Showing posts with label Phoenix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phoenix. Show all posts

04 November 2017

Evidence of some lingering hostility

Bioff's body lies in the wreckage
of his exploded pickup truck
(Arizona Republic)
On this date in 1955, a former Chicago Outfit member living under an assumed identity in Arizona was killed in a car-bombing. The fatal explosion was linked to an extortion racket exposed more than a decade earlier.

"Fat Willie" Bioff, a native of Chicago's West Side, relocated to southern California before World War II and became an aide to International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) union President George Browne. As he became a union official, Bioff already had a reputation for violence (Chicago police suspected him of involvement in the murder of Wisconsin gang boss Jack Zuta) and for close affiliation with members of the Capone organization. In California, he remained in close touch with the Outfit's West Coast rackets overseer Johnny Roselli.

In the early 1940s, federal authorities became aware of an ongoing Chicago Outfit scheme to extort vast sums from movie companies through control of motion picture industry unions, and Bioff emerged as a central player in that scheme, the main link between the IATSE union and Chicago organized crime. Word leaked from federal grand jury proceedings in New York City that studio executive Joseph Schenck was revealing the extortion scheme.

Bioff
Outfit leaders, trying to assess the damage of the Schenck testimony, quickly got in touch with Bioff through Roselli. Bioff's response to the news - "Now, we're all in trouble" - concerned his higher-ups in the mob. Outfit leaders feared that Bioff would make a deal with the federal prosecutor and reveal their connection to the racket. The underworld bosses wanted to kill Bioff in order to resolve the issue, but Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti talked them out of it. Nitti convinced them that Bioff was a "stand-up guy" and could be trusted to keep his mouth shut.

Bioff and Browne were convicted in November 1941 of extorting more than half a million dollars from movie studio bosses at Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and other companies during the 1930s. (Bioff later admitted that the total profit was more than a million dollars. The figure was subsequently inflated in the press to $2.5 million.) Bioff was sentenced to ten years in prison. Brown was sentenced to eight years. Each man was fined $20,000.

Browne
While in custody, Bioff betrayed his underworld colleagues and provided evidence to investigators. He confessed that he had arranged annual studio payments ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the studio, and revealed that the racket was directed by a group of crime figures. By cooperating, he earned a sentence commutation - he and Browne were released in 1944 - but he also incurred the wrath of the Chicago Outfit.

Bioff grand jury testimony in 1943 resulted in indictments against Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Frank "Frankie Diamond" Maritote, Johnny Roselli, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (DeLucia), Phil D'Andrea and Ralph Pierce of the Oufit, as well as IATSE business agent Louis Kaufman. Upon learning of the indictments on March 19, 1943, Nitti, friend and staunch defender of Bioff to that time, shot himself in front of witnesses.

The other Outfit mobsters were successfully prosecuted and sentenced on Dec. 31, 1943, to ten years in prison. Gioe, Campagna, Ricca and D'Andrea received early paroles in summer of 1947. Many expected immediate action against the Outfit traitor Bioff. But years passed without any related news.

In 1955, all the past unpleasantness seemed forgotten. Bioff and his wife Laurie were living under assumed names (Mr. and Mrs. William Nelson) in Phoenix, Arizona. There seemed little threat of underworld retribution for Bioff's betrayal. Involved Chicago mobsters had long ago served their prison terms and completed their probations. Most of them were no longer among the living.

Nitti shot himself in front of witnesses immediately upon learning of the extortion indictments. Charles Gioe and Frank Maritote were shot to death in August of 1954. (The FBI determined that their murders were due to Johnny Roselli's suspicions that they had cooperated with federal authorities.) Phil D'Andrea and Louis Campagna had died, reportedly of natural causes, in 1952 and 1955, respectively. (Ricca, Pierce and Roselli lived into the 1970s. Ricca and Pierce died of natural causes, in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Roselli was the victim of an apparent gangland execution in the summer of 1976.)


Evidence of some lingering hostility was seen on the morning of Nov. 4, 1955: Fifty-five-year-old Bioff climbed into his pickup truck inside his home garage. As he stepped on the starter, an explosion suddenly shook the neighborhood.

According to a press account, "The blast threw Bioff twenty-five feet and scattered wreckage over a radius of several hundred. It left only the twisted frame, the motor and the truck wheels. The garage door was blown out, the roof shattered and windows in the Bioff home and several neighboring houses were broken. Jagged chunks of metals tore holes in the wall of a home 100 feet away. The blast rattled windows a mile away."

Bioff's body, minus both legs and a right hand, were found 25 feet from the explosion.


A representative of the local sheriff's office told the press, "I don't know whether this was a professional gangster job or not, but it certainly was an effective one."

Phoenix police had noted a visit to the city of Outfit leader Anthony Accardo a short time before the murder of Bioff but could not meaningfully connect the visit to the bombing. No one was ever convicted for Bioff's murder.

