On July 28, 1952, Joseph Charles Guarniere, 37 and Anthony LaRosa, 34, stole a transport truck from the Vincent Catalano Fruit Company in Milwaukee. These men had both been suspects in the Reichman holdup (see last chapter). Guarniere was especially vicious with a history of assault, safe-cracking, rape and abandoning his family. A family member told the author that he “was extremely abusive, and almost killed his wife twice. He would lock his children in an outer porch that had a glass window in it, and they watched him beat her.” Apparently, Guarniere “was a great guy when he was sober, but he was an alcoholic, would black out on his feet and that is where he earned the name Viper, because he had a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He was extremely vicious when drunk. I have a tendency to believe he would have been violent regardless, it’s just that the alcohol gave him the excuse to unleash his fury on whoever was around.”
Salvatore “Ted” Catalano’s semi, which was clearly marked as a Catalano truck, had a refrigerated trailer and Catalano originally told the police that the truck was parked in the lot at T & H Central Dispatch (1001 West Layton Avenue). The keys were said to be in the ignition. Tony Grutzka, dispatch owner, had noticed the truck missing but figured that Catalano had parked in front of his house at 194 North Milwaukee Street as he sometimes did. In fact, Grutzka had been right. Upon a follow-up interview, Catalano admitted that LaRosa and Guarniere had shown up at his home and threatened him. They promised to have the truck back by the 30th, and when they failed to do so, Catalano called the sheriff and made his less-than-accurate report. On the evening of the 28th, the truck was filled with 105 gallons of gasoline at Patsy and Paul’s Station (VanBuren at Michigan) and LaRosa’s Chevrolet was filled up, too.
Meanwhile, Detroit hoodlum Sebastian Vermiglio and St. Louis Mafia member Anthony Joseph “Tony the Pip” Lopiparo had stolen a Scott Trucking Company trailer full of 23,000-25,000 pounds of meat from the National Tea Company in Chicago. Lopiparo was already well-known to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Internal Revenue Service and local police. He was a part-owner of the Anthony Novelty Company with hoodlums John Vitale and Anthony Giordano. Nationally he was known for testifying in front of the Kefauver Committee in 1950, and was said to be close to St. Louis’ Joe Costello, the mobster who had been mixed up in the notorious Bobby Greenlease kidnapping.
The meat trailer was found empty by the Racine County Sheriff’s Department the next day. Apparently, the two pairs of hoodlums met up in Racine and moved the “hot meat” from one truck to another. The four men then brought the meat to St. Louis. After receiving a tip from a citizen, federal agents swooped in and found LaRosa driving the truck, Guarniere as his occupant and Vermiglio following behind in a car. Lopiparo had driven ahead to meet up with the others at their destination.
Milwaukee police investigating the hijacking received a tip that an attempt was made to sell the meat through Jack Enea’s Vickey’s Tap on St. Paul Avenue; Enea denied this. Frank Bruno, owner of Dapper Dan’s Tavern and a friend of Vermiglio and LaRosa, also denied any knowledge of the heist. So, too, did Jack Sorce of the J&S Fruit Company, a relative of LaRosa. Dominic DaQuisto of Chico’s Bar denied knowing anything. A reliable source said junk dealer Harold Klein lost $4,000 in the meat deal. Klein had previously owned the Bull Ring with August Chiaverotti. (On September 25, 1952, an informant told the FBI that Klein had financed the heist; it was possibly the same informant who spoke to the police.)
After July 1952, Jack Sorce told the FBI that Guarniere and LaRosa had come to him for a loan after they had been arrested. He turned them down, but overheard them say that the loan should come from Harold Klein, because he would have made his money if they hadn’t been arrested. Sorce speculated that Klein was behind 90% of the major crimes in Milwaukee (obviously an exaggeration).
On April 6, 1953, Harold Klein was interviewed by two FBI agents and denied having any part of the hijacking.
While out on bail, Joseph Guarniere and Thomas “Tommy Fish” Piscitello were arrested September 1, for disorderly conduct and concealed weapons. Charges against Guarniere were dismissed without prejudice when he and LaRosa were sentenced to five years in Terra Haute for their multi-state heist. They were released on March 25, 1954 — less than two years.
Amazingly, at trial, Guarniere and LaRosa told Judge Roy Winfield Harper that they were paid $50 each to transport the truck and “didn’t know it had been stolen.” Harper was not so naive.
On October 1, 1956, a police lieutenant told the FBI that LaRosa and Guarniere had previously gotten $50 each from Klein for taking the rap. After being released from federal custody, they allegedly went to August Maniaci and Frank LaGalbo to ask for more money, saying they deserved it for not ratting out any other involved. Maniaci told them to take it up with Klein.
Guarniere and Vermiglio were later suspects in the murder of night club owner Izzy Pogrob, whose body was found dumped in a rural ditch. Neither was charged, and Guarniere was soon killed in an apparent car crash after it was made public that he had become an informant.