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Chicago Tribune December 3, 1989

Copyright 1989 Chicago Tribune Company  
Chicago Tribune

December 3, 1989, Sunday, CITY EDITION


LENGTH: 1202 words

HEADLINE: Hit man's job hardly glamorous

BYLINE: 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 opera.

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 spokesman noted.

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 professionals.

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 since 1980.

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 and robber.

"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 Fecarotta.

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 assassination.

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 car.

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 1920s.

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."

GRAPHIC: PHOTO: (Ronald) Tellez.
PHOTO: (Gerald) Scarpelli.
PHOTO: (Robert) Hardin.
PHOTO: (Tony) Spilotro.
PHOTO: (John) Gattuso.
PHOTO: (John) Fecarotta.

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