Golden Lion, 4th and F Street, 1924. Bootlegged liquor was delivered to the Golden Lion in crates of lettuce.
  • Golden Lion, 4th and F Street, 1924. Bootlegged liquor was delivered to the Golden Lion in crates of lettuce.
  • San Diego Historical Society Photograph Collection

Dynamite Is What They Mostly Used

Although nothing here was organized previous to World War II, “back East and up North” various crime figures began to realize that San Diego would “be a very lucrative area. Because we had one thing going for us that no one else really thought of. You’ve got a lot of guys on steady payroll here — it may only be about $25 or $30 a month, but they got free room and board and hospital.”

By Judith Moore, Dec. 5, 1996 | Read full article

Bill Heritage: “We knew that this downtown area was loaded with Mafia. I don’t know if these sailor boys knew it, but the townspeople knew about it."

I Do Not Know Nothing About Mafia

“During World War II, the hoods, at least, they made plenty of money. The reason they made more money than anyone else was because they could get liquor where a square couldn’t. I recall a $200,000 deal, a liquor truck hijacked in Del Mar, coming into San Diego. A straight person couldn’t pick up a phone and call Cleveland and Chicago and say, ‘How about we do each other a favor?’ These guys had the connections.”

By Judith Moore, Dec. 12, 1996 | Read full article

Cover of U.S.A. Confidential. "We are hard characters, shocked by nothing; but what we saw in San Diego frightened us."

Continuous Entertainment, Irresistible Music

“There was a guy the bouncer roughed up and threw him out of there, over a girl or something. This guy he booted out went to another bar where his crew hung out and he brought them back. There was blood all over the place. We had an old shore patrol billy club and I am banging that on the bar, Break it up!’ This big sailor grabbed that billy club. I ran toward the plaza.”

By Judith Moore, Dec. 19, 1996 | Read full article

Willie (the Rat) Cammisano. Willie’s detractors said his sobriquet had its source in Willie’s unique body-disposal method: he stuffed victims in sewers for rats to chew.

Who Was Willie the Rat and Why Did He Come Here?

According to Fratianno’s testimony, as recorded in Anthony Summers’s Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy and Frank Bompensiero were at the Del Mar track on an afternoon in 1948 when Hoover was in attendance. “I pointed at this fella sitting in the box in front,” Fratianno recalled, “and said, ‘Hey, lookit there, it’s J. Edgar Hoover.’ And Frank says right out loud, so everyone can hear, ‘Ah, that J. Edgar’s a punk.’”

By Judith Moore, January 2, 1997 | Read full article

Frank Bompensiero: "Remember that sonovabitch? Me and Biaggio (Bonventre) clipped the bastard and buried him while I was awaiting trial."


Honest to God Crooks

“Adamo, part owner of the Gay Paree Tavern, and a resident at 4135 Lymer Drive, Kensington Park, died in the house. His wife Marie, 46, ran from the dwelling after she was shot. 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 her husband attacked her during a quarrel, choking her and hitting her with a whisky bottle....”

By Judith Moore, Jan. 9, 1997 | Read full article

Back in 1977, a pay telephone stood along the side of the station. Some say Bompensiero talked to James Aladena (“Jimmy the Weasel”) Fratianno. Others claim he spoke to Joseph (“Joseph Bananas”) Bonnano.

Shot in the Dark

“Jimmy dropped the garrote over his head, handing the other end of the rope to Bompensiero. Within ten seconds, Borgia was sinking to his knees. Mirabile released him and he fell on his face, with Jimmy and Bompensiero lying beside him and holding the rope firm, squeezing out the last breath of life. Like all the other victims of the Italian rope trick, Frank Borgia dies with a surprised expression on his face.”

By Judith Moore, Feb. 11, 1999 | Read full article

From the San Diego Union, December 28, 1958. Tony Mirabile would move to San Diego after Prohibition’s end and set up in business as owner of a bar on Fourth and F, The Rainbow Gardens.

I Wasn’t There to Hold the Candle

Mary Ann said that her grandmother Bompensiero worried about her son, but that she spoke little English and could not read. “Her daughter and my uncle Sammie kept it a secret. When my father was in hiding or in prison, they would tell her that he was working here and working there. When my father was home, Daddy would kiss her on the forehead and say, ‘Don’t worry, Mamma, I am in the trucking business.’”

By Judith Moore, Feb. 18, 1999 | Read full article

Thelma and Frank Bompensiero. "My grandfather Sanfilippo didn’t like him because my father was driving a beautiful car, wearing expensive clothes, and my grandfather Sanfilippo probably knew there was lots more than bootlegging going on. They didn’t speak very much English, but they knew."

Frank’s Melancholy Baby

I asked Mary Ann if she thought her mother knew about the robberies, the beatings, the murders. “She must have known, or, guessed. He never told her much. He said, ‘What you don’t know, they can’t ask you.’ I asked Mary Ann how she thought her mother bore up under her father’s absences and arrests. “She probably shed more tears than I ever saw. You could sense it. But she loved him. She really loved him.”

By Judith Moore, Feb. 25, 1999 | Read full article

From left: Jewel Fratianno, Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno, Bompensiero (center), Thelma; at Tops, early 1950s. "There was music at Tops. People danced."

Family Ties Tied Tight

“The story was, this guy had been beating on his wife. He was told, I understand, by Frank, on a couple of occasions, ‘One more time.’ He was last seen crossing Broadway to the south side and was walking east. He was never found. No body. Frank warned him to stop it. He didn’t stop. So a lot of people thought Frank finally lost patience and took care of it."

By Judith Moore, March 4, 1999 | Read full article

A Fateful Check at the U.S. Grant

This business of Jack’s, trying to kill the dumb-ass little Jew. Jews he did not dislike just because they were Jews. He did not trust them, any more than he trusted Americans or Neapolitans or Romans or Milanese. He trusted his own; he trusted Sicilians. The business between Cohen and Jack, this business was getting to be a waste of time. This trying to control LA’s bookmakers by killing the Jew, this was a waste of time.

By Judith Moore, March 11, 1999 | Read full article

When Everything Was Lost

“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. Eddie came to me to straighten it out. 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.”

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader