Monday, September 27, 2010

The Outfit’s downstate boss

BY J.P. RICH Off The Cuff/

Top St. Louis gangster Frank “Buster” Wortman hooked up with the Outfit while serving time in Leavenworth in the 1930s. From the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, he headed Outfit operations in downstate Illinois.

A report in his 2,500-plus-page FBI file dated January 31, 1958, notes:

“Wortman and Associates [are] alleged to have a wide financial interest in various organizations in the St. Louis/East St. Louis area. These organizations are involved in trucking operations, lounges and clubs, loan companies, auto dealerships, motels, cab companies, amusement companies and a race track. [They are] also alleged to have an interest in . . . a Las Vegas gambling establishment.

“The illegal activities operated by Wortman and Associates consist of casinos, policy and handbook operations.” ...

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Editor’s Note: While comments have been disabled for this story here, after reading the redirected story at “Gangland Chicago - A History of the Outfit” you still have the opportunity to comment on it at the Gangland Chicago Research Center.

Copyright © 2010, 2011 | J.P. Rich Off The Cuff. All rights reserved.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Chicago-style wings & ribs

BY J.P. RICH Off The Cuff/

Joey AiuppaNo, this post isn’t about some restaurant in Chicago with great Buffalo wings and baby back ribs.

It’s about a guy who went by Joey O’Brien, Joey Doves, the Old Man — a reference to the late Joseph J. Aiuppa (left), the Outfit’s top boss from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s.

He’s a man the FBI believes ordered scores of murders in numerous states from Illinois to California during his dozen or so years in the top spot. A man who had little respect for human life. A mean old bastard who looked like a mean old bastard.

The FBI was pretty much right on all counts.

On August 7, 1976, the hacked-up remains of has-been, legendary Los Angeles and Las Vegas gangster Johnny Rosselli were found stuffed into a sealed, 55-gallon steel drum floating in an inlet of water near North Miami Beach, Florida. He’d been missing for more than a week.

He’d been strangled to death. A gag was in his mouth, and a rope was still looped and knotted around his neck. His killer or killers also shot him in the chest. For killers, rigor mortis can be a bitch. Rosselli literally turned into a stiff before he was put in the barrel. In order to make him fit, his legs were cut off and put in the drum with him.

Johnny Rosselli had once been a made member of the Los Angeles Mafia family. But that was a long time ago. In early 1956, Los Angeles Mafia boss Jack Dragna died and Frank DeSimone, a man Rosselli didn’t like, became the boss. Rosselli told DeSimone straight out that he was going to leave the LA family and join the Outfit.

Rosselli met with his good friend, Sam Giancana — the Outfit’s newly-anointed top boss — and transferred his membership from the LA family to the Outfit. Giancana put Rosselli in charge of the Outfit’s secret interests in Las Vegas casinos.

Ten years later, in 1966, Giancana fled Chicago for Mexico after the FBI drove him bananas. Rosselli lost his prestige and slowly drifted down the ranks to just another Outfit guy.

Nine years later, in 1975, Giancana was murdered in the basement of his Oak Park, Illinois, home. Now Rosselli lost for good the one man in the Outfit he trusted.

A year later, his body was found in the barrel.

On the afternoon of August 20, 1976, two FBI agents pulled over across the street from 4 Yorkshire Drive in Oak Brook, Illinois. The homeowner was Joey Aiuppa, then the Outfit’s top boss and the man who ordered Rosselli’s murder.

The agents no doubt had their suspicions Aiuppa ordered the Rosselli hit, but they weren’t certain — not yet. FBI headquarters in Washington leaned more towards the CIA, Cubans, and pro-Castro and -Commie sympathizers committing an act of revenge rather than a Mafia hit.

The agents spotted Aiuppa moving a car in his driveway. Four men were busy repaving part of the driveway. The agents approached the driver’s side of the car just as Aiuppa was getting out. They said they wanted to ask him questions about the murder of Johnny Rosselli.

“I respect you gentleman,” Aiuppa said, “and I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but I won’t answer any questions.”

They told him they didn’t want to talk about him. They wanted to ask questions about Rosselli’s past association with the CIA and Mission Impossible-like plots in the early 1960s to kill Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. They wondered if he thought that played a role in Rosselli’s murder since Miami included the largest Cuban community in the U.S.

“The questions don’t matter,” he said, evenly. “I got nothing to say.”

