In the winter of 2018 just as the world was settling into the new year, a good friend of mine, Gary Jenkins, who is also a former Kansas City (Missouri) Police Intelligence officer with 30 years’ service, asked me if I would take part in a true-crime podcast about a London robbery. My role was that of a fictitious prisoner in an English prison located on the Isle of Wight (HMP Parkhurst). I was to be serving time with two made men of the Italian-American Mafia as the only fictitious character within the podcast. The story grabbed my attention and immediately I wanted to know more about the events that had taken place in London. Events that soon went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The ‘Marlborough Diamond’
The history of the ‘Marlborough Diamond’ provides us with as many facets as the radiant cut jewel itself. The diamond, 48.01-carats and set within a brooch pendant, was previously owned by the dowager Duchess of Marlborough Gladys Marie Spencer-Churchill (née Deacon).
In a love triangle similar to Prince Charles, Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla Parker-Bowles, after being his mistress, Gladys married the recently divorced cousin of Winston Churchill, the ninth Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill on June 25, 1921.
In 1892, her father, Edward Deacon (a millionaire from Boston, America) was sent to jail for shooting and killing the lover of her mother, Florence. His mental health deteriorated and just three years after being released from jail Edward became a patient in a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts where he died in 1901. A fate that would likewise befall his daughter Gladys. French novelist and friend to Gladys, Marcel Proust, once wrote about her, “I never saw a girl with such magnificent intelligence, such goodness and charm.”
Gladys could farther claim the ‘Haystack’ artist Claude Monet as a close friend. At the turn of the 20th century, Gladys had become so popular that a cardboard doll, named after her, was put on sale in 1902, called ‘Miss Deacon.’ In 1962, against her will, they placed the Duchess of Marlborough into the former Northampton General Lunatic Asylum known as St. Andrews Hospital where she stayed until her death aged 96 on October 13, 1977.
A year later, in 1978, jeweler Laurence Graff purchased the brooch from a Christie’s auction house for $121,200. Graff had the jewel recut and created a star-burst necklace worth an estimated $960,000. The necklace was then put on display at his prestigious flagship jewellers in Knightsbridge, London. In a robbery in September 1980, which lasted less than a minute, the ‘Marlborough Diamond’ was stolen and this is where the main story begins. However, in April 2005, a historical event provides us with an insider’s view of the Chicago Outfit*. This would include several crimes committed by the two central characters in our main story, ‘The Monk’ and ‘The Brain.’
- The Chicago Outfit formed by Italian-American gangsters Johnny Torrio and Al Capone gained their power and took control of organised crime in Chicago during the prohibition years (1920-33) culminating in the infamous St Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 when seven members of rivals the North Side Gang, led by George ‘Bugs’ Moran, were lined up against the wall of a building in Lincoln Park and shot to death by several of Capone’s men dressed in police uniforms.
Operation ‘Family Secrets’
In 1998 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received a letter, breaking the code of Omertà*, from a prisoner who was in prison with his dad. Frank Calabrese Jr. wanted to assist the authorities in having his dad locked up for the rest of his life. And requesting a face-to-face meeting in his letter to the FBI on July 27, 1998, Frank Jr. offered to wear a wire in jail so the FBI could record private conversations he had with his dad, Frank Calabrese Sr. about the family business. The parent and child, over the years, had a fractured relationship. The FBI, who claim the seven-year inquiry into the Chicago Outfit was one of its most successful operations ever, called it ‘Family Secrets’ because of the Calabrese.
- Omerta is a code of silence based on an old Sicilian proverb “cu è surdu, orbu e taci, campa cent’anni ‘mpaci” (he who is deaf, blind and dumb will live in peace forever) which was later adopted by Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia). In February 1963, the Italian Parliament established the Antimafia Commission who met for the first time on July 6, 1963. In the September of ’63, the Commission drafted their first law. Law 575 ‘Dispositions against the Mafia’ which was the first time ‘Mafia’ was used in legislature. The Commission was formed to investigate, subsequently, all organized crime linked to Mafia activity in Sicily and in regions of southern Italy where other Mafia organisations existed such as ‘The System’ of Naples (the Camorra), ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria and the Sacra Corona Unita of Apulia.
The letter from Frank Jr., was not only the catalyst, as the family tore itself apart from the inside, that created a domino effect of informants, but it would also lead to the first time a highly ranked made man* in the Chicago Outfit turned on his bosses. Nick Calabrese (who along with his brother Frank Sr. answered to the boss of the ‘26th Street Crew,’ Angelo LaPietra) began cooperating with the FBI in January 2002. On July 16, 2007, Nick Calabrese, dressed in a gray sweatsuit and wearing rounded spectacles, took to the witness stand and revealed to being involved in fourteen murders. Two of the homicides were the 1986 murders of brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro. In the classic 1995 film Casino, which depicted the murder of the Spilotro’s, the character played by Joe Pesci, Nicky Santoro was based on Tony Spilotro. Because of his cooperation, Nick Calabrese wasn’t prosecuted for any of the murders which caused public outrage from the friends, family and loved ones of the victims. However, on March 26, 2009, Judge James Zagel sentenced Nick Calabrese to twelve years and 4 months commenting,
“The organization whose existence you testified to will not forgive or relent in their pursuit of you.”