See also:
Sources:
  • Lahey, Edwin A., "Willie Bioff, who sent Capone Mob to prison, should rest easier with Maritote's death," Des Moines IA Tribune, Aug. 24, 1954, p. 13.
  • Lee, Eddie, "Blast in Phoenix kills Willie Bioff," Arizona Daily Star, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Loughran, Robert T., "Underworld caught up with 'Fat Willie' Bioff," Sheboygan WI Press (United Press), Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • McLain, Gene, "Willie Bioff blown to bits! Bombed at Phoenix home," Arizona Republic, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Parker, Lowell, "Willie Bioff has reason to complain he'd been 'Peglerized,'" Arizona Republic, May 7, 1975, p. 6.
  • Wendt, Lloyd, "The men who prey on labor," Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1941, p. Graphic Section 2.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, July 22, 1964, NARA no. 124-10208-10406.
  • "Campagna, Gioe ordered freed in parole fight," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 5, 1948, p. 17.
  • "Blast in truck kills Willie Bioff, once Hollywood racket leader," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • "Revenge-bent gang killed Bioff, view," Sheboygan WI Press, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.

04 November 2016

Bad day for big shots

November 4


Evidence of lingering hostility: Bioff's garage, Nov. 4, 1955.
1928 - Underworld chief Arnold Rothstein was shot and mortally wounded in Manhattan's Park Central Hotel. A hotel employee discovered the collapsed Rothstein inside the Park Central's Fifty-Sixth Street service entrance. The renowned gambler / racketeer / narcotics importer was taken to Polyclinic Hospital, where surgeons attempted to repair damage to his lower abdomen caused by a .38-caliber bullet. Rothstein died two days later. The path of the bullet, determined at autopsy, indicated that Rothstein was seated at the time the fatal shot was fired by someone standing to his right. The slug penetrated his bladder and intestines and resulted in death-causing sepsis. Authorities believed that Rothstein cardgame losses, reaching into hundreds of thousands of dollars, were related to his murder. Rothstein also was said to have been planning a divorce and had recently been rewriting his will.

1955 - Willie Bioff became well known across the U.S. in the 1940s, as a Chicago Outfit scheme to control motion picture industry unions and extort vast sums from movie companies came to light. Bioff, a Chicago native who relocated to southern California, was a central figure in the scheme. Following Bioff's arrest, he betrayed his underworld colleagues and provided investigators with sufficient evidence to cause the apparent suicide of Outfit leader Frank Nitti (formerly a Bioff friend and defender) and the successful prosecutions of other Chicago bosses. A decade later, all the unpleasantness seemed forgotten. Bioff and his wife were living under assumed names (Mr. and Mrs. William Nelson) in Phoenix, Arizona, and Chicago bosses had served their prison and probation terms. Evidence of some lingering hostility was seen on the morning of Nov. 4, 1955: Bioff climbed into his pickup truck inside his home garage. As he stepped on the starter, an explosion suddenly shook the neighborhood. The New York Times wrote: "The blast threw Bioff twenty-five feet and scattered wreckage over a radius of several hundred. It left only the twisted frame, the motor and the truck wheels. The garage door was blown out, the roof shattered and windows in the Bioff home and several neighboring houses were broken. Jagged chunks of metals tore holes in the wall of a home 100 feet away. The blast rattled windows a mile away." Bioff's body, minus both legs and a right hand, were found 25 feet from the explosion.

1959 - Frank Abbatemarco, who ran a lucrative numbers racket for the Profaci Crime Family of Brooklyn, stopped in at a tavern run by friend Anthony Cardello. Near eight o'clock in the evening, Abbatemarco stepped outside of the tavern and was greeted by two gunmen, whose identities were masked by fedoras pulled down low on their heads and scarves covering their faces. Abbatemarco shouted, "No, no!" but the gunmen opened fire anyway. Wounded, Abbatemarco rushed back into the tavern. The gunmen pursued and methodically pumped bullets into the underworld big shot. They then turned casually and walked out. It became widely accepted that Abbatemarco was killed by his own underlings - members of the Gallo Gang - under orders from Profaci. In the wake of the murder, the Gallos, perhaps unsatisfied with the way Abbatemarco racket assets were divided, broke away from Profaci.

(Also on this date: In 1922, Francesco Puma, a member of the Stefano Magaddino-run Castellammarese criminal organization known as The Good Killers, was murdered during a walk around his East Twelfth Street, Manhattan, neighborhood. A number of shots were fired at and into Puma from behind. He drew a handgun and spun around, only to meet the knife-blade of a closer assassin. With a stab wound in his abdomen and gunshot wounds to his chest, stomach and right wrist, Puma fell to the sidewalk. He succumbed to his wounds later at Bellevue Hospital. Press accounts of his death revealed suspicion that Puma had been providing authorities with information about the U.S. Mafia.)