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The Ralph Proctor Murder

At approximately 1:00 am on August 10th 1984, 61 year old Ralph Proctor, the former president of Teamster Union Local 124, was found shot to death in the front seat of his 1981 Cadillac in the parking lot of a Livonia shopping mall located at Six Mile and Newburgh, about a half-mile from his home. The car’s engine was still running and the headlights were on.

He had last been seen earlier in the evening by his wife as he left home to go meet a business associate. A woman who lived in a neighboring house that backed up to the shopping mall told police she heard a series of “popping” noises around 10:15.

It was determined by the county medical examiner that Proctor had been shot by a large caliber weapon in the cheek by someone in the passenger seat, and eight times in the back of the head with a .22 caliber gun by someone sitting behind him. There were no signs of a struggle or of a robbery and it was described as an “execution style” murder. Due to the professional nature of the murder and Proctor’s relationship with the Teamsters, investigators looked for a connection to union politics and organized crime.

They quickly found one.

Proctor, a World War II veteran, had been a truck driver and member of Local 299 that was the home base of Jimmy Hoffa during his reign of power. The man they called “The Silver Fox” for his always perfectly coifed grey hair and immaculate appearance, was a staunch Hoffa loyalist and even shed blood for the beleaguered labor boss. When tensions between Hoffa and the mob were at their peak near the end of his life in the summer of 1975, Proctor was jumped and physically assaulted while leaving a bar in Melvindale, left with a fractured jaw and a pair of broken ribs for siding with Hoffa instead of the mafia-backed union.

Following Hoffa’s disappearance a month later, Proctor continued his involvement with the Teamster and made a quick ascension up the ranks of union leadership. In 1979, he was elected president of the newly-created Local 124, a local formed specifically to handle the needs of the large number of steel haulers in the Detroit area. This is where he bumped heads with the mob, specifically, Vince Meli, a man described in U.S. Congressional hearings from 1984 as the Detroit mafia’s representative in the steal hauling industry and a one-time associate of Jimmy Hoffa.

Slated to be relieved from his post and retire at the end of 1985 calendar year, Proctor abruptly stepped down as president of Local 124 in early-1984, almost two years early. Investigators believe that he was forced out of the presidency because he had become too much of a thorn in the side of the nefarious influences that were pulling strings behind him in the union.

FBI documents point to personal disputes Proctor was involved in with Meli and Local 299 president Pete Karagozian as likely contributing factors for his premature leave from office. Things got so heated between him and Karagozian that Karagozian fired his son, Dennis, from his job as a business agent for Local 299.

Immediately after stepping down as head of the local, he opened up a trailer repair company in Dearborn. Within months, more rumors of problems with his former Local and with other Teamster officials, resulting from his new business. People were complaining that Proctor had actually started his company while still president and had used that influence to try and get contracts for his company. According to interviews conducted by police following Proctor’s murder, his successor as president at Local 124, William Klann, had to start informing vendors that Proctor was no longer representing the union in any way.

On August 9, 1984, the last night of his life and a mere four months after stepping down from the union, he left his Livonia residence for a what he told his wife would be a short business meeting up the street at a Wing Yee’s Chinese restaurant and never returned. Many of those intimately familiar with the federal investigation into Proctor’s murder believe the person he was going to meet that late-summer evening over 25 years ago was Anthony “Chicago Tony” La Piana, Vince Meli’s son-in-law and a man who authorities believe to have been at that time and still today a high-ranking member of the Detroit mafia. There was good reason to think that.

Anthony La Piana, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 20, 1943. His father was a longtime Teamsters union powerbroker and he was exposed to the ins and outs of labor politics at a very young age. After serving in the Marine Corps right out of high school, La Piana returned to the Windy City and took a job with a freight hauling business.

When he was 24, La Piana was arrested by the FBI and charged with hijacking a truck in Illinois. Eventually acquitted at trial in 1967, the following year he came to live in Detroit part-time as a result of a job he took with another, bigger trucking company that had hubs all across the Midwest. Recently divorced from his high school sweetheart at time of his arrival in the Michigan, he soon met and fell in love with Phyllis Meli, daughter of Little Vince.

