This article was last modified on November 11, 2018.

February 1952: The Lavere Redfield Heist

Lavere Redfield was born in Ogden, Utah in 1898 and started out as a poor potato farmer and Burley, Idaho store clerk, barely scraping by in the 1920s. While in Idaho, he met and married the love of his life, Nell Napper. In 1931, they moved to the Lynwood neighborhood of Los Angeles “dead broke” but by 1935 were able to head to Reno as multimillionaires, buying up real estate around the then-undeveloped Lake Tahoe. He made his fortune two ways: through frugality — even haggling over a can of soup — and a wise investment in oil fields. Even after striking it big, he maintained his frugal ways — preferring jeans and wool shirts over designer suits.

Redfield entered the sphere of the Milwaukee Mafia on February 29, 1952. A 400-pound safe containing $1.5-2.5 million in currency, securities and gems was stolen from Redfield’s 15-room Reno, Nevada mansion while he and Nell were out playing a mid-afternoon round of roulette. Their chateau was in the upscale Mount Rose neighborhood at 370 Mt. Rose Street.

The thieves got around the house without making noise by feeding Redfield’s dog, a Kerry blue terrier, a ham hock that they found in the refrigerator. A battered suitcase, containing another $1 million in securities, was overlooked. When asked about the incident, Redfield told reporters he had been “pretty stupid” to keep so much money in his house. He was still surprised that anyone was able to find the safe in “its inconspicuous position” that only he and his wife knew; the hiding place was in a front bedroom closet buried beneath suitcases and clothing. “I am not feeling sorry for myself,” he said. Insurance? “That’s another foolish thing I didn’t do. They can have the money as long as they didn’t kill my little dog.” Reporters asked Redfield what his dog’s name was. “I can’t tell you that,” he replied. “He’s ashamed of it.”

The only clue left behind was a soap wrapper that came from the St. James Hotel in Davenport, Iowa. The police said burglars sometimes used soap to plant explosive charges, but in this case that may not have been the case — the entire safe had been removed, with skid marks on the carpet where the thieves dragged the monstrous thing through the house. Perhaps the soap was used to decrease the friction, police speculated. Neighbors Ruby and Marie Neely had seen a badly-scratched dark green pickup truck at Redfield’s home, but could not further describe the vehicle.

Police took a wrong turn on March 3, naming five suspects they believed to have committed the burglary — and none of them correct. The authorities listed Geraldine Harris, Floyd Dwight Dugger, Rodney C. Unger, Walter E. Moore and Bendel Lee Moore. They were said to be driving two Cadillacs with Florida and Oklahoma license plates and heading for San Francisco. An anonymous tip also said the safe was dumped in a lake fifty miles from Reno. Where this information originated is unknown, but the tip was wrong in every respect.

What could have been the perfect crime quickly unraveled on Monday morning, March 10, when brunette cocktail waitress Leona Mae Giordano, 37, tried to use a $1000 bill from the burglary at the blackjack table of Reno’s Riverside Hotel and Casino. The money changers were on the lookout for Grover Cleveland’s face, scanning serial numbers from the burglary.

Mert Wertheimer, 67, was the casino’s manager, a Detroit native who previously operated the Chesterfield Club in the Motor City. He took over management in 1949 from Steve Pavlovich and Bert Riddick, and had connections with gangsters Joe Adnois and Meyer Lansky in Florida. Today the Riverside houses apartments and studios for artists. Wertheimer asked Giordano where she got the bill from, to which she replied vaguely “a guy from Milwaukee”. The FBI arrived and Giordano broke down and said she received the money from Andrew Young of Milwaukee, and then turned over a total of $5,000 in stolen loot.

Andrew Robert Young, 46, of 829 North Cass Street (Apartment #37) was picked up by the FBI on Tuesday, March 11 and held in jail on $50,000 bond by Commissioner Floyd Jenkins. Young was in his underwear and unarmed and surrendered meekly. He refused to talk to FBI agents or explain how $600 in assorted bills got in work clothes pockets despite his claim that he was unemployed. Young’s wife, Pauline, said she was in St. Joseph’s hospital from February 8 through the 22nd for abdominal surgery and her husband was with her the whole time, and then took care of her and six children from a previous marriage when she got out. “I don’t know why people always pick on him,” she told the press. “Every time something goes wrong, they figure he did it.”

Young’s bad reputation came from serving twelve years in Illinois on armed robbery and receiving a life sentence in Wisconsin for the murder of Kohler Company crane operator Olav Ingemann Jonassen, 36, at Jonassen’s Cuckoo Nest in Sheboygan in 1927; an offense he was not charged with until 1939. He denied committing the crime and was pardoned in 1946 by Governor Goodland. His accomplice, Frank Allgood, was still in Waupun on second-degree murder charges as of 1952. Yes, this is the same Frank Allgood from the previous chapter. On this latest charge, a writ of habeas corpus was filed by Young’s attorney, George E. Frederick. Young had previously used Frederick in 1950 to earn an acquittal on charges of possessing burglary tools.

On the evening of Saturday, March 15, door-to-door soap salesmen Giovanni Battista “John” Triliegi and Frank J. Sorrenti were arrested. Triliegi, 37, of 522 East Pleasant Street, was found in St. Mary’s hospital where he was preparing for back surgery. He was formerly co-owner of the Riviera tavern at 401 North Plankinton. Triliegi, the son of Calabrians Bruno and Concetta Trovato Triliegi, had been born in Omaha and had a record for being a gambling addict. He had repeatedly been caught at the floating Ogden Social Club, often accused of running the games there. His rap sheet had charges of auto theft, burglary, statutory rape and the strange violation of selling “inferior soap” in Appleton, Wisconsin in June 1947.

