Tap Game

Bugging device
Bugging device
The meeting to work out plans for the would-be assassination of John Gotti took place in Cassella's Restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey, owned by a Genovese soldier. It was a logical location since the hit was ordered by Vinnie "the Chin" Gigante, the head of the Genovese crime family.

The one catch was that the FBI knew about the place and at times had previously bugged it. Naturally the Genovese men were suspicious, so they were careful about where they held their meeting. It took place in the ladies' bathroom. To get access the boys banged impatiently on the door to rouse the females inside.

A woman's voice called out, "Just a minute, OK?"

"Go piss in the street, lady," snarled Louie Manna, the capo in charge of the projected hit. "We got to have a fuckin' business meeting."

The toilet flushed and out came the woman.

Four plotters, Manna, restaurant owner Motts Cassella, Frankie Danello and Bocci DeSiscio, piled into the pink-tiled room and devised a plot in which Gotti and his brother Gene would be ambushed as they left the Gambino's Bergin clubhouse in Queens.

As it happened, the projected hit never took place. The FBI warned the Gottis of the plan.

Yes, the restaurant's men's room had been bugged, but the FBI had the foresight to plant a tap in the ladies' room as well. Such was one of the continuous cat-and-mouse episodes of the "tap game" between the FBI and its Mafia prey.

Sometimes all does not go well. Mafiosi like to have huge guard dogs for their homes or hangouts. Such was the case with Colombo soldier Donnie Shacks who kept two very mean Rottweilers posted at his social club, The Maniac Club.

To get in to plant their tapes agents fed the dogs meatballs laced with thorazine. The idea was that the drug would discourage the animals from bothering the agent or even leave them out cold in the courtyard. Instead the dogs gobbled down all the meatballs and dashed straight for the club.

There the dogs erupted all over the premises with, as one agent described, "the force of what appeared to be several fire hoses." Then the dogs passed out cold. Agents who entered the club had to tread carefully around the swamp of fecal material to install the hidden microphones.

No one ever accused Donnie Shacks of being long in the thought department, but he suspected something had made the dogs produce the terrible mess. He had the club swept by an electronics expert and uncovered the bugs. Score one for the mob.

Fortunately for the FBI, mafiosi are incessant talkers and even when they suspect their phones are tapped they will use it to call in an expert to check it out. That was what Gotti sidekick Angelo Ruggiero did when he feared his home might have been bugged.

A former New York City detective named Conroy was brought in, and he swept the residence. Conroy found the place clean, and a grateful Ruggerio paid him $1,000 in cash. Conroy's analysis had been on target, but only because the FBI had overheard his hiring, entered the house and removed the bugs.

As soon as the search was completed, agents reentered the house and restored the bugs. Meanwhile Ruggiero, believing his phone was clean, talked so much that agents nicknamed him QuackQuack. Ruggiero's chatter played a huge role in the downfall of Gotti and numerous other mafiosi.

Perhaps the most celebrated tap game was that played on Tommy DiBella when he was acting boss of the Colombos. The FBI had set up a sting operation with an informant utilizing bugs on his business premises. One day a Colombo soldier spotted what he thought was a security system meant to protect the premises. Actually it was a sophisticated bugging set-up.

The mob guy wanted to know where the man had gotten it. Thinking fast, the informant said he had gotten it free from a buddy who had ripped it off and given it to him.

"Gee," said the gullible soldier, "Mr. DiBella would love to have such a system."

"No problem," the informant assured him, "I'll get them to boost another security system and install it for Mr. DiBella for free."

For that price, Mr. DiBella certainly wanted the system.

When a workclothed FBI man came to DiBella's Staten Island house and identified himself as the man with the security system, DiBella said sternly, "Yeah? Well, you look like a fucking FBI agent to me."

"No shit, Mr. DiBella," the agent replied. "What does one look like?"

Now the 75-year-old boss laughed. "Ah, I'm just busting your balls. Come on in, guy."

The subsequent busts made law enforcement history.

Abraham Telvi

Abraham Telvi
Abraham Telvi
A 22-year-old hood, Abraham Telvi was recruited by labor racketeer Johnny Dio to acid-blind crusading labor columnist Victor Riesel in 1956. Eager to get ahead in organized crime, Telvi agreed to the proposition, according to a federal investigation, by Joseph Peter Carlino.

Fingered by Gondolfo Miranti, Riesel found himself confronted by Telvi at about 3 A.M. as Riesel was leaving Lindy's, a famous New York Broadway restaurant. Telvi hurled sulphuric acid in Riesel's eyes and face, blinding him permanently.

Eventually, Miranti and another man involved in the plot were all set to identify Dio as the mastermind of the attack, but in the end refused to testify because of underworld threats. Charges against Dio and three others had to be dropped.

Telvi did not fare nearly as well. He had been paid a meager $1,175 for doing the job, and when he saw the heat being generated in the investigation, he angrily started dunning Dio and the other conspirators for a more equitable reward. In mid-July, Telvi was told he would get his bigger payoff in two weeks. The promise was not broken. On July 28, exactly two weeks later, Telvi was murdered in gangland style on the Lower East Side.

Frederick J. Tenuto

Frederick J. Tenuto
Frederick J. Tenuto
In February 1952 Arnold Schuster, a 24-year-old Brooklyn clothing salesman, became a short-lived hero after he spotted the highly publicized, wanted criminal Willie "the Actor" Sutton, while riding on a New York City subway train.

