It's Not the Godfather, or Even the Sopranos...
Making Ends Meet as a Chicago Hit Man, the Gerry Scarpelli Story
by Richard C. Lindberg
Copyright © 2002
Summertime1980. On a lonely stretch of highway in rural Will County a syndicate "work car" swerved across the center line of traffic and weaved around a late model Lincoln, driving east-bound on the Manhattan-Monee Road away from downtown Joliet. Trailing the Lincoln was a cream-colored van driven by Gerald Hector Scarpelli., William "Butchie" Petrocelli, and a third man, allegedly Jerry Scalise—three members of the Joe Ferriola street crew headquartered in Cicero and the adjoining Western Suburbs.
It was a sticky early July afternoon, and marked for death was William "Billy" Dauber, a seasoned "wise guy" who had wreaked a virtual reign of terror over South Suburban "chop shop" operators. Billy Dauber was a close associate of the late Jimmy "the Bomber" Catuara when the ambitious Catuara muscled in on gambling and nightclub operations in the south end of Cook County. In between his jail terms, Dauber garnered a substantive piece of the chop shop and automobile salvage operations on behalf of Chicago Heights chieftain Albert Tocco, who ruled the South Suburban racket following Catuara's murder in 1978.
The grisly nature of the chop shop business in the late 1970s was underscored by 14 unsolved murders of individuals linked to this lucrative criminal enterprise. Several of these killings were linked to Dauber who suddenly found himself outside the mob's good graces, especially with "Butch" Petrocelli and Jerry Scalise. Scalise' thieving extended across the ocean to England, where he snatched the famed Marlborough Diamond from a British arcade.
Reportedly Dauber became a moving target. His objective was to force the other salvage yard owners In the South Suburbs to begin paying a street tax directly to the Outfit. Indeed, Dauber and his attractive, but loose-lipped wife Charlotte had much to fear from their one-time associates. Charlotte Dauber had been shooting her mouth off and was bitterly complaining that her husband's bosses did not properly appreciate his value to the mob as a feared enforcer.
For a two-month period James "Duke" Basile, a member of the crew assigned to tasks that generally did not require gunplay or excessive violence, staked out the Dauber domain and attended to "preparations." Basile, implicated in the attempted armed robbery of the Balmoral Race Track in suburban Crete, reputedly shied away from the "heavy work" that is the stock and trade of the Chicago mob.
He reported his findings to fellow travelers Scarpelli and Petrocelli on a daily basis at designated local restaurants. "Dukie doesn't have the balls to kill anybody," commented Scarpelli and thus the job was to be carried out by someone who did.
The hit was planned down to the last detail, but no decisive action could be taken until further information was cultivated concerning Dauber's movements; his dally agenda and routines. Besides displeasing his Outfit acquaintances it was Billy Dauber's other great misfortune that a secretary's carelessness left open to public view upon her desk sensitive documents that ended up costing him his life.
Gerry Scarpelli's partner, long-time friend, and confidante Jerry Scalise, advised him that he had spied a notation conspicuously placed on the typist's desk in the law firm that had agreed to Dauber. The memorandum revealed that Dauber was scheduled to appear with his attorney in the Will County Court that July afternoon. He was also facing federal gun and cocaine charges, and there was a strong possibility he might agree to become a Federal informant. The date and the time were duly noted. The plan for Dauber's demise was formalized.
On the day the double murder was to take place the hit team parked their van near the courthouse. They watched and waited until the judicial proceedings concluded and the Daubers appeared on the front steps of the courthouse accompanied by their legal counsel. The "wise guys" all sat together in the van and waited for the attorney to bid adieu to his doomed clients before anything was to be done. The lawyer accompanied the Daubers to a local doughnut shop. He was the last one to speak to the reckless, fast-living couple before they were violently dispatched to another world.
After a brief period of coffee and conversation, the lawyer drove off. Charlotte and Billy steered the Lincoln out of the parking lot to meet their fate. When the road seemed clear Frank Calabrese allegedly swung the "work car" directly in front of the path of the Dauber vehicle, at which point the van driven by Scalise pulled up along side the Lincoln.
Butch Petrocelli aimed a .30-caliber semi-automatic carbine out the window of the van and fired a volley directly at Dauber. Just in case Butch missed the mark, Gerry Scarpelli took aim with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Dauber, who was a cooperating witness for the government since his arrest on cocaine and gun charges the previous year, lost control of his car and crashed into a tree off the main highway. Petrocelli immediately ordered the van stopped in order for Scarpelli to inspect the wrecked car and apply the final touches of death if need be. "Go make sure it's donefinish it!" came the brutal directive.