Married in 1974, Chicago Tony, who picked up his nickname as a reference to his hometown, and his new bride settled in Grosse Pointe Woods. According to FBI documents, it is believed that Chicago Tony had organized crime affiliations dating back to his days as a teenager in Illinois before he even first stepped foot into the state of Michigan.

Testifying at a future deposition, he would admit to being childhood best friends with Anthony “Little Tony” Borselino, a hitman for the Chicago mob who was slain gangland-style in 1979. Federal investigators also believe that from the moment he married into Vince Meli’s family, La Piana became a prized pupil and ace protégé of his new father-in-law.

Buoyed by his father’s already well-established ties in the Teamsters and his father-in-law’s muscle, Chicago Tony is alleged to have become one extremely juiced-in player in national labor politics, despite not holding then and having never held a union office. That didn’t mean he didn’t do business with the county’s organized labor elite, because he did plenty. As the owner of a pair of insurance companies, he gained lucrative contracts with various mega-sized labor unions for blanket employee healthcare coverage.

By the early-1980s, La Piana’s name began to get a lot of attention in federal law enforcement circles. Street informants for the Detroit FBI office began identifying him as an up and comer in the local mafia as early as the late-1970s. International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Jackie Presser, who upon death of a heart attack in 1988 was identified as a highly-confidential government snitch, keyed the feds into the fast riser immediately.

FBI documents reveal that Presser informed his handlers in the FBI that almost as soon as he was elected president in 1983, he was approached by La Piana, who promptly identified himself as a representative for organized crime families in both Detroit and Chicago and instructed any problems with either syndicate to be sent his way.

Presser also told the FBI that La Piana pressured him to help settle a pension fund debt for his personal business and to name Chicago mafia member Dominic “The Big Banana” Senese as an organizer at an Illinois Teamsters outpost.

Federal officials identified him as a “recent inducted member” of the Detroit mafia family in 1990 and in 2000, Nove Tocco, a mobster turned government informant, informed the FBI that Chicago Tony had by that time, been elevated to the level of capo and was “running his own crew.” During a racketeering trial for members of the city’s mob hierarchy in 1998, it was revealed that Detroit don, Jack Tocco had informed a witness that any problems he was having with the labor unions they should “go see Tony La Piana.”

And he knows how to tiptoe through the mine fields. Although the co-owner of one of his insurance companies was convicted on federal charges of falsifying documents in the mid-1980s, Chicago Tony escaped the investigation unscathed. Same things happened when his name surfaced in several portions of federal indictment that brought down Florida Teamsters boss Walter “Buster” Brown on charges of corruption in 2001, but failed to include him. To this very day, he has never been convicted of a single felony or any count whatsoever of criminal conduct.

Whatever his status in the underworld was, one thing was for sure: Tony La Piana and Ralph Proctor had been friends for over a decade when he died in August 1984. This even La Piana admits as true. According to police files relating to Proctor’s murder, the pair met through Vince Meli in the early-1970s when Proctor was part of Jimmy Hoffa’s inner-circle.

Whether La Piana was with him around the time of his death or was supposed to be with him is a different story. La Piana says he was nowhere near Livonia on August 10, nor was he ever supposed to meet up with him that night. Law enforcement believes otherwise.

In interviews with authorities following her husband’s death, Doris Proctor said that it had been routine for her husband the last several months of his life to meet with Tony La Piana on Thursday nights. The meet-ups would usually last an hour and would take place after dinner, before the couple’s before-bed cup of coffee they would normally share prior to retiring for the evening.

On most occasions, La Piana would call the house and talk to Doris right before her husband left, telling her to pass along the rendezvous information. The night of Ralph Proctor’s murder, Doris never spoke to La Piana. Rather, Ralph left the house after dinner, telling her he was going to meet “Tony” and that he would be back in time for them to watch the nightly news together at 11:00 p.m. Doris told police she knew “Tony” to be Tony La Piana, who she believed was in the process of trying to help her husband sell some property he owned.

