271 – Milwaukee Mafia: Gangsters and Ghosts Of Brew City With Gavin Schmitt

I first encountered criminal historian Gavin Schmitt while looking up information on my grandfather. My mother had told me about how her Polish cobbler father supported a family of six children through the Great Depression. One way was through being a groundskeeper at the local parish to get a discount on tuition at the Catholic School there. Another way, however, was by distributing payments in a not-quite legal local lottery operation called they called “Policy”. She talked about how her aunt had sewn special pockets in her father’s jacket to hide the winning numbers for when he went on his rounds. Sometime when my mother was a little girl in the mid-1940s, my grandfather was arrested as part of a John Doe gambling investigation and his picture was in the Mliwaukee newspaper. He was released and in the end, not charged with anything, but she was hoping I could find the paper.

So after exhausting the online archives of The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel and not having much luck looking for my not quite-notorious criminal ancestor, Leon Bohn, I found Gavin Schmitt’s book, Milwaukee Mafia: Mobsters in The Heartland. We tend to think of Chicago as the place for gangsters and it certainly was, and it seems like every dive bar in Wisconsin has a story about Al Capone coming to vist (indeed, if I were to believe all of them, I doubt Capone would have had a chance to actually commit any crimes!) But the Milwaukee mafia was able to get up to plenty of trouble on their own, the mob boss was nicknamed “The Mad Bomber” because of his penchant for blowing up people’s cars, for God’s sake!

Sixty years after our grandfather is arrested, my sister Allison was working on a special haunted history tour for the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. She thought she might go to some older Italian hangouts and ask if they had any ghost stories, not even thinking about the Milwaukee mafia. One place that she visited on Brady Street, when she mentioned something about ghosts to the owner, he said, “Allison, I like your smile, but snitches end up in ditches.” And then he screamed at her, “Leave it alone! Leave it alone! Leave it alone!” I remember getting the call from her directly after and it was a mix of disbelief, sheer terror, but also, a fair share of amusement, that she’s gonna stumble onto some criminal conspiracy while looking for ghost stories for little old Italian ladies on Halloween.

Flash forward ten years after that, and while working on a new ghost tour route in Milwaukee, Allison uncovered some previously unheard hauntings of the old Italian neighborhood. So, it’s the perfect time to interview Gavin Schmitt about how some of his Milwaukee Mafia stories tie in to the various ghost stories of Cream City. Here’s some of the topics we cover:

  • Milwaukee’s scariest Polish one-armed man
  • How Milwaukee’s mob lawyer became obssessed with Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek)
  • The Milwaukee Mafia’s Greatest “Hits” like Augie Mianaci and Louis Fazio
  • Allison’s ghost story from a potential mob hangout in Mequon (and a mobster that ended up in a ditch out there)

For the song this week, it was just too easy to take Allison’s experience at being yelled at by the old Italian bar owner and his simple and unforgettable rhyme, “Snitches End Up In Ditches”!

Money 
Women 
Sex 
all your heart’s desire. 

Power 
Respect 
Wealth 
you best not wear a wire 

Mr. Big made all this happen, so you better not betray 
Turn the keys to the ignition and you might get blown away. 

You like the parties, ladies, and the things so nice. 
you had to know there was a price. 

Now you’re in it for life 
with the gun and the knife 
a world of violence 
a code of silence 
You spill the blood on the saint 
you cut a deal with your fate 
but if you give it up to the feds 
then you’ll wind up 

Dead men tell no tales 
about the made men who made them rich 
stoolies might stay out of jail 
but a snitch ends up in a ditch 

Lucre 
Hookers 
Lust 
whatever you may feel 

Fortunes 
Gambling 
You can bet your life 
we’ll kill ya if ya squeal 

Mr. Big made all this happen, so you better not betray 
Turn the keys to the ignition and you might get blown away. 

You like the parties, ladies, and the things so nice. 
you had to know there was a price. 

Now you’re in it for life 
with the gun and the knife 
a world of violence 
a code of silence 
You spill the blood on the saint 
you cut a deal with your fate 
but if you give it up to the feds 
then you’ll wind up 

Dead men tell no tales 
about the made men who made them rich 
stoolies might stay out of jail 
but a snitch ends up in a ditch

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