Gerry Scarpelli, whose rap sheet Included 18 arrests since he came to the attention of the police in 1960, covered his face with a ski mask and walked slowly toward the bullet-pierced wreck. The Daubers were lying motionless in the car?their bodies riddled with gunshot. Scarpelli pumped two shots into Billy Dauber's head, but did not bother with Charlotte. She was already dead and beyond caring.
The van was driven into a clump of bushes down the road. Petrocelli hastily doused the vehicle with lighter fluid and set it on fire to destroy the physical evidence and any traces of fingerprints. The murder weapons were completely dismantled, chopped into small pieces and disposed of in the Cal Sag Canal from the Route 83 bridge. Nothing more was said of the grisly crime that had just been committed except for the usual massive media coverage. Neither Scarpelli nor his associates received any monies from the Outfit for their work. No payment. No vacation funds coming their way for a Las Vegas junket. .
"It was just business," a weary and slightly apoplectic Scarpelli later explained to the government.
The F.B.I. and local mob watchers had all kinds of theories about who killed the Daubers and why, but the Dauber hit remained officially unsolved until law enforcement agents pieced together a plausible case against Gerry Scarpelli, convincing him that It would be in his "best interests" if he cooperated with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The "Little Guy," as Scarpelli was known to his associates explained that much of the day to day to day life of a gangster is a myth perpetrated by Hollywood. Scarpelli got to talking and revealed to the Feds the inner workings of his sad and pathetic life.
To the uninformed, mob work is perceived as an upbeat, glamorous dream factory cloaked in a "Godfather" mystique connoting time-honored ancient Sicilian customs. The close-knit, highly stratified, well-disciplined organization based on oaths of blood loyalty evaded the likes of Gerald Hector Scarpelli and his life-long wise-guys pals. Gerry was a 51-year-old "wannabee" who was perceived differently by those who knew him as opposed to "Mafia" watchers in the media. According to Scarpelli's version of "the life," being a "wise guy" is dreary, time-consuming work with a lot of role playing and idling about.
Gerry Scarpelli was a product of Chicago's ethnic Italian-American Taylor Street neighborhood on the Near West Side. His dad ran a bakery at Kedzie and Flournoy Avenues. The son existed on the periphery of things and was a known game player with more than a few inside connections. These connections along with his other endeavors failed to provide him with a standard of living one might normally expect from a proficient and seasoned syndicate street man, assassin and armed robber who was particularly adept at knocking over Brink's armored trucks.
Unfortunately for Scarpelli, he had a tough time paying his monthly bills and was just scraping by trying to make ends meet. He desperately wanted to open an automobile salvage yard but his scheme was doomed to failure because of his criminal past. He knew he would never be able to obtain the proper license from the Secretary of State's office. An ex-con with a checkered past often finds the door of opportunity slammed shut on these kinds of ambitions.
Gerry Scarpelli invested $13,000 of his ill-gotten savings and opened a Woodridge boutique known as "Bangles & Beads." He chose as his partner, among all people, a Berwyn Police officer he knew and his ex-wife s sister.
The monthly revenues failed to equal the rental payments. The business failed after only a short period of time. Scarpelli was forced to live under the same roof as his girlfriend because he didn't own a home. His brother Daniel, owner of the Bulk Commodity Transport Company provided him with legitimate employment to get him back on his feet again.
It was a nice gesture, but in Scarpelli's own words he conceded that, "It's not much of a job." By now Gerry had now done the unthinkable and had agreed to become a government informant after displeasing his boss, Ernest Rocco Infelice, by disobeying a direct order not to participate in any more of his unauthorized and possibly troublesome bread and butter "scores."
Gerry Scarpelli had scaled the heights (however modestly) during the brief but violent reign of the late Joe "Nagall" Ferriola, head juice collector and gambling boss of the suburban crescent region.
The "crew" he belonged to included such seasoned mob members as Rocco Infelice, Don Angelini, Dominick Cortina. Salvatore Cautedella, Louis Pannos, Jimmy Inendino, Lou Marino, Bobby Salerno, Mike Sarno, Butchie Petrocelli (until he was tortured and murdered), Duke Basile, and Solly DeLaurentis among others. All these gentlemen were the primary focus in prominent federal trials in the 1990s.
