By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
It’s hard to know about Chicago. Was it a Mafia city or was it something else? Maybe just a gangland in America’s mid-west?
One acknowledged expert in the field, Dr. Wayne A. Johnson, claims, “I want to be clear on this point: The Chicago Outfit is just that, traditional organized crime. It is not the Mafia; it has always been very diverse and operates under the principals of Southern Italian organized crime.” 1
Others say it emerged around the turn of the 20th century as a Mafia clan and involved a man called James Colosimo, best remembered today as the mentor of a young thug imported into the city from Brooklyn around 1919. His name was Alphonse Capone.
Prior to Colosimo, there were many others from Italy, who found themselves in the mid-west, fighting and killing each other to establish some kind of territorial criminal enclaves in and around Chicago: Joe Morici, Mariano Zagone, Rosario Dispenza, Tony Dándrea. Michele Mero, The Genna Brothers and Joseph Aiello. They all came and went by natural or unnatural causes, until Colosimo is murdered, possibly on the instructions of his right-hand man, Johnny Torrio. Who then beget his throne to Capone. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The group never referred to itself by this name, Mafia, but tagged themselves, The Outfit. They were one of several street gangs that emerged as Chicago grew into the 20th century as a major city in North America.
Then again, other Mafia families across America used similar nicknames such as Shopfront, Office, West Side, Combination, Arm, and never called themselves by the noun which emerged in Sicily, and came to be used, world-wide, to describe something still really never understood in terms of its origin and complexity.
Sometimes referred to as Cosa Nostra, and The Honored Society, defining something that is almost as elusive as this is hard going. Finding a common denominator maybe helps to understand the nexus of a criminal organization where the one given is violence and death.
This perhaps helps us to an understanding of the structure of a force that is the sum of its many parts.
If made men, the ones brought into the society by a system of selection and then ritual induction, are the backbone, the outer limbs are the associates, men who often cannot be formally Mafioso because of their heritage. Their lack of Italian. There are more of these serving a crime family than inducted men.
Each soldier in the Mafia clan has associates working under him. The number can vary from family to family, and in a major city like Chicago, depending on the era, it could be five or ten or even more. Even if it’s not the Mafia, it’s a lot of criminal support. Earning. Bringing in money. The blood that keeps the arteries of Cosa Nostra pumping. Or any mob.
If Chicago was not a Mafia town, simply a street gang place, its member’s lineage was irrelevant. Crooks are crooks and recognize each other as such.
Francis John Schweihs (right) was a criminal who earned his master’s degree in gangsterism on the mean streets of The Windy City. By 1962, he had been arrested as often as his age, which was thirty-two, for crimes ranging from burglary to homicide. He was a well-established hood in the neighborhood.2
Because of his heritage, always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Frank the German, as he came to be known in the underworld, presumably due to his ancestry, developed a special talent for violence that would fill his adult life. He was described by a federal prosecutor as one of the most violent people ever to come before this court.3
One of many deadly fish in a big pond of unlawful opportunity, he was known only to the law and students or followers of the crime genre, until his daughter hit the headlines in a bleak, uncompromisingly grody television reality show.
His career would intersect with characters that sound like bit-players of a Broadway comedy show - Jackie the Lackey, No Nose, The Mooch, Milwaukee Phil, Joe Batters, The Ant, Mad Sam, Gumba and the Indian - to name only a few. Except these are men who steal and extort and murder for a living.
There seems little doubt that Schweihs was a psychopath, by deed and attitude. Maybe it was the striatum that caused all the problems. Science has recently discovered, using MRI scans, that psychopathic people have a 10% larger striatum, a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia of the forebrain, than regular people. This represents a clear biological distinction between psychopaths and non-psychopathic people.4
It’s a place where skills and habits meet. All the wrong kinds in a man like Frank the German.
His first hit may have been in 1962, the year he celebrated a birthday and an arrest record.
At five-eleven and one eighty, there was nothing dramatic about him except his stare. Mug shots in later life show receding grey hair, and a mess with me if you dare stare. He looks like a killer should look, and almost certainly lived up to this image. He often linked with another mob associate, Wayne Brock, a towering ex-football player, and they were allegedly partners in many hits for the Chicago Outfit. On mob wiretaps, law enforcement heard Schweihs referred to by his peers as Hitler.
