Retired Cleveland mobster Frederick (Fritz) Graewe died of natural causes last week, having been on the sidelines of underworld activity since his release from prison in the early 1990s. The German-born Graewe, who had links to both Italian and Irish mafia powers of the past, was 66 years old and survived the Cleveland mob war of the late 1970s only to be nabbed for racketeering a few years later. His brother, Hartmut (Hans the Surgeon) Graewe, a sadistic mob hit man known for taking pleasure in his craft, is currently serving a life prison sentence for a series of murders tied to the unrest of the era.

The Graewe brothers were indicted in 1982 alongside Italian mafia leaders Angelo (Big Ange) Lonardo, Tommy (The Chinaman) Sinito and Joe Gallo in a massive drug, racketeering and murder case. Lonardo was the boss of the Cleveland mob and Sinito and Gallo were captains. Just five years prior, the Graewes were aligned with Irish mob boss Danny Greene when he went to war with Lonardo’s predecessor, mafia don, James (Jack White) Licavoli, for control of the city’s rackets.

Greene was killed in a car bombing attack in October 1977 and the remnants of Greene’s “Celtic Club” Irish crime syndicate, including the Graewe brothers, made peace with the Italians, agreeing to come under Licavoli’s banner. It was Lonardo and his protégés Sinito and Gallo who brokered the cease fire and arranged for a joining of forces.

Licavoli died behind bars of a heart attack in 1985. Lonardo became the first U.S. mob boss to ever turn informant and enter the Witness Protection Program. He passed away peacefully in 2006 at 95. The Cleveland mafia never recovered from his cooperation and today is a small-time unit of loosely affiliated criminals, gamblers and grifters with no substantial structure.

Fritz Graewe and his older brother were enforcers for Cleveland wiseguy Carmen Zagaria, who ran gambling and drug rings for Licavoli. Headquartering out of a tropical fish store on the city’s Westside, Zagaria’s narcotics operation grew to be the biggest in all of Northeast Ohio, churning out 15-to-20 million dollars a year in profits.

Zagaria was the star witness against the Graewes, Lonardo and the others at a 1983 trial. According to Zagaria’s testimony, Fritz Graewe shot mob-connected Florida drug dealer Joey Giamo to death in 1981 after Giamo burned the Zagaria crew in a previous wholesale marijuana purchase. An FBI bug picked up Fritz discussing his desire to strangle a rival with a coat hanger.

The Zagaria crew was moving weed, cocaine, heroin, pills and LSD. Prosecutors estimated almost half of the cocaine and marijuana consumed in Cuyahoga County between 1978 and 1982 was provided by Zagaria’s distribution network.

While Hans Graewe, 74, was found guilty of playing a central role in several of the half-dozen gangland slayings charged in the case, Fritz Graewe was only convicted of drug offenses (eight counts). The younger, less bloodthirsty Graewe walked free in 1992 and left his life of crime behind him.

Leave a Reply