Sorrenti, 36, was arrested at 10pm in his apartment at 818 North VanBuren Street. He had no notable prior record. Triliegi and Sorrenti were said by the newspapers to be cousins, though this does not appear to be true. The identity of his mother is not entirely clear, however, due to his being raised by his stepmother Lucia Maddente Sorrenti since infancy. They were charged with conspiracy to transport stolen goods over state lines, in what the newspapers were calling “the biggest burglary in United States history.” Both men initially denied any involvement, though Sorrenti conceded he was in Reno at the time of the heist. Both men were held in the county jail on $50,000 bond. The FBI believed that the three men arrested had driven from Milwaukee to Reno in Triliegi’s 1951 Cadillac on February 27, where Triliegi applied for a position as a card dealer.

Whether or not the Redfield job was the biggest burglary is a matter of debate. In January 1950, the Brinks building in Boston was robbed of $1.2 million in cash and $1,557,183 in checks, money orders, and other securities. That heist was billed as a “crime of the century” and spawned four movies including “The Brink’s Job” starring Peter Falk and Peter Boyle, directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”). Eleven people connected to the caper were arrested, but only $58,000 was ever recovered. The Redfield heist could be called the biggest burglary on a technicality — the Brinks job was a robbery, not a burglary. However, only one of these two sparked the imagination of Hollywood.

When asked for comment on the arrest of Triliegi and Sorrenti, Redfield calmly said, “Well, well. By gosh, that’s all right. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?” He then laughed and added, “They haven’t found the safe yet, have they? Or the money?” He did not have to wait long.

The case took a new turn on Monday, March 16 with the arrest of French Canadian artist-writer Marie Jeanne D’Arc Michaud, 26, aboard the California Limited en route to Chicago. She had with her $50,000 of the stolen money, twenty-eight pieces of jewelry valued at over $25,000 and a package containing numerous securities — including 179,721 shares of stock in fifty-seven different corporations. She was charged with conspiracy and held on $100,000 bond at the Flagstaff, Arizona jail. She reportedly huddled on her jail cot and screamed hysterically in French and English when she was not able to sleep. Michaud had been a frequent guest at Redfield’s home and he told the press he was “shocked and greatly upset” by her arrest. “I trusted her implicitly.” At the same time she was arrested, agents were pulling a smashed and empty safe from a mine shaft ten miles south of Reno.

Young’s habeas hearing was set before Judge Robert E. Tehan on Monday, March 17, but the motion was moot when assistant federal attorney E. J. Koelzer filed formal charges.

Michaud was transferred from Flagstaff to Reno on March 23 by Deputy Marshall J. Peery Francis. Before she left, she spoke candidly with newspaperman Platt Herrick Cline and admitted her role in masterminding the theft, saying, “I told the men who took the safe they were not to harm anyone, not even the dog. And they were to be unarmed. I am very sorry about the shame to my family. But I was always thought to be generous to everybody, and I thought the money should be placed in circulation. I knew the only way to hurt him was through his money.” Michaud told Cline she was on her way to Chicago not to hide the money, as was supposed, but actually to settle an insurance claim resulting from a bus accident where she had injured her eye. In fact, she said she had even purchased the train ticket with her own — not Redfield’s — money.

The trial started on June 23, with Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert McDonald painting a broad picture for the jury of eight men and four women. He said that Marie Michaud had devised the plan, and drew up two diagrams of where Redfield kept a safe hidden — either in the basement or in a closet. She approached former prizefighter Louis Gazzigli in the autumn of 1951 with these diagrams. Gazzigli and his brother Anthony, through their underworld connections, contacted Young and Triliegi. The Gazziglis, both in their early 40s, had originally been from Port Chester, New York. McDonald argued it was the Milwaukee men who actually removed the safe from the mansion, putting the device in the back seat of a Cadillac sedan.

Redfield testified that Michaud would have had an opportunity to see his safe after hiding in his bedroom the past January. Why she was hiding is unclear, but Redfield did note that his wife was in Canada at the time. The millionaire was wearing an open-collared cowboy shirt and blue jeans, which he told the court was his “Sunday best”. He said that he first met Michaud when she tried to sell him a $325 promissory note for $275, and told him she was in the United States illegally. At this last remark, an outburst of “That is not true!” came from the defendant’s chair.

Anthony Gazzigli told the jury that Michaud “told me all about Redfield and how cheap he was… How he kept telling her he was in love with her… and how he played her so dirty she was going to get revenge.”

Triliegi and Young were each sentenced to five years in Nevada State Prison at Carson City on September 13 for their role in the Reno heist after pleading guilty through their attorney, Bertram Mortimer “Bert” Goldwater to daytime robbery. This sentence was the harshest that Judge John Belford was able to give. Triliegi would serve less than two years, and Young was released after twenty months. By March 1957, Young was re-arrested as part of safe burglary ring with Chicagoans Lloyd Lorraine and James Evans that had hit targets in Beloit, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc and Appleton. (Evans had a history of robbery in Wisconsin with Milwaukee Mafia associates Carl J. Aiello and August Chiaverotti.) Triliegi was named a Top Ten Hoodlum by the FBI in 1957, but kept his nose clean as a construction foreman on the new VA hospital.

Despite his claim of being “pretty stupid”, Redfield apparently never learned. When he died in September 1974, bags containing 400,000 silver dollars were found in his home.

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or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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