Investigators unearthed other possible reasons for Proctor’s series of meetings with La Piana. One was that Proctor was haggling with his former Locals, 124 and 299, over money he loaned the union several years previously to help get 124 off the ground. Proctor made it more than evident to anybody who would listen in the final months of his life that the Teamsters owed him $100,000 and they weren’t paying him back. The ill will felt towards him by Vince Meli wasn’t helping matters.

Meli reportedly partially blamed Proctor for his extortion conviction years prior, which had been concluded with a prison sentence starting the previous January, and outwardly badmouthed him in public. Even though Little Vince was in prison, he still held weight in the unions from behind bars and Proctor allegedly needed him to sign off with the Teamsters before they would release the funds.

More than one Informant told federal authorities that the money Proctor felt he was owed by the Teamsters was the actual reason for the series of meetings between Proctor and La Piana, who was said to be acting as a conduit to his father in law.

On several occasions, Proctor is alleged to have hurled threats in the direction of certain figures with deep organized crime connections if his money was not repaid. One of these men was reputed to be Roland McMasters, the longtime mob-backed union enforcer known to be the Teamsters unofficial Sergeant of Arms and known social companion of his.

Everyone, most importantly the mob, knew full well that Proctor had quite a bit of knowledge into the shenanigans involved with union politics and that if he began to speak, whether to the media or the police, a lot of very important underworld interests could be put in severe jeopardy. Gary Procotor, Ralph’s son, told police of a conversation he had with McMasters in the days leading up to his father’s murder where McMasters made a comment to the effect, “Tell your father to stop making so many waves.”

When authorities visited McMasters, he claimed he hadn’t seen or spoken to Ralph Proctor in months. When they visited Tony La Piana, he refused to speak to them. Issuing a statement through his attorney, La Piana said he was with his family that evening at the Meli residence in Grosse Pointe Woods, but declined to expand any further or undergo any in-person questioning.

In the press, La Piana’s attorney explained Proctor telling his wife that he was going to meet La Piana was merely an excuse for him to go meet someone else. This was possibly alluding to Proctor’s reputation as a ladies man by several of his former co-workers and associates.

No charges were ever filed in this case however those involved in the investigation believe they have an idea of what happened. Although none of them have ever been indicted for playing any role in Proctor’s killing, the Detroit FBI office still considers La Piana, Meli and McMasters as its top suspects in the crime.

Others names that came up in the investigation were then-up-and-coming mobsters Jack “Jackie the Kid” Giacalone and Pete “Specs” Tocco and Meli’s one-time driver and bodyguard, Louie La Hood.

Like McMasters, La Hood, of Syrian descent, was described by law enforcement reports as a heavily influential union strong arm.  Giacalone, the nephew of longtime Detroit mafia street boss, Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and the son of deceased underboss Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone, is currently the newly-elected don of the city’s crime family. Tocco, the nephew of recently-retired Godfather Giacomo “Black Jack” Tocco, is the syndicate’s current street boss.

Investigators believe the younger Giacalone might have driven the getaway car.

McMasters died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 97. Meli died of bone cancer in 2008 at the age of 87.

Neither Ralph Proctor nor Otto Wendel’s murders have ever been solved. Vinent Meli died in 2008 at the age of 87. And Tony Lapiana is believed to still be an important member of the Detroit mafia. Despite neither case ever being closed, both homicides involve many of the same individuals even though seven years apart. And they highlight a violent connection between Teamsters and Detroit mobsters that has been going on for decades. 

The Otto Wendell Murder

Over two years after Jimmy Hoffa was wiped off the map by the mafia, his one of his former top allies Otto Wendell, would be too, kicking off a trend of one-time close associates of the slain labor boss getting slain themselves that wouldn’t stop for another seven years. Wendell was a powerbroker in the Detroit-area labor union scene for quite some time, known to be a whiz with numbers and like Hoffa a man often observed in the company of members of organized crime.

On December 12, 1977, he was found shot twice in the abdomen in his car on a rural slice of road three miles from his home in Livingston County. He was alive, but barely hanging on. A .38 caliber revolver that Wendell owned was found next to him and was later determined to be the gun that fired the shots. Rushed to the hospital, he fell into a deep coma for close to two weeks before finally succumbing to his injuries on Christmas Eve.

