According to members of law enforcement familiar with his persona, Stramaglia came off as a thug.
“Now, I’m not trying to accentuate stereotypes, but this guy was straight out of central casting for one of The Godfather movies.” Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Detective Terry Cashman said. “He drove a big Black Cadillac, wore real expensive suits, always had a cigar in his mouth; basically, trying to portray a real hard ass.”
With Butch, though, it was definitely not a put on. He himself would tell you that.
“I’m a good-timer, I like to party, I ain’t no Ivy Leaguer. I’m a little rough around the edges,” he was once quoted as saying by a newspaper reporter.
Butch didn’t need the aid of an Ivory tower institution on the East Coast to make his own powerful connections. He knew how the game worked —whether in the street or when dealing with greedy politicians — and made sure to surround himself with the right people who could sway things in his favor if need be. When Butch was banned from bidding in Lee County, Fla., due to complaints regarding his subpar work on the East Lee County Sewer Project, federal records show he brought in some high-class call girls to entertain the right people aboard his yacht “The Prodigal Son” to make sure his name was removed from that list.
“Let’s be grown up about this, if what I’m doing is wrong, they ought to lock up every fucking lobbyist in Washington,” Butch told the reporter. “I do business like any businessman, no more, no less.”
Perhaps none of the burly businessman’s connections were more powerful than the infamous Giacomo “Black Jack” Tocco — Detroit’s convicted mafia Don, reputed to be at the head of the Motor City mob family since in the 1970s.
Despite his rap sheet – a racketeering bust in the mid-1990s and subsequent incarceration –, the bespectacled and business savvy Tocco had infiltrated mainstream high society in suburban Detroit with relative ease. Over the past 60 years, he has claimed ownership of a wide variety of successful legitmate businesses, such as Melrose Linen, the Hazel Park Racetrack, Hillcrest Country Club in Clinton Township, the Warren Tennis Club, and Hazel Park Racetrack, among them.
Butch didn’t try to hide his relationship with Tocco. And why would he? In certain power circles, a friendship with Tocco was something to flaunt. Access to Tocco and the honor of being seen in his company provided instant credibility. More importantly, said the former Fed, “it bred an environment of fear for those who may have contemplated crossing Butch.”
“I’ve Known Jack Tocco — what difference does it make? … I’d rather have Jack Tocco for a friend than 20 FBI agents,” Butch told the Miami Herald in 1983.
A friendship with Jack Tocco or any member of the Mafia, also required certain responsibilities, other than playing tennis and appearing at one of their offspring’s weddings. And if these responsibilities weren’t met or if something, or someone, got in the mob’s way, there were sure to be dire consequences. While the Detroit mob in particular is not known for its overaly-violent antics when compared to its bloodlusting contemporaries in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, lives frequently tend to get lost amid the chaos of the Motor City underworld. These type of men and their associates are quite capable of killing to preserve the bottom line or, even more so, to prevent a lengthy prison stint.
Butch was surely well aware of the game and how it worked, specifically its potentially homicidal ramifications. When his baby brother Frank, the vice-president of both Four Bears Water Park and Butch’s construction company, showed up dead in January 1989, things hit home harder than ever. Or did they?
Frank was no angel. He knew what he was getting into, alleged to have been just as much a part of the shady side of bis brother’s businesses than his brother was. However, while Butch was perceived on the streets as a standup guy, steady as a rock, Frank was the opposite.
“He wasn’t as hardcore as his older brother,” said one former federal agent familiar with the pair. “Frankie was known as more of a wildcard, not as trusted as much as Butch, but we still had him on our radar.”
Throughout the 1980s, Frank Stramaglia made a name for himself around the city for his partying ways. He got caught up in the fast-paced, easy come, easy go lifestyle. Of course, being that it was the 1980s, no party wa s complete without the biggest cliché of the decade; Cocaine
The trendy white powder was one of Frank’s biggest vices. It was well known that he was a heavy user of the drug and had battled addiction since his late-teen years. So, it wasn’t particularly surprising when the 33-year-old Stramaglia turned up dead in the early hours of 1989 in what was thought to be a cocaine overdose after a night of revelry.
His death scene was the embodiment of an individual with a penchant for life’s many excesses: Frank was found slumped and naked, in a running hot tub with a condom, a porno mag and a coke straw all floating just an arm’s reach away. All that was missing to hammer home the hedonistic cliche was a Rolling Stones song blaring in the background.
On January 1, 1989, Frank and a female companion, suspected by authorities to have been Helen Collins, a long-known social companion of his, checked into room No. 333 at the Comfort Inn in Utica off Hall Road. On January 2, 1989, he never made it down to the lobby for checkout.
When the hotel’s general manager Michael Walker went to check on the room when he saw the whirlpool still running, but nobody answering the phone, he discovered Frank’s corpse slouched over on its right side of the running whirlpool. His body was almost completely submerged in the soapy tub save for the left side of his face. There was some semi-coagulated and foamy blood near Frank’s head and an unknown black scum floating in the water.
The incident’s police reports notes that the large room — equipped with a King size bed, couch, table and chairs, dresser drawers and television — was remarkably clean. After removing Frank’s body and draining the tub, a plastic bottle of aspirin was found submerged at the bottom of the tub.
With very few clues and an immaculate crime scene, police had little to go on. Collins, the water park’s former comptroller, denied ever being with Stramaglia at the Comfort Inn, despite the fact that hotel personnel identified her as being at his side New Years Day when he checked in. Members of law enforcement soon discovered that Frank would get his cocain from his best friend, Mark Giancotti, a suspected mob-backed drug dealer who lived in Troy. Giancotti had replaced Collins as the comptroller at Four Bears in December 1987.
Following the initial examinations, Utica police ruled Frank’s death to be accidental. It should’ve been an open and shut case. Frank liked to party. He also liked cocaine and had over-indulged in the past. But things got complicated when his buddy Giancotti turned up dead just a little more than one month later under suspicious circumstances.