Notorious former Windy City mob cop and famously-convicted felon William “Bill” Hanhardt, one of the most decorated and controversial Chicago policeman in the history of law enforcement in Illinois, died of heart disease last week in a suburban Highland Park hospital. Hanhardt was 88. He retired from the Chicago Police Department in 1986 having served as the longtime chief of detectives and deputy superintendent of the force and dove headfirst into a life of crime. A favorite of Hollywood film director and television producer Michael Mann, a native Chicagoan, who often hired him as an technical consultant on his projects (the 1981 James Caan movie Thief, the mid-to-late 1980s TV series Crime Story and the 1995 Robert DeNiro-Al Pacino crime-caper classic Heat), Hanhardt leaves a complex legacy behind.

In 2001, Hanhardt pled guilty to masterminding a near fifteen-year, multi-state burglary ring targeting primarily traveling jewelry salesmen which cleared tens of millions of dollars in merchandise and was backed by the Chicago mafia. He did 11 years in prison, becoming the highest-ranking CPD official to ever be convicted of a felony, and was released from an Indiana federal correctional facility in July 2011.

Joining the police force in 1953, FBI records describe Hanhardt as “belonging” to the Chicago Outfit’s Westside or Grand Avenue crew. His robbery ring paid a street tax to Grand Avenue Godfather and Westside crew chief Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, eventually promoted to the crime family’s consigliere post. Lombardo, 88, was incarcerated via the Operation Family Secrets case in January 2006, found guilty of the 1974 gangland execution of his former close friend and business partner-turned-FBI informant Danny Seifert, at a highly-publicized trial a year later.

During the Family Secrets trial in the summer of 2007, Hanhardt’s name arose in testimony, alleged by a witness to have shaken down former far-southside Outfit crew leader Angelo (Little Angie) Volpe back in the 1960s for monthly protection payments and cars from the automobile dealerships Volpe held interests in. FBI informants speculated to his possible involvement in more than one mob murder conspiracy, per sources in the government – the macabre ten-body fallout from the brazen January 1978 break-in at Outfit don Anthony (The Big Tuna) Accardo’s ritzy River Forest residence and the November 1988 slaying of Chicago oil-company executive Charles Merriam at the front door of his tony suburban estate – Merriam had reportedly gotten wise to a mob-run gas scam being conducted by the Outfit’s Northside crew.

Chicago Crime Commission documents cite clandestine meetings through the years between Hanhardt and Lombardo, as well as between Hanhardt and current Outfit powers Albert (Albie the Falcon) Vena, often referred to on the street as simply “The Little Guy” for his diminutive size, and Rudy (The Chin) Fratto, nicknamed for his lack there of the aforementioned facial feature. Both Vena and Fratto are suspects in mob murders. Vena beat first-degree homicide charges at trial in 1995 and is considered a “person of interest” in the Merriam hit, not to mention a bunch of others. Today, he runs the Westside and is the Outfit’s reputed street boss. Fratto is back in good standing in Elmwood Park, per sources, and is one of the Chicago mob lieutenants running that area.

The heist team Hanhardt pled guilty to leading throughout most of the 1980s, all of the 1990s and into the first several months of the New Millennium under the auspice of Joey Lombardo. Joey the Clown’s driver James (Jimmy Legs) D’Antonio, an accomplished thief and wheelman, had handed Hanhardt the reins to his Grand Ave. robbery crew in 1984 – two years prior to Hanhardt hanging up his badge and service revolver – due to D’Antonio being forced into a more day-to-day leadership role on the Westside with Lombardo getting locked up on federal racketeering and bribery charges. Hanhardt’s newly-acquired band of burglars included Grand Ave. crew mob affiliates Paul (Paulie the Indian) Schiro, Joseph (Skinny Joe) Basinski, William (Cherry Nose Billy) Brown, Gaetano (Guy) Altobello, Salvatore (Little Sammy) DeStefano and Robert (Bobby Pigeons) Paul.

Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo after an arrest in 1980

Schiro was one of the Outfit’s representatives on the west coast and spent most of the year in Phoenix. He was convicted alongside Joey the Clown in the Family Secrets trial. Basinski was Hanhardt’s “man on the ground,” and Brown served as his top messenger. DeStefano was the nephew of slain Chicago mob wildman “Mad Sam” DeStefano.

The crew pulled its first job in October 1984 in Glendale, Wisconsin, where over $300,000 of high-end watches were stolen from a Mercedes-Benz in a parking lot hotel. They snatched a half-million dollars worth of solid-gold Rolex wrist wear in Monterey, California in the fall of 1986.

And it wasn’t just watches they liked – the crew boosted hotel safes. In 1992, they scored $1.5 million in cash from a safety deposit box located in the master safe at the Columbus, Ohio Hyatt Regency. In 1995, they grabbed almost a million-dollars worth of uncut diamonds out of a jewelry company rep’s Milwaukee hotel room safe. Jobs were orchestrated in Michigan, Arizona, Minnesota and Texas too.

By the end of the decade, the government was hot on their tail. FBI agents snapped photos of Hanhardt and his crew of bandits as they ripped off $60,000 worth of watches, necklaces and bracelets from an independent jewelry salesman’s car trunk in a Northwest Indiana restaurant parking lot in 1998. The final nail in Hanhardt’s coffin came after “Jimmy Legs” D’Antonio’s nephew came forward the following year and turned over to authorities 27 box loads of his uncle’s files on the Hanhardt crew. D’Antonio died in a car accident in 1993. The Hanhardt crew was finally indicted and dismantled in October 2000.

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