Jewel and Jimmy Fratianno. Fratianno cajoled Bompensiero, “What’s wrong with you? These guys couldn’t clip a flea. Rosselli tells me Desimone’s scared of his shadow."
I don’t know how in the first months of 1955 Frank Bompensiero managed to get himself out of bed to face the day. I don’t know how he slept at night. Frank and Thelma and their daughter Mary Ann and her son Frankie, in late 1954 moved from Estelle Street into temporary quarters on College Avenue and then early in 1955 into their new house on Braeburn Road in Kensington. So he had the worry of moving into the Braeburn Road house, onto which a builder was putting an addition. Then there was the Algiers, Bompensiero’s restaurant. Yale Kahn had built the building, on College Avenue, next to the Campus Drive-In, with its big neon sign that depicted an Indian-headdress-wearing majorette twirling a baton. Kahn put the restaurant in for Bompensiero. The specialty was Sicilian steak. The restaurant wasn’t doing well. “People don’t want good food,” Bompensiero told Thelma and Mary Ann. “They’d as soon eat hamburger.”
Jack Levitt noted that the prosecution planned to call 18 witnesses, among them Earl Jacobs, owner of the Lakeland Resort in Cuyamaca and Silver Spigot owner Jack Millspaugh.
Worst, though, was the fallout from the liquor license inquiries. Bompensiero may well have thought how peculiar it was, how odd, that for someone who didn’t drink much, that the only big trouble he’d been in was trouble over liquor. Bompensiero and his younger brother Sam and his nephew Leo Patella, since 1954, had been fighting the State Board of Equalization; the fight was over the liquor license for the Spot. Bompensiero was charged with being secret owner of the Spot’s liquor license. Then, too, he was in difficulties over the Pirate’s Cave, his bar at 402 West Broadway. He was accused by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Department (in 1955, authority over liquor licenses was transferred from the State Board of Equalization to the new state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department) of “running a public barroom in violation of the State Constitution.”
Thelma Bompensiero. Bompensiero’s fealty to Dragna was as iron strong as was his loyalty to Thelma.
If you had, as Bompensiero did, an on-sale general liquor license, you were required to serve food. The abc investigator charged that while the Pirate’s Cave had seats for 43 patrons, he found only 4 knives, 6 forks, 3 teaspoons, 1 soup spoon, 1 plate, 1 platter, 2 salad dishes, 14 cups, 11 saucers, and 3 mugs for serving food. Plus, the investigator said that while the kitchen was of proper size, it was dirty. Also, the investigator testified that from the food on hand, a cook could prepare only one of the eight offerings on Bompensiero’s menu.
Frank Desimone. It was Desimone’s job to see to it when a Mafia figure was on trial that there was no spilling over, nothing getting out that would embarrass the mob.
Worst of the worst, the source, surely, of Bompensiero’s greatest woe and worry, was the indictment brought against him in late summer 1954, by a San Diego County grand jury. He was charged with bribery and conspiracy to bribe in connection with liquor licenses. The annual state fee for an on-sale liquor license was $525. However, under a barely clandestine system organized by State Board of Equalization member William “Big Bill” Bonelli, a license could cost as much as $15,000. What the extra-legal dollars bought was influence. The money, paid under the table, went to Bonelli and his middlemen. The latter were a rapscallion bunch: SBE employees, so-called business opportunity and liquor license brokers, and assorted bagmen. As one retired lawman said, “It was straight-out mordida. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, up to that time the people in the liquor business were bootleggers, speakeasy owners, and other people who were used to paying off for protection. They didn’t see this as much different.” When the DA’s office completed its investigation into liquor license improprieties, they would discover that bar owners handed over at least $119,000 in bribes for 25 liquor licenses in the county between 1950 and 1954.
Sam Giancana. Fratianno wanted out of the Los Angeles family and during the early 1960s Chicago family head Sam Giancana effected Fratianno’s move.
The indictment accused Bompensiero of receiving a $5000 bribe from Jacumba cafe owner Ernest Gillenberg on behalf of State Board of Equalization district liquor control administrator Charles E. Berry and of conspiring to ask for and receive a bribe on Berry’s behalf. A half-dozen other men, State Board of Equalization employees and liquor license brokers, faced with similar charges, already had been tried, convicted, and harshly sentenced. These men’s cases were heard in Judge John “Hanging John” Hewicker’s courtroom, the same courtroom toward which Bompensiero’s case was headed. Unbeknownst to Bompensiero, Hewicker had read with zealous interest Ed Reid’s 1952 The Mafia. Hewicker had been particularly attentive to the chapter entitled “Phi Beta Mafia” wherein Reid listed 83 men as Mafia members. Number 26 was Frank Bompensiero. Hewicker, someone told me, “was smacking his lips at the thought of getting himself the real McCoy. He finally had himself a big criminal, so he planned to really lower the boom on him.”
“I was the one who booked Bompensiero into the jail. He and his attorney — Augustine — came in. That day, he wasn’t smiling. He took his diamond ring off and gave it to Augustine."
Through 1954 and early 1955, day after day, Bompensiero saw his name blazoned across San Diego newspapers. Reporters recapitulated the old stories — his year in McNeil Island federal prison for violation of Prohibition-era liquor laws, the accusations that he’d killed Phil Galuzo, his association with Los Angeles Mafia godfather Jack Dragna. Day after day he talked with lawyers — the dyspeptic Tums-chewing Frank Desimone in Los Angeles and C.H. Augustine in San Diego. Week after week, as Bompensiero’s businesses foundered, as he lost the Algiers and fell behind on payments to liquor suppliers, he paid lawyers. Paid them thousands of dollars.
Jack Dragna. After Jack Dragna died, the army that Bompensiero had joined seemed to Bompensiero to become corrupt, weak, venal.
Desimone tried every trick. He pled with the Fourth Appellate Court to quash the indictment. Arguing that the indictment, formally returned on September 1, 1954, referred to an act that took place on April 3, 1951, he asked the State Supreme Court to consider that a three-year statute of limitations nulled the indictment. Jack Levitt, the San Diego County district attorney’s office’s best “book lawyer,” argued before the state court that the statute of limitations did not apply since Bompensiero’s action was part of a continuing conspiracy. Desimone countered that insufficient evidence existed to show Bompensiero was a part of that conspiracy. Desimone further argued that Judge Hewicker was prejudiced against Bompensiero and that if his client’s case did come to trial, Hewicker should be disqualified from hearing it. (Bart Sheela, a deputy district attorney in the San Diego County district attorney’s office from 1951 to 1955, said recently when I asked him why Desimone wanted Hewicker disqualified: “Anybody that was defending anybody and had any sense at all would try to get Hewicker disqualified. He was a one-way judge.”) Desimone managed to get a continuance from January 10 to March 14 to allow time for the State Supreme Court to make its decision.
Johnny Rosselli. Rosselli asked Fratianno, “Have you seen the TV show, The Untouchables?”
Frankie, Mary Ann’s son, was almost four. Mary Ann and Frankie’s father were divorced. Mary Ann and Frankie were living with her parents. Mary Ann said that perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that she and Frankie were back home during this time. Her parents were edgy. Thelma Bompensiero’s blood pressure had been high since she was pregnant with Mary Ann. Her blood pressure now zoomed higher. Terrific headaches practically knocked her mother over. Her father threw himself down on the couch and watched whatever came on television. In the old days, when the news came on, her father, in the midst of some political commentary, “talked” to the reporter, said something like, “What a pain in the fisterus you are!!” During the early months of 1955, however, he silently watched. “The only time you’d see my dad happy,” said Mary Ann, “was when he was playing with Frankie.”
Tony Mirable was known to speak about his association with Detroit’s infamous and violent Purple Gang.
About this time Mary Ann met the man who would become her second husband — Gino. I talked one day with Gino. His family was from Naples. He had grown up in Massachusetts. Early in the 1950s, at the urging of an older brother already settled in San Diego, Gino came to town. “My brother was out here, and he says, ‘Come west, they’re making money out here.’ I went fishing. I was on a tuna boat. I’d never fished before. It is very hard work, very hard work. That’s when I met Mary Ann, when I was fishing. I was living down in Little Italy on Columbia. My sister was living there too.”
San Quentin. Bart Sheela and another DA’s office employee went to San Quentin to visit Bompensiero.
Did Gino know who Frank Bompensiero was?
“Well, people you hang around with, they talk and you pick up conversation and read between the lines. And then when I really met him, I knew. And then I knew from hanging around downtown. I knew who he was, what he was; I said ‘Hi’ to him and so forth. I was hanging out downtown. Downtown was wide open then. Third Avenue there, where all those guys owned the bars, from there, baboom, baboom, baboom, I got to know them all. These guys were older than I was. I was the young punk around the neighborhood. The Gold Rail, it was just like the rest of those bars downtown, but the Spot did a lot of business, most of the business. They depended on the Navy. They didn’t have many locals. Sam, Frank’s brother, I used to go talk to Sam all the time at his bar. And we used to go down to the racetrack together. And play the horses. I met Mary Ann’s dad through Sam, his brother. And then when I started going out with Mary Ann, I met Mary Ann’s mother. She was very nice. She was real friendly, the nicest lady in the world.”
Victor Buono (left), from the San Diego Union, February 4, 1959. Buono would be convicted of engineering a robbery in Mirabile’s third-floor penthouse apartment overlooking Balboa Park.
Gino met Marie and Momo Adamo, who had moved from Los Angeles to San Diego during the mid-1950s and lived at 4134 Lymer Drive in Kensington. Momo Adamo, for many years had been “in business” with Jack Dragna. “I knew the Adamos real well. Marie drove Momo crazy back in those days. She was an attractive woman. She liked to drink. She liked to party. She liked nice clothes. Very elegant, she was, and she used to pay $200 just for a little nightgown. We used to go over to Momo’s house and have dinner. Momo would have people come in from Chicago, and after dinner we’d play cards and so forth. Stupid games, you know, that women like to play.”
Jack Linkletter: "I get a call from an FBI agent who says, ‘You know a Frank Bompensiero?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, he’s on your payroll.’ I said, ‘Help me out with this, what do you mean?’ "
I asked Gino what Momo did for money.
“Well, those guys, they’re broke today and they got $5000, $10,000 tomorrow. That’s how they operated. Frank Desimone, I remember a funny episode with him in it. This was sometime before Frank Bompensiero went to prison. It was at Momo and Marie’s house. Frank Bompensiero was there and Mary Ann and Desimone and the guys. Marie was barbecuing steaks, porterhouse steaks. Frank Desimone, he comes out on the patio and he says, ‘What, I gotta eat this crap? Get some good steaks.’ And then Momo started in telling him, ‘You go to hell.’ Marie is carrying on the way Marie carried on. So Momo goes up to Marie and says, ‘Marie, why don’t you shut up.’ ”
Chicago’s “top guys have voted a hit.… We’re going to clip Desi Arnaz, the producer of this show.”
District Attorney Don Keller assigned Bart Sheela as prosecutor for Bompensiero’s case. “In the DA’s office,” said Sheela, “we’d all heard the stories about Bompensiero and the meetings that the mob guys had in their glory years, a year or so before the liquor license investigation, when they’d have these huge blowouts down at Le Gloria, the hotel-rancho between Tijuana and Rosarito. We’d hear stories about rubouts. And there was no doubt that Bompensiero was a tough, tough man. If you had to have somebody killed, I would have looked to Bompensiero. I would’ve trusted him to get it done. No question. Then there was that Ed Reid book — it was just a little pocket paperback — about the Mafia that was out at that time. Reid listed Bompensiero as number 26 in importance in the U.S. Mafia.
“Before the trial was set to start, I went to LA and pulled the file on the Phil Galuzo case, in which Bompensiero was suspected as Galuzo’s killer, because obviously if Bompensiero took the stand I wanted to wangle that in. In my judgment, the Los Angeles police had a perfect case against Bompensiero in the Galuzo thing, because they had witnesses. Bompensiero didn’t do a good job of killing the guy, he lived for seven days, and in a classic dying declaration, which made it admissible, he named the two people who killed him. The declaration named his killers as Frank and a guy from the union hall, but then when it came back, a homicide detective in the LA police department said they couldn’t make a case. I thought it was a bunch of baloney on their part. I thought somebody got paid off.”
About Bompensiero’s lawyers, Sheela said, “C.H. Augustine was a good lawyer, he’d been in the DA’s office shortly before I came there. He was a trial lawyer. Then they had a guy named Bill Burns. But that case was actually being controlled by Desimone, he was making the tactical decisions. It was Desimone’s job to see to it when a Mafia figure was on trial that there was no spilling over, nothing getting out that would embarrass the mob. That was my reading of it. Desimone seemed like a real nice guy. I’d never been able to go to the Turf Club, but when I got to the DA’s office, then all of the judges had Turf Club passes, the DA had Turf Club passes, the jury commissioner had Turf Club passes, and they were always available. I used to see Desimone at the Turf Club, he was very pleasant. I didn’t know until the Apalachin thing that he was that well connected.” (Desimone was arrested in 1957 at the meeting in Apalachin, New York, of 65 men, many associated with America’s crime syndicate. Others at the meeting included Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Joseph Magliocco, Gerardo Catena, Natale Evola, Michele Miranda, Carmine Lombardozzi, John Ormento, Joseph Riccobono, Paul Castellano, Alfred Rava, Santo Trafficante Jr., James Civello, James Colletti, Frank Zito, John Scalish, Joseph Ida, and Sam Giancana.)
March 18, the State Supreme Court in a six-to-one decision ruled that Bompensiero would stand trial and that he would do so in Judge Hewicker’s courtroom. Trial date was reset for Monday, April 18. Meanwhile, Desimone reached out to the United States Supreme Court. He asked Justice William O. Douglas to receive a writ in certioraris review (a writ from a higher court to a lower one requesting a transcript of the proceedings of a case for review) and to stay the trial until the writ request could be argued. The Supreme Court declined and on Tuesday morning, jury selection began. Augustine, not unwisely in a city where Sunday closing blue laws still applied, queried prospective jurors about attitudes toward liquor and association with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Prohibition Party.
By Wednesday, April 20, the jury was chosen. Jurors were Bernice Aved, Barbara Winter, Irene Vitalich, Mrs. Burl H. Pierce, Carl A. Bertele, Mildred M. Rolph, Warren E. Wilsie, Mary Jo Molina, Rudolph Fibiger, Gwen A. Yontz, Pearl L. Collins, and Elizabeth Shukraft. Alternate jurors were Virginia R. Wroe, Lee E. Singleton, and LeRoy B. Stewart.
