Bompensiero's elopement car, a LaSalle. "Jo, I know I promised you, you would be our matron of honor at our wedding, but Frank and I eloped. What a wedding night, whoo, whoo!"
Frank Bompensiero’s daughter Mary Ann is talking. She stops and wipes away a tear with the back of her hand. Her father was gunned down execution-style in February, 1977, in a Pacific Beach alley. Mary Ann, born in 1931, was his only child.
Thelma, gowned for her brother’s wedding, 1930. Mary Ann: "She was pregnant with me and just beginning to show.”
Carl Sifakis in The Mafia Encyclopedia writes this about Mary Ann’s father. “In the treacherous world of Mafia hit men, few characters proved shiftier than Frank ‘Bomp’ Bompensiero.... For decades regarded as one of the most efficient hit men in the West Coast mob, Bompensiero was an expert in the so-called Italian rope trick, a surprise garroting that always left the dying victim with a surprised look on his face.
“For double-dealing, Bompensiero was without peer. Once the Detroit mob gave him a murder contract involving one of two crime figures who had each approached the leadership with demands that the other be killed. The leadership discussed the matter at a sit-down and decided which man should get it. Bomp was informed and at a party he immediately approached the victim to be, whom he happened to know, and told him, ‘Look here, you’ve been having this problem and the old man’s given me the contract. I’m going to clip this guy but I’m going to need your help.’
Jack Dragna. Once an “enemy” or “problem” was dispatched. Jack Dragna might have handed over a stack of bills to Bompensiero and said, “Thank you, Frank, for taking care of this.”
“Naturally, the man was eager to be of aid and was overjoyed when told to help dig a hole for the body in advance. Bomp picked out a lonely spot and they took turns digging. Finally the man asked Bomp if the hole was deep enough. Bomp announced it was perfect and shot his victim in the back of the head.”
I don’t know if Mary Ann ever read that and I hope that she hasn’t. I hope she doesn’t. Her father was a good father. Her father was a good grandfather. And, Lord knows, he loved Mary Ann and, Lord knows, he loved Mary Ann’s mother. “Are you kidding?” a woman who knew Mary Ann’s mother said to me when I asked if Bompensiero loved his first wife. “He would lick the floors for her. He would lick the floors for Mary Ann. I was there. I saw it.” You may stop right here and say that no man who loved his wife and his child would act in the way that Frank Bompensiero acted. My answer to you, then, would be, “You don’t know what love is. You don't know.”
Johnny Roselli was tubercular. Capone recommended California sunshine.
Mary Ann was sitting at her dining room table in the house in San Diego where she’s lived since the late 1950s. She was talking about how her mother and father met. Their parents, Mary Ann’s grandparents, the Sanfilippos and the Bompensieros, all were born in Porticello, Sicily, a fishing village not far from Palermo. They came to the United States in the early 1900s, going first to Milwaukee and then to San Diego. The Sanfilippos came to San Diego in 1915; Frank Bompensiero arrived at some time between 1921 and 1925. Bompensiero moved in with an uncle, Giovanni, a fisherman, who rented a small house from the Sanfilippos. They lived within a few blocks of each other in San Diego’s Little Italy. Someone told me, who knew the Sanfilippos and Bompensiero during those years, “Frank and the guys who were living there, they were all bachelors ; then, and a little bit wild.”
From the San Diego Union, May 15, 1930. In January 1931 Bompensiero was convicted for violations of Prohibition laws. Before Bompensiero left for prison, Thelma took Mary Ann to Our Lady of the Rosary to have her baptized.
Bompensiero, as a teenager in Milwaukee, killed a man during an attempted hijacking of a liquor truck. He was on the run from the law and from “connected people," Sicilians engaged in Milwaukee’s bootlegging underground. The woman who would become his mother-in-law, Felipa Sanfilippo, who did considerable bootlegging and wine-making during Prohibition, sent Bompensiero to Los Angeles to see Jack Dragna, the padrone of the Los Angeles Sicilian community and a bootlegging kingpin described by law enforcement as Los Angeles’ Mafia godfather. Someone who for many years was Bompensiero’s friend explained this to me: “Jack straightened Frank out with the Milwaukee people. And from then on in, Frank was Jack’s.”
Tony Mirable was known to speak about his association with Detroit’s infamous and violent Purple Gang.
Mary Ann said about the meeting between her father and Dragna, “An aunt told me the story about how Daddy met Dragna, and when she finished the story, she said, 'Finito. That was the end of your father. From that point on, that was that.’ ”
No one knows quite what during his first years in California Bompensiero did for Dragna and Dragna’s associates. When Bompensiero, who dropped out of school in Milwaukee after finishing the third grade, was first in San Diego, he worked on the docks and as a fisherman. But after Bompensiero went to Los Angeles to meet Dragna, said Mary Ann, “he never went out fishing again.”
Thelma and Frank Bompensiero. "My grandfather Sanfilippo didn’t like him because my father was driving a beautiful car, wearing expensive clothes, and my grandfather Sanfilippo probably knew there was lots more than bootlegging going on. They didn’t speak very much English, but they knew."
During the mid-1920s, Mary Ann’s father began to court her mother, Thelma Sanfilippo. “They were going together,” Mary Ann told me, and then added, “When I say 'going together,’ it was nothing like today. They saw each other with everybody else around them. My mother was never allowed out.
“My mother was a sweet lady. Of all of the family, anybody that has anything to say about my mother said she was the saint of the family, she got along with everybody. My mother was curvaceous, with pretty legs, pretty bustline. She was petite. She had such a sweet little face and she adored my dad. She just loved him so much. “My mother’s mother, Felipa, liked my father.
My mother’s father, Lorenzo, did not like my father. I think he could see that my dad was sharp. My grandmother, Felipa, wanted my father and mother to get married.”
They couldn’t get married right away. In 1915 Bompensiero’s parents, Giuseppe and Anna Maria, had taken Frank, his brother Sam, and their two daughters and returned to Porticello. Although some people say that Giuseppe took his family back to Sicily because he could not adjust to Wisconsin winters, others suggest that he got himself in trouble with the wrong people, connected people. Whatever. Giuseppe died in Sicily in 1925. “My father, then," said Mary Ann, “was head of the family. In 1928, three years after my grandfather Bompensiero died, my grandmother Bompensiero and her four daughters, two born in Porticello, and Sam came over from Sicily to San Diego. My grandmother Bompensiero and the older girls went to work in the fish canneries and my father helped them out with money and was more or less the sole support. My father told my grandmother Sanfilippo that he couldn’t marry yet because he was the oldest one in the family.
“Also, by the time my father and mother wanted to marry. Aunt Grace was 18 and had met her fiancé. Before my dad could marry, he said that his sister Grace would have to marry. He could not leave his mother and family alone like that. My father said, ‘I’ve got to give my sister her wedding.’ So Aunt Grace wound up with a big Italian wedding. I mean a big Italian wedding. And my father paid for it.”
The same person who told me that Frank and the “bachelors” with whom he was living were “a little bit wild,” told me this story. “Frank Bompensiero and Frank Sanfilippo, before they got married, got roped into taking Thelma Sanfilippo and Frank Sanfilippo’s fiancee to church at Our Lady one Sunday. The two Franks embarrassed those two girls half to death. The offering plate came around and Frank Bompensiero slipped a pint of bootleg whiskey into the plate. When Thelma asked him why he did that, he said, ‘The father likes a nip now and then.’”
Mary Ann said that her father acquired “a fancy car, a LaSalle. He bought my mother a pea green suit with a red fox collar. They drove off to Santa Ana in the LaSalle and they got married — June 21, 1929. Josephine, who lived in Los Angeles, was supposed to be my mother’s matron of honor, because Josie was engaged to marry my mother’s older brother Frank. Josephine — who later became my godmother and my mother’s best friend — said my mother sent her a postcard that said, ‘Jo, I know I promised you, you would be our matron of honor at our wedding, but Frank and I eloped. What a wedding night, whoo, whoo!’ Isn’t that cute? I think about that and after all these years, I still get a lump in my throat.”
Mary Ann handed me, across the table, a photograph of her mother taken in 1930. Thelma is gowned for Frank’s wedding to Josephine. “That dress,” Mary Ann said, “was lavender and the reason my mom looks plump in this photo is that she was pregnant with me and just beginning to show.” Thelma — delicate and small-boned, barely five feet tall, with dark hair and wide open hazel eyes — in this photo seems ethereally beautiful. She seems so ethereally beautiful that you’re surprised she doesn’t sprout wings and fly up out of the picture’s frame.
Years ago, I began asking questions about Bompensiero. I queried retired policemen, retired FBI agents, residents in Little Italy, retired owners of downtown bars, retired crooks, authors of mob books. Many of these people had known Bompensiero; some spent considerable time with him at different points in his life. Most admitted, readily, that, yes, Bompensiero had murdered his share of men. Some went on to explain that most of the men Bompensiero “whacked” were not “straights.” They were men “in the life.” A few exceptions were named by retired lawmen: “Wife beaters,” one man told me, “Frank had a thing about wife beaters. He just didn’t have patience with a man who’d beat his wife." Bompensiero was suspected of killing at least one wife beater, perhaps two. What really surprised me, however, is this. Not one person with whom I talked about Bompensiero, retired policemen included, did not say how much he or she liked Bompensiero. People spoke of this short man as if he were tall. As they described him, he grew taller. As a youth he was “handsome, very handsome.” His eyes were “big” and “beautiful.” His skin, one woman said, was “so soft, so fair.” As a young man, his hair was light, almost blond. He was known, in Milwaukee and Sicily and later, in San Diego, as "figlio d’oro,” “son of gold.”
Over the years, as he went about his affairs on the streets of San Diego’s Little Italy, his fellow Sicilians would reach out to greet him and sigh and address him in an address more spontaneous outburst than greeting: “Figlio d'oro! Figlio d’oro!" People blinked, as if seeing bright light and spoke of Bompensiero as “immaculate,” as “immaculately dressed.” His white shirts were “spotless,” his French cuffs “wide” and “generous.” You could see your face in the toes of his shoes, so carefully were they shined. Even in 1955 when he went to San Quentin, he was “immaculately dressed.” A visitor to him at the prison reported back, “Why, he looked as if he stepped off a bandbox. He didn’t look like a convict. "Often, a story followed the descriptions, a tale that had the air of fable, of legendary persons and exploits. Bompensiero had shown up at the home of a widow with “huge salamis, hams, a cheese so heavy you could hardly lift it, Italian bread, fruits and vegetables. He unrolled large bills from a wad of cash." He loaned new automobiles to people needing transportation. He drove drunken sailors home from his bar. He left $50 tips for lunches. He dealt with waiters and waitresses as if they were kings and queens. He was tender. He treated his mother, his sisters, his wife, his wife’s girlfriends, his daughter, his daughter’s girlfriends, his grandchildren with rare courtesy.
