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Final Confession: The Unsolved Crimes of Phil Cresta

Final Confession: The Unsolved Crimes of Phil Cresta

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Final Confession: The Unsolved Crimes of Phil Cresta

valoraciones:
3/5 (4 valoraciones)
Longitud:
291 página
5 horas
Publicado:
Feb 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781611683790
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Phil Cresta was no run-of-the-mill thief. Mastermind of the legendary Brink's armored truck robbery and a string of countless other high-stakes heists, he stole more than ten million dollars in escapades that often were breathtakingly daring and at times marvelously inventive. The robberies baffled both police and fellow outlaws for decades, and most of the crimes remain unsolved today. Now the open case files of these memorable thefts can be closed as Cresta himself provides the true story on how they were planned and carried out. Born in Boston's North End in 1928, Cresta was raised in an abusive household. He was sent to Concord Reformatory as a teenager, where he learned the craft of picking locks, a skill later honed during stays at the Charlestown and Walpole prisons in Massachusetts. Following the Brinks robbery in 1968, he was put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List, but eluded the law for five years, living in Chicago under an assumed name. After serving time at Walpole for the Brinks job, Cresta died penniless in Chicago in 1995. Yet shortly before his death, he revealed the full extent of his astonishing capers to coauthor Bill Crowley, a retired Boston police detective. Drawing from their extensive conversations, this riveting page-turner chronicles how Cresta, along with partners "Angelo" and "Tony," pulled off robberies of jewelers, rare coin dealers, furriers, and armored trucks, detailing the meticulous planning that marked his criminal career. Cresta's final accounting is brimming with vivid tales of betrayal, murder, and intrigue as well as a colorful cast of characters, including mob bosses, wise guys, informants, paid "ears," corrupt judges, a Hollywood starlet, and even the Mayor of Chicago. Filled with drama, tension, and humor, this absorbing saga takes the reader inside the dangerous yet exhilarating world of a life dedicated to crime.
Publicado:
Feb 12, 2013
ISBN:
9781611683790
Formato:
Libro

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Final Confession - Brian P. Wallace

LEHANE

PROLOGUE

Open Cases Now Closed

IFIRST MET BILLY CROWLEY on March 17, 1999, on South Boston’s high holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. Billy is a retired Boston police detective who worked the city’s streets for eight years. While undercover one day in East Boston, Billy attempted to break up a fight and was punched in the head. He began to suffer severe headaches, and a series of tests determined that he had a brain injury from that blow to his head. Reluctantly, Billy Crowley retired.

We met that March morning in the Cranberry Cafe on East Broadway in Southie. As I walked in the door I knew immediately which of the dozens of patrons was Billy. City kids like me learn how to spot a cop.

We talked for a few minutes, and I asked why he wanted to meet me. Crowley said he always read my syndicated column, Brian’s Beat, and he was a fan of mine. He told me that he had the rights to a fascinating story and he wanted to collaborate with me on a book. I asked him what the story was about.

He handed me a large manila envelope. Have you ever heard the name Phil Cresta? he asked. I told him I had not. He laughed and said that few people had—and for good reason. Phil Cresta, Billy Crowley said, was a genius who outwitted the feds and the local police for most of his life while stealing over ten million dollars.

If Billy’s purpose was to get my attention, he had succeeded. At that point he reached across the table and slid a thick pile of photocopies from the envelope, which I hadn’t yet opened. I brought these for you, to prove my stories are real. He fanned out the papers so that I could see what they were: copies of stories from the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, with banner headlines that caught my interest. I sipped my coffee and took a few minutes to scan through such headlines as:

$119,000 DISAPPEARS AS GUARDS SIP COFFEE

RARE COINS IN $200,000 THEFT SAID TO WEIGH

HALF A TON

$25 MILLION X-WAY HAUL A DUD

HIGHWAYMEN GET $150,000 GEMS

LONER STEALS ARMORED CAR—GUARDS INSIDE

BROOKLINE STORE

WEST ROXBURY DAYLIGHT STICKUP

ANOTHER ARMORED CAR HOLDUP—2 GUARDS SHOT

MACHINE GUN BANDITS GET $68,000

FBI SEEKS HOODED TRIO IN LATEST

ARMORED CAR HOLDUP

SLEW OF ARMORED CAR HOLDUPS MAY BRING

ABOUT NEW LAWS

ARMORED TRUCK HIJACKED ON CANAL

STREET—OYSTER HOUSE DINERS UNAWARE

My interest piqued, I ordered another cup of coffee and read a few of the stories themselves. They were about well-planned jobs, but no perpetrators were named.