The San Diego Union noted in its April 21 issue:
JUDGE MAY GET INTO JAM
- “Hewicker last night took home a jar of strawberry jam, a gift from a woman juror who liked his illustration on the difference of evidence. Hewicker had told prospective jurors in the Bompensiero trial that if a youngster was caught in the jam jar, it was direct evidence. If he was caught with jam on his face, the evidence was circumstantial. Attorneys questioning jurors apparently like the illustration too. They used it frequently during the selection and questioning of the panel. Hewicker said, ‘I’ll have it for breakfast.’ ”
Jack Levitt and Bart Sheela represented the state. Their goal was to show not only that Bompensiero received a bribe but that he was involved in a conspiracy to solicit and procure bribes. To accomplish this goal, the prosecution set out to demonstrate that bribes regularly had been solicited by both State Board of Equalization employees and by the so-called business opportunity brokers who had set themselves up in business to help applicants acquire licenses. In an opening statement Levitt noted that the prosecution planned to call 18 witnesses, among them Earl Jacobs, owner of the Lakeland Resort in Cuyamaca; Silver Spigot owner Jack Millspaugh; Tony M. Silva, co-owner of the El Toreador Motel in San Ysidro; Frank Cerda, owner of the Mission Inn in Oceanside.
Charles Cameron, a State Board of Equalization employee, testified for the prosecution that he often saw Bompensiero in the SBE office at 3621 Fifth Avenue. Bompensiero, said Cameron, was in and out of the office, talking to everyone there. Augustine, cross-examining Cameron, asked, “There’s nothing unusual in that, was there?” Cameron replied there was not. He admitted that Bompensiero owned several bars and had several licenses.
As the trial’s sixth day began, Tony M. Silva testified that in 1949 he went three times to the State Board of Equalization offices to apply for a liquor license. “They wouldn’t listen to me,” Silva told the jury. “They said they had too many applications ahead of mine.” Silva said that soon after his third unsuccessful attempt, he was visited by Al W. Bennett. A former San Diego city councilman (1929–1937) and vice-mayor, Bennett was a “business opportunity” broker. He had his offices at 3635 Fifth Avenue, several doors down from the SBE office. In 1954 Bennett, together with Charles E. Berry, SBE district liquor control administrator, had been tried and convicted on 17 counts of conspiracy and committing bribery in the issuance of liquor licenses. Silva said Bennett told him that a license would cost him $5000 and that he could immediately make a down payment of $1000 to get the process started. Silva said that he asked if he couldn’t get a license for less. Bennett told him he couldn’t. Silva went on to tell the jury that he eventually paid the $5000, in three installments, to Bennett. Payment made, Bennett then sent Silva down the street to the SBE offices to see Berry, who issued Silva’s liquor license.
Earl Jacobs followed Silva to the stand. Jacobs testified that Berry himself solicited and took his money. Berry asked Jacobs for $2500. Jacobs, at Berry’s instruction, slipped $1000 of the $2500 into Berry’s desk drawer. Jacobs, although he never paid the balance, eventually received a license.
One after another the prosecution solicited these tales. None of these stories, however, directly involved Bompensiero. They merely revealed the climate in which bribery flourished and how bribes were solicited and money procured. Bart Sheela was ready, then, with the prosecution’s last witness, Jacumba cafe owner Ernest Gillenberg. The cafe owner told his long sordid story. He had applied for and been refused a license. He then had been visited by a man who represented himself as raising funds for Bonelli’s campaign chest. This man said that $5000 would get Gillenberg a liquor license. Gillenberg demurred. Next, an SBE employee came knocking. The SBE employee said that any day, a gentleman named Frank Bompensiero would be calling on Gillenberg. Early in 1951, Bompensiero showed up and told Gillenberg that if he wanted a liquor license, he’d have to come across with $5000. Again, Gillenberg demurred. Finally, he changed his mind. Gillenberg telephoned Bompensiero and made arrangements to meet him April 3, 1951, at noon, in the lobby of the U.S. Grant.
Bompensiero must have cringed as he listened to Gillenberg confide in the jury that he and Mrs. Gillenberg — Gladys — had decided not to give Bompensiero cash. They brought a Bank of America cashier’s check payable to E.M. Gillenberg and endorsed by Gillenberg. As the couple waited they saw Bompensiero stroll into the lobby and take a position behind a post. The two parties met. Gillenberg handed over the envelope. Bompensiero thanked Gillenberg and walked back to the Gold Rail.
Sheela then directed testimony that identified the check. He showed the check’s stamped endorsement: “The Gold Rail, 1028 Third Avenue, San Diego 1, California.” A handwriting expert identified the signature beneath the stamped endorsement: “Frank Bompensiero.”
I was able to talk with one juror, Warren E. Wilsie, who remembered the trial. About Hewicker, Wilsie recalled, “A very stern-looking guy — gray hair and pointed face and steel-rimmed glasses. He would lean back in his chair while the lawyers were conducting their questioning and he would look like he was asleep and then all of a sudden he would sit bolt upright.” About Bompensiero, Wilsie said, “He was a sort of roly-poly short guy. If I had to say anybody whom he looked like, in the face, I’d say Mussolini. During the trial, I certainly didn’t know what his reputation was.” Sheela, Wilsie remembered as “somewhat flamboyant.” Augustine seemed “a real gentleman-type attorney.” Wilsie added, “The evidence that I remember was that Gillenberg had come down from Jacumba and met Bompensiero in the lobby in the Grant. I do know that the thing that was so hard to believe, if this was to be a payoff, that you wouldn’t have expected Bompensiero to run it through his own books. It was pretty hard to deny that evidence. Pretty hard.”
Sheela made the prosecution’s closing argument. “This was a conspiracy,” he told the jury, “to sell liquor licenses for all the traffic would bear. They were out to get all the money they could. You will remember that one witness testified it was common gossip in the trade that bribery was the only way to get a liquor license.” Augustine countered in his closing argument that Bompensiero, by picking up the check from Gillenberg, really was only doing a favor for public officials. Then, prosecution and defense rested. “Bompensiero,” a San Diego Union reporter wrote, “nervously lighted large black cigars when the court took short recesses. He discarded them after only a few puffs. He was affable and joked with reporters.”
That same Thursday afternoon, while Gillenberg told his story and the “affable” Bompensiero joked with reporters, county marshals seized Bompensiero’s green 1950 Cadillac coupe from its parking place in front of the Gold Rail. The San Diego Union, beneath a headline that read “bompensiero’s auto attached as security” explained that the Cadillac was attached to satisfy a $5608.84 bill. “A writ of attachment had been filed against Bompensiero by the San Diego Wholesale Credit Men’s Association on behalf of the Sunland Distributing Company, a wholesale liquor house. The bill is for liquor sold to Bompensiero’s Pirate’s Cave which is reported to be closed.”
Mary Ann said that she and her mother never attended the trial. “We didn’t know what was going on with the trial, except for what we read in the papers. My father never wanted us in the courtroom, period. But more than once, before the trial and during the trial, my father talked to my mother about simply leaving the country. He came home one night and he said to my mother, ‘Honey, we can leave. We can go to Mexico and we can live like kings and queens for the rest of our lives. But we’ve got Mary Ann and the baby. They’re not going to want to stay there. Once we do that we can never come back. That’s no life for her and the baby.’ They could have gone then on the lam, they would have taken me with them. They didn’t want to do it because of me and little Frank. But I know that they talked about just taking off. I know, too, that finally, sometime before he was sentenced, my father said to my mother, ‘Honey, I’m tired. I made a mistake. I need a vacation. So let me go, let me take my years.’ ”
Mary Ann said that her mother’s dizzy spells became more frequent. Thelma’s brother had died several years earlier, at 44, from a heart attack. Mary Ann said that her mother began to refer to her own death as imminent. “She always said, ‘I’m going to die young.’ She knew she would die young. It was like she felt she was fated, that there was nothing she could do. Her blood pressure was so high that she would have headaches throbbing in the back of her head. Sometimes her head hurt so bad that her eye would swell. I remember Sundays that she couldn’t even cook. She was just huddled there in bed.”
At some point after the jury brought in its guilty verdict against Bompensiero and before he was sentenced, Thelma said to Mary Ann, “When I die, I don’t want to be dressed in one of those awful negligees.” More than once, said Mary Ann, her mother talked, almost idly, about how she wanted to be dressed for her funeral — a creamy white, strapless, ballerina-length dress that her mother had worn to a wedding party. She always added, Mary Ann said, that she also wanted to wear the tiara she’d worn to that party. And she wanted a silver casket, draped, she said, in lavender.
Friday, April 29, the jury began its deliberations at ten minutes until four and returned the verdict at five until eleven. Bart Sheela recalled, “We were waiting for the verdict at the bar in the Hotel San Diego. Seated over at another table were Bill Burns [a lawyer from Augustine’s office], C.H. Augustine, Bompensiero, and Desimone. They were having drinks. Frank comes over to me and he says, ‘Sheela, what they pay you in the district attorney’s office?’ I said, ‘Six hundred sixteen dollars a month.’ Frank says, ‘I paid those assholes $70,000 and I think you got the best side of it. Wise up.’ ” Sheela stopped for a moment, and then added, “Bompensiero really was on the fringes of this liquor license business and had he been willing to talk to us and said to us, ‘I passed this money on to Berry,’ he would have gotten a free ride. But he didn’t. He hung tough.”
Saturday, April 30, the headline atop the San Diego Union read:
BOMPENSIERO FOUND GUILTY
BAR OWNER CONVICTED ON ALL 3 COUNTS
Sentencing was set for Monday morning, May 16. Bompensiero had two weeks to arrange his business affairs. Mary Ann recalled that this period was “extremely tense. My mother cried a lot. They knew he was going away. My mother said to my father, ‘Frank, put everything in Mary Ann’s name.’ She meant the Gold Rail, so my name would be on the license. My father says, ‘Honey, what is Mary Ann going to do? She doesn’t know anything about the bar business. I’m going to put everything in my brother’s name.’ So my father put my Uncle Sam in charge of everything so he’d have something when he came out. He knew that the vice squad had to be paid off. I didn’t know those things. I was 24 and wouldn’t know how to run anything. The only thing I could do is sell because I used to work in my mother’s dress shop. So during those two weeks my father transferred his businesses over to my Uncle Sam.
“May 16th. The day my father was to be sentenced, I remember that day as plain as if it happened minutes ago. My mother the night before had said she wanted to go to the sentencing, but he said, ‘No, I don’t want you there. I want you to stay home. You’ll find out. I’ll get a year or so. That’s all.’
“My father got up early that day. He came in the bedroom where my son and I were together. We had twin beds. My little boy slept in one bed and I was in the other. My mother was still in bed too, in their bedroom. He came into my bedroom and kissed me good-bye, and he kissed Frankie. He went into my mother’s room. They kissed each other good-bye. He says to my mother, ‘I’ll see you tonight, honey. I’ll see you later.’
“When he went out that door, my mother broke down sobbing and I was crying, and the baby didn’t know what was going on. Frankie was only four years old. It was an awful, awful moment. My mother said to me, between sobs, ‘Listen to your father, saying to us, “I’ll see you tonight,” he knows he’s not coming home.’ I said, ‘Mama, he couldn’t, don’t you understand that Daddy just couldn’t say good-bye? He just couldn’t say good-bye.’ I believe that. She knew it too, but it broke her heart. She just sobbed and sobbed, off and on all day.”
According to the account in the San Diego Union, Bompensiero sat alone that day in the jury box and waited while his lawyers made their various motions. No one with whom I have talked recalled where Bompensiero stood when Hewicker pronounced his sentence. No one with whom I have talked remembered the expression on Bompensiero’s face as Hewicker ordered Bompensiero to serve 1 to 14 years, consecutively, on each of three counts and to pay a $5000 fine on each of three counts. If Bompensiero did rapid addition in his head, a feat at which Mary Ann said he was quite accomplished, he realized that he was to go to prison for 3 to 42 years.
A longtime retiree from the sheriff’s department was working in the jail on the day Bompensiero was sentenced. “I was a shift sergeant,” he said. “I was the one who booked Bompensiero into the jail. He and his attorney — Augustine — came in. Bompensiero was dressed in a suit and a tie. We talked together. We bantered back and forth. Old Frank. Hard to tell with Frank. He didn’t smile much that afternoon, usually a real pleasant character, but that day, he wasn’t smiling. He took his diamond ring off and gave it to Augustine. Bompensiero went upstairs and then he went to the joint and that was it.”
One measure of the importance granted to a U.S. Mafia figure is his inclusion in the U.S. government document Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs. In the document’s summary of U.S. Mafia activities Bompensiero’s imprisonment is noted:
“May 16, 1955 — Frank Bompensiero, head of lcn [La Cosa Nostra] operations in the San Diego area, was committed to California State Prison on local bribery charges. He was succeeded by Antonio Mirabile.”
Mary Ann said, “Later that afternoon, Augustine and Desimone came to the house. They didn’t call. They just showed up. Augustine started pacing the floor, back and forth in front of my mother and me. He didn’t say anything. Then all of a sudden Desimone burst out and said, ‘There’s no goddamn justice — 3 to 42 years.’ My mother cried and sobbed and cried.
“They took my father to Chino. Mama had her dress shop — Santa Ann’s Moderate Shop on 30th in North Park — and we kept that going. We were there, every day. But it was difficult. I don’t even know how to tell how sad and upset my mother was. She just flipped, she just fell apart when they sentenced him. To all those years.
“A week or so after the sentencing, in the evening, I’m home with my mother and little Frankie. She and I were knitting. She had knit for years and she was teaching me how to knit. The telephone rang and it was my godmother, my Aunt Josie, my mother’s best friend, calling from Los Angeles. My mother said, ‘Well, Jo, I’ll be up because I’m going to go see Frank at Chino this weekend. I’ll come over to see you too. I’ll be there unless I die.’ I swear to you. ‘I’ll come see you, Jo, I’ll be there unless I die.’ My mother hung up the telephone and we went back to our knitting.
“My mother said to me, ‘Honey, do you want some ice cream?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Mama, I’ll get it.’ I got the ice cream and handed a bowl to my mother. Mama walked from the kitchen to the dining room, which couldn’t have been any more than from my kitchen here to my dining room over there, and she stopped at the dining room table. She said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I said, ‘What, Mom?’
“She put the ice cream down. She said, ‘Oh, my God. I’m having a stroke.’ I started crying. I got her and walked her over to the sofa and she lay down. They didn’t have 911 then. You know who I called? I called Marie and Momo Adamo. They lived near us. They were the closest ones to me and I will tell you — boom. I don’t know what happened. I was just hysterical because my mother at this point was shivering and vomiting and crying that her head was killing her. They both came over immediately.