How, then, I wondered, was I to explain Bompensiero? How was I to understand him? Here was a man who killed more than one man, who perhaps killed a dozen men. True, he was not always a great marksman. He botched more than one shooting. But he was clever and fast with a rope, and, frankly, if one is to believe the reports of autopsies and the notations on police reports, he was able to beat a man to death with a blunt instrument. One afternoon in the 1950s, he strode into a suite in the U.S. Grant Hotel and caused a large burred cucumber to be lodged deep in the anus of a union organizer.
Always, as I have tried to learn more about Bompensiero, I have been avid to learn facts — dates, names, incidents. I have also been avid — ardent, passionate — in my desire to know why he did what he did and how. When I first saw Thelma Sanfilippo Bompensiero’s photograph I began to ask myself how the same hands that squeezed the life out of another man also caressed a woman so lovely that one could imagine her inspiring Dante. “What a wedding night, whoo, whoo!” Thelma wrote to her friend Josephine. “What a wedding night.”
James E. Hamilton, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Intelligence Unit, known as “Cap’ Hamilton” to his law-enforcement confreres, was one of the first men, together with the Chicago Crime Commission’s Virgil Peterson, to do research on men involved in organized crime. In 1950, in preparation for the arrival in Los Angeles of Senator Estes Kefauver’s Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, Captain Hamilton and his Intelligence Unit put together a document titled “Gangland Killings.” The unit searched Los Angeles city records for the first half of the 20th Century — coroners’ reports, homicide reports, crime reports, missing-person reports — and from those reports compiled a list of murders and disappearances in Los Angeles that seemed connected to organized crime.
This document gives an idea of what activities Bompensiero engaged in during the years that he courted and was first married to Thelma Sanfilippo. These were the years of the Los Angeles “bootleg wars.” In these wars various Sicilian and Italian elements battled for control of Little Italy’s bootlegging business. And, in addition to fighting among themselves for this control, the Italians and Sicilians also fought the longer-established Irish and Jewish bootlegging groups.
FRANK DE FALCO
February 12,1928.8:45 p.m. In front of 814 Santa Cruz, San Pedro.
Shot and killed on street by two slugs in chest and one in head. Witness unable to identify suspect, but heard shots fired and observed auto drive away from scene at high rate of speed. Victim a known bootlegger-suspected rum-runner-suspected Black Hand rub-out. Victim resided at 814 Santa Cruz, San Pedro. No prosecution to date.
July 18, 1928. 9:45 p.m. in front of 2925 Hillcrest.
Victim, 28 years old, Sicilian, while driving his car, a Willys Knight touring car, on Hillcrest was apparently forced to curb by another car. Victim assaulted and killed by a blunt instrument, caving in his skull. Witness observed a large dark sedan leaving scene. Victim was a known bootlegger in East and was suspected of killing a rival Italian in New York. Residence of victim 1340 Albany. Victim suspected of being associated with Sicilian mob at time. Bootleg war trouble or revenge from back East. No prosecution to date.
August 25, 1928. 8:30 p.m. In rear of 6320 Holmes Avenue in garage.
Victim a known bootlegger, a Sicilian, was shot in abdomen and chest as he was alighting from his car at his garage. Suspected Sicilian mob killing arising out of bootleg war trouble. Residence of victim: 6320 Holmes Avenue. No prosecution to date.
March 20, 1929. 9:10 a.m. 454 South Carolina.
Victim, a.k.a. MAX SILVER, shot and killed as he was entering his apartment. No. 203, above address. Shot by two gunmen using .45 caliber revolvers. This victim, a known bootlegger, was using this apartment for storage and order room for his bootlegging activities. It was thought that these two men were attempting to “muscle” or “heist” victim as victim was found to have approximately $4,000.00 on his person at time. Witness ARLINE STORY, an employee of victim, identified BEN BARETTI and DAN KENNEDY, both Chicago gangsters, from mugs. BARETTI later killed in Kansas City gang war. KENNEDY given life in Texas on armed robbery.
Missing person. May 16, 1929.
Victim a Boyle Heights bootlegger, gained the disapproval of local Italian interests because of bootlegging activities. His car was found later (a few days) abandoned in Old Chinatown. This car at time was bullet ridden and blood stained. Victim was an associate of TONY BUCCOLA, also missing as of May 6, 1930.
July 22, 1929. 1321 Biggy.
Arrived home cut up. Died July 24, 1929.
Called out of his home by two men at 8 p.m. Returned to home 11:30 p.m. bleeding seriously from many stab and cut wounds. Died July 24, 1929. Victim’s partner, FRANK CARRINGELLO, a.k.a. ANGELLO, in bootlegging activities, found shot same night at Alpine and Figueroa. Investigation disclosed information that victim and partner had attempted to "hi-jack” a load of “bootleg” at 427 Salano Street and were thwarted. Another theory is that they might have been “put on the spot" by a “set-up.” Maybe Black Hand reprisal for earlier hi-jackings? FRANK CARRINGELLO died also. Residence address unknown. I think that we can he sure that Bompensiero, by the time he began to court Thelma Sanfilippo, was a trusted member of Dragna’s organization. The organization, of course, wasn’t “organized” in the way that the CEO of a large corporation might think of organization. We can be sure that there was no “business plan” in the modern sense. The “products” were liquor, debt collection, protection, extortion, intimidation and beatings, murder, influence, bribery, a bit of fencing of stolen goods, counterfeit immigration papers, book-making, a percentage of the take from the Dragnas’ part ownership in the Montfalcone's gambling and liquor proceeds and whatever else came along (the Montfalcone was an off-shore “pleasure boat”). Glossy advertisements did not sell these products and services; they were sold through word of mouth and coercion. Many actions taken were ad hoc. How Bompensiero would have acquired the LaSalle, the clothes, the money to help out his family and to support his wife would also have been ad hoc — improvised and often impromptu. He would have had no salary. There would have been no regular payday. Occasionally, often on whim, Jack or Tom Dragna (and Jack was notoriously mean with money) would have passed a stack of tens or twenties or hundreds to Bompensiero. On an irregular basis, money would have been “cut up” among Dragna’s “workers”; each would have received a share, determined by the Dragnas, of this or that deal.
We can be sure of this. Bompensiero would never have been paid — at least directly — for any roughing-up or killing. Once an “enemy” or “problem” was dispatched. Jack Dragna might have handed over a stack of bills to Bompensiero and said, “Thank you, Frank, for taking care of this.”
Mickey Cohen, in Mickey Cohen: In My Own Words (as told to John Peer Nugent) explained, about killings performed for the mob or Mafia, “You didn’t ask any questions when you were told to do something, you just did it. Whenever you were asked to do something against somebody, it was always somebody in the racket world who had an in for you. And that guy would do it to you just as fast as you would do it to him. Some guys rose faster and farther in the racket world than others because they were able to do things asked of them. Some guys’ feelings wouldn’t let them do it. Other guys couldn’t do it without bungling it up by getting caught or messing up in some way.”
Described by the Los Angeles Times as perhaps “the only classic ‘godfather’ that the city has ever known,” Jack Dragna was calculating and fierce. In his later years, no evidence exists that he participated in killings. Indeed, it was a standing joke among the guys that when time came for shotguns to go off, Dragna alibied himself by checking into a hospital for a physical. Evidence does indicate, however, that he didn’t flinch when he ordered hits on associates who got out of line. Jack Dragna was nobody to mess with and men who crossed him could end up dead.
Bompensiero, in San Diego, was something of a freelancer. He engaged in a little bootlegging, a little stealing, whatever came along. This money would have been his money, and again, the acquisition of this money would have been on an ad hoc basis.
I asked Mary Ann how her maternal grandparents reacted to the elopement.
“Not too well. My grandmother did like my father and encouraged it, but my grandfather Sanfilippo didn’t like him because my father was driving a beautiful car, wearing expensive clothes, and my grandfather Sanfilippo probably knew there was lots more than bootlegging going on. They didn’t speak very much English, but they knew. There was talk.
“So, the fact is that my grandfather Sanfilippo had a fit. He wouldn’t talk to my mother for six months. She adored her father. My grandfather Sanfilippo was the sweetest, handsomest man, beautiful white-gray hair, tall. This really hurt my mother, hurt her bad. He wouldn’t talk to my mother, wouldn’t talk to my father. And then, to make things more complicated, my grandmother Bompensiero was renting a house at 2033 Columbia Street that the Sanfilippos owned. My grandfather Sanfilippo went up to my grandmother Bompensiero's house and stood there and called her, ‘Maria, come out here...' He said, ‘I want you out.’ She went to the door, and said, ‘What is it?’ And he yelled, ‘I want you out of the house, I want everybody to move.’ He was throwing a fit. She said to him, ‘Why? I pay the rent, we pay the rent and we’re not gonna move.’ Of course she didn’t move and my grandfather Sanfilippo got over it in six months."
Not long after the $1.9 million Fox Theater Building was dedicated and the Bank of Italy purchased the Spreckels Building, and Thelma Sanfilippo became Mrs. Frank Bompensiero, things begin to get tougher for Bompensiero. In San Diego, tuna had gone farther out to sea and income from fishing was down. In Little Italy, according to everyone with whom I talked, the Italians and Sicilians with Prohibition still in force made and sold even more wine than they had previously, in order to supplement their lagging income. And local police, at the same time, became more alert to bootlegging and bootleggers. In October, 1929, there was the stock market crash. The crash, however, added to the income of the Dragnas’ bootlegging businesses and of the Montfalcone. As the Depression deepened, the market for illegal liquor increased. From nickel bingo and dime bets on horses running at Agua Caliente to middle-class businessmen’s late-night poker to the high rollers’ games of chemin de fer on the Dragnas’ Montfalcone, games of chance found more and new players. Bompensiero worked, off and on, on the Montfalcone, as a card dealer, a bouncer, a rougher-up of men who refused to pay, or, who couldn't pay their gambling debts.
