By Thom L. Jones for Gangsters Inc.
Carl Sifakis in The Mafia Encyclopedia writes this about Frank Bompensiero:
“In the treacherous world of Mafia hit men, few characters proved shiftier than Frank ‘Bomp’ Bompensiero.... For decades regarded as one of the most efficient hit men in the West Coast mob, he was an expert in the so-called Italian rope trick, a surprise garroting that always left the dying victim with a surprised look on his face.”
He was born in Milwaukee and died in San Diego, and in the intervening seventy-one years lived a life filled with just about everything. Heavy on the sudden death bit. Perhaps. Maybe a dozen.
As a young man he (left) had been short, five-six, and well-built with dark, wavy hair, and a handsome quality about him. When a child, his hair was blond and curly and people called him figlio d’oro, son of gold. By the time he died in the gutter, he was balding and fat, more brass than precious metal. A 200 pound fireplug of a man.
He was calling himself Frank Gavin the night he gave up the ghost, in 1977, and had, according to law enforcement sources, been a CI (confidential informant) for the FBI for at least ten years under his agent handler, Jack Armstrong. Caught in a trucking scam in the Imperial Valley, under investigation for criminal conspiracy, he ratted out to the Feds in 1966, or early 1967.
He was also the consigliere, or counselor, to Southern California’s Mafia family. Number three in the pecking order.
The newspapers referred to him as “one of the top three Mafia bosses on the west coast,” so that’s three for three.
That evening, Thursday, February 10, he walked from his apartment at 4205 Lamont Street in Pacific Beach, north, up the road about 350 yards to a public telephone booth on the corner of Grand Avenue, near an Arco gas station. The petrol pumps are still there. His apartment in the building standing on the corner of Oliver Avenue, just like then. Number seven. Third floor. The phone box, long gone.
Just Like Frank.
His wife would become a widow again. They had married in Imperial County in 1969. Frank’s first wife, Thelma Sanfilippo had died in 1955.
Marie Caldarello from Kansas City lost husband number four when Frank’s lights went out. For whatever reason, Frank used number three’s surname.
A red-haired girl, people often compared Marie to the famous Hollywood actress, Rita Hayworth. She had a love affair with gin, and scotch and bourbon, anything in a bottle that dulls memories that made life tedious.
In 1956, on June 15, her second husband tried to kill her by shooting her in the head with a.32 revolver. The bullet went round and around and came out above her eye, and somehow, miraculously left her alive. They were at home, 4137 Lymer Drive, in the Kensington Park suburb of San Diego when this happened. From the street, the house has changed little in sixty-five years.
She was a prodigious flirt; he was intolerably jealous. Neighbors heard them fighting. All the time.
Girolamo “Momo” Adamo (left), number two in the Los Angeles Mafia, then shot himself in the head.
Jack Dragna, the boss, had died of natural causes in February of that year and Adamo, the under-boss, assumed he would take over the family. Didn’t work out. Someone else did. Mob stories are often more fictitious than fiction itself.
In a somewhat sordid side story, Frank arranges a special favor for one of California’s up-and-coming Mafia bosses.
In March 1965, Angelo Marino, underboss of the San Jose Family, arrives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Maria Mack, who is pregnant. Marino’s wife knew of the affair and threatened her husband with violence on more than one occasion.
They stay with Frank and the other Marie at their apartment on Reed Avenue in Pacific Beach, and Frank arranges for a Doctor Sebastiano Vitale to perform an abortion (illegal in California until 1967,) on Miss Mack. (1)
Medium to cold that night, in 1977, mid-50s. A clear evening. Lots of stars burning their last light in a sky dark and purple like a king’s robe. Frank’s wearing a rust-colored cardigan to keep off the evening chill. He’s 71, now a senior citizen.
He takes high-blood-pressure tablets. His kidneys not that hot. He needs prescription glasses to get around. He suffered from cataracts. Needs naps in the afternoon. In the shipwreck of old-age, life is not so much a struggle as an endeavor.
After making the telephone call, he then saunters back to his wife and apartment, two-and-a-half blocks away.
Bompensiero in English means “beautiful thought.”
Was he having them in the last moments of his life in a street full of average houses filled with average people? A life of excellent food, expensive liquor and cigars, and wonderful women and splendid horses and dead people he helped to create.