“When my mother was going out in the ambulance, she took off her rings, and she said, ‘Here, honey, take these.’ I said, ‘No, Mama.’ She said, ‘I won’t be coming back.’ I said, ‘Oh, Mama, yes you will.’ We got her to the hospital. She was very alert and in such pain. I said, ‘Mama, you’re going to be okay.’ She said, ‘You think so, honey?’ I said, ‘Mama, you’re gonna be fine.’ She said, ‘I feel like every blood vessel in my head is breaking.’ ”
One of the first people Mary Ann telephoned after her mother arrived in the hospital’s emergency room was Josephine, her godmother. Josephine’s first husband was Thelma’s brother, Frank Sanfilippo, whose eyes, Josephine told me “were as blue as the sea he fished in.” Josephine was not only Mary Ann’s godmother, she was also Thelma’s closest friend. Josephine now is almost 90. She lives in Los Angeles. “In your lifetime,” she said, “you meet a lot of people. There are acquaintances and then there are friends. Thelma was my friend, my dearest and best friend. Not a day passes that I do not think of Thelma. The night Mary Ann called me and told me that Thelma had a stroke, I was having a poker party. We already were living then in LA. I told my husband what had happened and we jumped in the car and drove as fast as we could down to San Diego. I went in to Thelma’s bedside. She was in terrible shape. All her veins had broken loose in her arms and you could see spots of blood underneath her skin. She knew she wouldn’t live long. She couldn’t say too much and she looked at me and tears were coming down her face and she said to me, again and again, ‘You came, you came.’ She said to me, again and again, ‘Josie, don’t forget my Mary Ann. Don’t forget my Mary Ann.’ ”
Mary Ann, during the next week, drove back and forth between her mother’s dress shop and the hospital. “On Monday, I had closed the shop for the day and I went to see my mother. The nurse said, ‘She really had a good day today. She’s finally eating something.’ I said, ‘Oh, good.’ But my mother was restless. She was sleeping, they thought. But she wasn’t sleeping. She didn’t even know I was there. She kept whispering, ‘Tell Mary Ann, tell Mary Ann.’ I said, ‘What, Mama, what do you want to tell me?’
“The nurse said to me, ‘You know she really ate well. She ate creamed tuna.’ My mother couldn’t stand creamed anything. When my father got out of the Army, where he’d had creamed chipped beef, he loved it and he started making it at home. My mother couldn’t even stand to look at the cream in creamed anything. So that when the nurse told me that my mother had eaten creamed tuna, I said, ‘Oh, no, something’s wrong, something’s terribly wrong.’
“She never regained consciousness, never came out of the hospital, I never knew what she wanted to tell me. ‘Tell Mary Ann.’ Those were her last words.
“This was a Monday night. She went into a coma that night. In other words, she was really dead. She never came out of it. Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday, Mama was in a coma. June 2nd, early Thursday morning, she passed away. It was two o’clock in the morning that they actually pronounced her dead.
“That tormented me for the longest time. What did my mom want to tell me?
“So she died June the 2nd. She didn’t have a chance to go see him. She never got to see him again after that morning he left to be sentenced, and he never got to see her again. Never.”
Josephine and Mary Ann dressed Thelma’s body in the creamy white, strapless, ballerina-length dress and the tiara and her pearl earrings. They saw to it that her coffin was sprayed silver and softly draped in lavender. My mother,” Mary Ann said, “told me to the T what she wanted to wear and how she wanted her coffin. Can you believe that? I couldn’t believe it. She must have had a premonition.”
Josephine recalled that the dress was so low cut that they took some of the bustle from the back and used it to fill in around Thelma’s bustline. “Oh, God,” said Josephine, remembering that day, “I could not stop crying. I just couldn’t. She looked like a princess, lying asleep in that coffin.” Then, Josephine added, “It was a big waste when she died. A big waste.”
“In those days,” Mary Ann said, “you had the rosary the night before the funeral and then you had the viewing. You had this at the funeral home, the next day. The coffin’s open at the funeral parlor. It’s your last good-bye. My mother had flowers lined up inside, outside, all behind her, everywhere. I never saw so many flowers in my life. You could hardly breathe for the smell of roses and lilies. You went ahead and viewed, you said your last good-byes. Every Italian in the world came to my mother’s viewing. Every Italian. She looked so beautiful. I remember that I said, ‘My God, she looks as if she’s breathing.’
“I wanted my father to see my mother. I was told that he was going to make it to the funeral, and that he would be able to see my mother, that they were going to come to the funeral parlor, and then from there they would take him to the church. We were at the funeral home. I said, ‘Uncle Sam, where’s my father?’ Sam said, ‘Honey, he’s gonna come, don’t worry.’ In the meantime, the funeral director is saying we’ve got to get to the church. The funeral was for nine o’clock. I said, ‘No, I’m not going. My father has got to see my mother. Look at how beautiful she looks.’ I was hysterical. My uncle said, ‘We’ve got to go, Mary Ann, your father is not coming here. He’s in the church. He’s there already.’ But I persisted, I wouldn’t give up. ‘No,’ I said, ‘no, he’s got to see how beautiful she looks.’ I was screaming.
“At the church, it was planned that my father and I would sit together in the mourner’s pew in the front of the church. When I walked in, down the center aisle, I could see him: my father and the cops. I practically ran down that aisle. I sat next to him. I said, ‘Daddy, give me a hug, give me a hug.’ He only had one arm around me. He was handcuffed to the policeman. They had put a hat on top of my father’s sleeve, to hide the handcuffs.
“I said, ‘Daddy, Mama looks so pretty.’
“He said, ‘Honey, if I knew I had to spend the rest of my life in jail and it would mean you could have your mother, I’d proudly do it. I know I caused this to happen to her.’
“I can’t even tell you what the priest said that day, about my mother. I was crying too hard. I only remember one line. He said, ‘Weep for the living, not for the dead.’
“I was able to ride with my father and the policeman in a limo to the cemetery. I was telling him again and again how beautiful Mama looked. I was determined that he was going to get to see her and to kiss her good-bye. It was all that I could think about. All.
“On the way in the car to the mausoleum, my father sat between me and the policeman. My father said to me, ‘Your mother didn’t die on June the 2nd.’ My father, by the way, was not the type to believe in spirits. He said, ‘I was lying in my bunk. I was wide awake, looking up at the ceiling. I had my hands behind my head and I was just staring, up at that ceiling. I heard her call my name. I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t dreaming, I was lying in my bunk, with my hands behind my head and I heard, “Frank, Frank.” I heard it again and again, your mother calling, “Frank, Frank.’’ I heard her calling to me.’ He said, ‘That’s when your mother died, honey.’ That’s the truth. That’s what my father told me and that’s the night she went into the coma. That Monday night.
“I don’t think I ever saw as many people at a funeral. At the cemetery, which is on a rise, when I turned and looked down, I saw that there were miles and miles of cars in the funeral procession.
“But I was determined, no matter what I had to do, that my father was going to get to kiss my mother good-bye, that he was going to get to see her that last time. The priest comes with you to the mausoleum, to say the final words. The coffin’s there. They don’t immediately place the coffin into its space in the wall. They had a black velvet drape hanging over the opening to the space in which she was to be entombed. What usually happens is that the mourners go by and kiss the coffin and make the sign of the cross. But I was determined. I was shooing everybody out. I could tell people were angry, the way I was moving them back. I didn’t care. I don’t know how I did it but I convinced the men from the funeral home to open the coffin for my father, so that he could see her and could kiss her good-bye. Which he did. I just was so glad.
“When we left the mausoleum, my father had to get in the car with the cops and I got in with him, and we hugged each other. He had to go back to prison and I had family around me. But he had to go back to Chino.
“Back at the house, Marie and Momo had cooked. I went upstairs. I had to be by myself. My son wasn’t there. Somebody took care of him. He didn’t go to the funeral. I was upstairs, sobbing, I couldn’t stop crying. Everybody is downstairs, Marie is cooking, everybody is drinking. ‘They’re having a party and I just buried my mother and my father is on his way to jail.’ That’s what I thought and it made me even more upset. I understand it better now, but I was so furious at the time because my mother was dead and my father was in prison. Marie came upstairs to me and she said, ‘This is what you do. You come for the family and talk about things.’ Someone else said to me, ‘Would you have liked to gone home and been all alone? Here, the family is around you.’
“Gino was out on the boat when my mother died, and the news gets around by shortwave. He heard about my mother’s death and he flew in. So he was around for the funeral.”
The San Diego Union on July 19, 1955, reported that the DA’s office had “moved to collect the $15,000 fine imposed on Bompensiero. Keller also disclosed that Bompensiero transferred to his attorney, C.H. Augustine, three unimproved lots in the Golden Park Addition, Point Loma. Keller told a reporter the deed is dated May 15 and was recorded by Augustine on May 16, the same day Hewicker sentenced Bompensiero. Yesterday Keller filed a petition in Probate Court asking that he be granted letters of administration for the estate of Bompensiero’s wife. The petition was filed to expedite settlement of the estate and the liquidation of the assets for payment of the fine. Keller said levies have been filed against Bompensiero’s autos as well as abstracts of judgment against all real property believed to have been owned by him. Keller said he expects the Probate Court to act in ten days on the petition in Mrs. Bompensiero’s estate.”
August 3, 1955, the San Diego Union reported that Bompensiero’s 1950 Cadillac had been sold at auction for $850. The money was seized by the federal government and applied toward an irs lien against Bompensiero for $7000. August 6, 1955, the San Diego Union reported that the DA’s office “planned to file liens against assets in the estate of Mrs. Thelma Bompensiero in an effort to collect the $15,000 fine assessed against her husband, Frank Bompensiero. Keller made his statement after Judge L.N. Turrentine of Superior Court approved the appointment of the Bompensieros’ daughter as administratrix of her mother’s estate.”
In early August, 1955, Bompensiero was transferred from the Guidance Center at the California Institution for Men in Chino to the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. On August 19, 1955, he arrived at San Quentin State Prison. He would remain there for almost five years. Built in 1852 on a rise above San Francisco Bay, San Quentin’s barred windows look out to the Berkeley and Oakland hills on one side, Marin County on another, and San Francisco on another. During Bompensiero’s stay, the brownstone and brick-walled prison was crowded, but certainly it was not the hellhole it is today. Prisoners were still housed one to a cell. Racial tension was not as high. Mafiosi, then as now, were treated with grave respect by guards and prisoners. Kidnapper-rapist Caryl Chessman, during Bompensiero’s tenure, was ensconced on death row, typing away at his book, Cell 2455, Death Row.
September 29, soon after his arrival at San Quentin, Bompensiero celebrated his 50th birthday. I have wondered what he thought on that day. The woman he loved was dead. For the rest of his life, he would believe that had she not married him, or, had his way of life been different, she could have lived to see her hair turn gray and her grandchildren produce their own children. He was haunted by her voice calling to him on the night that she went into the coma. “Frank, Frank,” he heard her cry out. He meant what he said, that he’d gladly give his life to bring back Thelma.
Everything he had built — the three bars, Maestro Music, the Algiers — was lost. The cars were gone, the lots he’d bought in Point Loma were gone, the money stashed in back yards was gone. Mary Ann and Frankie were unprotected. Mary Ann, who’d never worked a day in her life except in her mother’s store, what would she do? And his mother? Would his brother Sam watch out for her?
I wonder, if on his 50th birthday, Bompensiero went back over his life, his association with Jack Dragna. I wonder if he regretted that association. I wonder if he regretted doing what he did for Jack. I doubt that he did.
To me, Bompensiero has come to seem a tragic character. As a man not yet in his 20s, he became involved in Milwaukee with a group that hijacked liquor trucks coming down from Canada, and he killed a man. I believe that Bompensiero became involved with this group in an effort to raise money to send back home to Sicily to his sick father and his mother and his five siblings. I further believe that Bompensiero’s first killing was accidental, that he fired wildly and out of fear in the midst of confusion. You well might say to me, “Try telling that to the family of the man your young Bompensiero shot.” But that is what I believe. I believe that this first killing, outside Milwaukee, was an accident. I also believe that this accident forever altered Bompensiero’s life. Because this killing angered “connected people” in Milwaukee, Bompensiero fled to San Diego. Once in San Diego, he apparently sought the help of the woman who would become his mother-in-law. She put him in touch with Jack Dragna, who straightened Bompensiero out with the Milwaukee people. As someone who knew Bompensiero once said to me, “After that, Frank was Jack’s.” That same person also told me that Bompensiero said that he “loved” Jack Dragna. I think that he did love him in the way that younger men love older, more powerful men. Bompensiero would no more have refused an order given him by Jack Dragna than a Third Army soldier would have refused an order given by George Patton. Bompensiero’s fealty to Dragna was as iron strong as was his loyalty to Thelma. Bompensiero never cheated on his wife and he never cheated on Jack Dragna.
I do not think that you can apply Freudian and “pop” post-Freudian psychological templates to Bompensiero and hope to see the world as he saw it. I do not believe that you can understand him by talk of Oedipal conflicts and poor impulse control. Bompensiero was committed to the ideal of the mafioso as a gentleman soldier, a patrician man of honor and dignity, a man who commanded an earned respect as well as an earned fear. Men of Bompensiero’s era and from his background did not engage in the self-conscious thinking that many of us do. He didn’t say, “I feel,” he felt. He was carried along by feeling, the way water is carried along by other water. If it “felt right,” he did it; if it “felt wrong,” he didn’t do it.
Bompensiero often told Mary Ann about her Sicilian birthright. “We’re not spaghetti benders. We are Sicilian. Don’t forget, we always flew our own flag.” Bompensiero failed to adjust to America in the way that Protestant, Northern European immigrants adjusted. He was born in America, but bred into his bones was the ironic Sicilian sensibility. I believe that in the quiet of his mind, he thought in the Sicilian-inflected Italian that he spoke with his mother, his sisters, and his in-laws, with Jack Dragna and others who came from Sicily. His daughter believes it likely that her father “thought” in his Sicilian version of Italian.
Like many Sicilians of his generation, Bompensiero, for good reasons, did not trust Church or State. He trusted only family. He entered into American life in ironic ways — he made and sold bootleg whiskey and wine; he held up gamblers; he handed out bribes; he became a bagman for dishonest state employees and these employees’ hirelings. He pretended, along with other bar owners of every nationality, that he served food at the Gold Rail. He advertised the Gold Rail in the Yellow Pages as a steak house. He bribed the vice squad. He bribed the priests. Like a confessor who has heard every sin, he understood venality, he expected corruption, no vice surprised him. That was the way of life.