We know this. According to one of Frank Bompensiero’s sisters, once the Depression hit, their mother had to go to work. “She was working at the fish cannery. When we got here it was right before the Depression and then Herbert Hoover was elected president and that was it. During the Depression nobody was working so we had to go out and work, the women. There was no money circulating around, those were tough times. It was a bad time. Lord forbid, I remember. I still remember the olden days, some of these people were so lucky they came to this country, they got it made.
“When I was 16, I went to work at the fish cannery too. When I was growing up, that’s all we had in San Diego was the fish cannery — Del Monte, Westgate, Van Camp, Star Harbor, Star-Kist, you name it, I worked in all of them just about. Oh my God, it was hard work, cleaning fish, packing. We started at seven and it depended how much fish they had how long we worked. We had caps, we had aprons. The factories were down on Harbor Drive where Solar is, Westgate was there and Del Monte. Women and men both worked there, cleaning fish. It was a hard job, it was very cold. But it was all we had. It was a fish town.”
During the years since Bompensiero had left Sicily and returned to Milwaukee and then hopped the freight train to San Diego, what we now describe as “organized crime” truly had become organized. Prohibition, more than any other factor, spurred that organization. By 1925, in California, even small towns like Upland and San Jose and San Bernardino, could boast or lament the presence of gangs of men who specialized in illegal liquor supply. No major city in the United States was without a group like Dragna’s, a group that specialized in rumrunning and bootlegging, in bribery and influence-peddling, and increasingly, in gambling and numbers running and bookmaking. These crime groups, however, were volatile and violent. Most spectacular of the gang wars — that between Al Capone and George “Bugs" Moran — culminated on Valentine’s Day in 1929 in what has come to be called the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre when seven members of Moran’s gang were lined up and shot by men believed to be from Capone’s gang. After the “massacre,” Capone won control of Chicago’s gang activity. But murders, particularly “massacres," drew police attention.
Early in May, 1929, a meeting took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Crime historians report that this meeting was held, in part, to try to bring peace among warring gangs, and in part to try to organize the profitable business of illegal bookmaking. Capone, by then alleged to be worth $60 million, was there. The New York powers — Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Meyer Lansky, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and Dutch Schultz attended. Cleveland’s Moe Dalitz was there and Boston’s Charles “King” Solomon. Detroit’s Jewish Purple Gang sent Joe Bernstein. Johnny Lazia (the mentor of the man who would be Frank Bompensiero’s second wife’s second husband) came from Kansas City. Waxey Gordon, Max “Boo-Boo" Hoff, and Nig Rosen represented Philadelphia.
Although Jack Dragna had the support of New York’s Thomas “Three-Finger Brown” Lucchese, a fellow Sicilian and associate of Luciano’s, dons back East gave Dragna negligible respect. Three-Finger Brown was Dragna’s only strong connection to East Coast power. Dragna was not sufficiently important to invite to Atlantic City.
The men meeting in Atlantic City planned to end city warfare by dividing each large city into territories whose boundaries would be respected. (This division eventually culminated in establishment of New York City’s five crime families.) On a nationwide basis, the country was to be divided into territories and those territories were to be allotted to various crime chiefs. The boundaries of these territories also were to be respected. Invasions of gangsters from one city into another were to stop.
The other half of the meeting’s purpose was to deal with Prohibition’s inevitable end. Voters and editorialists increasingly expressed displeasure with Prohibition. Rough polls showed that more Americans, not fewer, were drinking alcohol. Arrest reports for public drunkenness showed the same. The crime chiefs realized that once Prohibition ended, they would need new illegal ways to earn money. Off-track betting, of course, was illegal and a natural outlet for bootleggers. The brilliant Meyer Lansky already had begun to use phone banks to take bets from all over the United States. Capone brought along to the Atlantic City conclave a fellow named Moses Annenberg, owner of the Daily Racing Form, the newspaper that bettors on horses were never without. (Annenberg’s son Walter, after World War ll’s end, would roll his father’s fortune into founding Seventeen magazine and TV Guide.)
According to Jay Robert Nash’s World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime, “Capone and Annenberg had conceived of a way in which a national crime cartel could control horse-betting results throughout the nation, achieved by Annenberg’s newly formed Nationwide News Service which Capone bankrolled. This service would send over AT&T wires all the results from every track, only seconds after each race had been run, and feed this information to every betting parlor, poolroom, and gambling den in America. This was the centerpiece of discussion at the Atlantic City Conference, a plan that was universally adopted and one that established gambling as the first syndicated national vice to be promoted by the new crime cartel.”
I talked, over the years that I asked questions about Bompensiero, with many retired lawmen from Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as several retired FBI agents. Among “rubouts” mentioned in the LAPD’s “Gangland Killings," one that some retired lawmen believe may have been Bompensiero’s work is the killing in November, 1929, of Los Angeles winery owner and bootlegger Frank Baumgarteker. In 1929, Baumgarteker argued in Los Angeles with a man who called himself Jimmy Fogarty, but whose actual name was Zorra. The argument was over Mr. Zorra’s setting up a still to cook alcohol in Baumgarteker’s winery. Baumgarteker reportedly kicked Zorra out of the winery and ordered all alcohol cooking stopped. After Zorra left the winery, Baumgarteker said to his secretary, Mrs. Day, “I have signed my death warrant.” Zorra, according to Los Angeles Police Department records, was an associate of Joe Adrizzone and Jack Dragna. Dragna and Adrizzone visited Baumgarteker at his winery in late November.
November 25, 1929, at 11:30 a.m., Baumgarteker had lunch in Los Angeles with his partner and his attorney. He left his lunch appointment, driving away in his purple 1926 Cadillac touring car, saying he was going to Wilmington. When Baumgarteker failed to return home the next day, his wife reported him missing.
The police report shows that on the evening of November 25, at 10:50 p.m., the purple Cadillac was driven into the Sixth Street Garage, at 745 Sixth in San Diego. The Cadillac was driven in and parked by an “Italian-looking man" described as 40 years, 5'8", 160 pounds, wearing a short leather coat, khaki pants, and leather riding boots.
Baumgarteker’s auto was found to be covered with the same type of dust and dirt as was found at the Riverside County Wells. These wells, noted the police report, “are called the ‘Gangland's Cemetery' as some corpses were found there, and it was the suspected location of other gang killings."
Early in December, Mrs. Baumgarteker received a letter, supposedly written by her husband, and postmarked, “San Diego — 7:30 a.m., November 30, 1929.” The handwriting, the police report noted, “showed either great mental strain or that writer was drunk.”
Baumgarteker’s body was never found. He eventually was written off as “a victim of the Italian boot legging element,” or, “Black Hand.”
Mary Ann said that soon after her parents eloped they went to live with Mary Ann’s Grandmother Bompensiero. In May, 1930, Thelma became pregnant with Mary Ann. Twenty-five-year-old Bompensiero now had a mother, sisters, and brother to help out, a wife to support, and a child on the way.
On May 15, 1930, if you’d been one of the city of San Diego’s approximately 147,897 citizens and you’d picked up a copy of the San Diego Union you would have found this on page nine.
LIQUOR TANKS HIDDEN IN CEILING OF APARTMENT, PIPED TO ORDINARY TAPS; HOW TO GET THEM OUT IS PROBLEM
“What was said to be one of the most cleverly concealed liquor plants uncovered here since the advent of prohibition, was discovered last night when members of the police dry detail, led by George Sears, lieutenant of detectives, raided an apartment house at 1907 Columbia Street. The officers seized 60 gallons of wine, 25 gallons of whisky, 25 gallons of gin and 20 gallons of alcohol. Frank Buonpensiero was arrested as the owner of the liquor.
“Four large copper tanks in which the liquor was stored, were concealed between the second floor and the ceiling of the first floor apartment. From each tank led copper pipes, all concealed either in the walls or the floors of the building to a secret compartment in a closet in a ground floor apartment occupied by Buonpensiero. Each tank was a separate compartment for the storage of liquor and the compartment in the closet was fitted with a lack Dragna neat faucet. Thus, the liquor could be drawn from the storage tanks as one would draw a glass of water.
“When the officers entered the apartment house they searched it from the roof to the basement without finding any trace of liquor, or a spot where it might have been hid. They were about to give up the search when the keen eyesight and acute sense of smell of Lieutenant Sears led to the discovery.
“Sears was alone in an unoccupied apartment on the second floor. He smelled what he was certain was whiskey. Then he opened a small compartment used for keeping cooking utensils. It was bare, but he noticed the flooring of the compartment, adjoining the flour bin, was slightly stained. Calling the other officers Sears tore out the flour bin and beneath it found the tops of four pipes. Each pipe had a neat screw top.
“Under questioning by Sears, Buonpensiero admitted the presence of the storage tanks and explained how they had been placed between the flooring and ceiling of two apartments. He also led the officers to the secret compartment where the drawing spigot for each tank was concealed.”
The San Diego Sun noted, that same week:
RAIDS SEND LIQUOR PRICES SOARING
“Further shortages in San Diego’s supply of bootleg liquor and home brew are apparent.
“With wholesale federal and police liquor raids recently putting some of the biggest dealers out of business, the next step, it was learned today, may be to cut off supplies for materials used in making intoxicants. The next step toward making San Diego’s summer unusually dry will hit at dealers handling everything from malts to machinery for making hard liquor.”
And if this were not enough, there also was trouble in Los Angeles with the Montfalcone. The Los Angeles Times on May 22, 1930, reported that “rivalry between factions claiming to own the gambling ships Montfalcone and Johanna Smith, which have plied their trade for more than a year at anchor off Seal Beach, blazed into open warfare last night.
“Nick Oswald, owner of the Montfalcone told the DA that James Dougherty, said to be owner of the Smith, and claimant to partnership in the Montfalcone, commandeered a water taxi belonging to the Montfalcone and with four men forcibly boarded the ship.
"When the five climbed over the rail of the Montfalcone, they fired two shots and the crew of the boat capitulated. Then the men took possession of the boat and pirated the proceeds from the gaming table.”
On July 29, Dragna and three other men were arrested in downtown Los Angeles with a large quantity of cash, proceeds from the weekend take on the Montfalcone, and weapons enough to ward off a hijack, including four revolvers and the shotgun.