Between Thomas and Reed Avenues, there is an alley running west to east at 4276 Lamont. As he crosses this, someone steps out from behind a fence. Frank (right) is halfway home to his building known as “The Beach Club.” For him, in the last seconds of his life, his two-bedroom condominium might as well be on the moon.
The killer, or someone, had done their homework. They knew Frank walked to the pay phone on the east-side of the street and returned home on the west-side. Habits maketh the man. And kill them in the Mafia.
A woman’s taking out her trash when an old man on the street tells her, “There’s a guy lying in the alleyway.” She calls the cops who arrive sometime between 8.30 and 9.00. They find Bompensiero lying face-down towards his apartment.
The killer had stepped up as Frank walked by and shot him in the right-side of the head. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Gunshots up close. 18 inches. Powder tattooing on right ear. That was the first. The other three when he went down, perhaps. The size of the blood trail showed his heart was still pumping after he fell. Maybe there was a tussle of some sorts before it’s over.
The police find four spent cartridge cases scattered near the body along with some buttons off his shirt, three dimes, his half-smoked Bering cigar and his broken glasses. Murder detritus that would have not gone out of place in an Agatha Christie mystery.
Investigators believed the gun used by the killer to be a High Standard semi-automatic, although the weapon is never found. Maybe fitted with a silencer, No one reported gunshots that night. In this quiet, residential community, they would surely have been aware.
Frank uses the pay phone box because he knows someone taps his own telephone. Certainly the Feds; maybe the San Diego Police law enforcement intelligence unit was also listening in. When it was business, if he was at home, he’d always use the public telephone next to the Arco.
We will never know with certainty who he was speaking to that night. There will be a name predicated, eventually. He had received a message in his apartment to make the call, that’s all that is known. Off he went. The media and other sources claim he was shot in the telephone box, but he was long gone from there when he went down.
Frank had been good value for money. Until he wasn’t.
The mob kills itself when it gets frightened of losing something-power, freedom, most of all, greenbacks. Then there’s revenge. Combinations of these makes a killing more urgent and the dynamics more extreme.
Law enforcement linked Frank to many “late” mob figures in Southern California: Jack Dragna, onetime boss of Los Angeles, Nick Licata, another capo of the Mafia family and Jewish gangster, Mickey Cohen. They had been part of his criminal life for over fifty years.
In testimony to law enforcement in October 1980, after he became an informant against the Mafia, he claims three men decide to carry out the hit: Dominic Brooklier, Samuel Sciortino and Louis Dragna, nephew of Jack. The first was the boss. The second the under-boss and Dragna. Well he was a Dragna.
Fratiano claimed Brooklier made the phone call that night. The one which dragged Frank away from watching an episode of “Lassie” on his television. (2)
The Weasel confirmed the shooter was Tommy Ricciardi, who had told him in May 1977: “When I clipped ‘Bomp,’ he gave me a little struggle, but it was beautiful. It made no noise.”
A 44-year- old New Yorker, he had been part of the Colombo Family, working as a bodyguard the day his boss, Joe, is shot and critically injured in June 1972. Ricciardi moved to California later in that year, joining up with Michael Rizzitello, another ex-Colombo soldier who switched to the West Coast in the 1950s. Tommy’s getaway driver that night was allegedly, capo Jack Lo Cicero, who for his troubles, gets a promotion to fill Frank’s now empty shoes, as family counselor.
Everyone benefited. Except Frank.
Bompensiero’s killing may have been part of a three-year campaign, beginning in 1975, by America’s Mafia, murdering people across America, using.22 caliber handguns. Twenty people, at least, shot dead, including six FBI informants, and forensics confirmed the same gun in use multiple times.
A killing spree never quite explained.
There was Jacob Molinar in Los Angeles, and Augie Maniaci in Milwaukee in 1975.
And Margaret Mogavero in New York in 1978.
Seven men died this way in New York and New Jersey between 1977 and 1978-Frank Chin, Vincent Capone, Arthur Milgram, Thomas Palermo, Jack Prizzia, James Quell and Gino Gallina. One was a lawyer, another a school principal, and another a business person. (3)
One of its team it’s been claimed was a New-York-based Gambino soldier called Tommy Principe. So if true, there were at least two Tommies in the mob who knew how to handle silencer-equipped semi-auto.22s. Other members in this traveling shoot-along were allegedly Sal Briguglio, Vincent Gigante, and John Di Gilio. Four different killers from two different Mafia families. (4)
Law enforcement theorize that the Purple Gang, a bunch of thugs from Harlem, are part of many of the killings, although this is never confirmed. Gallina had been tight with the Purples, and was the attorney for Margaret’s ex-husband, a mobster, whose brother, Rosario, was a crew boss in the Genovese Crime Family, whose ranks included Di Gilio, Briguglio and Gigante. It’s mind-numbing at times.