His death at the age of 63 was initially ruled a suicide, but soon re-labeled a homicide following the paneling of a grand jury. Several factors led to this official change of categorization.

First and foremost, it was quickly discovered that Wendell, who at the time of his death was the Treasurer for Hoffa’s old Teamsters Local 299 out by Tigers Stadium, was scheduled to testify at the extortion trial of reputed Detroit mafia captain, Vincent “Little Vince” Meli, set to start in the early months of 1978. He also had previously testified at more than one trial and in front of a number of grand juries regarding his knowledge of organized crime influence within the Teamsters union.

The word around town was that Otto Wendell had loose lips. This perception, whether true or false, was what most-likely got him killed.

Much like Jack Tocco and Tony Zerilli, Little Vince Meli was a mafia prince and heir apparent to a leadership post in the local crime family from the time he was an infant. Meli was the son of mob soldier Frank “The Music Man” Meli and the favorite nephew of longtime Detroit mafia underboss Angelo “The Chairmen” Meli, one of the founders of the city’s La Cosa Nostra syndicate.

Little Vince, who earned his nickname as to differentiate from his first cousin, Vincent “Big Vince” Meli’s, his uncle Angelo’s son, was born in San Cataldo, Sicily on January 2, 1921. Coming to Detroit in the early-1930s, he grew up being bred to join the family business.

Graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1942, he enlisted in the Army and went overseas to fight in World War II. His natural smarts and savvy, as well as his ability to speak multiple foreign languages, got him assigned to the Intelligence Division and eventually named captain of an elite Special Forces unit that would be akin to today’s Delta Force or Navy Seals.

He was a natural hero. In his two years serving in Europe, Meli earned two Purple Hearts for valor and the Presidential Medal of Honor and was one of the first-batch of U.S. military personnel to enter and liberate the Nazi concentration camps in 1945.

Following the war, Meli returned home to Detroit and joined the family business. Almost immediately he was recruited to help his uncle Angelo further infiltrate the local labor unions and stage a takeover of the city’s vending machine industry. Teaming with his father and three other mobsters and with the financial backing of his uncle, he started three jukebox machine distributorships – Meltone Music, Jay-Cee Music, and White Music – and became highly-influential in the city’s burgeoning recording industry.

Meli’s name surfaced in FBI reports in the late-1950s relating to the persistent rumors that Berry Gordy used a mob loan to start Motown – allegations the music mogul has always steadfastly denied and then again early in the next decade in U.S. Senate hearings on organized crime as an up and comer in the Detroit mafia and recent “made member.” Federal Narcotics Bureau documents from that era allege that syndicate drug proceeds were continuously being funneled through Meli’s jukebox businesses, with Meli and his partners seeing a sizeable percentage of the transactions.

Baring such an astonishing resume, some people question Meli’s choice of career direction.

“This guy was a superstar and could have done anything he wanted in life after his time in the military,” said a retired FBI agent who declined to be identified. “He probably could have become a Mike Illitch or a Bill Davidson, a self-made multimillionaire by legitimate means if he had chosen to go down a different path. But instead, he chose the easy way out and joined up with his father and uncle. Now, that’s not saying he didn’t have extreme business acumen, because he did. He had some very successful legitimate business endeavors in his life. However, he also was heavily involved in organized crime in the area and in a lot of ways just decided to be a thug instead of an upstanding member of society.”

Sticking with Motor City mob tradition, Little Vince’s life on the domestic front crossed paths with his life on the business front. Upon coming back from overseas and fighting in the war, he married Grace Di Mercurio, the daughter of Detroit mafia soldier, Frank “Frankie D” Di Mercurio, settled in Grosse Pointe Woods and had six children. Little Vince’s sister was married to William Buffalino and his first cousin, “Big Vince” was married to the daughter of captain Cockeyed Sam Perone, while Big Vince’s two sisters were both married to powerful Mafiosi in Jack Tocco and Frank “Cheech” Livorsi out of New York.

