The slayings of reputed mobster Anthony (The Ant) Spilotro and his brother do not fit the pattern of typical gangland murders, but they do resemble the brutal methods used by Spilotro against his enemies, federal officials said Tuesday.
Investigators also believe the killers botched the job because the grave site they selected in an Indiana cornfield was easily spotted by a farmer spreading herbicide.
The burial site was near Morocco, Ind., about 60 miles southeast of Chicago and about five miles from a farm once owned by Chicago crime boss Joseph Aiuppa, who was one of Spilotro’s superiors.
FBI agents say they have no significant clues or suspects in the slayings and only theories as to why Spilotro, a syndicate enforcer who oversaw the Chicago mob’s interest in California and Las Vegas, was killed. They also are puzzled that Spilotro, 48, and his brother, Michael, 41, were stripped down to their undershorts and beaten to death before they were buried together in a 5 1/2-foot-deep grave.
Authorities say most mob killings involve the use of small-caliber handguns fired at close range and no attempt is made to conceal the bodies. Indeed, many gangland murders are intended to deliver warnings to competing mob families or individuals.
“They (killers) must have carried a tremendous grudge,” said William Roemer, a former FBI agent who now serves as a consultant to the Chicago Crime Commission. “Usually it’s one hole, two holes, three holes, point-blank, in the back of the head, probably with a .22 (caliber handgun). It’s quick and the guy doesn’t suffer. These guys were beaten. Tortured.”
Chicago FBI Agent Robert Long said investigators do not know if there was any significance to the fact that the killers picked a cornfield near Aiuppa’s home to bury their victims.
Three of Spilotro’s associates testified last January in the Kansas City, Mo., trial that sent Aiuppa and four other Chicago crime bosses to prison for skimming profits from Las Vegas casinos. Aiuppa, 78, head of the Chicago Mafia, and his No. 2 man, John Cerone, 71, were each sentenced to 28 1/2 years in prison for their part in the conspiracy.
Motive for Killing
“It may not have been his fault, but he’s (Spilotro) the boss and you have to be responsible,” said Roemer. “Those guys under Tony Spilotro’s control became government witnesses against Aiuppa, Cerone and the others.”
Gary S. Shapiro, a prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Chicago, was skeptical that Spilotro was killed solely because of the testimony in the Kansas City trial.
“I do know that Spilotro’s men were only minor players in the trial,” Shapiro said.
Some federal sources pointed out that Spilotro had been an irritant to his Chicago superiors for many years because he kept a high profile in Las Vegas.
“He was in trouble from the time he landed in Vegas in 1971 to the day they buried him,” said Lt. B.J. Handlon, chief investigator for the Clark County, Nev., district attorney’s office. “He was bringing too much heat on the big-time people. They don’t like newspaper publicity.”
Roemer and Long said Spilotro may have been in a power struggle over day-to-day control of the mob since Aiuppa was sent to prison.
“There was a lot of shaking up going on” within the Chicago mob, Long said. “They lost some of their top people.”
Spilotro was implicated in numerous ".22-caliber killings” during the 15 years he served as the Chicago mob’s man on the West Coast. He was charged with murder only three times and his only conviction was for using false information on a loan application, for which he was fined $1.
Nevertheless, he was regarded by his associates, enemies and federal authorities as a particularly ruthless man. He was acquitted in 1983 of the torture killings 20 years earlier of two syndicate hoods who were found beaten and slashed in the trunk of a car.
A Chicago judge dismissed the murder charges because he questioned the credibility of the prosecution’s main witness, Frank Cullotta, who was an admitted hit man and associate of Spilotro.
Some law enforcement officials believe Spilotro may be replaced by 59-year-old Donald Angelini. A Senate committee in 1983 heard testimony identifying Angelini as a “soldier” who was responsible for gambling activities for the Chicago mob, Roemer said.
Angelini spent three years in prison on a federal gambling conviction, according to Roemer.
“It seems like the logical choice,” said an investigator with the Chicago Police Department’s intelligence division who asked that his name be withheld. “He’s the Vegas type. Very classy guy. Good dresser.”
A farmer spreading herbicide in the remote cornfield near Morocco on Sunday discovered the grave containing Anthony and Michael Spilotro’s bodies. His curiosity became aroused because no corn was growing on the site, Long said.
Both Spilotros faced criminal charges and had been missing since June 14.
Las Vegas FBI Agent Tom Nicodemus said it is not likely that Anthony Spilotro was killed because someone feared he would become a government informant to avoid prosecution. “He’s gone through a number of these things (trials),” Nicodemus said, “and there’s no indication he was going to give somebody up.”
Spilotro faced a trial in Kansas City, Mo., in an alleged conspiracy to skim pretax profits from the Stardust and Fremont hotels in Las Vegas.
He also was the subject of a three-month, $1-million trial in Las Vegas for allegedly directing a burglary ring. The case ended in a mistrial, and a new trial was set to begin last Monday.
Michael Spilotro, of Oak Park, Ill., a bit actor and restaurant owner, was awaiting trial on extortion charges stemming from an FBI investigation of suburban Chicago sex clubs.
Michael was probably not an intended target, Shapiro said, but was “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”