The Greeks speak of the hamartia, the tragic flaw. I think that Bompensiero’s tragic flaw was precisely that he was Sicilian, that onore, for him, was more feeling than abstract idea. I think that onore, for Bompensiero, was a feeling stronger than fear, hunger, thirst, or any lustful drive. Bompensiero’s passionate love for his family was a feeling stronger than fear, hunger, thirst, or any lustful drive.
You may say that Bompensiero was a cheap hood, a hired killer, no better, really, than any serial killer. I believe that Bompensiero understood himself as a soldier in an army. I believe that he killed in precisely the same way that soldiers kill. He did not kill civilians; he killed other soldiers. He was a healthy soldier, a good soldier, by which I mean that he did not relish killing. I think that for Bompensiero killing was an awful, an odious chore. Frankly, he did not always do it well. He was a clumsy marksman.
This was a man with a third-grade education. I suspect that he could not read easily. I do not know that, but I suspect it. He had no skills, really. He couldn’t even shoot straight. He fit himself into circumstances as best he knew how. Often, the fit was awkward. But he fed his family.
Mary Ann said that many Sicilian men went to church every Sunday and every holy day. “But my father never did. Never saw him in church, except when I got married, and when my mother died and his mother died. I never saw my father pray. He used to say that he and J.C. talked, though, all the time. This is what he said, ‘J.C. and I have a talk all the time. He understands me. I understand him.’ He always called him J.C. He didn’t say much else about religion except that.”
I asked a friend of Bompensiero’s, a good friend, a man who knew Bompensiero as an older man and knew him well, if Bompensiero ever expressed remorse about the murders. This man snorted. “Frank said that if God hadn’t wanted ’em dead, He would’ve stopped the bullets. That’s what Frank said.”
What did Bompensiero mean when he said that? Was he indulging his tendency to black humor? I don’t think so. I would like to suggest that Bompensiero intended no irony. I would like to suggest that Bompensiero believed that if God didn’t want ’em dead, He would’ve stopped the bullets.
I am not here to judge Bompensiero. We are judged even as we attempt to judge. If your Bompensiero is a thoughtless id-ridden thrill killer, an idle rip-off artist, a vicious extortionist, well, then, we know something about you and rather less than but no more about Bompensiero.
“You’d talk through the glass in Chino, but in San Quentin,” said Mary Ann, “we sat across the table from each other.
“Sometimes,” Mary Ann said, “I thought I was really going to go crazy. After my mother’s death and the funeral, I was alone in the house on Braeburn Road with a little boy, trying to save the dress shop and deal with incredible money problems. Gino was staying in the house there with me. And the talk that was going on. I was all alone. I had aunts, but they had their families. We went to see my father in Chino because Gino wanted to get married and I wanted to get married too. So, we went to see my dad and my dad said, ‘Okay, the best thing for you to do is go get married quietly. Don’t make any fuss.’ We had to talk through a glass wall. They had phones. My father looked through the glass wall at Gino and said, ‘You take good care of my daughter.’
“We’d drive to San Francisco. For a long time we went once a month. It was a long ride. Terrible. My daughter, Santa, was born in 1956, and I’d bring her. We didn’t want to bring Frankie. I didn’t want him to see the prison. There’s a lot I think I’ve blocked out because I just can’t handle it. Or couldn’t handle it at the time. Very depressing. Believe me. Sad. I’d be happy to get up there and then, be so depressed when I’d see my dad. That big, gray prison. It was horrible. Cold.
“One of the first times we went, I asked him, ‘Daddy, what do you do?’ You see movies where they’re breaking rocks and everything. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in prison at that time. I had no idea other than you’re locked up. He said, ‘Oh, no, honey, I got a soft job. Nobody bothers me. Don’t worry.’ People would come in and he gave them their uniform. The uniforms were blue. Have you ever seen the sailors in their denim, their navy blue? That’s what he wore.
“He would never be on a down trip. He was always smiling. He didn’t want me to see him like that, you know. He really didn’t. That was terrible. He did not want me to suffer. ‘No problem, I got my cigars. Don’t worry, honey. I’ll be home soon.’ He looked good. I think my dad just made up his mind, ‘Here I am and this is what I have to do.’ He had his cigars. Somebody — maybe his brother — kept money on the books for him.
“You could stay just an hour or two. That’s all. You couldn’t stay all day. He’d say, ‘Okay, you kids, get going now.’ He didn’t want us to stay. It was embarrassing. I really, truly think it was embarrassing for him for me to see him like that. I’ll bet if my mother had been alive he would have said, ‘Don’t let Mary Ann come up here to see me.’ I bet anything. Because it was embarrassing for him. Humiliating. And from time to time, from what he said to me, I knew that my father’s heart was broken for me. My heart was broken for my father. I wasn’t locked up. He was. And he always blamed himself. I don’t know how many times I said to him, ‘Daddy, I don’t believe that. You didn’t kill her. Mama always told me she was going to die young.’
“He was glad to see us, but he didn’t want us to stay long. He’d say, ‘Don’t come next month, honey.’ But then one time he said to me, ‘Honey, don’t come anymore. Because you know what, I gotta go through this strip search every time I go back.’ But we kept going and other people visited him too. But always, all the way home, I’d hold Santa and cry and cry.”
Mary Ann’s godmother Josephine and Josephine’s husband often drove up from Los Angeles to San Francisco to see Bompensiero. “When we went to see him in San Quentin, he looked like he came out of a bandbox. He was immaculately clean. I remember asking him how the food was. He laughed. He said, ‘You think I eat their food? I don’t eat their food.’ He was paying for someone to bring him other food, that’s what you get when you got money. They looked the other way. He always was so glad to see you. But all that he wanted to talk about was Thelma. That was all he wanted to talk about, was her, all the time. He would bring up things we used to do. He really loved her. They loved each other. She stuck by him through everything.”
Friday morning, February 24, 1956, the banner atop the Los Angeles Times’ front page read: “JACK DRAGNA FOUND DEAD IN SUNSET BLVD. HOTEL” Beneath the headline: “Reputed Ruler of Mafia in Los Angeles Apparently Had Heart Attack While Asleep.”
Frank Desimone, after Dragna’s death, visited Bompensiero in San Quentin. With Dragna dead, Desimone hoped to take over the Los Angeles family. The family, apparently, had decided to elect their new chief in democratic fashion: votes were taken. Desimone returned from his visit to Bompensiero and announced that he had Bompensiero’s vote. But I have been told, by an old friend of Bompensiero’s, that Desimone did not get the nod from Bompensiero. Desimone soon took over as LA’s boss, with Nick Licata as his closest advisor. Bompensiero’s old friend Momo Adamo, Dragna’s underboss, had hoped to be made the family’s head man. But Desimone, somehow, convinced the other family members that Momo was not up to the job. Maybe he told them Momo was weak, that he was old and from the Old World, that he couldn’t do anything for them. Maybe he told them Momo was sick. Even Momo’s brother Joe went against Momo in the vote. Maybe Momo was sick. After Jack Dragna died, the army that Bompensiero had joined seemed to Bompensiero to become corrupt, weak, venal. But he could not unjoin.
June 19, 1956, the San Diego Union noted, in a headline:
EX-HOODLUM SHOOTS WIFE, KILLS HIMSELF, ATTEMPTED SLAYING, SUICIDE CLIMAX QUARREL IN KENSINGTON PARK HOME
The report went on to say that Momo Adamo, part-owner of the Gay Paree Tavern, 939 Fourth Avenue, and a resident at 4134 Lymer Drive, Kensington Park, during a quarrel with his wife Marie, pointed a .32-caliber pistol at her head and shot her. The bullet entered, circled around the back of her skull, and came out over her eye. She dropped to the floor. Momo then stuck the pistol behind his right ear and pulled the trigger. He fell backwards. The gun dropped at his feet. He died.
Her head veiled in blood, Marie pulled herself up and ran from the house. She collapsed in a front yard 150 feet away. Marie, the Union learned, “was in critical condition at Mercy Hospital. She told police before lapsing into unconsciousness that her husband attacked her during a quarrel, choking her and hitting her with a whisky bottle.… Mrs. Adamo did not disclose the cause of the quarrel.”
Several people who knew Bompensiero well, including Mary Ann, said that Bompensiero was very fond of Momo Adamo. Mary Ann recalled that from her childhood on, her parents socialized with the Adamos. But she cannot remember now what her father’s response was to Adamo’s suicide or his almost fatal wounding of Marie.
Bompensiero appeared before the California Adult Authority Board on November 5, 1956. The board ordered that he be denied any parole consideration until he had served three full years in prison. He was not scheduled to appear again before the Parole Board until May, 1958. At approximately the same time Bompensiero’s parole was denied, he learned that in August, 1956, Big Bill Bonelli had fled across the Arizona border into Mexico, escaping indictments brought against him in San Diego. Bompensiero also learned, at about this time, that two of the men with whom he was named as conspiring to solicit bribes — SBE employee Charles E. Berry and “business opportunities broker” Al Bennett — were to be let out of prison in early 1957. Given that Bompensiero was no more than a bagman for these two fellows, who, in turn, were bagmen for Bonelli, who was reported living in a “swanky” Mexico City apartment, it all seemed — and was — terribly unfair. Bart Sheela recalled, about this period, that he and another DA’s office employee went to San Quentin to visit Bompensiero in an effort to get him to talk about what he knew of the liquor license deals. “He wouldn’t talk to us though. He was pleasant and all, but he continued to hang tough. We also went to Los Angeles to see Desimone and tried to get him to talk and he wouldn’t either.”
“In 1957,” said Mary Ann, “I’m still on Braeburn Road. I didn’t have any money. I went to my uncle. I was getting $125 a week then from the Gold Rail. My mother had two lots. Augustine took those lots for the legal fees. We lost the car. They auctioned it off for the fine. The county wanted all my mother’s jewelry and furs. I said, ‘I don’t know where they are.’ I thought, ‘The hell with them, they’re not going to get my mother’s stuff.’
“I kept trying to figure out how to save the Braeburn Road house. But there were just too many things going against me. Now, my Uncle Sam was in charge of my father’s businesses and he was supposed to be helping me. But, in the end, I felt like my father’s brother never did right by my father. ‘When the cat’s away, the mice sure play,’ I said. And that’s how it seemed to me. So when we were about to lose the house, I went to my Uncle Sam and asked for $750. ‘Honey, where am I gonna get it?’ he said. Not, $7500; $750. But we lost that home on Braeburn Road for $750. I went to see my father and asked him what to do. He said, ‘What can I do? I’m here.’
“I told my father, ‘Uncle Sam is not doing right, you’ve lost everything.’ My father hadn’t put any money aside. My Uncle Sam was always sweet to me, but…” Mary Ann paused, before she went on to say, “My uncle became the number-one son because my father was gone in prison, but he did not act like the head of the family. My dad had signed everything over to him. And we were broke.”
Mary Ann noted that many books and films about the Mafia emphasize that when a family member goes to prison, the Mafia family takes care of his biological family. But no one — not the Dragnas, not
Johnny Rosselli, not Leo Moceri, not Frank La Porte, not Desimone, not the Adamos — offered Mary Ann any help. “What happened to ‘the family takes care of the family’? I was not treated well by these people that I knew as ‘Uncle Jack,’ ‘Uncle Jimmy.’ And, of course, I didn’t know how to contact these people.”
In 1957, Mary Ann and Gino had to leave the Braeburn Road house. I talked one day with the people who bought the house. They had seen Bompensiero on television and knew that it had been his house. “He was in prison when we bought the house. All the neighbors,” said one of the house’s residents, “said they were just another family. Very nice people. Good people. Bompensiero didn’t bring his business in the neighborhood. I remember that the neighborhood butcher said to me, about Mr. Bompensiero, that he was such a nice, nice man.” The woman paused before she spoke again, “The neighbors told me that Mrs. Bompensiero died of a broken heart.”
Mob enforcer Albert Anastasia, on October 25, 1957, while getting a shave and haircut, was murdered. The summary provided in the U.S. government document Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs describes the killing this way:
“Albert Anastasia, Cosa Nostra Commission member, and two bodyguards walked into the barbershop of the Park-Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. Anastasia sat down, loosened his tie, and closed his eyes as the barber covered his face with a hot towel. The bodyguards slipped away. Two other men walked in from the hotel lobby, strode up to Anastasia, and literally blasted him out of the chair. Anastasia’s murder was ordered by Vito Genovese as part of the latter’s plan to eliminate his more powerful rivals and claim the long-since-discarded title ‘boss of all bosses.’ ”
Three weeks later 65 underworld bosses from around the United States met at a country estate near Apalachin, New York. This 1957 meeting prompted J. Edgar Hoover to turn his G-men to studying organized crime. Until 1958 the FBI tended to ignore organized crime. With the exception of Captain James E. Hamilton in Los Angeles and Virgil Peterson in Chicago, little track was kept of connected men in most U.S. cities.
The FBI in 1958 began what they called (absurdly, I think) “The Top Hoodlum Program.” Under the auspices of this program, the FBI in the spring of 1958 tried to tape conversations held in Balboa Park between Tony Mirabile and his friends. The FBI also began to sort through old files for Bompensiero data. The local office placed Bompensiero’s name on its list of San Diego’s “Top Ten Hoodlums.”
April 21, 1958 Bompensiero again appeared before the California Adult Authority Board at San Quentin prison and again was denied parole. He was ordered to appear next in May, 1959. In the summer of 1958, while Bompensiero began his fourth year in prison, his co-defendants Charles Berry and Al Bennett had returned to their San Diego homes; Bonelli, working in Mexico City as a tax consultant to Americans, was still free. Not only was Bonelli free, in Mexico, but he was living well. Bart Sheela said that during the 1957 Christmas season one of his old law partners and the partner’s wife were at a Mexican resort. Sheela and his wife had been there several years earlier and recommended it. “Why, the place,” said Sheela, “was like the movies. For New Year’s dinner they had all these courses, white wine, red wine, goat, fish, two big orchestras, dancing, two stages that revolved. I had told my partner, ‘Man, you got to go there.’ They did. He was an early-to-bed guy and he wanted to go home. Because at ten o’clock really nothing was going on at this nightclub, things didn’t get moving until about 11:30, but his wife made him stay and they were dancing and sure as hell, they were dancing right next to Bill and Mary Bonelli. Both of them dressed up.”
October 14 and 15, 1958, may have been two days when Bompensiero was not that unhappy to be sequestered in his San Quentin cell. The headline on the San Diego Union the morning of the 14th read: “Panel Opens San Diego Racket Probe Today,” and beneath the headline the Union noted, “The Assembly Judiciary Committee’s racket subcommittee will open a two-day San Diego County crime investigation at ten this morning in the Hotel San Diego Continental Room.”
Those two days not only were the hottest mid-October days on record since 1872 — 94 degrees downtown at eleven in the morning and 103 degrees in El Cajon — but one of the year’s heaviest smog concentrations accompanied the record-breaking heat. The Continental Room was packed, a retired San Diego lawman told me, “with Damon Runyon–type characters and their sharp-suited lawyers.” He said that if Bompensiero had not been in prison, he certainly would have been subpoenaed to appear. He paused and then added, laughing, that given that Bompensiero was “locked up, everyone maybe felt more free to bandy old Frank’s name about. If he’d been sitting there, I don’t know they’d felt as free.”
On the hearing’s first day, October 14, Captain James E. Hamilton, head of LAPD’s intelligence division, told the committee that the Mafia was a “hard-core” crime organization that penetrates into every great center of population, including San Diego. Hamilton testified about the problems Los Angeles union organizer Hal Sherry had in San Diego:
“We have had in the past several years any number of, or not too many, but several investigations in which we did find that the tactics used by these individuals in so-called legitimate business were not acceptable ways of doing legitimate business. I might use an example, a little incident that happened here in San Diego. That was five or six years ago. There was a union organizer from Los Angeles, one Hal Sherry, who came down here. He had been organizing for several years in Los Angeles with not too much success in the jukebox deal. He had the IBEW; that is International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Well, he came down to San Diego to organize the repairmen and servicemen in the jukebox field. He was told that his presence was not needed in the San Diego area, and to get out. He stayed here three or four more days to continue trying to set up a little local. He was staying at the U.S. Grant Hotel, I believe. And one evening about 8:00 there was a rap on the door, he opened the door, and I believe it was three, yes, it was three men who he described as being Italian, came into the room and he took a very severe beating. There were certain things done to him in that beating. He went to his own doctor in Pasadena for medical treatment, and the more or less unusual things done to his body were verified by his doctor.”
Q. Did this man drive from here to Pasadena by himself?
A. He drove from here back to Pasadena.
Q. Didn’t the doctor, on that occasion, remove a cucumber from this man’s body?
A. He did. He removed a cucumber from the rectum.
October 15, Tony Mirabile, at that time variously described as “San Diego’s Mafia godfather” or “mob kingpin,” or, less hyperbolically, as “head of the city’s Sicilian community,” was questioned about Bompensiero by a committee investigator:
Q. How about the Gold Rail, did you ever have any connection with the Gold Rail?
A. No, sir, never.
Q. Do you know what it is?
A. I know where the place is.
Q. Do you know who was operating the Gold Rail?
A. Well, as I recall, I believe it was Bompensiero, I think.
Q. Frank Bompensiero?
A. I think, yes.
Q. Do you know who else was associated with Frank Bompensiero on that?
A. No, sir.
Q. Do you know where Frank Bompensiero got the money to buy the Gold Rail?
A. No, I don’t.
Q. Did he get it from you?
A. No, sir.
Q. Do you know whether he got it from Jack Dragna?
A. That I don’t know. Never asked him.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert S. Newsom was questioned about the relationship between Tony Mirabile and Frank Bompensiero. “Do you recall any instance where one of them asked the other to move back to Italy because there was too much heat on here?”
Mr. Newsom answered, “We received information, I believe in March of 1952, of a meeting that took place in a trap — I mean an establishment known as the Gay Paree, 4th Street, San Diego. Those present were Tony Mirabile — that is, I am relating the information we received. Tony Mirabile, Frank Bompensiero, Charlie Bonisara, Nick Pepitone, who is now dead, Dominic Megale. At this meeting it was alleged that Mirabile was, it was explained to him that he had been a fine member of the community, was well respected, had done his part for his particular group of people, and that inasmuch as the State Crime Commission and the irs, and a few others, I believe, in the police department, a few of the people who were interested in their activities were becoming too closely interested in them, they thought it would be a good idea if he would go back to Italy.
“On investigation it was found that Mirabile had, a few days later, applied for a passport and purchased a one-way ticket by plane, twa, I think, to England, and from there across and down to Rome.”
The subcommittee chairman then called Mirabile to the stand. He was asked, “Have you ever had any meetings in the Gay Paree with Bompensiero?”
A. No, never.
Q. Have you ever attended any dinners at the Gay Paree?
A. Now, wait a minute. Attend a dinner with who, and where?
Q. Anybody. Have you ever been to dinner at the Gay Paree?
Q. And you have never met Bompensiero at the Gay Paree?
A. Now, let me get this. I didn’t meet Bompensiero at the Gay Paree? No. I found him, might have. But not to meet over there.
Q. Now, wait. Now I don’t understand you, Mr. Mirabile. What did you say?
A. I never made no date to go to the Gay Paree with Bompensiero.
Q. Did you ever talk with Bompensiero at the Gay Paree?
Q. Did you ever talk with any of his men at the Gay Paree, men whom you knew were working for Bompensiero?
A. Well, now, let’s get this. Work for Bompensiero. I don’t know whether I know anyone that he worked for Bompensiero.
Q. Well, I will put it this way, Mr. Mirabile: Did you ever talk to anybody at the Gay Paree that you knew worked for Bompensiero?
A. No. I don’t recall that. If I had been talking with someone in the Gay Paree that was work for him I wouldn’t know. That I couldn’t answer that. But whether they did work or not. I been talk a lot of people at the Gay Paree, but I wouldn’t know if they work for Bompensiero, or who was working. But to me it is funny that word that started. See, I was told that what you refer to because I can see how you get that picture because when I went to Italy I got back and they told me that somebody chased me away from San Diego. I was laughing. My brother passed away. My God, am I entitled to go see my brother’s body?
Q. By all means, you are.
A. So, who said they chased me out of San Diego. For what reason? For what? That is why I want to answer that, because I was told, and I was surprised, how come they say those words? How did they bring these things up? What was the reason?
Q. Did you ever receive a ticket in the mail for transportation to Italy? Did you ever receive in the mail a ticket to Italy?
A. Well, if I did it might have been from Los Angeles to San Diego, because when I received the telegram the same night I took a plane to go to Italy. There might have been a ticket for airplane ticket to go to Italy on account my brother pass away.
Q. Wasn’t this just after you were told, Mr. Mirabile, that you were going to have to leave the San Diego area; that is when you received this ticket?
A. No. Oh, no, God, no. No. Ain’t nobody would ever tell me that. There is no reason for it. Why do I have to leave San Diego? Who would be the man?
Q. I don’t know. Well, I am asking you if you know that, I don’t know. But I am asking you if you were told that you had to get out of San Diego?
A. No. No. No. And no man, you or no Jesus Christ tell me that. What for? I am paying my taxes. No for one is going tell me that.
When Mirabile stood down from the witness chair in the Hotel San Diego’s Continental Room that October afternoon, he had 75 days left to live. In the audience that day was Victor F. Buono, an ex–San Diego policeman turned bail bondsman. Buono was the bondsman who’d made bail for Bompensiero when he was first charged with bribery in August, 1954. Buono eventually would be convicted of engineering a robbery in Mirabile’s third-floor penthouse apartment overlooking Balboa Park. The robbery, bungled, would end in Mirabile’s murder. Mirabile’s still-warm body would be found in his bathroom; he was wearing only an undershirt and a bathrobe whose fabric was a leopard-skin print. (The Tribune described the robe as “shimmering.”) He was expecting a woman that evening, “a gift,” he had been told, from someone in Vegas. A money clip in Mirabile’s right trouser pocket — the trousers were tossed in a corner of his bedroom — contained $1597 in bills. No trace was found of the infamous $1000 bill covered with lipstick kisses that Mirabile was reported always to carry with him.
Within days, San Diego police fingered Buono as their most likely suspect. A retired lawman told me, “When we found out Buono was it, we went down to see Charlie Cavesina, one of Mirabile’s oldest buddies, at Cavesina’s bar. ‘Look,’ we said, ‘Vic Buono is the guy who masterminded the killing of Tony but we don’t want you people to kill him, we want to take these people to court. Do not kill him.’ Charlie halfway agreed that he wouldn’t. And as things turned out, they didn’t make a move on Buono. I wouldn’t have been surprised though if they had. Buono violated every rule in the book. We were surprised they didn’t dust him.”
I can’t even begin to guess what thoughts crossed through Bompensiero’s mind when he heard Mirabile had been murdered. Everyone to whom I posed questions about the nature of the two men’s relationship said, in effect, that Bompensiero regarded Mirabile with contempt. That Mirabile paid Jack Dragna to make him a Mafia member was enough to cause Bompensiero to look down on Mirabile. Mirabile’s womanizing, his taking advantage of women who worked for him, were traits Bompensiero did not admire. But as Bompensiero, to use his phrase, “took his years” in San Quentin, as he helplessly watched Mary Ann deal with problems caused by his incarceration and her mother’s death, Mirabile’s Midas touch with money must have rankled him. It must have seemed outrageously unfair to Bompensiero that Mirabile died a rich man while he, Bompensiero, could not even save the family home for his daughter and grandchildren. After Mirabile’s death, when everything he owned was added up and his bills were paid, what remained was $504,659.79.
During the same Christmas season in which Mirabile was murdered, Bompensiero’s old nemesis in the race wire business committed suicide.
The San Diego Union on December 28, 1958, wrote:
BROPHY'S SUICIDE IN PARKED CAR ON CHRISTMAS CITED
“Leonard Brophy, 52, owner of the Frolics Tavern at 3838 Fifth Ave. shot himself to death Christmas Day as he sat with a friend in a car parked in Linda Vista. The Coroner’s Office termed the Brophy death a suicide.
“Both Tony Mirabile and Brophy were subpoenaed and testified last October before the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s racket subcommittee investigating crime activities in San Diego.
“In 1950, Brophy was convicted of conspiring to record and receive horse race bets. Dist. Atty. Don Keller said that at the time of his conviction, Brophy had the San Diego race track wire.
“The coroner’s office reported that Brophy’s suicide may have been linked to despondency over the death of his brother John, of Los Angeles, who died of natural causes a few days earlier.”
A retired San Diego policeman guffawed when I mentioned the coroner’s office’s surmise that Brophy’s suicide was caused by his brother’s death. “He was in the car with his girlfriend, who had broken up with him. I knew Leonard real well. What happened is that he got a little bit impotent and he blew his brains out.”
Files I received from the State of California indicate that Bompensiero was a model prisoner. At no time did he receive any “black marks.” He worked in two privileged prison positions — the hospital and the commissary. In May, 1959, the Parole Board let it be known that he would be released in a year’s time.
May 14, 1960, the San Diego Union noted on page 20:
BOMPENSIERO ENDS PRISON STAY MONDAY
“Frank Bompensiero, 54, a former San Diego cafe owner, will be released Monday from San Quentin Prison. He was convicted on three counts of conspiracy and bribery in connection with efforts of a former Jacumba cafe owner to get a liquor license. Bompensiero was one of 11 convicted here during liquor license investigations centered around William G. Bonelli, former Southern California member of the State Board of Equalization.”
Gino recalled Bompensiero’s homecoming. “His brother Sam went up to San Francisco to meet him. They flew back down. We picked him up off the airplane and he came home to our house. He was just in a state where he was just thinking. He was quiet. Just talked a bit and he went to bed.”
Mary Ann said that she had difficulty recalling precisely what they did in the first days her father was home. “I’m sure that everybody came over here. Family. We might have gone down to his mother’s and sister’s. But I don’t remember.” Her grandmother Bompensiero, Mary Ann said, “had been protected from the fact that her son was in prison. She was just repeatedly told that he was in the trucking business and out of town. They hid it from her. She couldn’t read or write English and I don’t think they brought newspapers into her house, so she would not have seen the pictures of him in the papers.”
Bompensiero was paroled to Mary Ann. She was to be responsible for him. He was not to frequent places dispensing liquor nor could he have a financial interest in such a place. Gino said, “For quite a while after he got out, he was kind of quiet. He was watching his p’s and q’s. I think he kind of respected parole. For sure, he was watching himself.”
“He looked thinner when he got out of prison,” Mary Ann said. “I had some of his old suits in the closet. When he had those suits on, he looked especially thin. He looked like a smaller man, like he’d shrunk.
“The first few years he was out of prison was the worst I ever saw my dad dress. Before he went to prison? He was Dapper Dan. But when he came back, he wanted to look like he was poor. So most of the time he looked pretty shabby. ‘This way,’ he said, ‘they don’t know what’s going on.’ He quit wearing suits every day. He’d never worn a sweater and shirt before. But then, he did. Nights, though, if he was going out, he’d dress up. Wear a suit. Like the old days.”
Mary Ann said, “People said to me, ‘Gee, what are you going to do? Your father can’t walk in a bar, he’s got to be in by ten o’clock.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. I want my father home. He may not be able to go out but his friends can come here and visit and they can play cards until two o’clock if they want to. I don’t care. I want my dad home. I don’t care if he has a nine o’clock curfew.’ ”
Mary Ann remembered that her father had regularly to report to his parole officers. “I remember that it was humiliating to him to tell me he was going to his parole officer. And he had to be in the house at a certain hour. My uncle got him a little Corvair, off-white. But, at first, he didn’t even want to drive much. Charlie Pepitone, in those early days, used to come over and visit with him and take him out and drive him around. He led a pretty quiet life at first. He’d get up in the morning and have his coffee, that’s all, not even toast, and then later he went and had lunch.
“When he was first out, he had a girlfriend. She was a really nice woman, a cocktail waitress, just the prettiest, kindest woman. She’d buy my daughter Kate Greenaway dresses and little things, and buy my son things. She was crazy about my dad. She was a cute little petite thing. He liked little women. She was five foot one and had a darling figure. My father wouldn’t drink and drive. So when they went out she came by the house and picked him up. She would be all dolled up, a pretty dress and a fox fur.
“My father, to me, was a very fair man. He dated her for many months, steady. She was a very nice lady and she didn’t bug him and call all hours of the night. But she said, ‘Frank, are you ever going to marry me?’ And he said, ‘No. I’ll never marry you.’ So she said, ‘I met this man and he wants to marry me and take care of me and I’m not getting any younger.’ And he says, ‘Marry him. Because I’ll never marry you.’ That ended that. I think he was worried, because she was considerably younger than he was. And, she didn’t know the way of life.”