He followed Sutton, notified the police and Sutton was captured. On March 9, 1952, Schuster was found dead on the street where he lived. He had been shot four times, twice in the groin and once in each eye—all the markings of a Mafia murder.

Although Sutton had no connection with the Mafia or organized crime, Schuster's death had been decreed by Albert Anastasia, the brutal crime family boss. Watching the new celebrity, Schuster, being interviewed on television following Sutton's capture, Anastasia flew into a screaming rage, not unusual for him. "I can't stand squealers!" he shouted. "Hit that guy!"

The murder was carried out by Frederick J. Tenuto, at the time on the FBI's list of 10 most wanted criminals. Tenuto had a police record dating back to the age of 16 and had been in prison several times in the 1930s and 1940s. He was doing a term of 10 to 20 years for the hired killing of a Philadelphia man when he escaped from prison, only to be quickly recaptured. In 1945 he escaped again and was retaken. In 1947 he escaped a third time with four other men, including Sutton.

Shortly thereafter Tenuto turned up in Brooklyn underworld haunts where he came under the protection of Anastasia, a man of violence who always appreciated another cut of the same cloth. (If Tenuto had been around when Anastasia was issuing orders to his by then defunct Murder, Inc., troop, Tenuto would doubtless have been one of his star hitters.) Anastasia ordered Tenuto to take care of Schuster. Unfortunately, Tenuto was identified by a witness as he fled the scene of the crime.

This made not only Tenuto but also Anastasia vulnerable. Ordering Schuster's murder was a stupid thing for Anastasia to do. Anastasia made amends by ordering Tenuto murdered. Tenuto's body was never discovered although, according to some police informants, he had been given a "double-decker funeral"—being placed in the paneled false bottom of a coffin with an about-to-be buried corpse.

The brutal Anastasia had solved his immediate problem, but the Schuster murder was later used by Vito Genovese as a justification for having Anastasia assassinated as a "Mad Hatter," whose irrational deeds were a threat to the entire organization of the Mafia.

Vincent Charles “Fat Vinnie” Teresa

Vincent Charles Teresa
Vincent Charles “Fat Vinnie” Teresa
When Joe Valachi started singing, the mob price on his head was set at $100,000. On Vincent Teresa it was a half-million.

In the public mind Joe Valachi was the most important criminal informer in recent decades, a tribute more to the draw of television than to the gravity of his revelations. But many crime experts find Valachi's testimony limited in scope and not always consistent.

Experts agree that Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno and Teresa—who follow Valachi by about a decade—were both far more productive "pigeons" for the law, and a strong case is made that Teresa, or Fat Vinnie, ranks as the number one informer.

Teresa had been the number three man in the mafioso crime family in New England—by his own count, which may have been somewhat inflated— when he started to talk, not out of any great moral reformation but because his own mob stole his money, failed to aid his wife while he was in prison and menaced one of his children.

While Valachi knew very little of import outside of New York crime circles, Teresa's knowledge ranged from Massachusetts to the Bahamas and Europe. He provided hard information that could stand up in court, testimony about mob infiltration of business, about crooked casinos and gamblers, fixed horse races, gang wars and stock thefts.

He also cleared up several murders that authorities had shunted off to the unsolved file. His evidence led to the indictment or conviction of 50 mob figures and provided valuable leads on hundreds of others. And he did something no other mob informer ever dared do—he testified in open court about the "Little Guy," the much-feared Meyer Lansky.

In a book he wrote with Thomas C. Renner, My Life in the Mafia, Teresa traced the way $150 million poured into underworld coffers through his own efforts. In a 28-year crime career Teresa had himself netted $10 million which went almost as fast as he stole it.

Upon completion of his testimony Fat Vinnie was "buried" under the federal witness protection program with a new identity as Charles Cantino. In 1984, the Cantino address was Maple Valley, Washington.

The federal government itself blew Fat Vinnie's cover in December 1984 when a grand jury indicted him and five members of his family on charges of smuggling hundreds of exotic and expensive birds and reptiles into the country. Most of the animals were listed as endangered species. There was talk in the underworld that Fat Vinnie had himself once more become an endangered species.

Ciro Terranova

Ciro Terranova
Ciro Terranova

Although Ciro Terranova often gained a "good press"—from the underworld's point of view—as a brutish killer, the fact remains he was one of the most overrated mafiosi ever to be called a boss. Terranova came to the fore during the heyday of New York's Morello family and Lupo the Wolf; as long as he had them to lean on, he too was a dynamic crime figure. He could and did order a number of murders but gained a reputation as a man who could not do the dirty work himself.

Actually he operated quite well as a number two man and was to thrive as a junior partner to Dutch Schultz in the Harlem numbers racket. He was also called "the Artichoke King" by the newspapers for running an efficient racket with Morello muscle behind him. As informer Joe Valachi explained: "He tied up all the artichokes in the city.

The way I understand it he would buy all the artichokes that came into New York. I didn't know where they all came from, but I know he was buying them out. Being artichokes, they hold; they can keep. Then Ciro would make his own price, and as you know, Italians got to have artichokes to eat."

With the passing from the active roster of most of the leading Morellos and Lupo the Wolf by the 1920s, Terranova was in position to claim the leadership of mafioso elements in New York. He proved incapable of that and had to settle as an underboss to Joe the Boss Masseria.