The murder of Billy Dauber heightened Federal scrutiny of the Chicago Outfit and in particularly the activities of the Ferriola-lnfelice crew as it related to the chop shop racket and gambling operations. Concerned about an impending federal investigation into the Dauber murder and other previously unsolved "hits" including the 1977 murder of former Chicago Police commander Mark Thanasouras (who was on the pad to owners of taverns and gambling dens all the while he served in the Austin Police District), Gerry Scarpelli's henchman Joseph Jerome "Jerry" Scalise conveniently decamped for Europe in the company of convicted thief Arthur "the Genius" Rachel.
Scalise, who is known to wear an artificial arm to disguise a hand that is minus three fingers during "working hours," informed Scarpelli at the time that he had "a few good scores" lined up across the pond. And he wasn't kidding.
Scalise and Rachel journeyed to London, where, with skill and aplomb, they broke into Graff's Jewelry Store in the fashionable Knightsbridge section of that historic city armed with a revolver and a hand-grenade. The target of the robbery was the famed Marlborough Diamond. The gem was once the property of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and valued at a cool $960,000.
Five employees and two customers were requested to spread out on the floor, while the veteran Chicago jewel thieves removed 20 precious stones from the display cases. The total value of the stolen property exceeded $3.6 million. Store employees pursued the fleeing gunmen but they were lost in the heavy traffic of London. Detectives from Scotland Yard identified the getaway vehicle as being registered to a London car rental agency and they managed to trace Scalise's movements to Heathrow Airport where they had booked a return flight to Chicago aboard a British Airways jet.
Agents of the FBI were waiting at the gate at O'Hare Airport the next day. Scalise and Rachel were immediately taken into custody but the 45-carat Marlborough Diamond was not located among their possessions.
Gerry Scarpelli told his handlers that it was his understanding that Scalise had mailed the fabled diamond to his sister in New York before boarding his flight. It was later established that a London cabdriver had mailed a "small package" at the behest of the two thieves. The Chicago Outfit conducted its own "internal investigation" into the matter?Butch Petrocelli searched Scalise's residence in Hinsdale for the rock but he came up empty handed. The trail of the diamond was cold.
Art Rachel and Jerry Scalise were extradited back to London England where they were tried, convicted, and each sentenced to 15 years in prison both men served 10 years and kept their mouths shut The Marlborough Diamond, if it hasn't already been cut up and sold, has never been recovered. It is likely the gem has been sliced and diced and re-sold many times.
In January 1994, Scalise was arrested in the 1100 block of West Taylor Street along with Robert J. Pulli and Anthony Aleman, brother of the notorious Outfit assassin Harry "the Hook" Aleman (a nephew of Joe Ferriola) who was acquitted for the 1972 murder of Teamster union steward William P. Logan.
And one must wonder what Scalise, Pullia, and Anthony Aleman were really up to when they were picked up in Little Italy attired in their "working clothes" (dark pull-over sweaters and blue jeans). Burglary tools contained in a black bag were found in the trunk of their car, prompting the arresting officers to haul the three of them down to Intelligence headquarters at the Maxwell Street Station (now closed) for processing. Aleman was later released. Pullia and Scalise were charged with felony possession of burglary tools.
Gerry Scarpelli told the Feds much about the inner workings of the Outfit, and its thieving capers like the Marlborough Diamond heist. It is now known that the Chicago mob must rely on the abilities of its thieving associates like Scalise and Scarpelli in order to procure something as simple as an automatic weapon?an instrument of death the average 16-year-old West Side gangbanger seems to be able to locate with ease. Butch Petrocelli and Ernie "Butch" Severino (alleged South Side cocaine dealer, Butch Petrocelli's driver, and a lieutenant in the Ferriola crew), obtained weapons from various sources. Bell's Gun Shop in West Suburban Franklin Park was burglarized on at least one occasion and the guns were secreted in two North Side "safe houses."
Gerald Scarpelli's "equipment bag" contained the essential tools of his tradea radio scanner, walkie-talkie, handcuffs, Halloween facemasks, automatic pistols, revolvers, and a MAC 10 submachine gun provided by Butchie Petrocelli. The duffel bag containing many of these items were eventually recovered by law enforcement officers from a stolen Chevy warehoused inside Champion Liquidators on West LeMoyne Avenue.