From the first weeks after her father’s return from prison, said Mary Ann, Marie was always there, in the background. After Momo Adamo shot Marie and then turned his gun on himself, Marie gradually recovered, although she never regained the use of her right eye. She remained in the Lymer Drive house. In 1959 she met and married her third husband, a retired naval man some years her senior — Patrick Gavin. “Gavin,” said Mary Ann, “was a retired attorney and worked for the Navy. He was a short fellow and he had some money.
“Marie had aged, terribly, after Momo shot her. Marie was blind in that one eye. Talk about a cat with nine damn lives. Because she was also in a terrible automobile accident with Gavin, an accident that would have killed anybody else. And she’d always been a drinker. But after Momo shot her, she really began to get into the bottle.”
Mary Ann said that while her father was in prison Marie wrote to him. Whether Marie visited him or not, Mary Ann does not know. “What I do know,” said Mary Ann, “is that as soon as my dad was out of prison, Marie began to hound him. She was after my father from the day he came out. She was such a flirt, Marie was. She flirted so much with my father. My mother, when she was alive, would say to my father, ‘If anything ever happens to me, Marie is going to come after you.’ And she did too. She hounded him. After he got out of prison, she called him here, day and night. And she was living, then, with Gavin. After he came home, Marie was always calling me and asking me what my father was doing.
“So sometime in this period after my father got out of prison Marie left Pat Gavin. She moved out of the Lymer Drive house into an apartment in Pacific Beach. She left Gavin because of my father. Not because my father was seeing her so much but because she wanted to have this freedom to be with my father, to go out with my father, and come home whenever she wanted. So she left Pat Gavin. No divorce. She just left him. So she’s seeing my dad. And I think, too, that my dad was real embarrassed about the whole thing. But he didn’t know what to do. I don’t think my dad was ever a real chaser, chaser, chaser. Maybe when he was a young kid he was out dancing and having a good time. He was not exactly Mr. Cool with women. He was not exactly experienced with women.
“Marie was living in Pacific Beach in her apartment. My phone would ring. My father would be in bed and he’d go, ‘It’s Marie, tell her I’m not home.’ She would call two, three times a night. I said, ‘Daddy, the kids have to go to school in the morning, I’ve got to get up. If you don’t want to talk to her, you tell her.’ So that went on. He’d tell her, ‘I’m tired. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’ He went to bed pretty early. He’d watch TV.
“So this one time she called late at night and it was obvious that she’d been drinking and I said, ‘He’s not home, Marie.’ She said, right back, ‘Oh yes he is. I know he’s there.’ I said, ‘Marie, he’s not here,’ and hung up. Maybe 20 minutes later the doorbell rings. Scared the hell out of me. I answer the door and Marie walks right by me, pushes me aside and walks down the hallway into my dad’s bedroom, and says, ‘Frank, I know you’re there.’ Oh, she was screaming and yelling, just like a banshee. ‘What are you doing here, Frank? I thought you were supposed to be not at home.’ Then I think he lied and said, ‘I just got home.’ He calmed her down and whatever and then she went home.”
Sam gave his brother a job as manager of Sam’s Snack Bar, 2750 Midway Drive. The snack bar was located within the premises of Thrift Co., a discount store in which Sam had an interest. Mary Ann laughed when I asked her about this. She said that because her father was on parole he had to show that he was working. But she remembered the store. “It was inside a big building, like a Fed-Mart or Costco and my father had a booth concession in there. But he didn’t work behind any counters.”
Mary Ann said, “After my father came home, people came around the house — Leo Moceri, for one. Some picked up my dad, some visited for a while and left. Several of the guys said to me, ‘Honey, why didn’t you tell me that you all were having trouble?’ I was very to the point, I said, ‘How could I tell you? You knew where I was. I didn’t know how to call you or contact you. Why didn’t you contact me and see if I was all right? Why didn’t you call me?’ I don’t know what the hell they said but they had no answer for it. How can they have an answer for it?”
Jimmy Fratianno, on July 14, 1960, finished a 6H-year sentence for extortion involving a Los Angeles oil company. With his wife Jewel’s help, Fratianno began to put together a trucking company with offices in Sacramento. Bompensiero and Fratianno talked occasionally on pay telephones. Both men were disenchanted with the new LA family regime. Fratianno wanted out of the Los Angeles family and during the early 1960s Chicago family head Sam Giancana effected Fratianno’s move. Johnny Rosselli, who began his career as a Capone insider, also obtained a transfer from Los Angeles and returned to the Chicago family.
December, 1960, Thrift Co. closed and Bompensiero went to work for Wright Refrigeration, 4025 Pacific Highway, a company in which Gino had an interest. Bompensiero worked as a salesman, selling fixtures for bars and stores. “This too,” said Mary Ann, “was just a front, he had to show an income. He didn’t really do anything down there.”
In January, 1962, Bompensiero worked as assistant sales manager at the San Luis Rey Packing Company in Oceanside. Quite what he “managed,” I do not know. I did discover, through FBI files I received through my Freedom of Information Act requests, that during Bompensiero’s tenure with San Luis Rey, he and Jack Linkletter, Art Linkletter’s son, came into contact.
“Let me tell you the story,” Linkletter said. “It’s a very convoluted one. I was involved in a company during this time down in San Diego, construction, and we had an insurance arm of the company and one of the accounts of that insurance business were two brothers called the Gallo Brothers — Joe and John Gallo. As I remember Joe Gallo, he was about five ten, overweight, had a roundish face, heavy through jaw to neck, flat black hair, was in his 30s then. The two brothers had a business down in the vegetable market of wholesaling produce. Through that they approached us and said, ‘We have a rare opportunity here and we would like to put together a group and we are contacting you because we would be interested if you would put capital in it.’ He said the Kawamuras are a Japanese family that owned the property in the San Luis Rey–Oceanside district.
He said, ‘What we would like to do, we think we could get some big accounts by growing tomatoes on that property. The Gallos would bring the marketing expertise, the Japanese would be the growers, and we know a guy who’s a great packer and what have you.’ Investigation went on and it did look like a good opportunity. The bottom line is we started growing tomatoes in that Oceanside region and selling them all over the country. The Gallos brought in another guy named Charles Gelardi who either had directly worked for them or they had worked with him somehow, kind’ve assisting them and one thing led to another and somehow the Gelardis and the Gallos got sideways of each other and there were threats and they were heard publicly threatening each other and I even heard from one of the guys down there in the packing plant that Gelardi was carrying a gun because he was fearful for his life.
Next thing I know I get a call from an FBI agent. He introduces himself, says, ‘You know a Frank Bompensiero?’ And I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, he’s on your payroll.’ I said, ‘Help me out with this, what do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, he was brought in and he’s working at San Luis Rey Packing’ — that was the company, and this is old memory, so I am kind of jogging it here. He said, ‘To give you the feel for this guy, he’s the number-one guy on our bad list in the San Diego region. He’s been in prison for a long time.’ The FBI fellow went on to say that Bompensiero was kind’ve a hit man for the Mafia group in San Diego, and the Gallos, when Bompensiero got out of prison, hired him as kind of a security guard.
“I said, to the FBI guy, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to tell you what to do. We just wanted to know if you knew what he was, who he was,’ and I said, ‘Is there any problem with my terminating him?’ And they said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ So I said, ‘Okay, let me get into this and I’ll let you know.’ So, I called down there and I said, ‘Joe, Joe Gallo, what is going on?’ I told him I got this call from theFBI. He told me that Gelardi had threatened him and that he had Bompensiero there for protection and that they were trying to help him out and I said, ‘Well, we can’t have him on the payroll.’ He said, ‘Well, he’s here.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me talk to him.’
So Bompensiero came on the telephone and he was most polite and I said, ‘I don’t know you. I got this phone call from the FBI.’ I told him what the phone call content was. I said, ‘You know, we’re public people, and it’s not going to take more than a day for some reporter to get ahold of this.’ I said, ‘You’re not in the business and you can’t contribute to the business.’ I said, ‘I’m not taking any personal affront to you or what your background is. What you want to do is your business. I just can’t take the association.’ Bompensiero said, very politely, ‘I understand totally, sir. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll leave right away.’ I said, ‘You’re a gentleman and I appreciate it.’ And that was that.”
In 1962, Mary Ann and Gino separated, and Mary Ann took a job. She was no longer at home all day with Frankie and Santa. Her father by this time had an apartment that he was sharing, at least part of the time, with Marie. “Marie had gone back to Gavin, because Gavin had cancer. She told my dad, ‘Pat’s dying. I’ve got to take care of him.’ So she moved back to Lymer Drive but they kept the Pacific Beach apartment.
“He used our address,” Mary Ann explained, “but he was no longer living with us. Still, he came by every morning for his coffee. Then, he drove to his mother’s house to see her and to drink more coffee and to leave her off some money. When afternoon came, he made sure that he was back here when the children got home from school. He’d come by, fix the kids a steak. Hamburgers. Whatever they wanted. He’d sit with them and maybe watch the television while they did their homework, that kind of thing. And he made sure we didn’t do without. He’d hand me $200 and say, ‘Go get the kids some clothes.’ He’d bring groceries — meat, fruit, bread, cereal, coffee.
“When I was divorced the second time and I went to work, my job opened at ten in the morning. Ten until seven, I worked. Then my father really kicked into full gear. He would come by every single night in that Mustang that he banged up. Had more dents in that car. When he was younger, he wouldn’t go out unless the car was polished to the hilt and didn’t have a scratch on it. But after he got out of prison, I don’t think he cared that much. Anyway, he would come by every night, after he was living with Marie, and cook dinner for my kids. He would do steaks on a grill. I have the same frying pan that was my mother’s. Cast iron. He used that. He’d make a little pasta or he’d make mashed potatoes. And there would be something left over for me when I got home.
“I was making peanuts. And he saw to it that we didn’t do without. Like in September, it would be ‘Okay, honey, here’s $500, go buy clothes for Santa, whatever you need.’ He brought food over all the time. He gave me money. Not a lot of money. A hundred dollars, a hundred and twenty-five. My daughter got $20 a week for doing nothing, because Papa wanted her to have money. And Frankie got $35 or $40 or $50 a week. They’re like 12, 13, 14. But that was my dad.
“And he’d say to me, ‘You think I can go home and eat a steak and you’re going to eat hot dogs?’ He always was sure that the kids had whatever they wanted or needed. He gave the kids love and he gave them time. He went to Frankie’s Little League games on Saturdays. He took them to dentist appointments and doctor appointments while I was at work. And he kept them on the straight and narrow. He used to tell them the same things he told me when I was young. Like, ‘Don’t ever steal anything.’ He said, ‘If you’re going to do anything go big, because you get the same name.’ ”
In 1963, Bompensiero opened a market at 3986 30th Street, a few doors down from his late wife’s clothing store at 3912 30th Street. Mary Ann recalled the market as a produce market — “heaps of apples, oranges, lemons, asparagus, tomatoes, all produce. It was just a hole in the wall, a storefront, and I am sure that was a front too, maintained so that he could establish a source of income for the parole officers.” The market didn’t last long. Later in that same year Campbell Food Products in San Jose hired Bompensiero as their San Diego representative. Mary Ann laughed again. “Another front job, I’m sure.”
September, 25, 1963, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Senator John L. McClellan’s 1961 Senate Permanent Subcommittee Investigation of Gambling and Organized Crime opened hearings in Washington, D.C. Although rumor had it that Bompensiero would be called to testify, he never was.
Joseph Valachi (1904–71), who claimed to be a member of Vito Genovese’s crime family, testified to the existence of La Cosa Nostra — translated as “this thing of ours,” or, “our thing.” Valachi, a fifth-grade dropout, informed the senators and television audience that mobsters called their organization La Cosa Nostra, not the Mafia. The Mafia, said Valachi, was what outsiders called their group. Valachi went on to testify (after 15 months’ coaching by subcommittee lawyers) to his initiation into La Cosa Nostra in 1930, to the existence of “families” in major American cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego.
Fascinated Valachi watchers learned the term “omertà,” La Cosa Nostra’s vow of silence. They learned that crime families were organized, that a capo ruled with the aid of a sotto capo, or, underboss. Each underboss, said Valachi, had a caporegime, or, lieutenant. Each lieutenant manned a regime, or, crew. The crew of workers were the soldati. A 12-man commission ruled over the families; the commission settled inter- and intra-family disputes.
Viewers heard Valachi describe his “making,” or initiation into La Cosa Nostra in 1930. He told that he and three other initiates were driven to a house 90 miles upstate from Manhattan. Once in the house, Valachi claimed that he was taken into a vast room where 35 men sat at a large table. “There was a gun and a knife on the table. I sat at the edge, they sat me down next to Maranzano [at that time, according to Valachi, Salvatore Maranzano was a family capo]. I repeated some words in Sicilian after him.”
“What did the words mean?” Senator McClellan asked.
Joe Valachi: You live by the gun and knife and die by the gun and knife.
Valachi was asked to continue to describe the ceremony.
Valachi: Then he — he — he pricks your finger.
Questioner: Who? Who?
Valachi: The godfather.
Questioner: He pricks your finger?
Valachi: He pricks your finger with a needle, makes a little blood come out. In other words, that’s to express the blood relation. It’s supposed to be like brothers.
Questioner: That’s the letting of blood?
Valachi: That’s right.
“Valachi,” writes Michael J. Zuckerman in Vengeance Is Mine: Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno Tells How He Brought the Kiss of Death to the Mafia, “introduced America and the world to a substrata society of names that became indistinguishably mingled like alphabet soup in the Anglo mind. And in their enthusiasm at learning this once-mythic kingdom was real, Americans mistook La Cosa Nostra as a generic concept. Overnight, it seemed, every crook working in concert with another crook was a member of ‘the mob.’ According to news accounts, every city seemed to have a Family, and the nation was virtually overrun with crime ‘soldati’ doing the bidding of crime ‘bosses.’
“Somewhere, the very special meaning of La Cosa Nostra was lost in translation. Americans had missed the point: La Cosa Nostra is a secret society with fewer than 5,000 — recent accounts say as few as 2,500 — formally initiated male members of Italian heritage, operating out of twenty-four select cities.”
The next sighting of Bompensiero, on paper, comes in Ovid Demaris’s The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno. Fratianno told Demaris that Johnny Rosselli in 1963 telephoned him in Sacramento and asked him to meet him in Del Mar. Fratianno greeted Rosselli in Del Mar on a Saturday afternoon. Rosselli said that he had a surprise for Fratianno. The surprise was Sam Giancana. The Chicago mob boss explained to Fratianno, “We’ve got something we might want you to handle. Rosselli will explain it to you.” Rosselli slipped into Fratianno’s car. Fratianno drove along the coast. Rosselli asked Fratianno, “Have you seen the TV show, The Untouchables?” Fratianno said that yes, he had. Rosselli complained, then, that The Untouchables shows “a bunch of Italian lunatics running around with machine guns, talking out of the corner of their mouths, slopping up spaghetti like a bunch of fucking pigs. They make Capone and Frank Nitti look like bloodthirsty maniacs. The guys that write that shit don’t know the first thing about the way things were in those days.”
