** FILE ** A 1983 photo released by the Chicago Crime Commission, shows alleged Chicago crime boss Frank J. Calabrese Sr. Calabrese is one of five defendants in Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. The other four defendants are Joseph "Joey the Clown" LOmbardo, 70; convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70; reputed mob boss James Marcello, 65; and retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62. They are charged with a conspiracy that allegedly includes 18 long-unsolved murders, illegal gambling, loan sharking and extortion. Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Chicago Crime Commission)
Updated: January 29, 2013 6:27AM
Frank Calabrese Sr. died on Christmas Day, which one of his sons says may have been a sign that Frank had made amends with his God and found peace.
Yeah, well, good luck with that.
But speaking for a city that was for too long a playground for brutal mobsters, Calabrese’s death, on Christmas Day or any day, was a welcome reminder that the worst days of the old Chicago Outfit — if not organized crime in general — are well behind us.
Calabrese, 75, was the last of the stone-cold mob killers, a lug who moved up in the Outfit by cutting throats and shooting people and dumping the bodies in trunks. It was a living and, to judge by secretly recorded conversations, one he took pleasure in.
A series of federal prosecutions have decimated the old Chicago Outfit over the last 25 years, hauling into court dozens of old-timers who might have beat you with a bat for old time’s sake, but feared they’d throw their backs out. Most devastating was the 2007 Family Secrets prosecution, which took down mob bosses like James Marcello and Joey “The Clown” Lombardo, as well as mopes like Calabrese.
Calabrese was a particularly lethal mope, a hitman as feared as the notorious Harry Aleman, if not quite so scary as Frank “The German” Schweihs, both of whom also were dispatched to prison after years of bloody mayhem. Calabrese started in the mob back when Tony Accardo, a former Al Capone bodyguard, was boss.
In 2009, a federal judge found Calabrese Sr. responsible for 13 murders and sentenced him to life in prison. One of his own sons, Kurt, testified against him, most memorably about how Frank seriously threatened to bite off his nose. Another son, Frank Jr., secretly recorded conversations in which his old man bragged of past hits. Frank Sr.’s brother, Nicholas, a hit man himself, also testified against him.
We’ll spare you the details, but Calabrese killed one or two people a year, about the rate that some folks take in professional baseball games, through the 1970s and into the ’80s. Loan shark Michael “Hambone” Albergo was the first, killed by Calabrese in a South Side warehouse in 1970. John “Big John” Fecarotta was the last, officially speaking, gunned down outside a bingo hall on Belmont Avenue in 1986.
As Steve Warmbir, a Sun-Times assistant managing editor, took pains to make clear back when he was covering the Family Secrets trials, there was nothing glamorous or noble or even necessarily competent about these mugs in real life, whatever “Goodfellas” and the Godfather movies might have us believe. They not only were violent, but miserable.
“Life was garbage to Nick Calabrese,” Warmbir once wrote, “and he was the garbage man.”
Let’s be clear: the Chicago Outfit is not dead. As Robert Grant, retired special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, told CBS News last summer, it’s more “like a cancer in remission.” Recent prosecutions, for example, have made clear that the Outfit — whatever’s left of it — keeps a strong hand in the video poker business.
And even as the old Outfit fades, other organized crime groups, some with roots in Eastern Europe, are moving in. While the Outfit focused on gambling, prostitution, juice loans and the like, the new crowd favors cyber and financial schemes.
Add to that the Mexican drug cartels, always at war among themselves for the mainline to Chicago.
But every time another Frank Calabrese Sr. dies, another chapter closes in the notorious story of Al Capone in Chicago.