The agents were nothing if not persistent.

Being who he was, one of them said, they’d like to ask him hundreds of questions, but were now only interested in whether or not he believed the CIA or Commies played a role in Rosselli’s murder.

“I have nothing to say about it.”

Trying to at least continue the conversation, one of the agents — Duncan Everett, a veteran organized-crime investigator — engaged Aiuppa in some friendly banter. It was the kind of conversation he knew Aiuppa would be interested in, and still the kind of conversation where he could let Aiuppa know he knew a lot about him.

“I understand you’re quite a bird hunter,” noted Everett.

“Yeah, they got me with about seven-hundred in my car.”

In October 1962, Aiuppa was caught in possession of hundreds of slaughtered mourning doves killed during a hunting trip in Kansas. They were seized from the trunk of his car shortly after he arrived back at his Elmhurst, Illinois, home. He was in violation of migratory game laws. This incident not only cost him a three-month jail sentence, it also earned him a nickname: “Joey Doves.”

“It was five-hundred-and-six over the limit of twenty-four,” Everett replied, matter-of-factly.

“Oh, you know about that,” Aiuppa said with a smirk.

Then Everett pointed to statues of pointer bird dogs at the entrance of the walkway to his home.

“You apparently like bird dogs.”

“Yes. I have two.”

“You should visit my home area, the sand hills of North Carolina. There’s plenty of quail there.”

Aiuppa said he knew the area.

“There’s no places around here you can bird hunt,” Aiuppa acknowledged, sadly.

“Don’t you have a quail hunting preserve down in St. Anne’s?” Everett asked, already knowing the answer.

“You know about that, too, huh?”

“If the circumstances were not what they are, I’d take you on my next skeet shoot. See how good a shot you are,” the agent said to the mob boss, who not only loved to hunt but was a reputed underworld gunman as a younger man.

“I’m pretty good, but you should take my wife. She’s a very good shot.”

Too much of a good thing is sometimes just that, too much of a good thing. The agents felt it was time to cut the interview.

“Mr. Aiuppa,” Everett said, “I want to leave you my card. It has my name and the FBI telephone number. If in your good conscience after we leave you feel there is something you should have told us, give me a call.”

“I’ll be glad to have your card, but I got nothing to say.”

The mob boss accepted the card. Then he was back to all smiles and ribs.

“You gentlemen are welcome any time. Come by any time at all.”

The agents politely thanked Aiuppa for talking to them. Then they turned around and began walking back to their car.

As the agents were crossing the street, Aiuppa called out, “Maybe I’ll see you in your home area.”

Everett turned back around.

“You know anything about Pinehurst?”

“Sure, I do,” he said, a big shit-eating grim still plastered across his face.

They continued to their car and drove away.

Aiuppa had more to say about the Rosselli murder days later when he met with Rosselli’s good friend, Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno, then an acting boss running the LA family. They were discussing mob business when all the sudden Aiuppa decided to feel Fratianno out about Rosselli.

Aiuppa started waving his index finger in a circle near his head like a guy trying to remember something.

“By the way,” Aiuppa said, looking Fratianno directly in the eyes, “do you remember that guy — what the fuck’s his name — you know, the guy they found in a barrel in Florida?”

“Oh yeah,” Fratianno said, knowing what Aiuppa was up to, “what’s his name. I know the guy.”

“You know, he got clipped down there. Used to be a friend of Sam. Don’t you remember his name?”

“Oh, you mean Johnny Rosselli.”

“Yeah, yeah. Johnny Rosselli. What do you think of that?”

Fratianno and Rosselli were best friends. Fratianno knew if he did or said the wrong thing, he’d be killed, too. He knew he had to act like it didn’t bother him that his friend ended up hacked to pieces in a barrel.

“Well, Joey,” he finally replied, “it’s one of them things, so he’s dead.”

Aiuppa definitely ordered the Rosselli killing. It wasn’t some vengeful Commie or a CIA hit job. A mean old bastard from Chicago was responsible for the body in the barrel.

The FBI eventually found out he was behind it, especially after Jimmy Fratianno flipped in 1977 following his indictment on capital murder charges back in his hometown of Cleveland.

“Joey Doves” Aiuppa — a mean old bastard who liked to kill birds and tease people.

Copyright © 2010, 2011 | J.P. Rich Off The Cuff. All rights reserved.

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