- A made man is someone that has been properly inducted into the ‘family.’ To become a made man the individual must first be Italian or be of Italian descent. Once someone is selected to be made, in what is called ‘opening the books,’ the individual undertakes an induction ceremony/ritual where they take the oath of Omertá. As a picture of a Saint, dripped with the blood of the inductee burns in their hand, they declare that if they break the code of Omertá their souls will burn like the picture burns. The ‘family’ takes priority over everything else in the inductee’s life. If a made man was needed while standing at the altar waiting to marry the girl of his dreams or at the hospital as his new-born is entering this world, the ‘family’ still comes first.
In his many pages of testimony given to the FBI, since 2002, Nick Calabrese provided information on a section of the Outfit known as the ‘Wild Bunch.’ A murder squad who took their instructions from Cicero Capo* Joe Ferriola. The orders being passed down to Ferriola from Outfit boss Joseph John Aiuppa aka ‘Joey Doves’ (Aiuppa was the front boss of the Outfit from 1971 until 1986 when he was sentenced to 28 years in prison. I use the term front boss as it is accepted that Anthony Accardo was the head of the Outfit from 1972 until his death on May 22, 1992, and those selected to be boss of the Outfit throughout this time were there not only under guidance from but also to provide an extra layer of protection for Accardo).
- Capo, or Caporegime (Captain). There are several levels within the hierarchy of an organized crime family. At the top of the family sits the boss/Don. The boss has the ultimate power within his own crime family. The second in command is known as the underboss. The boss’s right-hand man, also known as his chief advisor, is called the consigliere. Next up in the hierarchy is the Capo. The Capo is in charge of his crew, whose number could be anywhere between 10 and 1,000 men, made up of the lowest rank within the Mafia, the Soldier and those that can never be inducted into a Mafia family, these are known as associates. In April 1931, following what was known as the ‘Castellammarese War,’ which took place in New York between Feb 1930 – April 15, 1931, victorious Salvatore Maranzano declared himself ‘Capo di tutti capi’ (boss of all bosses) and separated New York into ‘The Five Families.’ Originally these were (with their modern name in brackets): Maranzano (Bonanno), Gagliano (Lucchese), Luciano (Genovese), Mangano (Gambino) and Profaci (Colombo). On September 10, 1931, under the orders of Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Maranzano was murdered. Luciano then created a body similar to a board of directors called ‘The Commission’. ‘The Commission’ was made up of bosses from the ‘Five Families’ of New York along with the bosses of other Italian-American organized crime families from around America and replaced the need for a ‘Capo di tutti capi.’
Over thirty murders committed in Chicago between 1980 and 1989 were accredited to the ‘Wild Bunch.’ The first assassination carried out by the ‘Wild Bunch’ was the double murder of a husband and wife. The Outfit knew that Outfit enforcer and Chicago Heights crew member, William ‘Billy the Chopper’ Dauber had been cooperating with the FBI. On July 2, 1980, after driving away from a courthouse, Dauber and his partner Charlotte were followed. Charlotte Dauber had also been opening her mouth, loudly complaining her husband’s bosses didn’t treat him right. According to FBI documents, the two vehicles ended up on a quiet country road in rural Will County. The driver of the van carrying members, including Nick Calabrese, of the ‘Wild Bunch,’ armed with shotguns, forced Dauber off the road. Dauber and Charlotte were then blasted to death. One of the men inside the van who was also a member of the ‘Wild Bunch,’ confirmed by Calabrese in his 2002 testimony, was ‘The Monk,’ aka Joseph Jerome Scalise.
Dauber had looked after a chop shop and automobile salvage operation for Chicago Heights boss, Albert Tocco who controlled the South Suburban rackets. The car chopping business was a dangerous game during the ‘chop shop’ wars between 1969 – 1983 in Chicago with over a dozen unsolved murders linked to the wars (Dauber was linked to a number of these murders). Scalise already wanted Dauber dead. At this point, Scalise was running the Outfit’s automotive business (stealing, chopping, scrapping) and he wanted to bring all the South Suburban under the direct control of the Outfit.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2 where I look at the theft of the Marlborough Diamond.
Story was first published in The Best New True Crime Stories series by Mitzi Szereto.
- The Theft of The Marlborough Diamond – Chapter 2 - February 14, 2023
- The History of The Marlborough Diamond – Chapter 1 - January 27, 2023
- The Dillinger Years: Harry Pierpont – The Mentor (Part Two) - January 4, 2021