The mystery surrounding the disappearance and murder of Detroiter Judy Ruggirello has lasted a half-century. The 29-year old Ruggirello vanished from suburban Southfield, Michigan on the afternoon of August 18, 1968, 50 years ago this week, never to be seen again. Her husband was Detroit mobster Tony Ruggirello, currently an elder statesman in the Zerilli-Tocco crime family. She had reportedly told him that she was filing for divorce the night before she went missing and had been seen cavorting around town with a boyfriend in the previous months.

Police found Judy Ruggirello’s abandoned car, a red-colored Pontiac Bonneville convertible, in the parking lot of Darby’s, a shuttered Northwest Detroit restaurant, the following evening. Darby’s was a frequent mob meeting place and a hangout spot for the Ruggirellos. The automobile had apparently been towed to the parking lot, was wiped clean of fingerprints and contained a receipt for a down payment on an apartment rental. The keys for her house, car and safety deposit box were removed from her key chain which rested on the dashboard. Tony Ruggirello denied having any involvement in his wife disappearance.

Today, Tony Ruggirello is 84 years old and known as “Tony Cigars.” Back then though, he was called “Tony the Exterminator,” for owning a pest-control company and having a reputation as a hit man. He was sent to prison in the 1970s for trying to kill a man who was infringing on policy lottery territory he oversaw in smoggy Flint, Michigan, a hard-nosed factory town 75 miles north of the Motor City. His Timberland Game Ranch near Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an upscale hunting lodge the FBI has unsuccessfully sought to search for possibly being a burial location for long missing labor boss and Detroit mob associate Jimmy Hoffa and the place where Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco was voted in as Godfather of the crime family that bears his name in 1979.

Tocco died of natural causes in 2014. Tocco’s dad, Vito (Black Bill) Tocco, was the first don of the Detroit mafia, fighting and winning a shoot war for power in the crime family in 1931. Black Bill Tocco’s bodyguard was Antonino (Big Tony) Ruggirello, Sr., Tony Ruggirello’s dad. By the late 1960s, the Ruggirello family – Big Tony and his four sons, Tony Cigars, “Louie the Bulldog,”“Toto,”and “Jo Jo,” were running a Detroit mob crew responsible for activity in Flint and Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan resides.

Judy Ruggirello was born Judy Gargaro, the daughter of a construction magnate famous for building the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel connecting the United State and Canada at the Motor City’s southern tip back during Prohibition. She married mob scion Tony Ruggirello in a 1960 ceremony and the pair had two children over the next eight years. At some point in 1967, Judy began spending time with a toy salesman named Harvey Disner. They were alleged to be engaging in an extramarital affair. According to Michigan State Police Intelligence Division records, Tony Ruggirello called Disner to a face-to-face meeting with him in April 1968 and warned him to stay away from his wife.

Judy Ruggirello

The night of August 17, 1968 Judy and Tony Ruggirello fought loudly at their Southfield home about Judy’s decision to leave the family, per accounts by neighbors. The morning of August 18, Tony sent his two young kids to stay with his brother Louie at the Timberland Game Ranch. Louie’s girlfriend came by and picked up the children at 11:00 a.m. It would be the last time Judy Ruggirello was seen alive.

The Gargaro family posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in Judy’s case. A man named George Smith contacted police and the Gargaros and told them he had answers in a series of documents in his possession however was shot to death by the police in a botched exchange. Tony and Louie Ruggirello were present at the attempted exchange. The police report from the incident describes Louie Ruggirello being upset with officers for making him leave his pistol in his car while the exchange took place.

Multiple informants accused Tony Ruggirello of being responsible for his wife’s murder, per MSP reports. One informant claimed her body was deposed of by way of an industrial auto-scrap grinder. Another informant alleged it was incinerated at mobbed-up Tri-County Sanitation. Detroit mafia bagman turned government witness Peter (Birmingham Pete) Lazoros got into a screaming match with Tri-County Sanitation co-owner Joe Barbara, Jr., a New York transplant and mob soldier in the Zerilli-Tocco crime family, during a recess at Barbara, Jr.’s trial for raping Lazoros’ wife where Lazoros yelled “everybody knows you stuffed Judy Ruggirello down a sewage drain.”

Joe Barbara, Jr. died in 2015 living in retirement in Florida. Tri-County Sanitation is another location the FBI thinks Jimmy Hoffa’s body could have been disposed of at. Louie Ruggirello died of cancer in 1987. Jo Jo Ruggirello passed away in 2013.

The murder of Judy Ruggirello was part of at least six mob-related homicides within a six-month span in 1968. The same week Ruggirello went missing, veteran Detroit mafia capo Joseph (Joe Misery) Moceri was killed by a teenage employee of his in a robbery-gone-wrong at his AAA Store Fixtures warehouse. In April, Jewish mob associate Caesar Adler was found slain in the trunk of his car outside an Oak Park, Michigan shopping center. Adler had operated a gambling parlor called the Carleton House and less than a month before he was killed a police raid at Carleton House revealed he was using loaded dice in some of his games. One of Adler’s game-runners was made to disappear weeks later. Mob enforcer Robert (Bobby Stardust) Dunaway popped up as “trunk music” at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport in May just months after accidentally beating a protected debtor to death in attempting to retrieve payment for a juice loan.

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