May 13, 2022 — With bodies popping up in Las Vegas lately, let’s look back on the mob murders connected to the Tony (The Ant) Spilotro reign on the Strip as Desert Don in the 1970s through the first half of the 1980s. Spilotro ran the Vegas rackets for the Chicago mob and his exploits were chronicled in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, starring Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro. Authorities in Nevada believe the two sets of human remains discovered on the shores of Lake Meade over the past two weeks are victims of Tony the Ant and his glitzy, raucous regime.
The Casino Hit List (1962-1997)
May 13 & 14 1962 — The M&M Murders: Spilotro kills Billy McCarthy and Jimmy Miraglia for an unsanctioned shooting at a mob-owned bar that ended up with three dead in Chicago. Spilotro put McCarthy’s head in a vise and popped his eye out of his head to get him to give up his partner Miraglia’s whereabouts before killing him by slitting his throat. Miraglia is murdered the next day and their bodies are stacked on top of each other and put in the back of Miraglia’s Cadillac. The hit boosts Tony the Ant’s reputation as a fast-riser in Chicago Outfit circles and puts him in line to get sent to Vegas in the subsequent years. The Miraglia murder is shown in Casino and is one of the movie’s most memorable scenes.
June 23, 1973 – Las Vegas bookie and loanshark William (Joey Red) Klimm is gunned down in the parking lot of the Churchill Downs Race Book. The Klimm murder was the first headline-grabbing hit of the Spilotro era in Vegas. Klimm was resisting shakedown efforts from Spilotro’s crew of misfits, ,many of whom traveled West with him from Illinois. The Ant was charged with the homicide, but had the case thrown out before trial.
May 12, 1975 – Mob associate and Caesars Palace casino pit boss Marty Buccieri is shot to death for demanding a finder’s fee for helping broker financing for casino executive Allen Glick’s Argent Corp. (owners of The Stardust, The Hacienda, The Fremont and The Marina) via contacts in the Chicago and Milwaukee mafia syndicates. Buccieri was a cousin of Chicago mafia capo Fiore (Fifi) Buccieri and his brother Frank (The Horse) Buccieri, the Outfit’s liaison to Milwaukee’s Balestrieri crime family.
November 9, 1975 – Casino investor Tamara Rand, one of Allen Glick’s partners who was threatening to sue him for blocking purchase of more shares in Argent, is killed inside her San Diego home. In Casino, the character based on Rand was called Anna Scott.
August 1, 1976 – Mob associate Jay Vandermark, the point man in charge of the skim operation on the floor of The Stardust, disappears upon being sought for questioning by the feds in a theft and hidden ownership probe. The FBI raided The Stardust in May 1976, the same month Vandermark bolted town for Arizona. Vandermark was the slot supervisor at The Stardust and last seen alive in Phoenix with members of the Spilotro’s Arizona crew. He’s believed to have been murdered in Mexico to prevent him from giving the mob up to save himself and his son. Vandermark’s name is changed to John Nance in the movie Casino and the location of his murder moved from Mexico to Costa Rica. Nance ending up in a swimming pool in the script was taken from a real mob hit committed by the Spilotro crew three years later.
August 18, 1976 — Mob associate John (Johnny Pappas) Panagiotakos vanishes on his way to a meeting at Jo Jo’s Restaurant. Pappas’ abandoned car was found three days later in the parking structure attached to Circus Circus casino. The Chitown transplant managed a Lake Meade resort property controlled by the Outfit and had connections to Outfit fixer Gus (Slim) Alex.
October 8, 1976 – MGM Grand casino baccarat dealer Peter Bufala is slain in his driveway.
November 21, 1976 – Mob associate and bookie Gerald (Fat Jerry) Delman, who ran Saratoga Race & Sportsbook for Spilotro in Downtown Vegas, is murdered. Delman had worked for Spilotro back in Chicago and handled gambling affairs for The Ant in Indianapolis.
December 15, 1976 – Mob associate and drug dealer Rick Manzie is found shot to death inside the Las Vegas mansion he shared with his wife, singer and actress Barbara McNair. Manzie, a Chicago native, was close friends with Tony Spilotro and Spilotro is caught on an FBI wire in the months that followed vowing revenge on the killers. Others believe, it was all a ruse, and Spilotro killed Manzie himself.
April 23, 1977 – Jeff Vandermark, the drug junkie son of Jay Vandermark, is bludgeoned to death inside his Las Vegas apartment. The younger Vandermark’s addiction is referenced in the John Nance storyline in Casino.
February 24, 1977 – Las Vegas labor union leader and mob associate Al Bramlet is kidnapped and murdered by Tom Hanley and his son Gramby for refusing to pay them for bombings they did for him. Bramlet was president of Nevada’s AFL-CIO and the secretary-treasurer of the Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union Local 226. He was taken from the airport at gunpoint and then killed execution style in the desert. Spilotro held influence with Bramlet.
July 24, 1977 – The Park Ridge Massacre: Chicago Outfit associates Joe LaRose, John Viache, Malcom Russell and Don Marchbanks are killed execution style in their offices in Park Ridge, Illinois. The four men were partners in a alarm company being used by the mob to wash Las Vegas skim money and suspected of trying to swindle some for themselves.
June 17, 1979 — West Coast sports promotor and agent Vic Weiss is found murdered in a North Hollywood hotel parking lot, hogtied, shot twice in the back of the head and stuffed in the trunk of his Rolls Royce. Weiss represented “outlaw” UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and was a staple on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1970s, often running in the same circles as Spilotro. At the time of his death, Weiss was negotiating a contract that never came to fruition for Tarkanian to coach the L.A. Lakers. He left a meeting with Lakers ownership on the late afternoon of June 14 and was never seen alive again.
October 11, 1979 – Mob associate and con man Jerry Lisner is shot to death and dumped in his swimming pool by Tony Spilotro’s right-hand man Frank Cullota. Lisner was believed to have been testifying in front of a federal grand jury looking into Spilotro crew activity. Lisner’s murder is shown in Casino, but the character killed was, “John Nance,” based on Jay Vandermark.
June 10, 1980 – Mob associate Frank (Frankie Blue) Bluestein is killed by Las Vegas police during a routine traffic stop on his street in the Sunrise Villas subdivision he lived in when the cops shoot him dead for brandishing a gun while exiting the vehicle with a pizza. Bluestein, the son of labor union power “Stevie Blue” Bluestein, had just moved to town and was working at The Hacienda. Spilotro’s crew took Bluestein’s killing as an act of war and retaliated by shooting up the private residences of the two policemen that opened fire on Frankie Blue and placing murder contracts on their heads. FBI agents visited mob bosses in Chicago to let them know what was going on and how out of control the Spilotro contingent had gotten. Scorsese’s version of events in the film Casino leaves out the part of Frankie Blue having a gun and switches out the pizza for a submarine sandwich. In the movie, the character is called “Bernie Blue,” and was a composite of Bluestein and Spilotro’s bodyguard and boyhood buddy, Herbert (Fat Herbie) Blitzstein.
January 20, 1983 – Mob associate Allen Dorfman, the head of the Teamsters pension fund responsible for building much of Las Vegas via hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, is gunned down in the parking lot of the Lincolnwood Hyatt leaving a lunch meeting. Dorfman was on his way to prison and the Chicago Outfit bosses feared he would flip because he was Jewish, not Italian. The Dorfman character’s name is changed to Andy Stone for the movie Casino and his murder is recreated for the film.
June 14, 1983 — Mob associate Billy (Bahama) Crespo vanished on the verge of testifying against 10 Chicago mafia-affiliated drug dealers and casino executives in federal court. The charges in the case are eventually dropped before trial without Crespo there to take the witness stand. Crespo was nailed smuggling a half-million bucks worth of cocaine on an airplane from Miami to Las Vegas.
January 31, 1986 – Gambler and real estate agent Bobby Ellis is found shot to death in his living room. He was last seen leaving The Palace Station casino two days earlier.
February 20, 1986 – Mob associate and high-roller William (Willie the Watch) Rooney vanishes on a trip to New York City after he took out $40,000 from his gambling account at The Stardust.
June 10, 1986 – Mob associate Emil (Little Mal) Vaci is kidnapped from the parking lot of the Ernesto’s Backstreet bistro he worked at in Phoenix, Arizona, shot to death and dumped in a ditch on the East Side of the city. Vaci was a member of Spilotro’s Arizona crew at the time of his slaying and had once been a part of The Ant’s Las Vegas crew, working as a pit boss at The Stardust and helping Jay Vandermark operate the Skim.
June 14, 1986 – Mob crew boss Tony (The Ant) Spilotro, the Chicago Outfit’s man in Las Vegas, and his little brother Mickey Spilotro are stomped and strangled to death inside a Chicago basement for insubordination. Their bodies are discovered a week later in a Northwest Indiana cornfield. The movie Casino shows the gruesome double murder taking place in a cornfield, not in a mobster’s basement. The power hungry Spilotro had been openly discussing killing his way to the top of The Outfit.
September 14, 1986 – Chicago mob enforcer Giovanni (Big John) Fecoratta is slain for botching the Spilotro brothers’ burial, shot in the back of the head in the vestibule of W. Belmont Avenue bingo hall. The crew Fecoratta used to dispose of the Spilotros bodies got spooked and lost in the Indiana cornfields they were getting rid of the bodies in, leaving a half-dug grave which was quickly discovered.
January 6, 1997 – Mob associate Herbert (Fat Herbie) Blitzstein is gunned down in his Las Vegas home in a hostile takeover of his rackets by the L.A. and Buffalo mobs. Blitzstein was Spilotro’s boyhood pal from Chicago and bodyguard in Vegas during his reign of terror. Blitzstein was portrayed in the movie Casino as the composite character “Bernie Blue,” based on him and Frank (Frankie Blue) Bluestein.