12 June 2015

The Third Deadly Sin

by R.T. Lawton

For twenty years, Giuseppe Nicoli Civella had ruled his Kansas City fiefdom with a firm and steady hand. Even the local FBI considered him to be a cunning, capable leader and a competent crime boss, but his mafia family was about to open a treasure chest of wealth only to find it would give free rein to the monster of greed within their organization. That lure of power and easy money soon put the Civella crime family on a downhill slide.

The main war zone opened up in the River Quay area as contestants to this conflict lined up into two main groups: the old guys (Made Men) versus the Young Turks (family associates not yet admitted to the inner circle). As the Made Men closest to Nick Civella saw it, they had the privilege of first rights on anything involving power and money, and they had no intention of letting anyone else in on the potential flow of money. From the Young Turks point of view, they thought they should be let in on the action, especially if it was a project they started, and the old guys should quit holding them down. In the end, it came down to two groups of dangerous men competing for two valuable prizes the old guys wanted only for themselves.

During the 1850's, the River Quay (originally known as Westport Landing) was where river boats landed merchandise for sale and exchange in the Kansas City area. By 1970, it consisted mostly of old warehouses no longer used for the river trade. However, city businessman Marion Trozzolo started visualizing this old section of town as a fine place for trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques and art galleries. In 1972, Fred Harvey Bonadonna, son of mobster David Bonadonna, acquired a lot from Trozzolo and set up a restaurant named Poor Freddie's. When mob boss Nick Civella came around for a visit, Freddie made the mistake of bragging about the restaurant's earnings. This story soon reached the ears of a couple of Civella's henchmen, Joe Cammisano and Paul "Paulie the Pig" Scola, who had previously thought the River Quay area was a waste of resources. But, now that Bonadonna was making big money, these two wanted in. Bonadonna opposed them.

At the same time, the Spero brothers, Mike, Nick, Joe and Carl (associates of the family), were seen as challengers to the old system. Nick Spero was thought to be trying to gain too much power in the local Teamsters Union where the Made Guys already had their own programs in play. The decision was made that Nick Spero had to go. In April 1973, Nick Spero was found in the trunk of his Cadillac convertible. He'd been shot twice with a .38. The three surviving Spero brothers blamed the killing on underlings of mafia boss Nick Civella and  his brother Corky (the underboss).

By October 1973, Paulie the Pig managed to get a foothold in the River Quay with his restaurant Delaware Daddy's in direct competition to Freddie's place. His pal, Joe Cammisano, tried to establish strippers and the trade that went with them. Bonadonna feared the area would become a red light district and continued his opposition. Cammisano became angry with this problem of access to the area. Finally, in 1975, Joe opened up Uncle Joe's Tavern. More bars followed and an x-rated movie theater opened its doors. The Cammisano brothers, Joe and William, also tried to take over the lucrative parking lots owned by the Bonadonna's in the River Quay district.

Eventually, Nick Civella sent William "Willie the Rat" Cammisano (a future KC godfather) to tax Poor Freddie's and attempt a full takeover. On July 22, 1976, David Bonadonna (father to Freddie and part owner of the restaurant) was found in the trunk of his Cadillac which was parked on a Kansas City street. Freddie fingered Willie the Rat as the killer and later testified in federal court against him and the local mafia. After Johnny Broccato turned up in the trunk of his car, it was starting to look like the killer had a fetish for Cadillac trunks.

The war continued. Come May 16, 1978, the three surviving Spero brothers were in the Virginian Tavern on Admiral Street in the River Quay district. Mike and Joe were sitting in a booth and Carl was up to the bar, when three masked men with weapons walked in. Bullets flew. Mike was killed and Joe was wounded. Carl exited via a rear door, but got shot-gunned in the back and ended up paralyzed and in a wheelchair. In a subsequent letter to authorities, Joe identified the shooters as three of Civella's henchmen. Not taking the shootings too well, Joe crafted a home-made bomb that October and placed it under the car of one of the henchmen. Unfortunately for Joe, the FBI interfered, retrieved the bomb and got Joe a prison sentence. There's no indication that the saved henchman ever thanked the FBI for their diligent services in preventing this violent crime.

Towards the end, you had to admit that Civella's group had a flair for irony. In June 1980, a  bomb, later alleged to be a booby-trap, exploded in a storage shed while Joe Spero was inside. The blast put him out through the shed wall and into eternity. Four and a half years later, as brother Carl was entering his cousin's car lot, a nail bomb went off. It wiped out Carl and his wheelchair. That wrapped up any future opposition from the Spero brothers. By this time,mob boss Nick Civella had already passed on from natural causes, so this last action was merely unfinished business. It was left to Corky Civella, as the new boss, to oversee the declining fortunes of the Civella crime family. Seemed the feds had lots of indictments waiting for several family members, to include those going down for the casino skimming charges in Las Vegas.

As for the River Quay area, bombings of several taverns and businesses, plus the shootings and intra-family strife turned the district into a desolate area for the public to avoid. The wealth was gone for now and there were few players left standing.

4 comments:

janice law said...

Now there's a novel of two!

Leigh Lundin said...

I find this much more interesting that the Godfather stories.

Sounds like Cadillac is the car to avoid in Kansas City.

David Dean said...

I'm with Leigh on this one--do not go near Caddys in KC! Great piece and well-told, R.T.

Dixon Hill said...

R.T. like the best historians, you stick to the facts as well as Joe Friday, yet make the past come alive! Great stuff, buddy.

--Dixon

P.S.: You'll find that I've got a small note concerning mob activity -- in Phoenix this time -- in my blog post next Friday.