Chicago Tribune December 3, 1989
Copyright 1989 Chicago Tribune Company
December 3, 1989, Sunday, CITY EDITION
CHICAGOLAND; Pg. 1;
Hit man's job
By Ronald Koziol
The convicted cocaine dealer, sitting in his Cook County Jail cell on a
hot July day, might have thought he was hearing dialogue from a TV soap
Next to him, bemoaning the low pay he earned as a fledgling hit man, was
Ronald Tellez, a former Blue Island police officer awaiting trial for
murder. Tellez had been paid $1,000 to kill a local businessman and
thought he deserved more.
If only he worked for the Mafia, Tellez speculated, he could make
$25,000 to $50,000 for each hit.
But the drug dealer, who described the conversation at Tellez's trial,
says he almost laughed out loud at the "hit man." Even the dealer knew
that organized crime bosses rarely paid for a killing. It was just part
of the job.
"Plus, the mob would never use an outsider like Tellez," said Assistant
Cook County State's Attorney Pat Quinn, whose prosecution of the police
officer led to a guilty verdict Nov. 16.
But such misconceptions, in particular that hit men are highly paid,
might be understandable in a small-town policeman.
Even FBI agents hesitate to draw a profile of such killers, if only
because the "good" ones rarely get caught.
The experts do, however, point out that real hit men seldom, if ever,
exude the glamor of those portrayed in such movies as "Prizzi's Honor"
and scores of television shows. Often, in fact, the hit men are no more
than burglars or other small-time criminals who agree to kill in payment
for being allowed to operate.
And in doing so, they increase their own risk of becoming a hit man's
target. Now they, too, may know too much for their own good.
"As far as we know, someone being paid big money of $150,000 or $200,000
for a hit is a myth," said Robert Walsh, the FBI's top organized crime
expert in Chicago. "If a mob boss tells an underling to kill someone,
they do it."
Fifteen years ago, Chicago mob hit man Charles Crimaldi explained his
job this way: "I've broken arms, and I've broken legs, and I've watched
a man die with a knife in his throat. But most of them had it coming, so
what's the difference? I have no regrets."
But if there is a stereotype of a hit man today, it isn't known to the
police experts. The FBI's Behavior Science Lab in Quantico, Va., hasn't
done any studies on contract killers. It's a "pretty narrow field," a
Each year, several "hit man killings" go unsolved in the Chicago area,
often despite high-profile investigations and the unified efforts of
local and federal police agencies.
This autumn alone, a real estate developer and his wife were gunned down
in Munster, Ind., a labor leader was killed in a truck bombing outside
his Merrillville, Ind., home, and a Highland Park pizza supply owner was
shot to death. All three killings, authorities say, were by
And all three remain unsolved.
"There's no doubt that the Munster and Merrillville murders were
professional hits," says Daniel Thomas, coroner of Lake County, Ind.
That's not to say they necessarily involved organized crime. "They are
done for a purpose," Thomas explained, ". . . to kill someone."
Walsh, of the FBI, said there is no common denominator to describe a hit
man and pointed to the different characterstics of mob murders that have
occurred over the years in the Chicago area.
"The victims used to be killed and left in cars to be found," said
Walsh. "But they've also been shot in broad daylight like Alan Dorfman
in Lincolnwood, and they've been ambushed at night like Dominic Senese
(a Teamsters Union official) in Oak Brook."
Others have been taken for their last ride to Indiana and buried in
cornfields or dumped in highway drainage ditches. Newton County, just
south of Lake County and along the Illinois border, has become a
favorite dumping ground for hit men, who have dropped eight bodies there
So no two hit men are alike and, while they might adhere to certain
traditions, the patterns of their killings vary considerably.
Gerald Scarpelli, who admitted to taking part in three underworld
murders, is a classic example of a criminal who became a killer for the
mob, even though his career was actually that of a burglar, jewel thief
"The killings gave Scarpelli a license to operate, to do his stealing
without paying big street taxes to the mob bosses," said Jerry Gladden,
chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission and a veteran mob
watcher during his 31 years as a Chicago policeman.
"I got praise but nothing extra for the killings," Scarpelli, 51, told
FBI agents before he committed suicide on May 1 while in custody in the
federal Metropolitan Corrections Center.
Scarpelli and Robert Hardin, another mob hit
man-turned-government-witness, both admitted to being part of a five-man
death squad that chased and assassinated underworld figure William
Dauber and his wife, Charlotte, in 1980 in Will County.
Just a year earlier, Dauber had been linked to the murders of three of
his associates in the stolen-auto-and-chop-shop racket.
He had a reputation as a friendly hit man who would approach his victim,
put one arm around him in a gesture of friendship, then pull out a gun
with his other hand and shoot him.
But investigators say it was Dauber's prestige as a killer that prompted
the assembling of so many other murderers to do away with him.
A frightened Dauber - aware that he had become the hunted instead of the
hunter - built a secret hideaway in his Crete home. It had a reclining
chair, a police monitor, two guns and a bullet-resistant blanket.
Hardin, 44, who has been a key witness at the current extortion and
racketeering trail of Albert Tocco, reputed south suburban mob boss, has
told of taking part in nine gangland killings.
Hardin admitted that after he killed his first victim, "it got easier."
But like many of his predecessors, Hardin decided to become a government
informant before he went the way of several of his hit man colleagues.
Among the most feared hit men murdered in recent years were mobsters
Chuckie Nicoletti, Jimmy Catuara, Tony Spilotro and John
Like other professionals, hit men also make mistakes.
Former Chicago mob bookmaker Frank Rosenthal is still alive because a
bomb was placed under the wrong side of his car when it was parked in a
Las Vegas restaurant parking lot in 1982.
Teamsters official Senese survived a shotgun blast near his Oak Brook
home in January, 1988. No arrests have been made in the attempted
Jasper Campise and John Gattuso, the two who botched the murder of
mobster Ken Eto in 1983, paid for that mistake with their lives. Both
were repeatedly stabbed to death, then stuffed into the trunk of a small
Eto was preparing to testify against the pair in what would have been
one of only a handful of mob hit man trials in Cook County since the
Sometimes, a hit man has a flair for the dramatic.
Turncoat mobster Frank Cullotta described in detail to police how he
shot and killed a suspected informant in the man's Las Vegas home. He
and an accomplice then dragged the body to the victim's back yard and
threw it into the swimming pool.
"That," Cullotta told Las Vegas police, "was done for effect."
PHOTO: (Gerald) Scarpelli.
PHOTO: (Robert) Hardin.
PHOTO: (Tony) Spilotro.
PHOTO: (John) Gattuso.
PHOTO: (John) Fecarotta.