Clandestine F.B.I. photographs and videotapes were taken of Scarpelli and Dukie Basile in Michigan City as they carried out a residential burglary. The Michigan City heist led to Scarpelli's arrest and was the catalyst for his eventual promise to cooperate with the Department of Justice. During the course of this particular burglary, Scarpelli was observed carrying the MAC-10 with him. The weapon was later tossed into the water at 33rd and California Avenue.
In recent years the various street crews have gotten away from the traditional money making venues in favor of penetration of legitimate business. Scarpelli revealed that loan sharking activities are way down from what they used to be. There are few active "juice" accounts, and no further "loans" can be given out without the express permission of the bosses. The activities of the Ferriola-lnfelice crew primarily involved the collection of delinquent "street taxes" from independent bookmakers, and contract murder to insure that tariffs were paid. Very often the identity of an intended "hit" victim was not known to Scarpelli?but that did not seem to trouble his conscience in the least because as he rationalized to himself, "it was just business...that's all."
Eight murders (possibly more) are attributed to Gerry Scarpelli. He admitted complicity to them shortly before he died while in custody. One of them involved the March 11, 1979 assassination of George Christofalos a.k.a "George Lardas," owner of the L & L Nightclub, an after-hours roadhouse located at Route 41 and Buckley Road in North Chicago. Christofalos was a Greek immigrant who had incurred the enmity of one John Anthony "Tony Bors" Borselllno, a ranking member of the Chicago organized crime family who had been "working on something in Lake County," and had "to move this guy out of the way," according to Scarpelli's recollections.
John Borsellino had done all of his own leg work. He knew that Christofalos would likely be leaving his strip club at 4:00 a.m. Scarpelli related the story that he and Scalise, the two trusted associates, drove the "work car" (a two-door Mercury coupe picked up in Chicago earlier that afternoon) to North Chicago where they waited in the parking lot for 40 minutes.
They watched and waited for Christofalos to emerge from the club. Oblivious to the present dangers of the moment the Greek nightclub owner walked slowly toward his Cadillac. Jerry Scalise inched the syndicate work car backwards in the parking lot toward the target. Gerry Scarpelli cradled his shotgun in nervous anticipation.
Scarpelli told the government that he and Borsellino got out of their car and approached the victim. Their faces were shielded by ski masks. At that moment two nightclub patrons exited the front door. Scarpelli whirled around and pointed the 12-gauge shotgun directly at them and advised them not to move. Borsellino, now able to complete the job without pedestrian interference, then fired two shotgun blasts through the driver's side window.
The Christofalos murder was a sanctioned "Outfit hit." meaning that the bosses (Joe Ferriola and James "Turk" Torello, now deceased) had authorized the "work" to be performed that night. Scarpelli stated that this was the first syndicate murder he was directly involved in, but neither he, Borsellino, nor Scalise received any money for the job, commenting that "it was just business..."
Less than two months later after the Christofalos murder, John Borsellino was found shot five times through the back of the head in a farmer's field near Frankfort, Illinois. Scarpelli was strongly suspected.
The crew seemed to have engaged in a lot of "business" during their active days. The Michael Oliver hit was another Outfit masterpiece that stymied investigators until Scarpelli filled in the blanks.
Oliver, a long-time friend and associate of Bobby Salerno, operated a pornographic book store in Elk Grove Village that was in direct competition with another such establishment owned by one Vito Caliendo who enjoyed close ties to Butch Petrocelli. According to Scarpelli he accompanied Salerno, Salvatore Cautedella, Scalise, and Mike Sarno when they entered the store one night with the intention of "wrecking the joint" and thereby imposing an economic hardship that would prevent him from transacting business. Scarpelli later claimed that neither he nor his associates intended to whack Oliver but someone...he wasn't sure just who it was...had a gun.
Armed with baseball bats; their faces concealed by ski masks, the crew entered the store and began pulling down the racks of magazines and paperbacks. The two or three patrons who lingered inside the building were locked inside a video booth for "safe keeping." Meanwhile, the merchandise was piled into the crew's van when suddenly a gunshot rang out from inside the store. Mike Oliver was shot in the chest and died instantly. Who shot Oliver? No-one stepped forward to claim responsibility. Meanwhile, they loaded Oliver into the van.