Rosselli continued. Mae Capone, Al’s widow, had brought a million-dollar lawsuit against CBS when they came out with a two-part film on Eliot Ness’s book, The Untouchables. She lost the suit and then Desilu Productions got abc to do a series, and “since then,” Rosselli concluded, “it’s gone from bad to worse.”
Fratianno responded, saying, “Nobody pays attention to that shit. It’s like a comic book, a joke. Who cares?”
Rosselli, outraged at Fratianno’s indifference, said, “I’ll tell you, Jimmy. Sam [Giancana] cares, Joe Batters cares, Paul Ricca cares, and I care.”
Rosselli went on, then, to tell Fratianno that Chicago’s “top guys have voted a hit.… We’re going to clip Desi Arnaz, the producer of this show.” Further, said Rosselli, he had already talked with Bompensiero and put him in charge of the “action.” Bompensiero, said Rosselli, would meet Fratianno at four that afternoon in the Grill at the U.S. Grant. They met and talked. According to Fratianno’s account, Bompensiero said that Arnaz, who kept a house on the beach in Del Mar, didn’t seem to be around. Plans were laid to bring in men from Chicago, to do the actual shooting. Two weeks later, again, according to Fratianno’s telling of the story, Bompensiero telephoned him to say that “the boys from out of town got disgusted and went back home so the deal is down the drain.” Arnaz, writes Demaris, “never knew how close he came to getting clipped.”
Whether Bompensiero and Fratianno ever discussed a hit on Arnaz or not, we will never know. Fratianno was a notorious liar. We can be sure, however, that Fratianno and Bompensiero were talking about Bompensiero’s entry into Fratianno’s trucking business, and bringing with him into the business, his old friends Leo Moceri and Frank La Porte. According to what Fratianno told Ovid Demaris, in November, 1963, Bompensiero and La Porte visited Fratianno in Sacramento. How and when Bompensiero and La Porte first met, I do not know. Mary Ann recalled meeting him soon after World War II. She recalled, too, that La Porte, his bodyguard, and La Porte’s various lady friends, frequently visited the Bompensieros during the late 1940s and early 1950s. “They were always spoken of by my dad and mother as ‘people in from Chicago,’ ” said Mary Ann.
The U.S. government document Organized Crime: 25 Years After Valachi: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs notes about La Porte that he was born “Francesco Liparota on October 7, 1907, in San Biose, Italy, that he entered the United States in 1913 and was naturalized in 1926.” La Porte, “frequents South Cook County, Joliet and Calumet City. Spends considerable time in California, Nevada and Arizona. Resides at 1730 Cambridge Ave., Flossmoor. Is prime suspect in at least 2 murders. Booked and held 2 days for murder in 1926. Outside investments include gold and silver mines in Calif., uranium mine in Colo., tungsten mine in Nevada, a gas well in Ariz. and real estate at Lake Geneva.
“Is syndicate overlord in South Cook and Will counties — territory runs from Calumet City to Kankakee, and from Chicago Heights to Joliet. Operation recently extended to include Lake County, Indiana, where gambling and prostitution is a $50,000-a-day business, and a vice resort in Godley. Also operates in Central America. Controls gambling, vice, narcotics, juice, jukeboxes, extortion, vending and pinball machines, taverns, strip-joints, bail bond business (through F.L. Bail Bond Co. operated by nephew Frank Luzi, who is also his chauffeur-bodyguard), and granting of liquor licenses in his vast domain. FBI indicates that payoffs to Chicago Heights policemen are made from Cooperative Music Co. where officers pick up weekly envelopes. A top-ranking mafioso and member of the Syndicate’s board of directors.”
According to The Last Mafioso Fratianno, needing funds to expand his trucking business, was anxious to interest La Porte in being his silent partner. As the three men sat outdoors, warming themselves next to the barbecue pit, Fratianno explained his business to La Porte:
“All my drivers are union guys. If they’re not Teamsters, I put them in there. But I don’t pay the union a nickel. When the business agents get after me, I say I’m paying to headquarters. I never pay the pension, etc. All I pay is Workman’s Comp. I’ve got twelve trucks and am working 40, 50 trucks on five percent commission.”
John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I asked Mary Ann if she remembered her father’s response to the assassination. “What I remember is that we all sat and watched the television all weekend. I do remember, about politics, that when Pat Brown ran for anything, my dad always told us, ‘Vote for Pat Brown, he’s a good guy.’ ”
April 7, 1964, Jimmy Fratianno was released from parole. He began to come and go more freely from Sacramento. Bompensiero saw him often, in San Diego, Los Angeles, Reno, and Vegas. Demaris’s use of Fratianno’s accounts of his meetings with Bompensiero are interesting for the background Fratianno provides about Bompensiero’s unhappiness with the LA family’s new regime.
“Fratianno…got wind of a possibility of getting involved with the Tallyho, in Vegas, built in 1958.… Jimmy first heard about the deal from Bompensiero. Eddie Nealis, a LA gambler, had sought Bompensiero’s assistance when Pete Milano, son of Tony Milano, associated with the LA family, tried to muscle in.
“Here’s the setup,” Bompensiero told Jimmy. “Eddie’s promoting this thing and he’s raising big bucks. He’s got two hundred grand from Shirley MacLaine and her husband. He got another bundle from a banker in Iowa. He’s got this contractor building the casino and showrooms. There’s this doctor who’s got a pretty big chunk of money in the joint and Pete Milano’s trying to take over his end for the LA family. Eddie got scared and came to me to straighten it out. I said I’d come to you. We straighten it out we get in on the ground floor.” Bompensiero added, “I’ve got to be careful with Desimone and Licata. I’m still in the family. They know I’m with you and I hear things. I still got friends in that outfit who tell me things. All they need is some little excuse to clip me. They know I’ve got friends in Detroit and that’s kept them away. But I don’t trust them for a minute.”
Fratianno cajoled Bompensiero, “What’s wrong with you? These guys couldn’t clip a flea. Rosselli tells me Desimone’s scared of his shadow. Never goes out nights. The guy’s gone bananas.”
“Nick’s the guy to watch,” Bompensiero answered. “Rosselli,” Bompensiero added, “is a flunky.” The latter was an opinion that Fratianno, who was known to gaze with near worship at Rosselli, did not share.
Soon after I became interested in Bompensiero I applied through the Freedom of Information Act for his FBI files. After several years’ correspondence, these files began to arrive. I had, finally, over 1000 pages of these redacted files. I had heard tales from biographers about FBI files. Clerks sat with file copies and blacked out informants’ names. Clerks blacked out addresses. Clerks decided that interviews held with informants would be “withheld entirely.” I had heard that by the time these files arrived in the hands of someone like me that almost nothing was left to read. I was not prepared, however, for the pages I received. Black marks ran through line after line. Notations offered: “Nine (9) pages withheld entirely at this location in file.” “4 pages withheld entirely at this location in file.”
For the first five years after Bompensiero left prison, I have no FBI files. Whether the San Diego office lost interest in him or whether the files were withheld, I will never know. My guess is that because Bompensiero’s parole was due to end May 16, 1965, that the FBI wished to keep an eye on him. April 15, 1965, the San Diego office produced a memo.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Investigative Period: 4/15/65
Title of Case: Frank Bompensiero
Character of Case: Anti-Racketeering
Reporting Office: San Diego
“Bompensiero released from San Quentin Prison in May, 1960. Returned to San Diego, California, to reside with daughter. Bompensiero on parole until May, 1965. Subsequent information developed that Bompensiero is member of San Diego family of La Cosa Nostra. Close association with other known members noted.”
A memo written on March 30, 1965 offered this:
“() advised that since 1961 Bompensiero has held part-time jobs with various produce companies in the San Diego area and at the present time he is listed as employed by () at the BAM Produce company, 702 K Street.
“It was further advised that there is no automobile known to be registered to Frank Bompensiero, but that he frequently uses a 1960 Chevrolet Corvair, California License KRX 142, which is registered to (*).”
April 22, 1965, a memo from the San Diego FBI office noted:
frank bompensiero anti-racketeering
“A review of this file reveals subject was reportedly the lieutenant and ‘heir apparent’ to (*) [perhaps Tony Mirabile?] prior to subject’s convictions for conspiracy to commit a crime and asking or receiving a bribe from a public official in 1955. The subject’s file was closed in 1958 while subject was incarcerated for the above crime and had been refused parole.”
On April 28, 1965, the local FBI office sent to “Director, FBI,” via “Special Delivery Airmail — Registered,” a request to install a misur (microphone surveillance) in Bompensiero’s apartment at 3838 Haines Street. The San Diego agent gave as his reason for the request:
“Because of Bompensiero’s importance in the La Cosa Nostra in San Diego, the report that he resorted to a ‘Mafia’ type extortion of (*) and indications that he is attempting to regain his position of leadership among the Italian hoodlum element in San Diego, it is believed that the requested misur is essential to the Cosa Nostra activities in this area.”
Her father, said Mary Ann, knew the FBI followed him. How did he respond to their surveillance? “He laughed that laugh of his is how he responded. He used to say, ‘I am safer than I have ever been in my life. I have the cops behind me, the FBI behind me, one following the other.’ But he also thought it was a big waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Law enforcement personnel who work organized crime often come in for criticism. The most biting I heard was this, from a local retired policeman. “The thing you have to understand about people who work organized crime is that they’re fanatical about it. They would literally do anything or say anything to catch an organized-crime crook, it was like a disease with them. They want to base thousands of hours of surveillance — collecting gossip, rumor, innuendo — on the bogeyman around the corner, Mr. Organized Crime, coming to steal the city away.
“People who work organized crime intelligence have the softest job in law enforcement. They have money to spend, they can do anything they want to do to get their end accomplished, they have almost no supervision. You can’t hold them accountable because you have no idea what they’re doing because everything is a big secret. By and large, they are an untrustworthy lot. The way that they retain their job security is to keep their bosses paranoid at all times. They say, ‘Mr. Organized Crime is coming to town to steal the city.’ So the boss says, ‘Gee, I don’t want that to happen, so here’s some more money, some more cars, some more radios, do whatever you got to do but don’t let that happen.’ And the intelligence guy nods, says, ‘Okay, boss, I’ll take care of that.’ ”
This same person told me that San Diego city and county law enforcement personnel tended to find the “federal boys” a “real pain in the ass.” He said that G-men stationed in San Diego were always coming around to the police in various cities in the county and to sheriff’s operatives and wanting information. “But they didn’t want to give any information back. It was all take, take, take with the Feds. They wanted what you knew and if they got a chance, they’d take the credit for what you did, but they wouldn’t give back. If you traded information with an FBI guy, you almost always came out the loser.”
May 16, 1965, Bompensiero was released from parole. He celebrated with a trip to Los Angeles with Marie, where they met Frank La Porte and a woman friend. Bompensiero checked into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I asked Mary Ann why her father chose the Beverly Wilshire. She laughed. “Probably because they would comp him. He was comped everywhere he went.”
The FBI was right behind Bompensiero that day.
“1. Note that when Bompensiero stayed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on 5/25–5/26/65, he made a telephone call to (*)
“2. Note that after subject stayed at Beverly Wilshire Hotel, a note was found in the room reading, ‘From The Beverly — Meet you Wood Hotel, 5:00 p.m. tomorrow.’ ”
May 25, 1965, J. Edgar Hoover’s office gave the San Diego FBI office permission to install “misur coverage” in Bompensiero’s apartment for a 90-day period. Memos were prepared for the attorney general’s office, requesting authority for installation.
The memo from Hoover to the attorney general’s office noted:
“Bompensiero is a long-time member of La Cosa Nostra. During the time Bompensiero was in prison, (*) prominent San Diego hoodlum, became the reported leader of the La Cosa Nostra in San Diego. Indications are that Bompensiero is attempting to regain his position of leadership in the La Cosa Nostra from (). His activities are expected to increase greatly, inasmuch as his probation ended May 17, 1965. Early this year he was allegedly involved in an extortion of $5,000 to $10,000 from () in San Diego.
“Investigation at San Diego reveals Bompensiero conducts a considerable amount of his racket affairs at his residence.
“Coverage of this apartment should provide excellent information concerning the subject’s hoodlum activities, his associates and meetings, which could not be obtained from other sources. The proposed installation will involve trespass. There is no prosecutable violation against subject in existence and this microphone should provide information which will aid in development of live informants and sources who can be used to develop a prosecutable case separate and apart from the microphone.
“Bompensiero is presently attempting to regain his position of leadership in the La Cosa Nostra at San Diego which he lost while in prison. Increased activities on his part are expected inasmuch as his probation ended on May 17, 1965. In addition, he was recently contacted by (*) prominent Chicago hoodlum [probably Frank La Porte], with respect to gambling activities in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bompensiero is regularly in contact with other La Cosa Nostra members from other parts of California.
“Authority is requested to install a microphone surveillance in the residence of Bompensiero, Apartment 2, 3838 Haines Street, San Diego, California, where he conducts most of his racket affairs. Coverage there should provide excellent information concerning his associates, activities and plans which could not be obtained from any other sources. Trespass will be involved in making this installation.
- John Edgar Hoover
Subsequent FBI memos noted:
“June 10, 1965, subject purchased from University Motors, San Diego, a 1965 dark gray-blue Mustang, which now bears permanent California license RDJ 155. He registered this car in the name of (*) and apparently gave it to her as she has been observed driving it on numerous occasions. [Mary Ann explained that this was a car that her father bought for Marie.]
“June 18, 1965, subject returned to San Diego from a trip to Sacramento, California, driving a new 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix. This car has a dark gray-blue body with a black vinyl top. It had temporary California dealer’s license number 0470444, which is from the Mike Salta Pontiac Company in Sacramento, California. Later a permanent California license was assigned to this vehicle and is NSC 059. [Fratianno leased this car for Bompensiero.]
“June 23, 1965, Bompensiero was given a traffic ticket in San Diego while driving the Mustang and gave his employment at that time as the Thomas Trucking Company, Sacramento, California.”
San Diego FBI agents, according to their memos, didn’t find it easy to install the surveillance equipment in Bompensiero’s apartment. Marie, with whom Bompensiero by this time was living, was often home. “Considerable difficulty,” an agent typed, “was encountered to install as subject lives there with Marie Adamo Gavin. A long period of surveillance was necessary to insure that both subject and Marie Adamo Gavin were out of the apartment before the installation could be made. It was finally completed successfully on 7/1/65.”