Frank, born in 1905, came to San Diego on a freight train, jumping it in the city, in the early 1920s.
He’d gone back to Sicily with his family when he was ten and returned to America around 1921. In Milwaukee, he’d killed a man during a bootlegging operation that went wrong. Fleeing the consequences from both the law and the mob, he goes west.
There were a lot of Sicilians from Porticello in the California city of 75000 and he had an uncle, Giovanni, a fisherman, as a contact. Felipa Sanfilippo, the mother of the woman Frank will marry in 1929, introduces him to the Dragna family in Los Angeles, who sort out his problems in Wisconsin, and sometime between 1923 and 1928, Joe Ardizzone, the then boss of LA, makes him into the Mafia family of Southern California.
His first known arrest in California is August 25, 1928, for violation of the Prohibition Act. By then, he had allegedly murdered three men, one in Milwaukee, one in Detroit, and another referred to as a “wife beater.”
He probably killed Frank Baumgarteker in November 1929, George Brunneman in 1937, and Phil Galuzo in February 1938. Maybe Victor Carlino in 1940. Hooky Rothman, Mickey Cohen’s bodyguard, went down to the ‘Bomp’ (right) in August 1948. The Weasel claimed Frank garroted Frank Borgia, a mobster, in June 1952. Louis Strauss in April 1953 was another. There were more. The FBI claimed he had murdered 22. A lot of sand and mirrors.
Some of it true.
It’s possible he was the go-to man for Tony Spilotro, the Chicago-based mobster, who investigators believe kills a real estate agent, Tamara Reid, found in the kitchen of her luxurious house in Bandini Street, Mission Hills, shot dead. Four in the head, one in the body, with a.22 semi. In November 1975.
She’s doing deals with Alan Glick, a onetime casino owner, and real estate investor and alleged front-man for the mob. And it was this that got her killed. Maybe.
What got Frank killed was a deal gone wrong working with Jimmy the Weasel. The FBI set up a sting operation based in Van Nuys in the porno industry, and Frank, through Fratiano, convinced the LA Mob to extort it. Some of their members went down, including Rizzitello. The Weasel is sure Bompensiero was behind the set-up, and the rest is history.
His family buries Frank at Holy Cross Cemetery in Chollas View, fourteen miles from where he died. It’s the only catholic cemetery in San Diego County, so Marie’s options are few.
Fratianno was dining at a luxurious Italian restaurant in Las Vegas when he got word the Bomp was dead. Jimmy reached over and broke off a piece of Italian bread to sop up some of the sauce. ‘What do you mean, what do I think? If you say he’s dead, he’s dead. It’s one of them fucking things. Sit down and have some wine.’ (5)
Drew Pearson wrote somewhat breathlessly, in his February 9, 1962 syndicated column Washington Merry-Go-Round:
“Few Hollywood thrillers could match the story of money, muscle and murder that is locked in the California crime files.”
Dead by 1969, it’s interesting to speculate how he would have handled the Bomp’s murder. Pearson’s column, syndicated through 650 newspapers, had over 60 million readers. It was, and still is, the longest running syndicated column in America.
Eighteen months later, America watched a low-level thug called Joseph Valachi spill the beans on the Mafia phenomena during a Senate sub-committee hearing on organized crime, and wondered just what was going on in the land of the brave and the free.
The mob in Southern California seems to have withered away by the 21st Century, Most sources claim it’s now an off-shoot of the New-York-based Gambino Family, or bits and bobs of Italian-America criminals looking for opportunities.
According to Mafia expert, Richard Warner, in a post on Quora dated June 25, 2017:
“The Los Angeles Crime Family is definitely dead.”
As Italians would have said, 1500 years ago, ad extremum fabula.
End of story.
Articles by the late Judith Moore in the San Diego Reader, and her extensive research on the Mafia of Southern California. were a major source of background for this story.
1) FBI Report dated 5/12/65. T. Hyrum Callister Agent.
2) UPI October 17, 1980.
3) New York Times. October 2, 1977.
New York Magazine. May 7, 1979.
4) Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Principe.
5) San Diego Reader. Max Potter. June 22, 1989.
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Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc.