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 R
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.