He was, according to one source, the default killer for the Grand Avenue Crew, lead by Joey Lombardo. This was one of at least six factions that made up Chicago’s mafia. Which, like all similar organizations, also had a default setting: murder. Every dangerous link to them would go. Trunk Music the mob called it. Two in the head, body in the car trunk. Frank and others would make sure the jobs were done, wherever they had to go on their missions.
The German’s first job is as controversial as the “Flat Earth Theory.” He and another man, sometimes referred to as Frank Cullotta or perhaps it was Anthony Spilotro, travel to California and murder movie star Marilyn Monroe, on the orders of Outfit boss, Sam Giancana. It’s a myth, based on a legend supported by hearsay and dream-walkers. But it gets a gunman who craves obscurity a lot of publicity in the years to come.5
- READ: From violent to loving in a heartbeat: The two sides of infamous Chicago Outfit mobster Tony Spilotro
In a city of killers, there were plenty of them, as Frank earned his spurs.
Harry Aleman and Wayne Bock and Frank Cullotta and Sam De Stefano and Nicholas Calabrese and Felix Alderisio, and Charles Nicoletti. On and on, an almost never-ending catalogue of evil waiting to be browsed by those who came and went as the boss man of Chicago’s premier criminal cabal.
Never convicted of homicide in a court of law, the one of public opinion has Schweihs as the hit-man in cases so multiple, it’s hard to absorb. They start, maybe in Los Angeles, with the killing of Gerald Covelli in Encino, California, in June 1967.
Part of the Rush Street crew under skipper Ross Prio (Rosario Priolo,) he’d become an informant after arrest and imprisonment on car-theft charges. His testimony helped convict several Outfit’s gang in 1962, and on release, he had moved to live in Encino, California.6
He was killed in June 1967 by a remote-controlled bomb in his car as he drove away from his home. In the same year, Alan Rosenberg is gunned down on St Patrick’s Day and left in his Cadillac on Ainslie Street on Chicago’s North Side.
Richard Cain, an ex-cop shot-gunned to death in December 1973, may have been the next victim.
In 1975, it’s goodbye to Carlo De Vivo.
In July, 1976, Johnny Roselli disappeared. A long-time member of Chicago’s mob, he had looked after their interest in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. His decomposing body was found stuffed into a steel barrel in swampland in Florida. According to an FBI informant, code-named Achilles, he was murdered by Schweihs and another Outfit killer, Vincent Insero. A hit personally approved by Anthony Accardo, then boss of The Outfit. The notorious Joe Batters, who as a young hoodlum had worked under Capone.
March, 1977, it’s the turn of Charles Nicoletti and in 1978, James Catuara.
Allen Dorfman, an official in the Teamsters Union, is shot dead in an elevator in 1983 and then dentist, Burton Isaac in 1984. Charles English goes in 1985.6
These may have been just the tip of the iceberg, although the alleged killing that distinguishes this Chicago North Side gunman from his peers, is the one that destroys not only the victim but also his family, for years to come.
On September 27, 1974, Daniel Seifert, his wife Emma and their little boy, Joe, left their home in Bensenville, near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and drove to Dan’s business where he ran Plastic-Matics Products at 810 Foster Avenue. In a bland landscape of single-storied brick warehouses, his small factory fronted the highway, next to a car park serving it and adjoining premises. They arrived there just after 8:30 that morning.
In a previous business venture, he became locked into The Outfit through an investor who turned out to be Alderisio, an underboss to Sam Giancana, boss in the 1960s. As a young man, Daniel had sometimes socialized with some of the Grand Avenue crew, although never crossing paths with the law. When his other partner, Irwin Weiner, sold out his shareholding, Seifert found himself surrounded by gangsters such as Joey Lombardo, Anthony Spilotro and Frank Schweihs, all wanting a piece of the action. Realizing he was getting in too deep, Dan sold out his shareholding and started the new company in 1973.
