fizzled. He was let go and no charges regarding the Pappas murder were ever filed against him. Schweihs, the papers noted, had a long police record, but no convictions. That's not hard to figure, since he was usually being investigated by one of those celebrated crime fighters.

It's a Chicago thing. The relationship between mobsters and top local cops isn't new, and it isn't old. William Hanhardt, the former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, was recently convicted of running the Outfit's interstate jewelry theft ring, using police information to set up the victims. One of Hanhardt's convicted accomplices in the jewel ring is Paul Schiro, an Outfit enforcer. Schiro and Schweihs have been charged by the feds with an Outfit killing in Arizona.

When the victim is another mobster, Chicago shrugs. But this victim was a girl, a civilian, whose family had no power. So the local law spit on her and the Outfit spit on her and the investigation was dropped.

I said that Richard Cain, the detective who cleared Schweihs of the Pappas killing, was a celebrated crime fighter. He was celebrated, sure, the way Hanhardt was celebrated, in gushing media accounts as some heroic tough guy, ready-made for Hollywood. Cain was a bodyguard for Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. On Dec. 20, 1973, Cain was in Rose's Sandwich Shop on the West Side when two men entered with shotguns. He took two blasts to the face. The second one was just to make sure.

Schweihs is an old man, now, at 75, and Cain is dead. And Eugenia Pappas' grave was silent in the shadow of that pine tree in the snow. "Elusive in life," reads the inscription on her gravestone. "Elusive in death."

Thanks to John Kass


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