Starting in the 1960s, FBI documents allege that Meli has risen to the level of capo in the crime family and spearheaded an infiltration of the Detroit-area steel hauling industry on their behalf. For over a decade he held an office at and helped operate J&J Cartage, a massively successful steel hauling firm that was owned by Joe Cusmano and Jack Russo, both reputed organized crime associates. Desiring to expand his reach in the industry, in 1975 Meli and Russo, known on the streets as “Smiling Jack” or “Jackie Two Guns” and described in law enforcement files from the time as Meli’s personal bodyguard and driver, opened another steel hauling firm called Alco Express.

Before they could get Alco off the ground and properly running at full capacity however both Meli and Russo, along with Cusmano, were hit with a federal extortion rap stemming from work at J&J Cartage. In the indictment, the three were said to be extorting portions of drivers’ pension funds by using Meli’s reputation in the mob as leverage in closed door meetings with employees. Despite having been charged over the past two decades with an assortment of state and federal crimes ranging from gambling, counterfeiting and extortion to labor racketeering and income tax evasion, Little Vince had never been convicted of a single one.

While awaiting trial, Meli and Russo worked hard and building Alco Express to the point of profitability that if they had to shut down J&J Cartage due to their pending legal problems, they would be able to make a seamless transition. This effort was made significantly easier for one big reason. Due to a series of complicated circumstances, Alco was never unionized and operated free of normal labor restrictions.

Detroit’s newly-formed Local 124 was supposed to bring Alco un

der its control, but for whatever reason that never happened and the company was operated without its workers being properly represented. As a result, money that should have been going towards health, welfare and pension benefits for Alco’s workers was going straight into Alco’s pockets.

Keeping closer than normal tabs on Meli and Russo at the time they were both out on bond awaiting their time in court, the FBI took quite an interest in activities at Alco and the government intended on entering evidence of what was transpiring there it into evidence at the J&J Cartage trial.

Otto Wendell, acting in his duty as Treasurer of Local 299, the state’s Teamster nerve center, handled paperwork and due payments related to Alco’s perceived ability to operate un-unionized and because of that was on the prosecution’s witness list. He held a great deal of knowledge into the matter and the feds wanted him on the stand under oath answering questions.

Being badgered by the press and from within the union itself, Ralph Proctor, a Teamsters bigwig and longtime associate of Wendell’s, who like Wendell, was a former confidant of slain Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, stated publicly that he was investigating complaints of Alco’s methods of operation, yet any headway made was non-existent. Those who worked on the investigation believe this lack of progress uncovering wrongdoing was intentional since Proctor was a known social companion of both Meli and Russo and received a great deal of his own power in the union do to his relationship to them.

Wendell held a key to a lot of pieces in this puzzle, but by the time the trial began in mid-1978, he wasn’t alive to testify. Authorities believe he was killed by the mob to stop from divulging what he knew.

With Otto Wendell laying clinging to life in a hospital bed after being shot several times in December of 1977, the FBI rushed to his side, looking for answers that could help identify the perpetrators. Although unable to speak, before he lapsed into unconsciousness, a deep coma he would never awake from, Wendell indicated he wanted to write something. He scribbled three difficult to decipher words on a pad a paper given to him by FBI agents present in his hospital room.

One translation of the words penned by Wendell in the days before he died came out as “Mealy Mouthed Roxy”. Agents believed this was a reference to George Roxburgh, a business agent and trustee of Local 299, as well as a known associate of organized crime.

Roxburgh was no stranger to violence, reputed to be a longtime part of Roland McMaster’s inner-circle. Five years earlier, in June 1972, Roxburgh was shot three times by a shotgun while sitting in his car in Royal Oak. He lost an eye, but survived the attack and continued on as an alleged enforcer in the Teamsters Union. His name surfaced peripherally in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa as well.

It soon came out through the investigation that Wendell had been planning on running for the presidency of Local 299, however had dropped out of the race a few weeks prior to being gunned down. According to those close to him, Wendell had stated several times that he felt his life was in danger prior to being shot. He was close to Jimmy Hoffa and was well aware of the consequences of crossing the various organized crime figures that pulled strings behind the curtain in the Teamsters Union. The FBI believes Wendell suffered the same fate as Hoffa.

