Lost And Found: Newly-Discovered Detroit Mafia Slaying Arose In Senate Hearings About Hazel Park Raceway

Gangster Report has uncovered a lost Detroit mob murder: the 1961 homicide of Norman Hall, an employee of a mafia-owned painting business killed for knowing too much about his bosses’ illegal business affairs. Hall left his Metro Detroit home that summer for a meeting with a Michigan wiseguy he worked for and was never seen alive by his family again.

The still-never-solved Hall hit was referenced in U.S. Senate hearings held in 1972 on organized crime’s influence on pro sports in testimony provided by seasoned Midwest mob-buster Vincent Piersante and related to the Detroit mafia’s deep connections inside the nation’s horse-racing industry. At that time Piersante, the Tocco-Zerilli crime family’s primary nemesis on the other side of the law in the mid-to-late Twentieth Century, was the head of the Michigan State Police’s organized crime unit.

Recently-deceased dons, Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco and Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli, then the Detroit mob’s acting boss and acting underboss, respectively, co-owned the once-gleaming and grand Hazel Park Raceway, located just two miles north of the Motor City border in suburban middle-class Hazel Park, Michigan. The racetrack was a college-graduation present from their dads, the syndicate’s founding fathers, Vito (Black Bill) Tocco and Giuseppe (Joe Uno) Zerilli, in 1949, and was long the crown jewel of the crime family’s white collar-business empire, a portfolio that eventually grew to equal (if not exceed), the organization’s haul from traditional street rackets. Zerilli was president of the racetrack, Tocco was vice president.

Norman Hall sometimes worked at Hazel Park Raceway in his capacity as an estimator for the A&B Painting Company, a racetrack sub-contractor owned by Detroit mobsters Philip (Polo Phil) Palazzolo and Frank (The Iceberg) DiMaggio. Piersante stressed in his testimony in front of the Senate Committee that you could connect the Hazel Park Raceway in some way, shape or form, to almost every member of the Detroit mafia in either stock ownership, business contracts or jobs provided for relatives.

Palazzolo was a drug lieutenant in the Tocco-Zerilli crime family. DiMaggio was a heavily-feared enforcer and reputed top assassin in the syndicate, having moved to Michigan from Chicago following Prohibition and where he learned the ways of the mob in the Al (Scarface) Capone organization – he’s suspected of coordinating the 1947 murder of Greek gangster Gus Andromulous in which Jack Tocco and Tony Zerilli are alleged to have “made their bones.” Polo Phil and Frank the Iceberg started A&B Painting in 1956 and were immediately providing painting services for all of Hazel Park Raceway’s major construction endeavors as well its’ daily touch-up jobs around the track, office, stables and grandstand.

According to police records, Hall spoke openly to friends of A&B Paintings “shady dealings” and was summoned to a meeting with Palazzolo on August 25, 1961 that he said to his wife that he didn’t want to attend. He told people he was going to meet “his boss Phil” and a client of A&B Painting. He never returned alive.

On August 26, 1961, Hall was found in his car on an abandoned road in suburban Macomb County (28 Mile Road & Jewel Rd.), clinging to life, shot four times, three times in the stomach and chest and once in the head. Although he wasn’t able to make a statement before he was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly thereafter, he wrote the name “Phil Palazzo” on his shirt cuff.

Palazzolo was arrested and charged with Hall’s murder four days later, but would have the charges dropped for lack of evidence. That Labor Day weekend, he and DiMaggio, sometimes called “Frankie Ice,” for his penchant for “icing” his enemies, flew to Sicily. The following month, they were tracked back to Sicily where they were observed meeting with international mob drug czar Frank (Frankie Three Fingers) Coppola, a one-time Detroit Mafioso and labor-union racketeer who had been deported years earlier and another Detroit mob narcotics lieutenant named Frank (Doc) Lo Medico.

In 1984, an aging Palazzolo was indicted and imprisoned in the infamous Pizza Connection heroin smuggling case out of New York. Prior to his arrest, he was operating out of south Michigan’s Badalamenti crew. Up until the 1970s, that crew was led by Emmanuel (Rough Manny) Badalamenti, the brother of Pizza Connection kingpin and Sicilian mob boss Gaetano (Don Tano) Badalamenti. DiMaggio was a part of the old Peter (Horseface Pete) Licavoli crew.

Jack Tocco officially took power as Godfather of the mafia in Detroit in the summer of 1979. Tony Zerilli was his second-in-command and allowed to oversee the Family’s blue-collar wing autonomously, until a falling out between the two led them to die on bad terms in 2014 and 2015, respectively. They were forced to sell their interests in the Hazel Park Raceway in the late 1970s because of their underworld ties – the divvying up of the proceeds from the sale of the racetrack resulted in one of the first cracks in the pair of mob princes’ relationship, with Zerilli claiming Tocco stole four million dollars from him in the transaction, taking advantage of the fact that Zerilli was in prison serving time for hidden ownership and skimming in a Las Vegas casino (The Frontier).

Tocco and Zerilli were both called to testify in the 1972 Senate hearing regarding their ownership of Hazel Park Raceway. While Tocco pled the Fifth Amendment to all questions, Zerilli answered some queries and took the Fifth in others. Zerilli testified that the majority stock he bought in the racetrack for $50,000 in 1950 was with a cash loan from his father.

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