One of the men arrested was a man who called himself “Johnny Rosselli.” In 1924 Johnny Rosselli, born in Italy in 1905 as Filippo Sacco, had arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago, where he had been associated with Capone. Rosselli was tubercular. Capone recommended California sunshine. In his first years in Los Angeles Rosselli worked as a general heavy for Tony Cornero, a rumrunner and bootlegger of Italian descent known as “Tony the Hat” and “King of the Western Rumrunners.” Cornero was arrested in 1927, got out on bail, escaped to Canada, and left Rosselli without means of employment. Capone suggested that Rosselli ally himself with Jack Dragna, which he did.
An old friend of Bompensiero’s, a man whose knowledge of organized-crime circles is impeccable, told me that from the beginning, Bompensiero did not think that highly of Rosselli. Actually, what the old friend said was, “Frank knew Rosselli was like shit: he was all over. He was a phony. Shoulda’ been an actor. He wanted to be. He was in with all those guys in Chicago.” But Dragna did like Rosselli, or, perhaps was impressed by Rosselli’s tight Capone and Chicago connections, contacts that Dragna, at the continent’s edge, badly needed. Bompensiero’s friend was correct, too, in saying that Rosselli wanted to be an actor. The handsome, leonine, expensively tailored Rosselli — “Gentleman Johnny" people called him — tried for bit parts in Hollywood films and eventually made himself invaluable to several Hollywood studios, supplying them with liquor and women. Bit by bit, Rosselli made himself sufficiently useful to Dragna that he became Dragna’s right-hand man, a position he would retain through the 1930s. With the ascendance of Rosselli, a man only a few months older than Bompensiero, Bompensiero may well have felt that his opportunities to rise in Dragna’s group were being squelched. I don’t know that he felt that, but he may have. He may have felt pushed aside by Rosselli.
The Los Angeles Times on July 30, 1930, reported:
FOUR ARRESTED FOR GUN TOTING SUSPECTS TAKEN AFTER CHASE IN AUTO BY POLICE PRISONERS CLAIM CONNECTION WITH GAMBLING SHIP PERMITS TO CARRY WEAPONS DECLARED TOO OLD
“Activities of four men, James Russo of 5533 Hollywood Blvd., John Rosselli of 1043 West Sixth Street, John Canzoneri of 1402 East Twelfth Street and Jack I. Dragna of 3662 Mettler Street, taken into custody at an early hour yesterday morning with four revolvers and one shotgun in their possession, are being carefully checked by Detective Lieutenants Malibeau and Gibson of the police robbery detail."
The summer of 1930 must have been difficult for Bompensiero. He and Thelma were living with his mother, at 2033 Columbia Street. Thelma’s pregnancy was troubled. Her blood pressure soared. She “retained water.” Her shoe size, said Mary Ann, went from a five to an eight. She did not like living with her in-laws. “But,” said Mary Ann, “that’s what you did then, right after you married. You moved in with your husband’s family. My mother hated it. My grandmother Bompensiero had migraine headaches and things could get very tense with her and my aunt Grace, my father's sister. And, they had fish every single night for dinner and my mother hated fish because fish made her deathly ill and she had to sit there and eat it anyway.”
Her mother, Mary Ann continued, wanted badly to get out of Little Italy. “I think my mother must have been the first one to want to make a break from that Italian neighborhood. She was always more modern. When I was a little older and she was telling me why we eventually moved out of that area, she said to me, ‘Mary Ann, you will be so glad to be out of that neighborhood. Yakity, yak, gossip, gossip. You’ll thank me later on in life that you didn’t have to live down here.' " Mary Ann shuddered, and said, “The talk that goes on in those Italian neighborhoods. If they see you even look at a boy, you’re a tramp. Or, if you start wearing lipstick. I was always glad that she moved us.”
In August, 1930, the Montfalcone caught fire and burned. The pleasure boat was out of commission and Bompensiero’s help as a dealer and bouncer was no longer needed.
The Bompensieros moved in November, 1930, to Kensington to a house at 4307 Hilldale. The San Diego Police Department’s purity squad, the men whose task it was to deal with bootlegging and speakeasies, had decided they would clean up the city’s vice dens during 1930’s Christmas season. Soon after the Bompensieros got settled in Kensington, Bompensiero and many Little Italy residents found themselves in trouble. The Union headline for December 6, 1930,read:
SEIZE 4000 GALLONS WINE IN 8 RAIDS HERE: 11 HELD
CLEAN SWEEP OF ‘LITTLE ITALY’ BY POLICE AND FEDERAL DRY AGENTS ADDS 65 BARRELS AND ASSORTED LIQUORS TO RUM PROPERTY ROOM AT LOCAL HEADQUARTERS
“Through San Diego’s ‘Little Italy’ district, police and federal dry agents yesterday afternoon raided eight houses, arrested 11 persons and seized more than 4000 gallons of wine and some 40 gallons of liquors.
“The raids, all made with search warrants, started soon after noon and were not completed until early evening. All of the seizures, incidentally, were made within a radius of a few blocks either in or near the 1600 block on India Street. Some of the addresses where raids also were made were on West Date, West Grape and Atlantic streets and Kettner Boulevard. The raiding officers described the work as a general ‘house cleaning’ of wine-selling establishments in the Italian section.”
The San Diego Evening Tribune, that evening, offered under the headline, "WILL ARRAIGN 12 ON LIQUOR CHARGES”: “The following is a list of those against whom charges have been filed, and the addresses of the houses raided, according to a report by federal dry agents:
“Frank and Sam Bompensiero, 1907 India Street, alleged possession and sale; Tony Adamo, 518 West Date Street, alleged possession and sale; Andrean Punta, 1632 India Street, alleged possession and sale; Frank Delucca, 1470 Kettner Boulevard, and Perry Tore, alleged possession and sale; Sam and Mrs. Fellipo, 1971 Atlantic, alleged sale; Nick and Anna Coli, 914 Grape Street, alleged sale.”
The San Diego Sun reported:
POLICE CAPTURE HOLIDAY WINE
VICE SQUAD HOUSE CLEANS IN LITTLE ITALY; 11 ARRESTED
“There’s gloom this morning along India Street where it cuts through the heart of San Diego’s Little Italy.
“Little Italy’s citizens wait annually for Santa Claus with full stocked cellars. Yesterday they looked up to find the police vice squad piling 65 barrels of wine on a truck as the first blow in a drive to clean house before the holidays.
"Dozens of bottles of whisky were confiscated and 11 persons arrested during eight raids. There will be other raids before Christmas, George Sears, vice squad leader, indicated today.
“Most of the wine was found in homes in the 1600 block on India Street.”
Mary Ann explained. “Somebody once told me that this all happened because somebody snitched to the police. Somebody jealous in that neighborhood. Jealous of the money that people were making, selling wine."
Then, with poor Thelma sicker and sicker, her feet swelling and hands swelling, Bompensiero and his little brother, Sam, got themselves into another mess. The San Diego Sun on December 9 reported:
SCHOOLBOY TRIO UNCOVERS $25,000 CACHE OF OPIUM
“The Rollo Boys, Robinson Crusoe and all the other adventure books hold little interest for three San Diego lads today.
“For late yesterday the trio, investigating in a neighbor’s back yard, unearthed $25,000 worth of opium and supplied information that led to the arrest of the three men.
“The three boys are Jack Allison, Nat Munn and ‘Junior’ Moore. They all live in the Kensington Heights district. Jack and Nat were coming home from school yesterday when Junior met them.
“His eyes were bright with excitement and he was breathless.
“ ‘I saw a fellow burying something in a back yard near my house yesterday,’ he told them. He told about a long black box that the man had stuffed into a hole in the ground. The three went into a huddle.
“A short while later they appeared with a spade, in the rear of a house at 4307 Hillsdale Road. Junior had some other errand to perform, so Jack and Nat are the real heroes of the story. They started digging where they found some damp dirt, which appeared to have been dug up recently.
“ ‘We were sure scared,’ Nat, who is 13 years old, said today in telling his story. His eyes grew wider as he explained, ‘Y’see we thought it was liquor that was buried there.
“ ‘We thought the guy was a bootlegger. And we didn’t know whether he was in the house with a gun or not. Anyway, pretty soon we came to a shiny copper box. We pulled it out of the dirt, brushed it off and found that it was locked tight.
“ ‘Then we went and found an old wrench, and managed to pry it open. Inside there were all kinds of little black balls. We didn’t know what it was, so we took it over to my house.’
“Mrs. E.J. Munn, Nat’s mother, who lives at 5125 Hastings Rd, suspected that it was opium, but wasn’t sure. ‘You take that stuff right back where you got it,’ she ordered the boys. “They returned the box, and reburied it, but first, they took out one of the black pellets and kept it.
“ ‘After it was all over,’ young Allison said, ‘we were awful scared. People in that part of town told us that the people who lived in that house were some of Al Capone’s gangsters. It was just fun until we began to think about it, and then we didn’t know what to do.’
“After they had gotten over their fears, they walked down the street to the drug store where they met F.J. Day, a deputy sheriff.
“When they told their stories and exhibited their trophies, Day was convinced.
“ ‘He went downtown,’ Nat said today, ‘and got a couple of detectives. They went into the house and arrested a man and we showed them where the opium was stored.’"
The San Diego Evening Tribune on December 11, reported on page two:
SUSPECT FACES COURT ON DOPE CHARGES
“Frank Bompercerio, who was arrested recently in connection with a find of 48 bindles of opium gum in his backyard at 4305 Hillsdale Road, Kensington Park, today was arraigned on charges of violation of the state narcotics act. Sam Bompercerio, a brother, who gave his age as 17, was bound over to the juvenile court. A preliminary hearing for Frank Bompercerio will be held December 24. Bail was fixed at $750.”
No records exist of the outcome of this hearing on the opium incident. Bompensiero and his brother Sam were never convicted.
Mary Ann was born on January 16, 1931. “My mother, by the time I was delivered, had what they call 'toxemia of pregnancy.’ She almost died in childbirth. I almost died. All my mother remembered of childbirth was the ambulance and sirens. She had a slight stroke at that time. Her mouth went crooked.”
Thelma was hospitalized for several weeks. And then, what a homecoming! Mary Ann said, “My dad would laugh about things. He’d say, ‘You know, honey, when you were born, when I brought your mother home from the hospital, we were in the house maybe an hour or so and the trucks were coming to move the furniture out, because we didn't make the payments. It was one of those things’ ” Mary Ann added, “He must have made it good and then all of a sudden things went haywire and no money was coming in.”
