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.
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.’
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.