During the Maranzano Masseria war of 1930–1931, he had another opportunity to assert his leadership but could only watch as Lucky Luciano took up the reins. Luciano and his assistant Vito Genovese tabbed Ciro Terranova a weakling and one who could be, according to Valachi, "stripped [of power] ... a little at a time."

Luciano's disdain for Terranova was rooted in the cowardly role the latter had played in the murder of Joe the Boss. Luciano arranged the killing by luring Masseria to a meal in a Coney Island restaurant. While Luciano went to the men's room, four killers—Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis and Bugsy Siegel—marched in and ventilated Masseria.

The quartet marched rapidly out of the restaurant to a waiting black limousine where Terranova sat at the wheel. The four killers were cool and relaxed, but Terranova was trembling, so much so that he was unable to put the car in gear. Contemptuously, Siegel shoved him away, took the wheel himself and sped off.

When, in the new order in the underworld, Luciano ordered Dutch Schultz's murder, Terranova moved to take control of the Harlem numbers racket. Luciano and Genovese informed Terranova he was now in retirement, replaced by Trigger Mike Coppola. Usually, such displaced crime leaders are assassinated for fear they will go to war to retain their rights. Luciano correctly figured that Terranova would do nothing.

Three years later, according to a gloating Valachi who hated Terranova for personal reasons, "he died from a broken heart." Generally speaking the death of Terranova was considered the final demise of the old Morello Gang, the first Mafia family established in New York. Many descendants of the Morellos are still active but have been absorbed by the other crime families.

Philip “Chicken Man” Testa

Philip - Chicken Man - Testa
Philip “Chicken Man” Testa
Few American cities acknowledge their mafiosi as freely as Philadelphia, the City of Mafia Love. Mafioso watching has long been considered a fine spectator sport. A restaurant in the city noted as a feeding place for the Mafia, Cous' Little Italy, even sported a hamburger called the Testa Burger, named after a godfather of the early 1980s, Philip "Chicken Man" Testa.

The Wall Street Journal, a publication much impressed with effective methods of salesmanship, cited the pitch for the Testa Burger, "If you didn't eat it, you'd get your fingers broken."

It was a gag, but Phil Testa, in his criminal activities, was no laughing matter. Classified by the FBI as one of the most violent members of the Angelo Bruno crime family, Testa was also its underboss.

Bruno, known as "the Gentle Don," was assassinated in 1980, almost certainly by New York Mafia crime families seeking to take over Atlantic City's new and enormously valuable crime concessions (flowing from now-legal casino gambling). The consensus among crime specialists was that Testa would be a tougher man to down than Bruno and that he would fight for what the Philadelphia mafiosi regarded as their turf.

Testa, in fact, was considered a man who would fight almost anybody over almost anything. Testa operated from the cover of a chicken shop on Christian Street. One time a rookie FBI agent, doing a routine check on a federal job applicant, wandered into the place to question the proprietor. Testa had four of his brawny enforcers heave him out into the street.

With Testa running the mob, a local newspaper thought it would be wise, considering the great public interest in local mafiosi, to have its resident astrologer study the Testa future in the stars. "With Neptune in exact conjunction with his retrograde Jupiter," the horoscope proclaimed, "no matter what's going on, Testa will come out in a better position than he started."

It was at best a short-term forecast. In March 1981, almost a year after Bruno's rubout, Chicken Man Testa got his. He was blown to bits when a shrapnel-filled remote control bomb tore up his house and porch as he returned there in the middle of the night.

Mob boss Angelo Bruno (right), 58, and underboss Philip Testa (left), 44
Mob boss Angelo Bruno (right), 58, and underboss Philip Testa (left), 44

Most theories lent themselves to the likelihood that the New York mobs had struck again. But the once-homogenous Philly mob was indeed coming apart. Rivals within his own organization had eliminated Testa, and the two decades of peace in Angelo Bruno's Philadelphia Mafia was over. Bruno's and Testa's deaths demonstrated that with bloody certainty.

(The night after Testa was blown up, Cous' Little Italy stopped serving the Testa Burger.)

Salvatore Testa: Mafia Mobster

Salvatore Testa
Salvatore Testa

An FBI agent once said of young Philadelphia mafioso Salvatore Testa, "He wants to be a bad guy in the worst way—and Lord knows he's got the breeding." He certainly did, being the son of the late, violence-prone Philadelphia Mafia bigwig, Philip "Chicken Man" Testa.

Young Testa most assuredly looked forward to the day when he would be the Philadelphia godfather, an attitude that undoubtedly dismayed some other criminals, both within and without the crime family. As a result, Salvatore Testa became the clay pigeon of the Philadelphia underworld.

The elder Testa, who had succeeded the murdered, longtime Mafia boss Angelo Bruno, was himself blown to bits by a remote-control bomb planted under the porch of his home in March 1981.

A little over a year later, Sal Testa, now a capo under the new boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, made his most amazing escape from death. He was eating clams outside a South Philadelphia pizza parlor when two would-be executioners blew him out of his chair with shotgun blasts. Testa took eight slugs in his body but recovered.

The gunmen, who were caught when their car crashed into a utility pole as they were fleeing, turned out to be soldiers for a rival mob leader, Harry Riccobene, a gentle-looking but murderous septuagenarian mafioso.

