Over the past two months, as the “Family Secrets” mob trial has unfolded in a federal courtroom downtown, the shroud was partly lifted on events involving two of the most infamous murders in Oak Park history-the June, 1986 executions of Oak Parkers Anthony and Michael Spilotro.
The killings have been fodder for countless news articles, at least three books, and a popular mob movie, Casino. But the exact circumstances of the demise of the two Oak Park residents remained obscured until recent testimony in the federal trial.
The facts had been hinted at before, by people on both sides of the Spilotros’ world. According to William F. Roemer, Jr., a retired FBI agent who had numerous contacts with him, Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro ignored numerous suggestions, then outright warnings from mob elders in Chicago. In his newly released book, former Spilotro lieutenant Frank Cullotta says pretty much the same.
“Tony’s caused the Outfit a lot of problems, and he’d stopped generating money. Michael is cocky and has caused problems, too,” he recalls saying after hearing of their disappearance. “They aren’t needed anymore. If you whack one, you gotta whack them both. I guarantee you they’re both dead.”
Anthony Spilotro reportedly entered mob life in his early 20s, under the tutelage of reputed outfit torture killer “Mad Sam” DeStefano, and went on to work with feared hit man Felix Alderisio. Spilotro was a suspect with DeStefano in the infamous 1962 “M&M murders” of two burglars in Elmwood Park, a fact Cullotta confirms in his book, as well as the grisly 1960 torture execution of William “Action” Jackson, as well as a suspect in over 20 other killings as he climbed the mob hierarchy.
By the mid-1970s, Spilotro was the outfit’s top man in Las Vegas. But he slowly eroded the good will of his mob superiors by repeatedly violating rules and running his own gang, the “Hole in the Wall Gang,” led by Cullotta, which burglarized jewelry stores and robbed and beat gamblers.
Mob boss Joey “The Doves” Aiuppa was reportedly incensed that Spilotro was not-so-discreetly involved with the wife of mob associate Lefty Rosenthal.
Rosenthal was just one of numerous friends and associates to whom Spilotro had apparently been disloyal. Back in Chicago during Spilotro’s early days, Rosenthal, then a Florida bookie and oddsmaker, reportedly saved Spilotro’s life after West Side mob boss Fiore “Fifi” Buccieri began strangling Spilotro after he mouthed off to him.
“I talked Buccieri out of it,” Rosenthal told the online gambling magazine Cardozaplayer.com.
Rosenthal was also instrumental in helping Spilotro get set up in Vegas. But that didn’t stop Spilotro from betraying him and even planning to have him killed. Asked by Cardozaplayer.com how he felt about the news of Spilotro’s death, Rosenthal reportedly said diplomatically, “I’m glad I wasn’t asked to be one of his pallbearers.”
Cullotta wrote that he began to fear that Spilotro had turned against him when he couldn’t get him to cover his bail expenses, despite Cullotta having forwarded many hundreds of thousands of dollars in “street tax” to Spilotro.
Roemer wrote that Spilotro’s mismanagement of his affairs and lack of support for his subordinates led to several of his people turning federal government witness, with eventual disastrous consequences for him.
“Unfortunately for Tony Spilotro, he managed to invoke the ire of his superiors when five of his underlings chose to become government witnesses. Three testified against Aiuppa, Cerone and other ne’er-do-wells named in the government’s Pendorf and Strawman indictments,” wrote Roemer.
After entering the federal witness protection program, Cullotta himself helped pound a nail in his former boss’ coffin when he testified during the Las Vegas federal court trial of Spilotro and eight other mobsters in February, 1986 that Spilotro had been getting a cut of all burglaries and robberies in Las Vegas.
“He told me in 1978 when I first arrived in Las Vegas that no one was to know that he was getting a cut because he didn’t want any problems with the people back in Chicago,” Cullotta testified. Indeed, in the wake of his murder, investigators learned that Spilotro had been buying up “extensive” properties in Las Vegas.
On April 8, 1986 a mistrial was called in the racketeering trial. Spilotro was photographed smiling as he left the courthouse, but he still faced three separate indictments.
On April 25, both Spilotro brothers were indicted by a Chicago federal grand jury on multiple counts that included attempted extortion and racketeering. On top of it all, Tony Spilotro was scheduled to go on trial again in Las Vegas in late June.
His attorney, Oscar Goodman, now the mayor of Las Vegas, said recently he is confident he could have gotten Spilotro off on all charges. However the Chicago Outfit, which knows a thing or two about computing odds, wasn’t willing to bet that The Ant was lucky enough, or Goodman talented enough, to win four consecutive criminal trials.
Aiuppa, who headed to prison in the spring of 1986, due largely to testimony from Spilotro’s people, evidently had seen and heard enough.
“I don’t care how you do it. Get him. I want him out,” Aiuppa reportedly ordered.
A hit team that included Nick Calabrese-now a top government informant currently testifying against his mob colleagues-was sent out to Vegas to kill Tony Spilotro using explosives and automatic weapons. After that plan was aborted, a scheme was hatched to lure the brothers to a meeting in a Bensenville house with the promise of a mob promotion for Tony and having Michael become a “made” member of the Outfit.
As they drove away from Tony’s south Oak Park townhouse around 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 in Michael’s Lincoln Continental, the brothers may have realized they’d run afoul of mob superiors.
According to an FBI document, Michael Spilotro told another person that if he didn’t come back from the Bensonville meeting, “It was no good.” His wife, Ann confirmed that in court last week, saying, “He said if he wasn’t back by 9 o’clock, it was no good.”
Michael Spilotro’s daughter, Michelle, told the court her father told her he loved her “at least 10 times before leaving June 14.” Both men reportedly removed all of their valuables and personal identification before leaving the house.
Sure enough, instead of promotions, Calabrese testified, he and around 10 other outfit killers, including James LaPietra, John Fecarotta, John DiFronzo, Sam Carlisi, Louie “The Mooch” Eboli, James Marcello, Louis Marino, Joseph Ferriola, and Ernest “Rocky” Infelice were waiting as the two brothers entered the basement.
Unlike in the movie Casino, in which Anthony Spilotro, played by Joe Pesci, is beaten with a baseball bat, there was no forensic evidence that the men had been buried alive, or beaten with bats.
Calabrese said he tackled Michael Spilotro and held his legs while another mobster strangled him with a rope. He said he heard Tony Spilotro ask his executioners, “Can I say a prayer?” There was no reply.
The brothers’ corpses were driven to a cornfield on the outskirts of Enos, Ind. by Fecarotta and others for burial. On June 23, their grave was found by a farmer. Investigators found the viciously beaten bodies-bruised from head to ankle-under five feet of earth.
Forensic pathologist Dr. John Pless testified last month that autopsies of the Spilotros, in which he took part, determined that multiple blunt trauma injuries to the head, neck and chest-most likely the result of punches and kicks, not bats-caused the brothers’ deaths. The Spilotros, Pless added, died partly as a result of their lungs and airways being so full of blood, they couldn’t breathe.
The day after the bodies were found, the Chicago Archdiocese ruled that the Spilotros could not be given a Catholic funeral at St. Bernardine in Forest Park because of their links to organized crime. Following a private service in a cemetery chapel at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, June 27, they were buried in the family plot.
The day before the burial, three of the Spilotros’ alleged killers, Ferriola, Infelice and Marino, attended their wake at Salerno’s Galewood Chapels on North Harlem Avenue.