In January 1931 Bompensiero was convicted on federal charges for violations of Prohibition laws. Mary Ann’s godmother and aunt, Josephine, now 90 years old, recalled that before Bompensiero left for prison she and Thelma took their babies to Our Lady of the Rosary to have them baptized. Frank and Thelma, she said, were her son Laurence’s god-parents and she and Frank Sanfilippo were Mary Ann’s god-parents. After the ceremony, Josephine said that the two couples went out for a “nice dinner.” Where they went, she does not remember.
On April 4, 1931, before Mary Ann was quite three months old, her father was taken by train to Tacoma, Washington, and then by ferry to the United States federal prison on McNeil Island set in the midst of Puget Sound. Built in the 1880s on McNeil Island’s seven square miles, the prison was notoriously cold in winter and damp and gloomy the year-round. I asked through the Freedom of Information Act for any record of Bompensiero’s stay at McNeil Island. I received a photocopy of a card that had been kept on file in the United States archives. Notations on the card indicate that Bompensiero applied for and was denied parole on June 17, 1931, and that he would not be released until April 12, 1932. I was able to learn nothing about Bompensiero’s time on McNeil Island other than that his friend from San Diego, Biaggio Bonventre, also was incarcerated there, during approximately the same period of time and for the same offense.
While Bompensiero was in prison, the Depression deepened. Bompensiero’s mother and sisters labored in the fish canneries. Thelma and Mary Ann moved into an apartment at 1907 Columbia Street, near Grape, owned by Thelma’s mother. “My godmother Josephine," said Mary Ann, “who was married to my mother’s brother Frank lived downstairs and we lived upstairs.” Mary Ann stopped in the flow of her story and told me about Frank and Josephine and how they met. “Josephine came from Los Angeles. Her father’s first name was Octavio, a handsome guy, small. He was a widower. Josephine’s mother died in childbirth when Josephine was a little girl. Josephine was second to the oldest of five sisters. Octavio used to bring Josephine and all his family down to San Diego. He came down to deliver olive oil and Parmesan cheese to the Sicilian and Italian families. He also knew Jack Dragna and Tom, Jack’s brother. He would go to my grandmother Sanfilippo’s house on Pacific Highway and Grape to deliver oil and cheese, and that’s how Josephine came to meet my uncle Frank. My grandmother liked Josephine. And Josephine fell madly in love with Frank, from the moment she saw him, she said. But it was an arranged marriage, arranged by my grandmother Sanfilippo and Josephine’s father, but my aunt Josephine adored Frank and I guess he loved her.
“My mother and Josephine were crazy about each other. My mother felt more love for Josephine than her sisters, I think. I was born in January. Josephine and Frank’s son was born in March. We were living, by then, all of us, on Columbia near Grape Street. Josephine nursed me. I was a crybaby when I was a baby. My mom tried to nurse me and I would get sick. Given what was going on during that period — my father getting arrested and then going off to prison — my mom was upset a lot. I wouldn’t eat. So Josephine had her son and she'd nurse him and then she’d say, ‘Thelma, give me that baby.' And she’d nurse me. She was like a wet nurse. Josephine told me, about all this, that she’d take me in her arms and nurse me and I would start eating right away and I’d coo and coo and coo.
“Sometime during that period, while we lived there and my dad was in prison and Josephine was pregnant with her second child, my uncle Frank started running around on Josephine. He was going around with some gal. Even though my grandmother and my mother loved Frank, they both always took Josephine’s side in this. My grandmother Sanfilippo adored her son Frank. But, frankly, he was a spoiled brat. Blue eyes, handsome, gorgeous man. Josephine used to say that his eyes were as blue as the ocean she fished in. Anyway, my grandmother Sanfilippo would wring her hands and say to him, ‘Frank, what are you doing, you’ve got a wife and children? What are you doing with this putana?’ My grandmother Sanfilippo never called this woman anything but the ‘putana,’ the whore. And, my grandmother Sanfilippo believed in the evil eye and was trying to figure out some way to get this woman. She knew where this gal lived. So my grandmother Sanfilippo would make my mother get in the car and drive her over to this putana’s house and my tiny little grandmother would climb down out of the car and stand there and throw rotten eggs at the woman’s door. Very Sicilian,” concluded Mary Ann, “to do something like that.”
Her grandmother Sanfilippo, Mary Ann said, wasn’t like most women were in those days. “She was tough. Back when they were still living in Milwaukee my grandfather Lorenzo had a little tavern and there was this gorgeous widow, a young widow, who was head-over-heels about Lorenzo. She haunted him, was always after him. And one day she gave him the keys to her house. He knew better than to fool around on my grandmother Felipa and so he gave the keys to her. She got a billy club and went to the widow’s house and knocked on the door and said to her, ‘You go near my husband again and I will knock the hell out of you.’ She was wiry and strong and could have done it, too."
Mary Ann said her mother and Josephine were not happy. “Aunt Jo has told me that she and my mother would sit together with their babies and cry and cry and cry. Uncle Frank was running around on Aunt Jo and my dad was in prison. Auntie Jo said they’d both cry until their eyes were red and swollen. Then when night came, they’d gather up me and Laurence, Frank and Josie’s boy, and they’d get us into our bassinets in the bedroom next to the bed and then they’d crawl into bed and they’d cry some more and then go to sleep.”
Bompensiero was 25 when he entered prison and 26 when he stepped onto the ferry and sailed back across Puget Sound and boarded the train and headed home. “Frank knew how to do time,” an old friend of his told me. But I continue to wonder and I hope that you also will want to wonder what it must have been like for him, to leave behind his wife and baby. He could be sure that his mother-in-law Sanfilippo would see to it that Thelma and Mary Ann weren’t without a roof and didn’t go hungry. And they weren’t and they didn’t. Thelma wrote to him and he wrote to Thelma, and at least once, according to an old friend of Thelma’s, Thelma was able to go on the train to Washington State to visit with Frank.
A year is a long time to stare out between iron bars into the mist over Puget Sound. Did Bompensiero during his year on McNeil Island consider “going straight”? Did he think that perhaps he’d do better to return to San Diego and go back out fishing? Or perhaps open a small grocery store on India Street? Did he ask himself if he might find life easier if he were to live within the law rather than without? Perhaps “going straight” never occurred to Bompensiero. Mary Ann had told me that in those days nobody was embarrassed at going to prison for bootlegging. “None of the Italians,” she said, "looked down on you for that.” Perhaps the months on McNeil Island were time Bompensiero felt he had to put in simply as the cost of doing business. Perhaps my speculation that a year’s incarceration offered Bompensiero time to reflect upon his life and that he considered changing his life, is only speculation upon a cliché.
Perhaps, too, by 1931, Bompensiero was too entangled and enmeshed with, in thrall to Jack Dragna to even consider beginning a new life, a vita nuova. Perhaps Bompensiero did not want a new life. Perhaps he liked this life, just fine. McNeil Island’s cells, during Bompensiero’s year there, were filled with other men like himself, bootleggers and rumrunners. Bompensiero was gregarious. He would have sat with these men and shared stories. He would have told them about his still on Columbia Street and how you could just turn the spigot and “liquor could be drawn from the storage tanks as one would draw a glass of water.” Mary Ann, many times, said her father loved to laugh. His laugh, she said, came from deep within his chest. She said that sometimes he laughed until he wept.
Mary Ann said that when she was a little girl, a toddler whose blond Shirley Temple curls fell to her shoulders, people sometimes asked her, “Where’s your daddy?” Mary Ann said that she always answered this question in the same way: “Daddy,” she would say, “is bye-bye, choo-choo.”
In April, 1932, Bompensiero returned to San Diego. He gave himself a quasi-assumed name, and San Diego’s city directory for 1932 shows an entry for: “Bompo, Frank and Thelma — San Filippo Apartments, 1907 Columbia.” Mary Ann had begun to crawl and from being with her grandmothers and her maternal grandfather and aunts and uncles, she babbled in a Sicilian dialect-inflected Italian. “I used to speak Sicilian really fluently until I was five years old because I was with my grandparents who spoke no English around the house, and what English they did speak was very, very broken English." Mary Ann does not know what her father did after he returned from prison. She thinks that he may have worked as a card dealer in a card room on University Avenue. And she remembered, vaguely, something about her father working in or owning part of a restaurant. “I recall,” she said, “as a very little girl going into a restaurant in San Diego, near the docks, and Daddy making me a sandwich. But that may have been later."
The only person who remembered something about that period immediately after Bompensiero left prison was Mary Ann’s godmother and aunt, Josephine. She was pregnant, she said, with her second son, and almost ready to deliver. Her husband Frank was in Tijuana with his girlfriend. “Frank Bompensiero,” she said, “stuck up for me. He didn’t like Frank’s chasing and he said so. I couldn’t walk, by then, up the stairs to our apartment. Frank Bompensiero carried me up those stairs in his arms. He was as gentle with me as if I were a baby.”
Again, for almost a year, we lose Bompensiero’s trail. Mary Ann was too young to know what went on. It was a time in Bompensiero’s life about which Mary Ann’s mother apparently had not wanted to talk with Mary Ann. So that Mary Ann, when she was older, heard no stories about these years.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January, 1933, took the oath of office as the nation’s 32nd president. His administration immediately began to organize programs to put people to work. No record exists that Bompensiero, most of whose skills were founded in violence, took part in any of FDR’s Works Progress Administration programs.
When I first began to ask questions about Bompensiero, I spent several days with a gentleman then in his 80s who had been a member of several San Diego city and county law-enforcement agencies and who had always been interested in what he spoke of as the “Italian element” and the “Siciliano element.” I will call him “Mr. Willis.” He told me that in the early 1930s, Bompensiero had become involved with a group responsible for at least six robberies. “He was a tough guy, don’t think he wasn’t. We always knew about the 211 he did at the Fox Theater. He matched the description perfectly," said Mr. Willis. He went on to say that Bompensiero and two other “characters” went to the Fox just after closing time and made their way into the manager’s office, where the night’s take was. “Apparently,” Mr. Willis said, “just as Bompensiero was pointing the gun at the manager, the janitor happened to walk in. Bompensiero shot the janitor, bang, in the arm or the shoulder, I can’t remember, now, which.”