The memo continued: “Upon installation the results were immediate and positive. It was determined Bompensiero was in close contact with (*) Fratianno, (*) Angelo Marino and other fringe hoodlums and gamblers in the Las Vegas area. Investigation at San Diego and at Sacramento determined that Bompensiero, (*) [and Fratianno] were actually in close business contact and among other things under the Fratianno Trucking Company were operating a fleet of large and expensive diesel trucks out of Sacramento.”
Demaris writes in The Last Mafioso, “Jimmy put Bompensiero on the payroll at $150 per week and provided him with a leased automobile. One of his jobs was to ride up and down the highways to make sure the drivers kept moving at top speed. But mostly he was there as a companion for La Porte whenever he was in California and as a sounding board for Jimmy.”
July 1, 1965, a memo to Hoover from the San Diego office noted:
“On 7/1/65 surveillance of Bompensiero revealed that at 9:02 a.m. he contacted the occupant of () at the (). After a brief conference, the three then proceeded in Bompensiero’s personal car to the Club Marina, 1310 Scott Street, San Diego. Upon leaving the Club Marina, three individuals proceeded to Los Angeles, California.
“Physical surveillance of Bompensiero was conducted by the San Diego and Los Angeles offices on 7/1/65. Bompensiero and () and () drove to Huntington Park, California. They all entered a restaurant and cocktail lounge called the Tami Ami Cafe, 6400 South Santa Fe, Huntington Park, California. A few moments later, Bompensiero and an unknown male strolled out of the restaurant and left the area.
“The three, returned to the Islander Hotel at about 6:00 pm, 7/1/65. The three had dinner at Tarantino’s Restaurant where they were joined by a fourth individual who was not identified.
“July 3, 1965, Bompensiero was heard in conversation with () [Fratianno] on the topic of growing potatoes. Also on this log, () [Fratianno] mentions that his wife is going to file for divorce. [Jewel Fratianno subsequently did file for divorce, but for a long time the couple continued to live together when Fratianno — a flagrant womanizer — was in Sacramento.]”
A memo prepared later in the first week of July explains where Bompensiero went on July 1 after he “strolled out” of the Tami Ami Cafe.
“On the early morning of 7/4/65 Bompensiero talked about taking a recent trip to Los Angeles to meet with members of the lcn. He wanted to take () with him, but was refused permission. In Los Angeles he was driven by a circuitous route toward San Bernardino and then back towards Cucamonga, where he was taken to a winery. There he met several individuals, including (). [Charles Dippolito and his son Joe owned a vineyard in Cucamonga.] He claimed he asked for a ‘transfer,’ but was refused the transfer until he ‘did a job.’ ”
Bompensiero, in this visit to the Cucamonga vineyard, may well have met with LA family head Frank Desimone. Bompensiero continued to rail against the post-Dragna LA group and continued to demand that he be transferred into the Chicago family. Why Desimone simply didn’t tell Bompensiero to go, we will never know.
July 12, 1965, the FBI’s DC office, by telephone, instructed the San Diego office to discontinue the misur coverage in Bompensiero’s home. The Bureau instructed the San Diego FBI office to leave the microphone installed but to cease listening. No reason is ever given for this.
“September 16, 1965, a surveillance of subject Bompensiero was conducted. He was observed to park a car behind the Tropics Bar in downtown San Diego and later leaving the bar with (*). They proceeded north on U.S. 101 toward Los Angeles in () car, a 1964 white Pontiac convertible, California license () but turned off at a small coastal town 30 miles north of San Diego at Solano Beach. They entered the Surf and Saddle Bar and Restaurant but left about ten minutes later and returned to San Diego taking evasive tactics.”
After Patrick Gavin died, then-58-year-old Marie sold the Lymer Drive house. Bompensiero and Marie rented Apartment 4 in a four-unit apartment house at 1830 Reed Street. They moved into the apartment late in September, 1965, not long after Bompensiero celebrated his 60th birthday. The FBI memo noted:
“Subject Frank Bompensiero now residing 1830 Reed Street, San Diego, California. Subject gives no indication of employment and in frequent contact with (*).
“Subject and (*) checked into Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills, California, on 10/18/65, and checked out between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. on 10/19/65. Bompensiero was observed returning to San Diego by himself driving his 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix, gray with black vinyl top, California license nsc 059, at 1:30 p.m. on October 19, 1965. Upon arrival back in San Diego he went to his daughter’s home, and thereafter about 6:00 p.m., October 19, 1965, returned to his apartment residence occupied by ().
“Spot surveillances conducted on subject Bompensiero during this period indicated frequent contact with (). On several occasions Bompensiero was observed leaving his home in the morning and going directly to the Tropics Bar, downtown San Diego, which is owned and operated by (). On several other occasions he has been seen to drive to and enter the La Mesa Bowl on the outskirts of San Diego, a $2,500,000 bowling alley-nightclub-restaurant.
“11/16/65, when (*) was visiting Bompensiero in this apartment, portions of their conversation was heard in the () by sas () and (). It sounded as if () had come to San Diego to discuss some kind of a business deal with Bompensiero and () talked about shipping lard into Mexico and paying off some Mexican senator. It is not known if () was talking about anything he himself was connected with.
“It is entirely possible that (*) might have been telling Bompensiero about this lard operation on the part of the Chicago group without actually being involved in it in any way.
“In addition to this information overheard, () and Bompensiero could be heard at times talking about general problems involved in their trucking operations. From their remarks, it appeared that () might also have some interest in their operations.
“It was verified on November 15, 1965, through records at the airport in San Diego, that (*) arrived on a United Airlines flight from Sacramento to San Diego, and had made a one-way ticket purchase.
“The Los Angeles Division was alerted on November 16, 1965 and (*) [Fratianno] and Bompensiero were surveilled into the Los Angeles Division. They traveled in Bompensiero’s car. They were observed arriving at about 3:45 p.m. on November 16, 1965, at the temporary quarters of the Hess Mace Trucking Company located on Alameda Street between the freeway off ramp and the freeway in Los Angeles. This area was being utilized as a temporary office space and storage for numerous pieces of earth-moving equipment, tractors and earth-hauling trailers. After the arrival of () [Fratianno] and Bompensiero, numerous individuals left the trailer office, and vehicles remaining were identified as a 1960 Ford station wagon, California license () a 1963 Oldsmobile, California license () and a Ford panel truck, license ().
“Later on the evening of November 16, 1965, (*) [Fratianno] and Bompensiero were observed at the Villa Capri Restaurant in Hollywood.”
December 6, 1965, Bompensiero flew to Mexico City. I asked Mary Ann if she remembered this trip. She laughed. “No. Mexico? No. I don’t remember my dad going to Mexico.”
Demaris’s The Last Mafioso provides insight into this trip. Fratianno took Bompensiero to San Francisco to meet Joseph L. Alioto, then a wealthy San Francisco antitrust lawyer, who in 1967 would be elected San Francisco’s mayor. The Aliotos, Balistrieris, and Bompensieros all had come from Porticello. Many of the Aliotos and Balistrieris went directly from Sicily to Milwaukee at the same time that Bompensiero’s parents immigrated to that northern city. John Alioto, a distant relative of the future San Francisco mayor, became head man of Milwaukee’s mob in 1952. Alioto was succeeded by his son-in-law, Frank Balistrieri, in 1961. According to Fratianno’s accounting to Demaris of the meeting between Alioto and Bompensiero, there was much talk of family the two men had in common, something Bompensiero enjoyed. But Fratianno’s description of Bompensiero’s conversation — “fuckin’ this” and “fuckin’ that” rings false. Everyone with whom I have talked has emphasized how mannerly Bompensiero was. I cannot imagine the 60-year-old Don Frank Bompensiero, dressed in his best, seated in Alioto’s elegant high-rise San Francisco office, spouting “fucks.”
I do think that Fratianno’s explanation of Bompensiero’s trip to Mexico is largely accurate. “Bompensiero and me,” said Fratianno, “had a scam of our own going. Rudy Papale, you know, is Alioto’s brother-in-law. Bompensiero took him to Mexico City a while back to try to work out a lard deal for Baja California. See, Bompensiero knows this Sammy Ybarra who’s the head of a big hotel chain in Mexico. Somehow or other years ago Bompensiero saved this guy’s kid from getting killed in Tijuana and they became friends. Alioto was interested in that lard deal so Papale went to Mexico with Bompensiero. They paid all expenses, but Sammy Ybarra couldn’t work it out.”
The San Diego FBI office filed the following memo:
“It was verified on December 6, 1965, that the subject had made reservations under his true name with Western Airlines at San Diego and was to fly to Mexico City on Flight 791, leaving San Diego at 10:00 pm on December 6, 1965. He had return reservations from Mexico City via Western Airlines on Flight 790, to arrive in San Diego at 9:18 am, December 9, 1965.
“The subject was kept under constant surveillance from 7:05 am, December 6, 1965, until he departed for Mexico City at 10:00 pm on December 6, 1965. During this period of surveillance on December 6, 1965, the subject was observed leaving his home at 7:42 am in his car, and proceeded to his daughter’s house. At 10:15 am he left his daughter’s house and drove to the Imperial House, a large apartment house in the Point Loma area of San Diego.
“While the subject was in the Imperial House, at 10:50 am agents observed local San Diego hoodlum () arrive in his white, 1965 Pontiac convertible, California license ().
“At 11:20 am, Bompensiero left the Imperial House by himself, and (*) followed in his own car, and they later separated.
“At 11:28 am, subject Bompensiero stopped at the Wright Refrigeration Company in San Diego. He left there at 11:59 am and proceeded to the La Mesa, California area, where he visited the U.S. National Bank Branch Office in La Mesa. He then proceeded to the Continental Restaurant in La Mesa, where he visited from 12:22 pm to 2:29 pm with () of the Continental Restaurant and () a close associate of many San Diego hoodlums of Italian ancestry.
“He returned to his daughter’s home at 2:54 pm and then drove to his own apartment at 5:46 pm, where he remained until he left for the airport and boarded the flight to Mexico City at 10:00 pm.
“The subject returned on Western Airlines Flight 790 on the morning of December 9, 1965, at which time he was carefully searched and questioned by Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs in the presence of Bureau Agents.
“Upon re-entry into the United States, the subject gave his true name and his date of birth as September 29, 1905, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He gave his San Diego residence as the home of his daughter. He claimed he went to Mexico City on business, and stated that he stayed at the El Presidente Hotel, Room 808, in Mexico City. He claimed that while in Mexico City on business he contacted (). A business card was found on the subject’s person, identifying () with address () Mexico City, telephones () and ().
“When asked for his occupation, the subject stated that he was ‘associated with’ the Thomas Trucking Company of Sacramento, California. No other information of value was obtained through interrogation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“When the subject was checked through U.S. Customs, however, his suitcase, briefcase and wallet were carefully searched. He was also frisked for any weapons or money belt with negative results. His briefcase, however, revealed a cashiers check in the amount of $1,100, drawn on the U.S. National Bank of San Diego and made payable to (*). In addition to the above check, the subject had a photograph of himself with two other men, which appeared to have been taken at a nightclub in Mexico City. Both men appeared to be of Spanish ancestry.
“Also located in the subject’s wallet was a slip of paper with the name F. Powers and Company, San Francisco. When asked concerning that, the subject stated that he was a friend in the linen supply business.
“Also located in the subject’s wallet was a slip of paper with the name (*). The subject gave no explanation for this name being in his possession and shrugged it off as just a friend.”
The San Diego FBI office ended 1965 with this report:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- San Diego, California
- December 16, 1965
- Re: Frank Bompensiero, aka Frank Gavin
- Frank Bompensiero, FBI Number 337240, has been involved for many years in the San Diego area in bookmaking, gambling, illegal union activities, extortion, and has been a prime suspect in three unsolved murders.
- He is described as follows:
- Sex: Male
- Race: White
- Nationality: American
- Date of Birth: September 29, 1905
- Place of Birth: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Height: 5'6"
- Weight: 160 pounds
- Build: Medium
- Hair: Brown - graying, bald on top
- Eyes: Brown
- Complexion: Medium-dark, round face, wide mouth
- Appearance: Italian
- “This subject has been a member of the La Cosa Nostra (lcn) for many years and at one time was leader of the San Diego family. He was widely feared for his strong-arm methods and has close contacts with hoodlums of Italian ancestry throughout California. He has also had close contacts with the gambling element in Southern California over the years.
- “Since the end of his parole, Bompensiero has openly resumed contact with members of the Italian hoodlum element. He has been observed in contact with () hoodlum leaders in Los Angeles. Investigation has also verified that he is in frequent contact with () [Johnny Rosselli] of Beverly Hills, California, the lcn leader from Chicago who for several years has been operating out of Beverly Hills and Hollywood with numerous trips on lcn business to Las Vegas, Nevada.
- “The subject is a cousin and close contact of (*) who is emerging as one of the leaders of the Hoodlum society in the San Jose–San Francisco areas.
- “In San Diego, he has been closely associated with (*) hoodlum leader in the Detroit area.
- “During the summer of 1965, the subject was observed traveling and in frequent telephone and personal contact with () [Frank La Porte], hoodlum leader in South Chicago, and with () [Fratianno] convicted extortionist, now residing in Sacramento, California.
- “His contacts with (*) [Frank La Porte] have been in California while () [La Porte] was vacationing here. () [La Porte] is very wealthy and is developing numerous financial investments in California and possibly Nevada.
- “During the past six months, investigation has indicated that Bompensiero has business interests in the Fratianno Trucking Company and Fratianno has been observed with subject in Southern California on numerous occasions.
- “Since the end of his parole in May, 1965, Bompensiero has remained residing in the San Diego area where he is living with Marie Adamo.
- “He drives a 1965 automobile and puts up a big front; however, informants report that he is broke most of the time. In view of his background, his very active associations with the hoodlum criminal element in Southern California, and his possible lack of money, it is indicated Bompensiero will now be making efforts to set something up.
- “The subject is a known braggart and at times exhibits possession of large amounts of pocket money and at other times his activities indicate he is broke. As a result of this, it is extremely difficult to assess his true financial condition or his true position in established hoodlum activities.”
Mary Ann, when I read her this, said, “My dad used to say, ‘If you have a dollar in your pocket or a thousand dollars, it doesn’t matter. You don’t cry the blues. You never say, “I can’t afford to do this” or “can’t afford to do that.” You gotta be proud. Nobody has to know what you’ve got in your pocket.’ That’s what my dad told me.”