Borrowing a page from a similar episode graphically depicted in the motion picture Good Fellas, the 1990 Martin Scorcese-directed Hollywood film, Scarpelli and his pals decided among themselves to go get something to eat and then talk over the unexpected developments while the corpse moldered in the rear of their vehicle.
Scarpelli said that Jerry Scalise suggested that a grave be dug in a wooded field located near the intersection of Route 83 and Bluff Road in DuPage County not far from the Scalise residence. Scarpelli and Salerno went forth and dug a shallow grave and the remains of Oliver with a cache of pornographic material from the store were covered over with dirt. The grave remained undisturbed until the FBI Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) dug far and wide and discovered the remains much later.
Rocky Infelice was not pleased with what had transpired at the Elk Grove Village book store, when told. Scarpelli feebly explained that a patron who had been lurking inside the store killed Mike Oliver and the identity of that person was not known. "Whose idea was it to wreck the store?" Infelice demanded.
Scarpelli. his voice lowering, replied that it was Butch Petrocelli. Infelice shook his head and said nothing. Later, Petrocelli sent an associate back to the bookstore to ignite an explosive charge and obliterate what was left of the building. And as usual, Scarpelli received no fee or honorarium for his services. "It was just business...all in a day's work."
Infelice's growing displeasure with Scarpelli over his refusal to abide by an edict to lay low and "not steal," convinced the work-a-day-thief to cooperate with the government investigators. Wire tapped conversations between informant Dukie Basile and Scarpelli in which the ways and means of syndicate assassination were discussed helped "turn" Gerald Hector Scarpellithe not-so-wise guy who was unable to siphon a decent income from his outfit endeavors in order to live the good life.
With a record of 18 arrests and three prison terms staring him in the face, Scarpelli hoped to cut a favorable deal before Federal Judge Milton Shadur whereby he would be released in return for his continuing cooperation with the federal prosecutorial effort.
Just two days before Judge Shadur was to rule on a defense motion to suppress all evidence relating to the robbery indictments including videotaped statements to federal agents, Scarpelli asphyxiated himself in the changing area adjacent to a shower stall at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on South Clark Street.
He had been awaiting trial for 9 ½ months. Now he was dead, and apparently by his own hand. His fast exit from the world formally ended "business."
Another inmate waiting patiently outside the shower room for Scarpelli to finish his bath complained that Scarpelli was taking too long to cleanse himself. The guard banged on the door and still there was no response. When the door was opened they found the lifeless body with three plastic bags wrapped around his head and two bed sheets secured to the neck and ankles. Why he did himself in is purely speculative.
"He was a proud man who came from a good family and didn't want to tarnish his family's reputation," alibied attorney Jeffrey Steinback. Gerald Scarpelli's ignominious suicide at the MCC was a perfect reflection of the dreary aspects of his entire career in organized crime. Scarpelli offers convincing proof that the life of a gangster is not always one for the movies.
Since Scarpelli's untimely passing, things have generally been very quiet around Chicago. The deadly volume of contract murder that typified the 1970s and 1980s ceased in the 1990s for the most part, with the notable of exception of Ronald Jarrett, the master burglar, fence, and associate of the 26th Street Crew who was shot outside his Bridgeport home on December 23, 1999 while leaving for the funeral of another mob pal. He expired a month later. Between 1994 and 1999, the guns had gone silent. Five years of peace with no new names to add to the Chicago Crime Commission's roster compilation of unsolved gangland homicides in the Windy City. That had not happened since before 1919.
Death, prison, and attrition whittled down the ranks of the city's most violent hit men, including Butch Petrocelli, who was found in the backseat of his car in Hillside on March 14, 1981. His throat was slashed and surgical tape had been applied to his mouth.
Much of the Chicago Heights crew, which Scarpelli and Scalise owed allegiance to, are either in jail or out of commission. The word on the street is that Chinatown, 26th Street, and the Cicero crews have coalesced under a new boss—John "Apes" Monteleone. The Grand Avenue crew, which John "No Nose" DiFronzo commanded until prison caught up with him, may be slowly coming apart, though some are of the opinion that DiFronzo is really in charge.
There is continuing speculation over the identity of the new "boss." Some politicians and pundits have gone so far as to suggest that the Outfit is passé. "What mob?" they naively ask. They might find them lurking about the labor union locals, the construction industry, restaurants, casinos, wherever there is a chance of ill-gotten gains. The new Outfit is smarter, leaner, and less visible. That makes them doubly dangerous.