On this date in 1948...
|San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948.|
The FBI and Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies arrested Leonard Calamia, aged thirty-two, on a federal warrant. Acting on a tip received from San Francisco, authorities sought Calamia at his new place of employment, the driver's license department of the New Mexico State Revenue Bureau in Albuquerque, but he was not there. They found him next door in the State Highway Department building adjoining the offices of the New Mexico State Police. They learned that Calamia, under the assumed name of Len Tallone, had held two government jobs in the year and a half he lived in New Mexico.
Calamia admitted his identity and his criminal history - he was an ex-convict, former narcotics peddler and Chicago hoodlum. Police determined that Calamia returned to Chicago briefly after the DeJohn murder and then relocated to Albuquerque, adopting his wife's maiden name of Tallone as his own surname.
He was placed in the Bernalillo County sheriff's office lockup. Bail was set at $50,000. Calamia waived a removal hearing and was turned over to San Francisco police on December 29.
Calamia was one of five men indicted one month earlier for conspiring in the DeJohn murder. Two of his codefendants, Sicilian immigrants Sebastiano Nani and Michele Abati, were arrested in November. Two others, Frank Scappatura and Tony Lima, remained at large. (There were rumors that Lima was prepared to surrender to authorities at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but that did not occur. Scappatura and Lima were never arrested in connection with this case.)
According to prosecutors, Nick DeJohn, a former member of the Capone Outfit in Chicago, had been trying to take over underworld rackets in the San Francisco area and was killed by rivals. DeJohn's body was found stuffed into the trunk of his Chrysler Town & Country convertible on May 9, 1947. Evidence indicated he had been strangled to death two days earlier.
Prosecutors believed that Calamia, known to be a close friend of DeJohn, was called upon to serve as the "finger man" in the murder, leading DeJohn to his killers. Calamia reportedly spent much of May 7, 1947, with DeJohn. The Calamia and DeJohn families had dinner together at the Calamia residence. Leonard Calamia and Nick DeJohn went out for drinks to the Poodle Dog restaurant and bar at 1125 Polk Street and then to LaRocca's Corner at 957 Columbus Avenue in the North Beach section. They parted at LaRocca's Corner. DeJohn was last seen alive as he was walking from the tavern.
Reports, later disputed, claimed that at the time of DeJohn's murder, Calamia was home having coffee and cake with DeJohn's son.
Calamia had been arrested almost immediately after the discovery of DeJohn's body. But he had been released May 31, 1947, due to insufficient evidence.
Authorities insisted for some time that the DeJohn murder was essentially solved. They claimed to know where DeJohn was killed, why he was killed and who was responsible. But assembling a convincing case proved to be a problem.
Prosecutors thought they had a winning case when Calamia, Nani and Abati were brought to trial. But they found that some of their important witnesses were unreliable and could not withstand cross examination.
As jury deliberations started in early March 1949, the district attorney admitted that he did not believe the testimony of some of his own witnesses. Judge Preston Devine denounced witnesses from both sides for giving obviously false testimony.
After thirty hours of deliberations, the jury stood deadlocked and Judge Devine declared a mistrial.
The most inconsistent prosecution witness also was the key witness in the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the original indictments.
Mrs. Anita Rocchia Venza claimed that she had overheard the five men plotting to kill DeJohn. She was in a basement apartment near La Rocca's Corner at the time and heard the conversation from an adjoining room. She claimed that the plotters learned of her presence and offered her $500 to forget what she heard and leave the state.
When her statements were determined to be unreliable, the original indictments were quashed, any chance of a retrial was lost and the fugitive warrants against the two at-large defendants, Scappatura and Lima, were voided.
The murder of Nick DeJohn remained officially unsolved.
- Hunt, Thomas, "Was DeJohn a victim of Cheese War?" Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, October 2021.
- Valin, Edmond, "Former San Francisco boss supplied info to federal agents," Rat Trap, mafiahistory.us.
- "Calamia arraigned here with two other suspects in De John slaying," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 1, 1949, p. 5.
- "Calamia ask high court for freedom," San Mateo Times, Jan. 20, 1949, p. 1.
- "Calamia faces further quiz," San Francisco Examiner, June 1, 1947, p. 3.
- "Calamia loses plea," San Mateo Times, Jan. 21, 1949, p. 5.
- "Calamia silent in S.F. prison," San Mateo Times, Dec. 31, 1948, p. 4.
- "DeJohn case jury dismissed; stood 7 to 5 for acquittal," San Francisco Examiner, March 9, 1949, p. 1.
- "Delay asked in trial of Nani," San Mateo Times, Dec. 28, 1948, p. 5.
- "Delay granted in DeJohn trial," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1948, p. 17.
- "FBI nabs Calamia, accused as 'finger man' in DeJohn case," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 24, 1948, p. 1.
- "Five indicted for De John murder; woman testifies that she overheard plot," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 30, 1948, p. 1.
- "Hunt pushed for trio in DeJohn case," San Mateo Times, Dec. 1, 1948.
- "New evidence in Nick DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 2, 1949, p. 1.
- "Police hunt 4 suspects in De John case," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 24, 1948, p. 1.
- "Police move to wind up De John case as 'solved,'" Oakland Tribune, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 7.
- "S.M. man held brains of Nick DeJohn murder," San Mateo Times, Nov. 22, 1948, p. 1.
- "State to use Calamia story to police at gangland trial," San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 7, 1949, p. 17.
- "Third DeJohn fugitive caught," San Mateo Times, Dec. 23, 1948, p. 1.
- "U.S. warrants issued for 2 in DeJohn hunt," San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 23, 1948, p. 1.
- "Warrants voided in DeJohn case," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, April 20, 1949, p. 5.
- Pearce, Dick, "Calamia dislosures key to De John trial," San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 29, 1949, p. 1.