That February evening, as I stood in the dark on Lamont Street, hugging myself to keep warm, I was waiting for Paul Ybarrando, now retired from the San Diego Police Department, to show up. Ybarrando was the sergeant in charge of the investigation into Bompensiero’s murder. A murder, by the way, that never would be solved. So forget knowing who waited for him behind the fence that ran along the alley that intersects Lamont. Forget that.
But you might want to drive out there and look at where it happened. You might.
What we do know is that 8:00, on February 10, 1977, a Thursday night about three weeks after Jimmy Carter took the oath of office as our 39th president, Bompensiero had 20 to 30 minutes left to live. We can surmise that he was returning a call, or that he was keeping a promise to call someone at, or, about a time between 8:00 and 8:15. We can surmise that the person whom Bompensiero called is the person who ordered the old man’s assassination. I think we can make that surmise.
Bompensiero hadn’t wanted to use his own telephone. He lived at 4205 Lamont, two and a half blocks from the gas station. Three years earlier, soon after the building was furnished, he and his second wife, Marie, had moved from her Reed Street apartment to 4205. Set in among modest prewar houses, the four-story blue-and-white structure dominated the neighborhood. It was called “The Beach Club,” Among its amenities were security doors and an underground parking garage.
Bompensiero’s two-bedroom, condominium—number seven—was on the third floor. His name, however, was not next to the buzzer that you stuck out your index finger and punched to announce your arrival. Frank Gavin was the name taped next to number seven’s buzzer. Patrick Gavin had been Marie Bompensiero’s third husband. Patrick Gavin was dead—cancer. Marie Bompensiero’s second husband, Girolamo “Momo” Adamo, was dead—self-inflected gun-shot to the head. Her first husband, whom she dumped for Momo, was dead. Someone told me about Marie, a red-haired Sicilian who looked not unlike Rita Hayworth, “She was a little bad luck, you know. She was married to four guys, they’re all dead. I used to tell her, ‘Gee, anybody goes with you gotta be crazy,’ I seen pictures of her when she first come out from Kansas City to California, she was a very beautiful woman. Very beautiful. And she dressed good.” Someone else told me about Marie, that indeed she did dress well, and, that underneath foxes and minks and sequined gowns and jet-bead trimmed dresses and bugle-beaded cashmere sweaters, she wore “all-silk underwear. She had sets of it, in every color.”
Bompensiero may have worried that the telephone in his apartment was tapped. That it was tapped would be a reasonable assumption. The FBI had tapped Bompensiero’s telephones off and on for years. On the floor of my bedroom closet I keep a box in which someone sent me two dozen Florida pink grapefruit. That box is packed with photocopies of transcriptions of telephone calls made by Bompensiero and recorded and transcribed by the FBI.
Then, again, maybe Bompensiero didn’t want to awaken Marie. Marie was asleep. Or maybe, Marie had passed out. Marie drank too much. She’d been drinking too much for a long time. No wonder.
This is the story on Marie Nee Caldarello. Marie was born in Kansas City in 1907. She married Frank Guererra in Kansas City in 1934. She divorced Guererra and married Momo Adamo soon after her son by Guererra was born. Marie, one of whose brothers married into a mob-connected Kansas City family, the Bacolos, was described as a high-spirited and tempestuous party girl who frequented Kansas City nightspots. Adamo was a dark, saturnine, and handsome playboy who did a mean tango and had a mean temper and a mean scar down one side of his jaw. He spoke a fractured, broken, heavily accented half-English, half-Italian. Marie loved Momo fiercely and by all accounts Momo loved Marie. “Adored her,” was what someone told me. I have that written in my notebook. “He said, ‘Momo adored Marie.’”
Girolamo “Momo” Adamo, born in Sicily in 1895 came to the U.S. in the early 1900s. He went first to Chicago. According to a man now long retired from Kansas City Law enforcement, Momo Adamo “was brought to Kansas City from Chicago by Johnny Lazia, leader of the Kansas City Italian organized crime syndicate.” In Kansas City during prohibition, Momo ran a speakeasy called the Garden of Naples. He was around town during the great Kansas City massacre, when on a summer Saturday morning in 1933 gangsters opened fire in front of Kansas City’s Union Station, leaving four policemen and their prisoner dead. Lazia ruled Kansas City’s northside until 1934, when he was shot down as he entered the park Central Hotel. Lazia lieutenants, men like Momo Adamo, believed a Kansas City upstart—Michael James LaCapra—determined to take over the Lazia domain, ordered Lazia’s killing.
In 1935 Momo packed up Marie and her son and left bloody-hot-in-summer-cold-in-winter-Kansas City behind. The Adamo’s arrived in Los Angeles where Momo aligned himself with LA’s mafia godfather, Jack Dragna. Momo rather quickly became second-in-command, or underboss to Dragna. He and Marie took up residency at 3911 Westside Avenue; not far from Dragna’s house at 3027 Hulbert. The west side LA neighborhood was a well-kept upper-middle-class enclave of prewar Spanish-style houses. Marie bought good furniture, good china, good sterling. She was known, I heard, for setting a “beautiful table.” She was a superb cook, and although she always hired in couples to serve her guests and wash up after dinner, she prepared all the food—fish soups, intricate stuffed pastas, veal, cannelloni. (“Nobody in that crowd,” someone told me, “had live-in maids. You didn’t want anyone in the house.”) Marie was a generous hostess. Her menus, I was told, were extensive and no matter how much everyone ate, leftovers always heaped the kitchen counters. At most houses, children ate in the kitchen. But not at Marie’s house, everybody, even children, pulled up chairs. Momo always governed at the table’s head, pouring Italian red wines and French champagnes, lighting the ladies cigarettes.