Mr. Willis believed that Bompensiero was one of the perpetrators of a robbery June 8, at the American Cut-Rate Drug Store on Fifth Avenue. The San Diego Union for June 9, 1933, reported:
DRUG BANDITS OBTAIN $700
‘Two hold-up men, believed by police to be ‘experts’ from the east, robbed the American Cut-Rate drug store, 810 Fifth Avenue, last night and escaped with $700. Part of the money was $500 which the proprietor had received from a friend for deposit in the bank.
“The bandits entered the store just as Abe Brownstone, the proprietor, was about to close at 9:30 p.m. In the store also were Mrs. Brownstone and two clerks, Paul Summers and A.W. Lewis.
“ ‘We’re sorry to do this but it’s a stick-up,’ said one of the bandits as they both leveled revolvers at the proprietor and his assistants.
“ ‘Where is the “pete”?’ asked the other bandit. ‘Pete’ is a term used by eastern crooks.
“Brownstone showed them the safe and one of the men took out the box containing the money. The robbers herded the group to the rear of the store and then ran out."
Another robbery that Mr. Willis believed Bompensiero masterminded was this, reported on the front page of the June 21, 1933, edition of the San Diego Union:
8 PARTY GUESTS ROBBED OF $2847 BY 3 BANDITS
“Six prominent San Diego residents and two Los Angeles citizens were terrorized by three bandits late last night, when the thugs entered the home of Irvine M. Schulman, 4353 Trias Street, Mission Hills, and robbed guests of $847 and more than $2000 in jewelry.
“Detectives Leo Magone and Ben Eichbaum, investigating the robbery, reported that the bandits entered through a rear door. Before appearing the bandits tore the telephone wires from the wall and tied the rear door open for a quick escape.
“While two of the bandits stood guard at the front door of the home, one of the thugs carefully searched the guests who had been playing cards, taking their money and jewelry. To be sure that they left no valuables on the men, a second bandit searched the guests, taking what little change the first robber missed.
“After a complete search, the three bandits tied each of the men with a small rope and forced them into a closet. They forgot to lock the closet door, however, and after the bandits had departed one of the guests freed himself and ran to a telephone on the second floor where he summoned police. All the persons robbed were men.
“Schulman, police said, was the owner of the Globe Furniture Company on Market Street.”
In 1933 Congress passed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment and on December 5, 1933, lifted Prohibition. The San Diego Union noted on December 6, 1933: “Almost immediately there was a veritable flood of alcoholic liquors in all parts of the city. Within fifteen minutes after word had been spread through newspaper extras that prohibition officially had been repealed, drug and retail liquor stores were selling liquor over their counters and making window displays of their alcoholic stock.” Men like Bompensiero, who made at least part of his money through illegal whiskey and wine, and women like his mother-in-law Felipa Sanfilippo, who made and sold wine, were now out of business.
With Prohibition’s end, downtown San Diego changed rapidly. Mr. Willis said, “A fellow by the name of Tony Mirabile came to town, dear old Tony. Tony took up an old storage building, and made it into the Rainbow Gardens. He made a good living in there. Tony became the boss. His brother Paul, who came here too, was the one who had the class, the education. He was handsome, Paul was, a tall distinguished gentleman, good looking. Tony was a good-sized man too, but sinuous. And Tony was a little on the crude side. Tony would talk in four-letter words and about every third word he would utter was that type of word.
“Law enforcement was more interested in Tony than in Paul. Paul always portrayed the gentleman, always well dressed, and very polite, very courteous, his demeanor was that of a proud don, he didn’t use any rough language. Tony was the rough one, but Tony was the boss. You look at the two together, you would never put them as brothers. Tony dressed well, he wasn’t a slob, but the culture he had, you wouldn’t say he was a cultured gentleman. Tony worked the bars and he acted and talked just like a bar owner. These bars he came to own were watering holes. Everything that Tony had and would later have was predicated on the liquor industry.”
Tony Mirabile — Mirabile means “wonderful or beautiful to behold” — was the name everyone returned to when discussing post-Prohibition activity in downtown San Diego bars. About Mirabile, retired San Diego policeman Bill Heritage said, “It was kind of an unwritten law that you didn’t mess with Tony. I can still see him coming down the street with his overcoat slung over his shoulders and his bodyguard behind him. Tony never put his arms in his sleeves. When I saw that entourage coming down the street, I got out of the way.”
The “bodyguard” of whom Mr. Heritage spoke was Marco Impastato. In hearings conducted by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee’s racket subcommittee in the Hotel San Diego’s Continental Room in October, 1958, San Diego County Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Newsom said, describing Impastato: “He is a lackey, a hireling, you might say, an employee of Tony Mirabile. He has been around the Rainbow Gardens for a number of years. I have observed him myself on numerous occasions with Mirabile in the City of San Diego, also in the County area around the racetrack. He is, you might say, a Hollywood version of a bodyguard. He is usually about three paces behind Mirabile and has a snap brim he carries very low on his forehead. Kind of comical, as a matter of fact, to watch him.”
Tony Mirabile was known to speak among friends about his association, in Detroit, with Detroit’s infamous and violent Purple Gang, a group that eventually transmuted into the Detroit Mafia family. November 13, 1920, Tony became a U.S. citizen and received a certificate of naturalization. Shortly after, the Mirabile brothers left Detroit for Los Angeles.
Mirabile, who was grilled for an entire day by the rackets sub-committee, was asked: “When did you first know Jack Dragna?”
A: I told you.
A: 1921, yes.
Mirabile was asked what businesses Dragna had when the men first met. Mirabile said, “I believe he used to have a winery, or a winery farm, or something like that. Close to Los Angeles. I can’t think of name. He had a winery when I met him. And also distill, some perfume, or something. I don’t know what, but I know that.”
In 1924, Tony and Paul crossed the border into Tijuana and opened two cabaret bars on Avenida Revolutión, one called the Midnight Follies. Tijuana was a small town, then. In 1920 its population was 1028; in 1930, it had only 3300 residents. A small Italian colony existed in Tijuana during the 1920s — Cardinis, Santinis, Cardinales. Jack Dragna and other Mafia-associated Sicilians occasionally visited the Mirabiles there. A man whose family was close to the Mirabiles said his parents often went across the border to the Midnight Follies, that in addition to “stage entertainment” and ballroom dancing, the cabaret offered gambling and slot machines. Tony Mirabiles FBI report states that the Midnight Follies burned to the ground in 1933, the same year that Tony and Paul arrived in San Diego.
When Prohibition ended, Tony Mirabile opened the Rainbow Gardens. According to articles written in 1953 in the Los Angeles Mirror by reporter Art White, Nick Licata loaned Tony Mirabile $7000 to help him start the Rainbow Gardens. Licata (1897-1974), like the Mirabiles, was born in Sicily and settled as a teenager in Detroit. Jay Robert Nash writes in his World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime that Licata soon joined the Detroit Mafia family of Joe Zerilli. “But Licata somehow offended Zerilli and was forced to flee to California. Zerilli took a contract on Licata with the boss of the Los Angeles territory. Jack Dragna. Instead of murdering Licata, Dragna convinced Zerilli to cancel the contract and took Licata into his organization.”
Tony Mirabile, early on, was making enough money to allow him to buy stocks and bonds. His last will, prepared in 1952 and 1953, shows that on November 19,1931, while still in Tijuana, he bought 3 shares in the Bancamerica-Blair Corporation. May 27, 1935, he bought 40 shares of stock in the Chicago department store, Marshall Field and Company. In 1937, on January 30, he bought 24 shares of Bancamerica-Blair. April 15, 1937, he acquired 19 shares in the National City Bank of New York. July 31, 1937, Tony bought 121 shares of common stock in the Bank of America. August 13, 1938, he purchased 605 shares in the Transamerica Corporation. By the mid-1940s Tony and Paul would be worth at least one million dollars.
Mr. Willis said that Tony Mirabile, once he settled in San Diego and opened the Rainbow Gardens, soon became known about town as the godfather of the Italian and Sicilian community, the man to go see when you had problems, when you needed a job, when you needed a loan — “Particularly," laughed Mr. Willis, “if you wanted a loan.” A man long retired from law enforcement, a man who like Mr. Willis had always taken an interest in the “Italian element” in San Diego, said to me, about Mirabile, “No question in my mind that Tony was a made man.” By “made man,” the retiree meant that Tony, at some point, had become a Mafia member. He went on to say, about Tony Mirabile, “You don’t get in a position of control like that if you aren’t a made man. He was considered by the local hoods to be the one in charge. Everybody came to see him. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, meetings were held. Little Apaiachins. Usually they went to the back room in the bar he hung around the most that he owned, the Rainbow Gardens.”
The story on Tony Mirabile’s being a “made man,” seems to me, a sad story. According to a local near-octogenarian unconnected to law enforcement, a man whose inside knowledge of organized crime is impeccable, “Tony was a joke. Tony couldn’t do any work. He never did any work. He paid Jack Dragna to make him. He gave Jack $150,000, along in 1941, 1942.” At best, my informant suggested, Tony Mirabile was an old-fashioned padrone, a distributor of petty favors to employees and other bar owners. Where Tony was a joke, he explained. was in the larger, outer world of what variously could be described as organized crime, connected people, the Mafia, or, Cosa Nostra, a world where gossip is rife. “Everyone knew about Tony," my informant said, “even back East they knew.” A man who pays to be made, rather than by “doing work,” or, killing, will always be looked down upon by true “workers.” And so, my informant said, Tony was “a joke.” My informant also told me that Bompensiero never liked or trusted Mirabile.
After Prohibition ended, Dragna’s Los Angeles group began to push its way — literally — into gambling and book- making. According to LAPD’s James E. Hamilton's “Gangland Killings” document, “When two large books in the Los Angeles area — operated by Guy McAfee and Tutor Sheerer began to be ‘muscled’ for a ‘piece’ of the ‘take’ by Italians, led by Jack Dragna, McAfee refused and was reported to ask ‘Who the hell is jack Dragna?’ He found out! Stickupmen raided the books; runners were roughed up, all of which cost the books thousands of dollars. Soon the Italians were cut in!”
Ex-pugilist Meyer Harris (Mickey) Cohen (1913-76), beginning in the 1930s, managed a good-sized bookmaking ring in LA. Benjamin “Bugsy" Siegel (1906-47) also showed up in LA in the 1930s.
Meyer Lansky, the book-making mastermind, expected that Siegel’s presence in California would extend syndicate control of gambling all through the West. Lansky spoke to Charles “Lucky" Luciano who spoke to Jack Dragna. Luciano told Dragna to make Siegel welcome in LA. Dragna acceded, not happily, to Lansky and Luciano’s demands.
Mickey Cohen, in Mickey Cohen: In My Own Words (as told to John Peer Nugent) explains the LA rackets this way:
“Until Benny [Siegel] came to LA in 1936, maybe 1937, it was a syndicate, a combination like the syndicate in Chicago and the syndicate in New York. But here, gambling and everything like they did in Jersey, Chicago, and New York was completely run by cops and stool pigeons.
“Benny was part and parcel of New York. He was all-powerful and connected with the main organization back East, on a par with anybody you could mention — Joe Adonis, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello. In Los Angeles there was this Italian man by the name of Jack Dragna. Jack was very powerful and very well respected, but he got kind of lackadaisical. He wasn’t able to put a lot of things together to the satisfaction of the Eastern people, or even keep things together for himself to their satisfaction... . There was no combination; everyone was acting independently. The organization had to pour money on to help Dragna at all times. So Benny came out here to get things moving good.
“Although Benny had great respect for the Italians, he was always considered like a boss on his own. See, outside the East, like in New Jersey, the Jews and the Italians had a strong combine together, or as close as any Italian could be with any non-Italian. But Dragna was of the old school where only Italians ran things, and certainly not Jews like Benny with his Eastern ways. But that didn’t bother Benny none. ‘Fuck Dragna’ was his attitude, and he did.
“Dragna was really from the old mustache days. The worst thing you can do to an old-time Italian Mahoff is to harm his prestige in any way, and that’s what took place when Benny came out here.
“Jack Dragna didn’t like to be connected with Siegel. See, Three-Finger Brown — Thomas Lucchese — in New York was Jack Dragna’s goombah and a real nice guy. Benny's was Meyer Lansky. Jack Dragna was actually the complete boss out here before Siegel or I come out here. Now when Benny and I come out here, two Jews, then Meyer made trips out here. So it was really an encroachment on Dragna’s Italian territory. He didn’t realize it at first but I started to get wind of it when I had more meetings with Jack Dragna. He would get in a little zing all the time to Benny and Jews, and I kind of woke up to it. You gotta remember the old-time Italian outlook on things, pride is a tremendous thing with them. Dragna and Johnny Rosselli were on a pedestal by themselves. But Benny, with his takeover way, was knocking down that pedestal pretty good, and with my help.”
Pete Hamill, in a February, 1992, article in Playboy explained Siegel’s move to the West Coast this way.
“Siegel went west in 1936. The reasons were complicated. Tom Dewey was now special prosecutor in New York (later district attorney). Urged on by New York’s flamboyant mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia, he was directing the toughest investigation of organized crime in the city’s history. The heat, as they said, was on. Siegel wanted to get out of the way.
“Another reason was economic. The city was bogged down in the Great Depression, and even the racket guys were beginning to feel the pinch. Of all the old bootleggers, only Siegel seemed to be without his own fiefdom. He couldn’t shoot his way into personal power in New York; he didn’t have the manpower and, besides, these were his friends. So when Dewey applied the big heat, Siegel — possibly at Lansky’s suggestion — went to California. In 1936, that state was not the economic powerhouse it is today, in many ways it was provincial, underpopulated, isolated from the mainstream. He had a piece of a gambling ship called The Rex and of the race track at Agua Caliente, across the border from San Diego in Mexico. He had established himself as the Mob superior to Jack Dragna, the old boss of the L.A. rackets.”
Siegel and Cohen were not good news for Dragna. Cohen was a mouthy, irascible but charming little thug. Siegel, with Lansky money behind him and Lansky acumen, was a more serious threat to Dragna’s desire to take control of Los Angeles’ off-track betting. According to All-American Mafioso: The Johnny Rosselli Story, Johnny Rosselli quickly made himself useful to Siegel by serving as “Siegel’s primary contact with the Italians in Los Angeles.”
During this same period, Girolamo “Momo” Adamo arrived from Kansas City with his wife Marie (who in 1969, 14 years after Mary Ann’s mother’s death, would marry Bompensiero). Adamo, born in Sicily in 1895, came to the U.S. in the early 1900s, going first to Chicago and then to Kansas City, where he involved himself with Kansas City’s Sicilian underworld combine. Adamo had come west to escape Kansas City’s gang warfare and over the next ten years would serve as conduit between Kansas City and Los Angeles, bringing in midwestern toughs to do Dragna’s dirtier dirty work. Adamo’s continuing friendship with Kansas City kingpins James Balestrere, Joseph DiGiovanni, Tony Gizzo, and others, including Tano Lococo, his wife Marie’s brother’s father-in-law, added to his luster. Adamo rather quickly became second-in-command, or, underboss, to Dragna, and until his death by suicide in 1956, remained close friends with Bompensiero.
In 1934, 1935, and 1936, I find no listing for Frank and Thelma Bompo or Bomp or Bompensiero or Buonpensiero or Bonpensiero in the San Diego city directory. Mary Ann feels sure that during those years she and her parents lived, at least part of the time, in Los Angeles, next door to Jack Dragna’s brother Tom, Tom’s wife Julia, and their sons, Frank and Louis. Mary Ann recalled Julia. “I was scared to death of her. One time one of my Patella cousins came to visit and I was being a brat and wouldn’t let her play with something of mine. Julia locked me in a closet. After that I always thought of her as someone like a witch from a fairy tale. I was so scared of her that all my mom or dad had to say to me if I wouldn’t finish my vegetables or take my medicine was, ‘If you don’t do it, I will call Julia!' And whatever it was, I’d do it right away.”
In the fall of 1934, according to All-American Mafioso: The Johnny Rosselli Story, Jack Dragna’s national standing finally was at least grudgingly acknowledged by East Coast mafiosi, when Dragna was invited to attend a “Mafia conference in New York. Gathered around a dinner table on the balcony of the theater cafe Casio de Paris were the top Italian gangsters in the country, including Paul Ricca from Chicago and Frank Costello from New York. The meeting was chaired by Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, who toasted Dragna to the others as one of ‘our people.’ ”
Mary Ann can’t remember a time when she didn’t know Jack Dragna. “He was a little, squatty guy, real short. I met him when I was a little girl and he was ‘Uncle Jack.’ That’s what I called him. Momo Adamo was Momo to me, but he was ‘Uncle Jack.’ Tom Dragna was ‘Uncle Tom,’ and Frankie Dragna, Jack Dragna’s son, well,” Mary Ann laughed, “Frankie was spoiled rotten with American women. But that’s another matter, that’s another story.
“I remember how Jack Dragna would always say, ‘Come here, honey, and sit on Uncle Jack’s lap.’ You know in Italian, everybody is ‘kiss, kiss.’ If I walked in a room and my grandparents or uncles were there, you had to kiss them ‘hello,’ you had to kiss them ‘good-bye.’ Uncle Jack, I had to kiss him hello and kiss him good-bye and sit on his lap. When I got older, I didn’t want to sit on his lap. So I said, ‘Daddy, I don’t like to sit on Uncle Jack’s lap.' I didn’t sit on my daddy’s lap, why would I want to sit on Uncle Jack’s lap? My father said, ‘Well, why, honey?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m getting too big now. I don’t want to sit on his lap.’ So my father said, ‘All right,’ and that was it. Uncle Jack never asked me to sit on his lap again. But I knew him forever, it seems like, Uncle Jack.”
Mary Ann recalled drives from Los Angeles to San Diego. “I don’t know how old I was, but I remember that I’d sit in the backseat of the car and I’d sing, ‘California, Here I Come,’ from LA to San Diego. I remember, too, driving from Los Angeles to San Diego with my mom and dad and wanting to know what San Diego would look like. I remember asking, ‘Will it look like Los Angeles?’ and my father turning around in the car and answering me by saying, ‘There’s a lot of fishing boats there in San Diego.’ ”
In the summer of 1937 just before Mary Ann started first grade at Washington Elementary School, trouble that would engage her father erupted in Los Angeles. Bugsy Siegel, with Dragna and his group under his control, took on the older Los Angeles gambling syndicate. According to Charles Rappleye and Ed Becker’s account in All-American Mafioso, “a meeting was called for the city’s top game-room operators, and Siegel announced that all proceeds would have to be split with his outfit. The lone dissent was voiced by Les Brunemann...a balding veteran of the Crawford-McAfee syndicate who operated gambling clubs in the beach cities south of Los Angeles.” Siegel decided to make an example of Brunemann, and “assigned Dragna to administer a dose of East Coast discipline.”
On the evening of July 19, write Rappleye and Becker, “Brunemann was enjoying the perquisites that accrued to a small-time crime czar, taking a stroll on the oceanfront esplanade in Redondo Beach. On his arm was a pretty young blonde, a hostess from one of his gambling arcades.... Two men stepped up behind them, leveled automatic pistols and began shooting. His date was unharmed, but Brunemann caught three slugs in his hack. He staggered 200 feet to the lobby of a local movie theater and was rushed to a local hospital.”
According to the tale told Ovid Demaris by Jimmy Fratianno in Demaris’s The Last Mafioso, Bompensiero was the shooter. His three shots only wounded the gambler. Brunemann was hospitalized for several months at the Queen of Angels Hospital. Word came, along in October, that Brunemann was sufficiently recuperated that he was visiting his old hangout, the Roost Café in Redondo Beach, in the company of his nurse. Moceri, Bonventre, and Bompensiero returned to Redondo Beach on the night of October 23. The summary of the Los Angeles Police Department notes: “Victim shot and killed while sitting at a table booth at the Roost Café — in company with his nurse, ALICE INGRAM, and others. Nurse INGRAM wounded in legs, a bystander FRANK GREUZARD killed also by two gunmen who entered café and blasted at victim and party with .45 caliber automatics. Suspects fled scene in auto. There were four suspects in this case. Two gunmen who entered café and did the blasting, two others in the get-away car.”
If we are to believe Jimmy Fratianno’s report of this, Moceri did the final deed. Fratianno quotes Moceri as telling the story this way. “Bompensiero said, 'Okay, Leo, you take him this time and I’ll cover you.’ I’ve got a forty-five automatic and the place’s packed with people. I walk right up to his table and start pumping lead. Believe me, that sonavabitch’s going to be dead for sure this time.” According to the police report, Moceri pumped 16 shots into Brunemann. The three men were never apprehended.
Dragna in February, 1938, asked Bompensiero to take care of Los Angeles gambler, Phil Galuzo. Why Dragna wanted Galuzo dead is a fact now lost. About eight in the evening on February 28, Bompensiero and two other Dragna "workers" snapped Galuzo off the street at 636 Broadway in Los Angeles. Bompensiero apparently drove while his two sidekicks beat Galuzo. At 1674 East 83rd Street, they stopped the car, tossed Galuzo out into the gutter facedown in water, and shot him seven times. Galuzo was in the hospital a week before he died, on March 7. On March 11, the Los Angeles police put out an all-points bulletin that named Bompensiero as Galuzo’s murderer. Leo Moceri, years later, would tell Jimmy Fratianno that he gave Bompensiero “some names in Detroit and they stashed him a couple years. Then he went to Tampa and stayed with Santo Trafficante.”
In 1937, the year that Mary Ann started first grade, the San Diego city directory lists Thelma Bompo as a cashier at the Beverly Clothes Shop at 936 Fifth Avenue. Mary Ann said, “I started the first grade at Washington grammar school. I went to Washington up until I was in the fifth grade.”
Mary Ann, living in San Diego with her mother, only knew that her father was “gone on business.” Years later she would learn that for almost two years, he was hidden out by various Mafia-connected families across the United States. Her mother supported them by working as a clerk in dress shops. According to an old friend of Frank and Thelma’s, “Thelma always knew where Frank was. Always. She was able to visit him sometimes, in places where he was hiding."
“Mr. Willis,” the retiree from San Diego law enforcement, told me one day about the Victor Carlino killing on March 21, 1940, a murder in which Mr. Willis and other city and county men suspected Bompensiero might have had a hand. “Carlino,” he said, “worked at Mirabile’s joint, Rainbow Gardens. He’d only been in town from Los Angeles for about a month or so when he got wasted. His vehicle was found in La Mesa. His brains were scattered all over the dashboard and the cowling. They never did find his body. They did a real good job on him, a real permanent job. His body obviously ended up off Coronado Islands or somewhere, fish food. I think maybe Frank was questioned about it at some point, but nothing ever came of it.” As to why Carlino was killed, Mr. Willis suggested that Carlino no doubt offended the wrong person. “This is the way these people think, they don’t have any trust in public officials, something goes wrong, you handle it yourself.”
One day in 1940 when Mary Ann was nine she came home from her fifth-grade classes at Washington Elementary School and her mother said they were moving to Los Angeles. “We moved into an apartment at Harvard and Pico and our land-lady was Mrs. Rosemary. It was a Spanish-style building. I don’t know how many apartments there were up and down, maybe six or eight. But the whole front was beautiful. The lawn was huge and then Mrs. Rosemary had several rows of flowers, and the beds were filled with iris, all different color iris.
“The apartment was upstairs. It was really not even a one-bedroom. It was more like a studio apartment. It was furnished. It was just one big living room, and then dead ahead from the living room was a little area for a kitchen table, and then to the right of that — as you walk into the living room, to the right, in the middle of the living room was a doorway. And that was — you couldn’t call it a bedroom — like a dressing room. That was my room. The living room had one of those Murphy beds, that you fold out of the wall at night. They’d have to go into my bedroom, to go into the bathroom. And that was it. There was a big mirror with a low dresser, and I had more a cot than a bed, and on the one side of the wall — you stood up and there’s a dressing table, boom.
“My dad, of course, was hiding out. He was Frank Martin, my mother was Thelma Martin, I was Mary Ann Martin. We didn’t have a car. The only time we would go out as a family when we were on Harvard Street was to the movies. We walked to the movie theater. My mother got a job working for Hartfield’s, a store kind of like a Lerners, in downtown Los Angeles. My mother took the bus or a streetcar to work. She got up every morning, went to work, and came home. She was the sole support of the family. My father stayed home. He did all the housework, cleaned up and dusted and washed dishes. He did all the cooking — breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He always had dinner cooked and ready when my mother got home from work. He used to make a fish soup. He made pasta. He made veal. I was so skinny. I was like Olive Oyl. My legs were skinny and long. But my father fattened me up. He made me drink two quarts of milk a day. He’d sit there at the table with me and play solitaire while I drank it.
“Sometimes, after school, he and I would take short walks around the neighborhood. We’d go five or six blocks and I’d be hot and cranky. I’d say, ‘Daddy, carry me,’ and he’d pick me right up and carry me. People can all say what they want to say about my father, but there never was a day when I was a child that I did not know that he loved me. I think he would have absolutely died for me.
“I don’t remember ever going to church with my dad, but my mother and I would go. The only time we ever saw him in church, when I was a child, was weddings, if he had to, and maybe a funeral or when there was a baptism and he was somebody’s godfather. But I was going to Catholic school. I made my first Holy Communion in Los Angeles as Mary Ann Martin. I didn’t know any different.
“I had a little girlfriend at Catholic school. Her name was Patty and we’d come home from school for lunch. He always treated Patty so sweetly. Her parents were divorced and he felt sorry for her. He was home for lunch, of course, because he was home all the time, in hiding, and he would make us three-decker club sandwiches. He’d toast the bread and make the sandwich and carefully cut it into quarters, just like they did in the restaurants. He’d stick a toothpick in each quarter of the sandwich and poke an olive into the end of the toothpick. He’d lay potato chips all around it.
“Sometimes when I was home alone or didn’t have girlfriends over, and my father would be playing solitaire. I’d stand in front of the mirror and sing. My dad would say, ‘What are you doing?’ I’d say, ‘Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a singer with a band.’ ‘No way!’ he’d say. ‘You want that kind of life? No way, baby, no way.’
“We had Christmas there, in the Harvard Avenue place. That was the first Christmas tree that I remember picking out. My father and I were a block or two from Pico Boulevard. We walked up to this lot and bought a tree. I picked out a blue tree. Maybe five feet tall. It was bigger than I was. My mother walked in the door from work that night. And she goes, ‘What, my God, Frank, a blue tree?’ He says, ‘Honey, that's what Mary Ann wanted. She’s our baby. That’s what she wanted. So we got her a blue tree.' "
Mary Ann said that she remembered only one time all through her childhood that her parents seemed to quarrel in a serious fashion. “I never once, ever, heard my father call my mother names, or heard him address her in any but the most respectful way. I never heard him scream at her. And he never, not ever, laid a hand on her. I think my father would have died before he hit my mother or any woman. He looked down on men who hit women. He thought they were scum, low. But when we were living in this little studio apartment in Los Angeles and he was hiding out, I woke up one night and heard my mother talking loudly. I ran in to see what was happening. They were sitting there on the Murphy bed, both of them in all their clothes, and my mother was biting down on my father’s hand and his hand was bleeding. And he was stroking her hair, whispering, Thelma, honey, please, honey, Thelma, baby.’ "
On June 21, 1941, Mary Ann and her mother went to a movie. Mary Ann recalled the evening. “My father used to go with us all the time, but this night my mother and I went. When we came back every light in the apartment was on, there were people downstairs, and my mother goes, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ Mrs. Rosemary, our landlady, was downstairs and my mother said, ‘Mrs. Rosemary, Mrs. Rosemary, what’s happening?’ She didn’t know what was going on. They had arrested my dad. Mrs. Rosemary said to my mother, ‘Oh, Thelma, you could have trusted me, why didn’t you tell me?’ My mother was just crying and crying. She said,‘Oh, Mrs. Rosemary, how could I?’ And she was sobbing. And I was screaming and crying, ‘Where’s my daddy?’ But then, four or five days later, he came home. It was almost always like that. The police would pick him up and hold him for a while and then he’d come home.”
The LAPD “Gangland Killings" document notes this: “FRANK BOMPENSIERO was arrested on June 21, 1941, in connection with the murder of Phil Galuzo. However, as there was insufficient evidence to prosecute on kidnapping and murder charges, suspect released. At this time BOMPENSIERO was wanted for three felony counts of robbery by San Diego police. Disposition unknown."
I asked my retired friend, Mr. Willis, what he made of the Los Angeles police letting Bompensiero go. He laughed, a big laugh that rumbled up out of his big chest. He said, “It’s like this. Irish policemen and mafioso hoods, they got along well together."
I asked Mary Ann if she recalled her parents being affectionate. She said, “My dad would always say, ‘When you love somebody you don't have to display it and show it in public. Actions may speak louder than words but all of these people who are huggy, huggy, kissy, kissy all the time, that’s no good. There’s a time and place for things like that.’ He also used to say that there were guys who were always kissing on their women out in public and then they’d take the woman home and beat hell out of her. My father never laid a hand on me or my mother. And he was affectionate with her, but at least in front of me and other people, he was not overly affectionate. He would look at her across the table, for instance, and the way he looked at her and the way she looked back at him, you knew these people were people who were in love. I’ll tell you one thing that I know, for sure. My father loved my mother dearly. He worshipped the ground my mother walked on. And my mother worshipped him."
I asked Mary Ann if she thought her mother knew about the robberies, the beatings, the murders. “She must have known, or, guessed. He never told her much. He said, ‘What you don’t know, they can’t ask you.’ But she must have known.”
I asked Mary Ann how she thought her mother bore up under her father’s absences and arrests. Mary Ann frowned, almost imperceptibly. “I don’t think my mother was happy. She probably shed more tears than I ever saw. You could sense it. But she loved him. She really loved him. I don’t know what else to say.
“ ‘My Melancholy Baby,’ that was their song. ‘Come to me, my melancholy baby,’ that’s how it starts out. And then, ‘Come on and smile my honey dear, let me wipe away each tear, or else I shall be melancholy too.’ When we moved back to San Diego after the war and my parents went on Saturday night to Tops or Imig Manor, my father always had the band play that song for them. My mom would be wearing one of her beautiful strapless gowns that showed off her shoulders and her beautiful bustline. She’d tip her head down on his shoulder and they’d dance. They were beautiful dancers. They were in a world of their own. My dad would sing along in her car, ‘Wait until the sun comes shining through, life is always sunshine when the heart beats true.’ That was their song.”