After young Testa made an unsuccessful try at Riccobene's life, he was almost cornered again when he and three bodyguards were driving through a warehouse district in South Philadelphia. Their car was cut off by another one loaded with four Riccobene gunmen. Several shots were exchanged but Testa was unscathed. Still in his 20s, the hood was labeled by mob associates "unkillable."

Salvatore Testa was said to regard his foes as foul-ups. Then he turned careless. One day in September 1984, Testa, clad in tennis whites, left home for an afternoon of sport. At 10:23 P.M. on September 14, police in southern New Jersey received an anonymous call from a man who reported finding a body alongside a country road 20 miles southeast of Philadelphia.

Testa had been shot twice in the back of the head at close range with a small-caliber gun. He was the 23rd victim in the Philadelphia underworld since Bruno's murder had shattered the longtime peace that prevailed in the mob. Sal Testa had turned out to be no more unkillable than any of the others.

In fact, he had been eliminated by members of his own murder crew on orders of Little Nicky Scarfo, who had originally promoted young Testa to capo. The problem, from Scarfo's view, was that Testa had worked hard at the killing game and had distinguished himself as the real rising star of the Philly crime family. Scarfo began seeing every expression by Testa as a show of disrespect and ordered him hit before he made a direct move for the boss job.

Tommy Gun: Mobster weapon

Original Tommy Gun
Original Tommy Gun

The Thompson submachine gun—nicknamed the "tommy gun," "Chicago Piano," "chopper" and "typewriter"—was described by a Collier's magazine crime reporter: "the greatest aid to bigger and better business the criminal has discovered in this generation ... a diabolical machine of death ... the highest powered instrument of destruction that has yet been placed at the convenience of the criminal element ... an infernal machine ... the diabolical acme of human ingenuity in man's effort to devise a mechanical contrivance with which to murder his neighbor." With accolades like that, the American Mafia quite naturally became the weapon's best customer.

The weapon was named the Thompson (inevitably shortened to the affectionate "tommy") after its coinventor, Brigadier General John T. Thompson, director of arsenals during World War I. Thompson had tried to get the weapon ready for use in trench warfare (he called the weapon "a trench broom"), but it was not perfected until 1920. Weighing less than 9 pounds and firing .45 caliber bullets from a circular magazine, the Thompson was effective up to 600 yards and could spew out 1,500 rounds a minute.

To Thompson's disappointment the army had no interest in the weapon which at $175 seemed expensive. Ironically, its prodigious rate of fire also worked against it. The army felt it used too much ammunition.

The underworld had a more positive attitude about the gun. Organized bootlegging gangs found it a spectacular aid as an intimidator weapon during hijackings, and the way it could turn an automobile into a sieve in a half-minute made it very attractive for assassination purposes.

Best of all, it was completely legal. While many states and cities had passed laws similar to New York's 1911 Sullivan Law, prohibiting the possession of easily concealed weapons without a permit, there were no restrictions on tommy guns, which could even be ordered through the mail. When stricter federal and state laws finally were enacted, the underworld was still supplied, although the illegal price jumped into the thousands of dollars.

According to some crime historians, the first victims of the tommy gun were William H. McSwiggin, an assistant state's attorney, and Jim Doherty and Tom Duffy, two hoodlums from the O'Donnell Gang who were taken out in front of the Pony Inn in Cicero, Illinois. It was said by some that Al Capone handled the weapon personally.

Ilustration: mobster with tommy gun
Ilustration: mobster with tommy gun

Capone was a true devotee of the tommy gun, but he was hardly the first. Tommy guns were first used by the Saltis-McErlane Gang of Chicago's Southwest Side. Both Joe Saltis and Frank McErlane were a bit dimwitted, and they had murderous instincts. They took gleefully to a killing weapon on which all one had to do was squeeze the trigger and hold on. After them, every mob in Chicago and every Mafia family around the country had to have its supply of tommies.

After the underworld demonstrated the value of the tommy gun, the U.S. Army and its allies took a more positive view of the weapon, supplying their troops with almost 2 million of them in World War II.

John Torrio

John Torrio
John Torrio

His contributions to the fathering of syndicate crime were enormous. Johnny Torrio taught Al Capone all he ever knew. Yet that hardly measures Torrio's impact on organized crime. He was nicknamed "the Brain," a sobriquet borne, significantly, by two other men—Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky.

Crime historians agree that this trio, often working in tandem and certainly conferring frequently, laid out the basic strategy for organizing crime in America. Lucky Luciano, similarly, is recognized as the "doer" who ultimately carried out the plan.

If there is any knock on Torrio it is that he failed to develop a doer to carry out his plans to the fullest. His protégé, Capone, did not organize crime in America and, in fact, never completed the chore of organizing Chicago although he was nearing that goal when he went to prison in the early 1930s. Experts agree Chicago was the toughest place of all to bring under organized control; by comparison Luciano, with strong assistance from Jewish mobsters, had a relative breeze in New York.

Even after Luciano and Lansky succeeded in genuinely organizing crime, they frequently sought out the advice of the then-retired Torrio. (By that time Rothstein had been murdered.)

Born in Italy in 1882 and brought to New York at the age of two, Torrio grew up in the ghetto of the Lower East Side. He was still in his teens when he rose to the positions of subchief in Paul Kelly's huge Five Points Gang, one of the city's two most powerful (the other being the Eastmans), and of head of his own subgang, the James Streeters.

Torrio managed in this period to avoid ever being arrested although his reputation as a tough young gangster grew. Known as Terrible Johnny, he took part in a number of gang battles and was adept with fists, boots and knives. As an opponent, he was regarded as cold, cruel and above all calculating.

He was extremely short but his natural meanness qualified him as a bouncer at Nigger Mike's on Pell Street, regarded as one of the roughest and wildest joints in Manhattan, where, incidentally, Irving Berlin got his start as a singing waiter.

By 1912 the Bowery was no longer a big-money center, and Torrio shifted his personal interests to a bar and brothel for seamen in an even tougher section near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Now and then he offered strong-arm employment to one of his James Street gang, a big, bullying teenage hoodlum named Al Capone.

Torrio felt the rewards of the whoring business were limited; he got into hijacking and narcotics. He expounded on how crime could be made into a big business. Those who listened to him, including Capone started calling him "the Brain."

As early as 1909 Torrio was trekking west to Chicago from time to time to do mob chores for his uncle by marriage, Big Jim Colosimo, the biggest whoremaster in that city. Around 1915, when Torrio was 33, Big Jim offered Torrio a full-time job with him.

Torrio turned over most of his Brooklyn racket operations to his partner, Frankie Yale. In Chicago Torrio took over running most of Big Jim's whore joints, everything from such landmarks as the House of All Nations to the low-cost joints on what was known as Bedbug Row. Under Torrio all of these places upped their revenues handsomely.

Late in 1919 Torrio brought Capone out to Chicago, after he was informed Capone was having some troubles concerning a couple of murders. Technically, Capone was to help out in the whorehouses, but actually Torrio wanted Capone as his link for Prohibition and the bootlegging that would follow, knowing the racket would be worth a mint. The only trouble was that Torrio couldn't interest Big Jim in the booze business.

He had made the mistake of making Colosimo so rich that he was lazy and couldn't see the need for more money. Torrio understood that Big Jim was a hindrance to his own ambitions and to the operation in general. He resolved that he had to go. By this time Capone was Torrio's number one aide, but he knew neither of them could assassinate Big Jim without coming under immediate suspicion. Frankie Yale came west to handle the job.

Once Colosimo was erased, Torrio simply moved in and took over the entire organization. Anybody objecting had to deal with Capone. However, Torrio didn't see himself merely as the head of Big Jim's old empire. He wanted to build a new kind of empire in Chicago, one that brought all the gangs under a single confederation.

Mug shot of Italian-American mobster Johnny Torrio, in the immediate aftermath of his 1936 arrest for tax evasion.
Mug shot of Italian-American mobster Johnny Torrio,
in the immediate aftermath of his 1936 arrest for tax evasion.

Each gang would have its own area to milk without any competition. He called all the gangs together—the Italian gangs, many of whom were mafioso, the North Side Irish, the South Side Poles, etc. He promised them that they'd all make millions and, what was more important, actually live to enjoy their wealth. Torrio did not believe in the veiled threat; the alternative, he said softly, was war and he would win that. It was join the new syndicate setup or, sooner or later, die.

The various gang leaders were tough men who'd made it to the top because they could shove better than others, but most of them were persuaded, by Torrio's logic and perhaps as well by his threats. Some of the others, especially among the Irish gangs, said they would join up but didn't.

War soon raged, with the tough North Siders headed by the murderous and erratic Dion O'Banion. The Italian Genna gang joined but never stopped double-dealing, continuing to invade other territories with its lowerpriced rotgut. The wars that raged often were multisided and marked by double crosses, with henchmen bribed to kill their own leaders.

Several Genna men fell, but O'Banion remained a thorn. Then suddenly O'Banion sent word to Torrio that he wanted to quit the rackets and get out. If he could sell his Seiben Brewery for a half-million dollars, he would be through. Torrio jumped at the offer.

It was a cheap price to pay to have O'Banion go away. A week after the deal was finalized and O'Banion got his money, federal agents raided the brewery and confiscated everything. Torrio realized O'Banion had suckered him. He discovered O'Banion had been tipped off that the federal action was in the works and had cunningly let Torrio take the loss.

Torrio stormed about his office, brandishing a gun and screaming he'd have vengeance on the Irish mobster. It was an uncommon reaction from Torrio who seldom let his emotions show. Torrio made good on his threats. Frankie Yale, Colosimo's assassin, was sent for again. Yale and two hoods, Albert Anselmi and John Scalise, murdered O'Banion in the flower shop he ran.

Capone was overjoyed by O'Banion's murder, but Torrio knew it would only produce more gang conflict. O'Banion's gang, now bossed by Hymie Weiss, would fight and the longer it took Torrio to subdue them, the greater the chances other gangs would start revolting. As expected, Weiss and some of his boys tried to ambush Torrio as he was riding in his limousine.

The chauffeur and Torrio's dog were shot to death, but Johnny escaped with just two bullet holes in his gray fedora. Torrio had Capone and his gunners out looking for Hymie Weiss but Hymie Weiss stayed undercover. Then on January 24, 1925, Torrio was ambushed in front of his apartment building.