Gangster of Love – Part III (The Kill)

A couple months before Feodies Shipp found himself scrambling for his freedom and physical well-being at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in July 1992, his drug-dealing partner Felix “The Cat” Walls got a hunch something wasn’t right with Bernie “The Jew” Schrott.

According to Walls, back in April, Schrott was going to bankroll one of their joint business deals using close to three million dollars of Walls’ and Shipp’s drug money as a down payment on up to 50 million dollars that Schrott said he had access to from investors. At Bernie the Jew’s request, Walls put 2.8 million together in cash, placed it in several garbage bags, and sent it on a plane chartered by Schrott headed to California.

Schrott and Walls were both supposed to be on that plane, leaving from Waterford’s Oakland County Airport on April 14, 1992 at 10 a.m. An hour before takeoff, however, Bernie called Felix and bailed, claiming he was too sick to make the flight. Walls got a bad feeling and skipped out on getting on the plane as well.

Felix the Cat’s instinct proved keen. Upon landing in Ontario, California, DEA agents raided the plane and seized the money on board on the grounds that it was part of drug activity.

“At that point, I knew Bernie was an informant,” Walls was quoted telling the Metro Times in a 2000 interview.

Future court filings confirmed that suspicion – as a result of years of requests, counsel for Walls received a government inventory of Schrott’s prior cooperation, including the seizure of 2.8 million dollars from a Learjet that flew from Detroit and California in April 1992 and Bernie the Jew’s reward for the tip-off, which was $150,000.

Even faced with the government claims of his cooperation, Schrott still steadfastly denied the allegation that he is an informant to the Metro Times in 2000.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said of the notion that he’s worked for law enforcement in the past. “I don’t know anything to inform on.”

Following Walls’ money being intercepted by the DEA, raising red flags about where his “money scrubber” Bernie’s loyalty lied, Felix the Cat scurried out of town, going on the run to dodge what he knew was sure to be (and was) a pending indictment. Apprehended after nearly three years as a fugitive, Walls was convicted of a narcotics and tax evasion conspiracy in two subsequent trials, the second one of which he acted as his own attorney, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

They were charges and a trial that Feodies Shipp never lived to face.

Gangster of Love – Part II (The Set-Up)

Aside from knowing all the right people on a professional level, Feodies Shipp had made some pretty impressive friends and social companions in his personal life. His best friend was former federal judge Sam Gardner. He was known to pop up in local sports hero and champion-boxer Tommy “The Hit Man” Hearns’ entourage during several of Hearns’ sold-out fights in Las Vegas.

After divorcing Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter for a second time in 1986, he remarried Lydia Mallett in 1989, becoming brother-in-laws with then-Michigan State Supreme Court Chief Justice Conrad Mallett, currently the CAO of the Detroit Medical Center. At the lavish wedding, Gardner served as Feodies’ best man.

Soon, Shipp would have a daughter on the way. He talked to friends about possibly getting out of the drug game, reexamining his lifestyle for the sake of his wife, her brother’s judicial career and his newborn child.

The window for such an opportunity, whether a sincere option for the Yellow Man or not, was closing. And fast.

Beginning in the winter of 1992, Tommy Berry, Shipp’s and his partner Felix “The Cat” Walls’ cocaine supplier out in California started working for the government and talking about the business he did with them. They owed Berry a significant amount money and he had no problem feeding them to the Feds once he got arrested and decided to make a deal for himself. Berry told them that he was doing a million dollars’ worth of narcotics transactions with Shipp and Walls per month and that he had met and lunched with someone he was introduced to as Bernie at the Beverly Hills Hotel, “an old mobbed-up Jewish cat” that laundered their  drug money.

By July, the roof was about to cave in.

The absolute master of talking his way out of trouble, there weren’t enough words in the English language for the Yellow Man to even come close to finagling his way out of the pending avalanche about to land at his doorstep.