The mob came after him, burrowing away, looking for opportunities-no show jobs, money laundering, a place to hang out-until Seifert realized he had to do something serious to dislodge them. Approached by the FBI, who were laying down a fraud charge against Lombardo involving the Teamsters Union, he agreed to cooperate with the Feds. The Outfit found out, of course, and then it was only a matter of time.
Which became a Tuesday in the first month of autumn.
That morning, after the family was in the factory office, two masked men, carrying revolvers, burst in, one pushing Emma and her child into a nearby bathroom. She heard the sounds of men yelling and then a gunshot. As she cautiously left the small room, she noticed blood smeared around the front-door frame, and through a window, saw her husband staggering away towards the road.
One gunman was now hefting a shotgun, which he fired at Daniel, at least twice, then there was a third shot, and after a few moments, the killers were gone. When Emma and her son found Seifert, he was sprawled on the grass verge, fronting the car park (right).
He had been shot once by a .38 revolver, and three times by a 12-gauge shotgun.7
Although he was only four years old, little Joe remembered, “The trees were brown, the grass was green, the blood was red.”8
He and his brother Nick spent much of their early and adult lives trying to accept and come to terms with their father’s murder. Growing up, the elder son had idolized Lombardo, who he looked upon as an uncle. The family thought so much of the gangster, they named their youngest boy after him.
Their mother and sister also struggled for years with the sudden violence that came into their lives from such an unexpected source.
In fear of their lives, Emma never confirmed her belief that the killer of her husband was at one time a close family friend.
In 2007, following a major Department of Justice investigation, code named Operation Family Secrets, that brought down fourteen of The Outfit, for racketeering and related crimes, including 18 previously unsolved murders, Joey Lombardo was found guilty of the murder of Daniel Seifert.
Nicknamed Lump or Joey the Clown, Lombardo would die in a Colorado prison at 90 from throat cancer. Schweihs, who was perhaps the other gunman that Tuesday, was in hospital during this trial period and had yet to face his jury of peers.9
Nick Calabrese, an Outfit member who triggered the government’s attack on the Chicago mob, claimed that one of their killers, a man called John Fecarotta, had told him Lombardo and Schweihs murdered Daniel Seifert. Ironically, Fecarotta would be killed by Calabrese. One of fourteen, he had admitted carrying out when giving evidence against his former gang members.
Frank the German (right), who it seemed beat everything except his health, would die in Thorek Memorial Hospital, on Chicago’s upper north side, under guard, in July 2008 of complications from lung cancer and a brain tumor. He was seventy-seven, and had been due to go on trial in October of that year facing charges as part of the Family Secrets prosecution, that included taking part in the ambush hits on federal witnesses Daniel Seifert in Bensenville in 1974 and Emil Vaci in Phoenix in 1986.
Frank’s daughter, Norah, appeared on a television reality series called “Mob Wives Chicago.” With an ex-husband who was a connected bookie and a nephew of an Outfit boss, she was obviously well qualified for the part in a follow-on to a similar series examining the wives and families of New York’s Mafia. It was, it seems, about as low as junk television can go. In two of America’s major cities, the ghosts of mob bosses were no doubt grinding their teeth and whatever else a revenant might do under the circumstances.
Sigmund Freud, the renowned Austrian psychoanalyst, wrote about the death instinct and the human proclivity towards destruction and self-destruction. In an organization like The Outfit, it manifested itself through men like Schweihs.10
Did he live on a border between the enigma of life and death, or was he essentially only a vacuum, someone born to kill but fulfil no other purpose?
We know simple truths. Occam’s Razor, the concept that generally, the obvious solution is the right one, suggests The German in America was nothing more than a version of evil we all hope, in the safety of our mundane lives, never to cross paths with, under any circumstance.
I acknowledge as a source of information, The American Mafia website hosted by Tom Hunt at https://www.onewal.com/about/
- https://ipsn.org/ FBI records show he was born February 3, 1932. Chicago PD claim 1930 the year of his birth.
- Crypt 33: The Stunning Never Before Seen Account of the Death of Marilyn Monroe. Adela Gregory. Milo SperiglioKensington Publishing Corp., 2012.
- Chicago Tribune. 28 September, 1974. Page 131.
- https://www.researchgate.net›publication 342610778_SIGMUND_FREUD_AN_PSYCHOAN
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