He was cut down with a shotgun blast and then a second gunman pumped four slugs into him. Hit in the chest, arm and stomach, Torrio hovered near death for a week and a half while Capone kept a troop of 30 hoods stationed around the hospital to ward off any further tries at him.

After Torrio recovered, he did a lot of thinking. His dream for a syndicate setup in Chicago was far from realized and any hope for a national syndicate was still far in the future. And there was an excellent chance he'd be killed. He'd survived five years at the top in Chicago gangland, no easy task. He was 43 years old and had $30 million. Torrio's pioneering was done. He told Capone: "It's all yours, Al. I've retired."

Torrio walked away from what was up until then the greatest setup ever established. It was he rather than Capone who had first said, "I own the police force." Now he was going to retire in Brooklyn after lazing around for a year or two in the Mediterranean sun.

The law and the press often expressed doubts that he really retired, but basically he did except for occasionally playing elder statesman. Luciano and the emerging national crime syndicate often sought his advice, as did Capone.

Torrio attended the underworld's landmark 1929 Atlantic City Conference, and it is known that his counsel was sought before the decision was voted to hit Dutch Schultz because of his dangerous plan to assassinate prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. It was said that several Murder, Inc., hits also required his approval. Torrio said it wasn't so at all, that he was a has-been who just wanted to die in bed.

In April 1957 Johnny Torrio sat down in a Brooklyn barbershop chair and suffered a heart attack. He lingered long enough to die in bed. He was 75.

Ironically, a few months later, Albert Anastasia was assassinated in a barber chair in Manhattan. Anastasia had been relaxing with his eyes closed when the assassins struck. Torrio, on the other hand, had not been an assassination victim and hadn't expected to be. But in the barber chair, he had been sitting Chicago-style—with his eyes wide open and the chair facing the door so that he could see who was coming. Johnny Torrio was the cautious one right to the very end.

Frank “Funzi” Tieri

Frank Funzi Tieri
Frank “Funzi” Tieri
Although dubbed by some segments of the press as the "new boss of bosses"—that mythical title many journalists and some law officials show a consuming interest for having filled—Frank "Funzi" Tieri was no such animal. But, in the era after the demise of Carlo Gambino in 1976, Tieri may well have been more equal than the others among the New York crime family godfathers.

Tieri was perceived by many mobsters as the nearest reincarnation of Lucky Luciano. Luciano's great power within the Mafia, or what he liked to refer to as the "outfit" or "combination," derived from his gifts as a "moneymaker."

Indeed when the Luciano-Lansky group made its move in the early 1930s to take over from the old Mustache Petes, the dreaded Albert Anastasia embraced Luciano in a bear hug and said, "You're gonna be on top if I have to kill everybody for you. With you there, that's the only way we can have any peace and make the real money." Meyer Lansky also had the Midas touch, and in later years so did Tieri.

Before Tieri came to power in 1972, the Luciano-Genovese crime family had fallen on hard times, relatively speaking, at least as far as the low-level soldiers were concerned. After Vito Genovese's imprisonment in 1950, operating control passed successively to a number of Genovese yes-men who seemed more concerned with their own financial wealth than that of the soldiers.

This situation, in fact, made the rubout of Tieri's predecessor, Tommy Eboli, highly popular with the soldiers; Eboli showed a suicidal disinclination to share much of his personal racket empire with the troops.

It is generally acknowledged that the death of Eboli was engineered by the Mafia's then leading godfather Carlo Gambino, in part over a dispute about mob millions and also to extend Gambino's influence over yet another crime family. Tieri was

Gambino's handpicked successor to the old Luciano throne. A close personal friend of Gambino's, Tieri proved a popular choice with the soldiers. Even federal agents had to admit Funzi Tieri was a good pick. One said, "He's a real class guy, a real moneymaker, one of the classiest gangsters in the New York City area."

An underworld source had a similar accolade for him: "He's an earner. He always was and he always will be. And he keeps the boys happy. Under him everybody earns. That's the key. You got to keep the boys happy or else they'll turn on you."

Tieri was born in 1904 in Castel Gandolfo, the small Italian village about 15 miles south of Rome that is best known as the papal summer residence. Tieri immigrated to the United States in 1911, and, aside from an armed robbery conviction in 1922, he was not successfully prosecuted again until his twilight years, despite running one of the most widespread crime family operations in the eastern United States.

Under him were such syndicate noteworthies as James Napoli (Jimmy Nap), Fat Tony Salerno, Philip "Cockeyed Ben" Lombardo, Nicholas "Cockeyed Nick" Ratteni, Gentleman John Masiello, Fat Larry Paladino, Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello and Vincent "the Chin" Gigante.

In addition to controlling most gambling and loan-sharking in New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey, Tieri oversaw operations in Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and California. For several years he covered himself in so many layers of distance from criminal activities that he seemed immune from prosecution.

Tieri ran his empire with none, or at least less, of the mindless violence that marks many crime-family operations. He showed his men how to milk loan shark victims and then ease up when needed. In one case a Tieri underling made a $4,000 loan to a businessman at 3 percent a week interest, so that the annual "juice" came to $6,240.

After three years the businessman was falling behind in his payments, and Tieri ordered: "Look, we've made thousands on him since he took the loan. Even if he dies tomorrow, we're way ahead." The victim was not to be killed but coddled, and, under an eased-up treatment, was taken for whatever more could be extracted from him.