Feodies was arrested by FBI agents in the early afternoon of July 18, 1992 at Pasquale’s Family Italian Restaurant on 13 Mile Rd. and Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak. Before the agents could take him away for processing at FBI headquarters downtown though, Shipp’s natural, almost-hypnotic hustling skills kicked in and he convinced the agents to allow him to get rid of a brown-leather Gucci briefcase in his possession, which he stashed in the trunk of his gold-rimmed Cadillac in the Pasquale’s parking lot.

The ace hustler kept spinning his magic while in police custody. In exchange for agreeing to cooperate, Feodies got the Feds to release him for 24 hours to “get his affairs in order.”

The con worked. He never returned.

Gangster Of Love – Part I (The Players)

[dropcap]F [/dropcap]eodies “The Yellow Man” Shipp was a gangster of love, a charismatic, smooth-talking wheeler dealer that hustled his way into millions of dollars of illegal revenue and into the hearts of a slew of prominent, high-profile women on his way to the top of the Detroit underworld.

His story is one of sex, drugs, glitz, glamour and murder in the Motor City.

It’s too bad Feodies (FEE-OH-DIS) himself isn’t around to reflect on his legacy with us. He was brutally killed more than 20 years ago in one of the most bizarre and complex murder mysteries in Detroit history.

Starting his criminal career running a vast array of scams on the city’s Eastside, Shipp, nicknamed Yellow Man because of his light skin tone and perpetually sunny demeanor, was busted for HUD fraud in the late 1970s and sent away to a federal prison in Indiana, where he would meet and eventually become cellmates with another Eastsider, convicted heroin-peddler, Felix “The Cat” Walls.

“Good ole Yellow Man was a real first-class scam artist, always on the make” said retired FBI agent Mike Carone of Shipp. “He had a knack for talking men out of their money and girls out of their pants. Felix on the other hand was more of your hardened gangster.”

Unlike the diminutive and slim Shipp, Walls was tall, chiseled, and quite physically imposing. Although opposite in outward appearance, they were very similar in mindset and background and hit it off immediately. Felix taught Feodies how to be a drug kingpin. Shipp proved a prized pupil.

“They worked well as a tandem, benefitted from each other’s strengths,” Carone said.

Upon their release from behind bars, they returned to Detroit and went into the narcotics business together, co-managing a multi-million dollar a year heroin, cocaine and marijuana distribution network that spanned most of the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

Via their links to the Italian mafia, Shipp and Walls met longtime rumored Detroit mob associate Bernard “Bernie the Jew” Schrott and according to court records and FBI documents, they hired him to launder their drug money, reputedly a gangland specialty of Schrott’s dating back decades.

Court documents assert the trio became co-owners of a large amount of real estate and opened up trucking, storage facility and furniture businesses under a wide variety of shell companies supposedly created by Schrott. When Bernie the Jew was trying to get a deal done to buy a casino in the Bahamas, according to Walls in an interview with The Metro Times in 2000, Schrott cut him and Feodies in for 10 percent of stock each.

Schrott himself has always denied any illegal business relationship with the pair and has said that he only knew Feodies Shipp “socially”, referring to him as something of a “court jester” and “someone who is buying champagne for everybody in a restaurant one night and the next night he doesn’t have two pennies to rub together.”

Of Walls, he said “Felix was a flake, I barely knew him. I walked away from doing business with him because I thought he was flakey.”

Romancing the beautiful, high-powered and politically-connected, Feodies had a way with the ladies, as they say. He was married twice to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Baxter (once before he went to prison and another time afterwards) and at the end of his life to Lydia Mallett, the sister of Michigan State Supreme Court Justice Conrad Mallett.

Well known to show off, peacock around town, before he reached the heights of street fame and wealth, once he skyrocketed to the top of the Motor City drug trade, Feodies took being flashy to a whole other level. Wearing the trendiest clothes, always draped in expensive jewelry and driving a luxury automobile, he was a staple on the area’s social scene, dining at posh eateries like the Rattlesnake Club and the London Chop House and getting VIP treatment at trendy night spots like Taboo and Joey’s on Jefferson (located in the same building as an old Purple Gang speakeasy ran by “Dapper Joe” Burnstein).

Walls, also notoriously flamboyant and known as a big-spender, was often right by Shipp’s side when doing the town.