Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The St. Louis Family

Gambling and Drugs

Estes Kefauver, 1956 (CORBIS)
Estes Kefauver, 1956

St. Louis was one of 14 cities where Senator Estes Kefauver held hearings in the early 1950s. Gambling was the focus of the committee, and to expose organized crime in interstate commerce. Colonel William L. Holzhausen, chairman of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, was one of the first to testify and confirmed that organized gambling, facilitated by the race wire service, was the principal law-enforcement problem in the area.

Missouri Attorney General J. E. Taylor told the committee that efforts in 1938 to cut off the Pioneer News wire service were met by legal actions. A long struggle ensued to compel Southwestern Bell Telephone and Western Union Telegraph to discontinue service to the Pioneer News Company. When service was finally cut off, the company used illegal means to continue to supply race results to the local handbooks.

J. J. Carroll and John Mooney ran the largest bookmaking operation in the area. Operating out of East St. Louis, the operation was handling $20 million annually in bets. The enterprise functioned heavily in the "layoff bet business" and employed agents to work the various racetracks, betting "come back" money at the pari-mutuel machines. This last action would result in distorting the track odds with the sudden placing of heavy bets just minutes before post time. Carroll, who was the first committee witness to refuse to testify because of the television cameras, later continued his testimony in Washington D. C. at his own expense. Carroll, who saw himself as a respectable businessman and disdained the tag of gambler, glorified himself with the title of "Betting Commissioner."

One of the more unusual gambling operations discussed by the committee was run by C. J. Rich and Company. The enterprise, which grossed almost $5 million a year, used Western Union telegrams, money orders, and Western Union agents to conduct business. Telegrams placing bets would be sent to C. J. Rich in East St. Louis and the bets were then covered by Western Union money orders. Each day Western Union would accumulate the incoming money orders and issue a single check to C. J. Rich. Western Union agents were paid handsomely for their efforts and rewarded with expensive gifts. Western Union profited greatly from this arrangement. During May 1950 their billing to the C. J. Rich Company came to $26,700. With publicity from a June 1950 raid on the C. J. Rich Company, Western Union finally cancelled the account of the gambling enterprise. The committee surmised Western Union's reluctance to react prior to this was due in part to William Molasky, a well-known St. Louis gambler, being a major stockholder in the company.

The last item covered by the committee was the Pioneer News Service. Molasky was also a chief stockholder in this operation. The wire service, which once was owned by Moses Annenberg and James Ragen, effectively ended up in the hands of the Capone syndicate in the late 1940s, with muscle provided by East St. Louis gang boss Frank "Buster" Wortman.

In the mid-1940s, after what was seen as a lack of Italian leadership in St. Louis, the Kansas City mafia sent two representatives to oversee the rackets in the city, Thomas Buffa and Tony Lopiparo. Buffa, according to historian Fontane, actually arrived in St. Louis in 1922 and eventually took over leadership of the Pillow Gang after Fresina's murder. Buffa was murdered in 1946 in Lodi, California after testifying against the girlfriend of a Kansas City mobster.

Leadership of organized crime in St. Louis was sketchy at best during the late 1940s. Believed to be running the family were Lopiparo, Frank "Three Fingers" Coppola, and Ralph "Shorty Ralph" Caleca. Coppola had been involved in the drug trade in Detroit and New Orleans, as well as St. Louis, before being deported to Italy. During this period the St. Louis hoods developed closer ties to the Detroit family instead of Kansas City. Mob members from both Detroit and St. Louis were involved in narcotics trafficking. From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, three men shared prominent roles in the St. Louis underworld; Anthony G. Giordano, John J. Vitale, and James A. "Jimmy" Michaels.

Anthony Giordano was born June 2, 1914 in St. Louis. His police record began in 1938. His more than 50 arrests included charges of carrying concealed weapons, robbery, holdups, income tax evasion, and counterfeiting tax stamps. Giordano was groomed for his rise to the top by his predecessor, Anthony Lopiparo, along with Frank Coppola and Ralph Caleca. The latter two were one-time members of the Green Ones gang.

In 1950, Giordano served as a drug courier for the St. Louis mob. It is not known how many trips he made to Italy, but at least law enforcement officials observed three of them. Each time Giordano met with Frank Coppola, the deported ex-Green One who was competing with Lucky Luciano in the drug trade there. Giordano had been under the surveillance of famed Narcotics Bureau Agent Charles Siragusa. On the first two trips, Giordano and Detroit mobster Paul Cimino were unsuccessful in negotiating a heroin purchase. Cimino went back alone in the spring of 1951 and purchased 20 kilos of heroin, bringing it back in a steamer trunk with a false bottom.

To the surprise of both Coppola and the Detroit mob, the heroin had been diluted prior to the sale and Coppola needed to make good. Giordano returned to Coppola's farm in Anzio to pick up the shipment. Upon arriving, the Italian newspapers broke the story of a major international drug smuggling ring bust in San Diego. Spooked by the turn of events, Giordano returned home empty handed. Years later, Siragusa wrote that Giordano was under surveillance and had he tried to return with the heroin he would have been arrested and given a long prison term.

During his years on the rise, Giordano dressed the part of the big time gangster wearing wide-brimmed, pearl gray hats, expensive suits, coats, shoes, and rings. In the 1960s, he changed his wardrobe and took on the appearance of a blue-collar worker. During this time he and his wife lived in a conservative home in southwest St. Louis. Giordano could often be seen dressed in work clothes at one of the flats he owned in south St. Louis doing carpentry or plumbing chores.

In 1956, Giordano and two others were sentenced to four years in prison on income tax charges in connection with a vending machine business. In February 1968, he was arrested as a "suspected" gambler during a citywide crack down on gamblers.

Giordano had ties with the Metropolitan Towing Company, which had a contract with the police department to remove vehicles from crash sites and to tow stolen or illegally parked automobiles. On November 30, 1970 three members of the St. Teresa of Avila Church drove onto the lot in a van to retrieve a stolen church vehicle. Apparently the lot had a rule that allowed only two people to come in at one time. Giordano, who was in the office, ordered the van off the lot. Words were exchanged. When one of the men identified himself as a priest, Giordano grabbed him by the shirt and told him, "I'm Catholic too. You run your church and I'll run my business." He then threatened to blow their heads off with a sawed off shotgun. All of this took place in front of a uniformed police officer who ignored the incident. Warrants were soon issued for Giordano's arrest.

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