Tieri issued a similar decree in the case of a victim described as a "degenerate gambler." He told his capos: "Go easy. The guy's a sickie and we've made a fortune off him. Give him an easy payment schedule. Whatever we get from him, even if it's ten bucks a week, will be gravy."

None of this indicated to his men that Tieri was a softie. He believed in violence in getting the average loan shark debtor to pay up and "not try to cheat us." He ordered many a broken leg and decreed any number of executions—especially against mob members caught skimming profits. The Mafia, more so than even prominent law-and-order types, is a firm believer in the death penalty.

When Pasquale "Paddy Mac" Maccriole, a mob loan shark, turned up as a corpse in the trunk of his own car in 1978, it was a foregone conclusion that Tieri had ordered the slaying. Then there was the disappearance of Eli Zeccardi, Tieri's reputed underboss. There was a story that an Irish gang had kidnapped him and demanded a $200,000 ransom, which was not paid.

After that Tieri claimed that the four or five Irishmen involved in the plot had been hit. But the word on the underworld grapevine was that Tieri had invented the kidnap tale and had Zeccardi executed for certain infractions. The Irish tale was thus just a cunning cover story; Tieri was always known for the treachery that his position required.

Tieri could however be most diplomatic in handling important mob murders. Eavesdropping investigations indicated that Tieri was the key figure in the Mafia's decision to eliminate Carmine Galante, who had designs on control of much of the mobs' criminal activities.

Tieri had emissaries sent around the country to seek approval for the hit from various crime bosses, including, allegedly, even the much-hated Joe Bonanno in Arizona. Tieri had abided with the general mob decision that Bonanno was poison and not to be dealt with, but he made an exception in this matter.

It was reported that Bonanno approved the murder of Galante, who was then head of the former Bonanno family. (Of course, if Bonanno was impressed by Tieri's interest in his views, he most certainly also understood that Tieri's interest in "peace" among the New York families also meant that Bonanno was not to try another comeback, for himself or for his son whom the elder Bonanno had once envisioned as his successor.)

Tieri lived in a modest two-family house in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, with his wife and two granddaughters whose mother had died in 1978. And each day he left his home for the house of his mistress, about a mile away. She was a former opera singer who met Tieri when she first arrived from Italy many years ago. Tieri's influence was enough to give her a start in opera. By the 1970s she no longer sang, but Tieri remained an ardent opera fan.

He often did the food shopping on the way to his mistress's home (from which he ran much of the mob's business) and liked to quibble with the local butcher or grocer about prices—liver prices were outrageous, flounder was up too much. Tieri was a multimillionaire but to his dying day never liked to be taken and never paid a food bill until checking the storeman's addition.

From 1922 to 1980, Tieri was arrested nine times but beat the charge every time. The score was, as the underworld said, nine-zip Funzi. Through the late 1970s Tieri flourished in his role as wisest of the godfathers, an excellent measure of his ability being the fact that many mobsters defected from other crime families to join his ranks.

In 1980, however, Tieri became the first man ever convicted under new federal statutes of heading an organized crime family. According to the government, he was "the boss of a family of La Cosa Nostra" and he was connected to a "pattern of racketeering" as well as the murder of three of his associates in the last three years.

In January 1981 Tieri came into federal court for sentencing in a wheelchair. With the aid of a lawyer and a nurse, he approached the bench and told the judge in a hoarse whisper, "I'm a very sick man, very sick." He unbuttoned his shirt to show Judge Thomas P. Griesa a scar from an operation. Among the ailments with which Tieri was afflicted were gallbladder problems and throat cancer. "I'm in your hands, judge."

The judge gave him 10 years. Tieri remained free on bail pending appeal of his conviction. He died two months later. In the sense of not serving any time, the final score was 10-zip Funzi.

Roger “Terrible” Touhy

Roger Terrible Touhy
Roger “Terrible” Touhy

It has been said by some observers of the syndicate crime scene in America that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover may have done the wise thing to pretend for decades that organized crime and the Mafia did not exist. The case of Roger "Terrible" Touhy demonstrated that the FBI did not fully comprehend the nature of such criminals and that the agency was used and abused by organized crime in framing Touhy.

The FBI may be said to have never understood poor Roger the Terrible. When they went after him in lieu of dozens of other more terrifying gangsters, they picked on a man whom the Chicago Crime Commission never had on its roster of public enemies, and, as a federal judge would later note in a major finding, had never even been associated in any way with a capital offense.

Yet amazingly, just as Touhy proved a thorn to the FBI, he was equally regarded as a true terror by Al Capone, who regarded Touhy as one of the stumbling blocks to his plans to organize all crime in Chicago.

Roger "Terrible" Touhy was pretty much a creation of sharp public relations, his own. As far as the entire underworld had it figured, the Terrible Touhys—Roger, the boss, and his five brothers—controlled all booze operations in the Chicago suburban area of Des Plaines and had their empire backed with such firepower that they were impregnable.

Press coverage indicated the Touhy Gang to be about the most vicious in the Midwest. Yet Touhy was a middle-class bootlegger, one who employed no more muscle than necessary to convince all the speakeasies and saloons in his area to handle Touhy beer and booze exclusively.

Indeed, firepower was less a reason for Touhy's success than his ability to handle the fix as well as any figure in the underworld. Not only was Touhy the master of the fix, but he knew how to supplement cash payoffs with fringe benefits that meant so much. He rewarded the local politicians and police brass with bottled beer brewed especially for them and often bearing their own personal labels.

Perhaps Touhy's reputation as a ferocious gangster was sealed by his looks—kinky-haired, beady-eyed, with a hawklike face, clearly a man to be feared. And Touhy knew how to act the part, forcing even Al Capone to back down to him.

Touhy had once sold the Capone boys 800 barrels of his superior beer for $37.50 a barrel (his cost of production was $5.50 at most), and Capone then tried to short Touhy with $1,900 in the payoff, claiming that some of the barrels had leaks. (Capone always pressured people that way.) Touhy came back with his regular routine. He assumed his famed hard stare, and said softly, "Don't chisel me, Al." Capone paid the $1,900.

Roger and his five brothers had not started out as criminals. They grew up in respectable circumstances, the sons of a policeman. In the early 1920s, the Touhys went into the trucking business, "strictly legit," at least by Touhys word. Business, however, did not boom until they started filling the trucks with beer. The Terrible Touhys raked in a fortune.

Roger Touhy took control of the Des Plaines area in the northwest section of Cook County. In those days a bootlegger was hardly an unpopular figure, and Touhy found ways to increase the esteem in which he was held. He kept out lowlife criminals and especially clamped down on brothels.

Whenever a group of mobsters tried to open a roadside whorehouse, Touhy would relieve the local police of the need to take action. He sent in his own enforcers to wreck the joint. Even when Capone personally noted that Des Plaines was, as he charmingly put it, "virgin territory for whorehouses," Touhy's response was his hard-eyed stare, which convinced Capone to drop his plans.

Whenever rivals made noise about wanting to move in, Touhy would invite them to his headquarters for a visit, where they were greeted by what appeared to be an armed camp, the walls lined with submachine guns. What the visiting hoods didn't know was that the weapons had been made available by cooperative local cops just for a good show.

While the gangsters were conferring with Touhy, underlings would come rushing in for weapons, mumbling something about having a great chance to rub out some party. Touhy would nod his head slightly in assent and return to the dialogue as though the matter was of minor importance.

When Touhy's visitors left, they were fully convinced they would be the loser in any war with the Terrible Touhys. At various times such Capone gunners as Murray "the Camel" Humphreys and Frank Nitti were so shaken that they reported back that Capone would be facing a terrible bloodletting if he tried to move in.

Still the Capone gang tried to get Touhy—even after Big Al went to prison. Deciding violence was out, they resolved to use another method, helping the law get something on him. Suddenly Touhy found himself in big trouble with the FBI. It is unclear if the Chicago Outfit had anything to do with the first incident, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Touhy and several of his henchmen were arrested for the kidnapping of William Hamm Jr. The FBI announced it had a strong case against Touhy, but a jury thought differently, finding him not guilty. Later, the FBI switched the charge to the real culprits, the Barker-Karpis gang. By coincidence Alvin "Creepy" Karpis had long been close to the Capone Gang.

Next the FBI arrested Touhy for the alleged 1933 kidnapping of Jake "the Barber" Factor, an international confidence man with ties to the Capones. This was despite underworld grapevine information that indicated the abduction was a fake masterminded by Factor and the Capones.

Special agent Melvin Purvis announced that his arrest of Touhy in the Factor snatch was a landmark in the art of detection. "This case," he said, "holds a particular interest for me because it represents a triumph of deductive detective work. We assumed from the start, with no material evidence, that the Touhy gang was responsible for the crime."

Touhy's first trial ended in a hung jury. He was convicted the second time around and was sentenced to 99 years. Touhy went to prison screaming frameup while the Capones swarmed into Des Plaines.

In 1942, Touhy escaped from prison but was recaptured soon and saddled with an additional sentence of 199 years. Still, there were many persons, including several journalists, who considered him innocent of the Factor kidnapping, and took up the fight to clear him.

In the 1950s Touhy at last won a rehearing on his original conviction. After a searching inquiry lasting 36 days, Federal Judge John H. Barnes ruled that Factor had not been kidnapped at all but had disappeared "of his own connivance." Judge Barnes had plenty of criticism to hand out to several quarters, especially to the FBI, the Chicago police, the state's attorney and the Capone Gang. It took a few more years of legal jockeying before Touhy was released.

He collaborated on a book, The Stolen Years, about his ordeal. Just 23 days after Touhy won his freedom, he was gunned down as he was entering his sister's house in Chicago. As he lay dying, the former gangster muttered: "I've been expecting it. The bastards never forget."

The underworld had no doubts about who had knocked off Touhy—the word was the price on his head was $40,000—that it was the handiwork of longtime Capone mobster Murray "the Camel" Humphreys. Six months after the Touhy rubout, Humphreys bought 400 shares of First National Life Insurance Co. stock at $20 a share from John Factor, Touhy's old nemesis, and a man at the time eager to have an unsullied slate as he was attempting to operate in Las Vegas.

Eight months later, Humphreys sold the shares back to Factor for $125 a share, turning a profit of $42,000 in capital gains. The IRS looked at the transaction and related details and declared that the $42,000 was clearly payment for services rendered and that it was subject to full income taxes.

The Humphreys-Factor financial dealings were not the only noteworthy matter occurring after Touhy's death. Early in 1960, a few months after the murder, retired FBI man Purvis committed suicide.