What do these stories have to do with this Cresta guy? I asked Crowley, already getting the feeling I knew the answer.

Phil pulled all those jobs, he said with a straight face.

How come I never heard of this guy?

Billy just smiled and said, I know, that’s the best part!

He pulled some papers from the bottom of the pile. There were fifty or sixty internal memos signed by J. Edgar Hoover and his successor asking their field agents why they couldn’t capture Phil. They were dated between 1969 and 1974. "Even when they knew he’d done a job—like that Brink’s heist—he gave them quite a chase." He showed me one of those top-ten-fugitives lists. Phil Cresta’s name was there.

I was more than a little intrigued by all this. "I know about most if not all of the wise guys in the Boston area—from Whitey Bulger to Jerry Angiulo to Howie Winter. I know about all the bank-robbing townies in Charlestown. I can’t believe I never even heard Phil Cresta’s name before today."

Billy said, Phil was better known in Chicago than he was in Boston—but not as a crook. Then he reminded me that most of the headlines about Cresta’s more noteworthy crimes had occurred between 1961 and 1969, when I was in school. He laughed and said, Besides, some of his best scores never made the papers.

Yeah, but enough of them were printed, I said as I scanned more of the stories. I told Crowley I’d do a little research myself on this Phil Cresta thing, then let him know my decision.

I WENT TO the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and dug up information over the next three days. I put aside other work; Cresta took over my thoughts.

I talked to a few cops who were mentioned in the newspaper stories. They said they knew Phil Cresta. When I told them Cresta had pulled many of the unsolved robberies they had worked on, they were stunned. At the time, Boston had two kinds of police: Boston cops patrolled the city itself, and the MDC (Metropolitan District Commission) cops had jurisdiction both in the city and in the cities around Boston that make up the metropolitan area. (Today the MDC police have been merged with state police.) Pretty soon both kinds of cops, mostly retired, started telephoning me. Did Cresta do this job? That one? I told them all the same thing: buy the book. For I had already decided to go ahead with the project.

Besides using Crowley’s notes, which were detailed enough to include conversations Phil wanted recounted, I interviewed members of Phil Cresta’s family, his friends and his enemies, good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers. I went over FBI documents, over police reports and police FIOs (field interrogation observations), and I scanned newspapers from Boston, Chicago, New York, and Kansas City. But this book would never had been written and the story never told if it wasn’t for the perseverance of Billy Crowley.

Billy is a lifelong friend of Bobby Cresta, one of Phil’s younger brothers. Crowley had briefly met Phil in their Medford neighborhood when Crowley was twelve years old. This was shortly after the Crestas moved from the North End to Medford, after Phil and Bobby’s father died. Phil lived in Medford, near his family, after he was released from Norfolk prison in 1948. But Billy Crowley never had dealings with Phil until after the Cresta team was long out of business. For, as was often true in Boston-Irish families, Billy had had the choice of becoming either a wise guy or a cop. He chose to be a cop, one of Cresta’s enemies.

Years later, in the twilight of Phil Cresta’s life, Billy Crowley, retired from the force, offered to share his South Boston apartment with a then-hard-up Phil. Night after night, the aging wise guy talked about his exploits, recalling conversations from his early days in the North End and documenting what he could. He said he wanted his story told after he died, but he asked that the real names of his two wives and one mistress, his seven children, his two partners, and the one movie star he worked with be kept secret. They had either been bystanders or under pressure to cooperate or had paid their time and deserved to go on with their lives unimpeded by publicity. As Cresta talked of his successes in the 1960s and of the famous 1968 Brink’s robbery, the ex-cop Billy Crowley took copious notes.

Crime, betrayal, murder, and intrigue filled the life of Phil Cresta. The FBI’s Boston chief described him in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover as one of the best burglars and lock pickers on the East Coast. That December 12, 1969, memo says that Subject is known to have participated in many burglaries, as well as armed robberies. But that FBI agent, like most people, had no true idea how active Cresta really was. Cresta masterminded not only the Brink’s robbery of December 1968, but more than five hundred other crimes that remain unsolved on police records. There is nowhere near enough room in this book to tell of them all. But thanks to Billy Crowley and my corroborating research, the story Phil Cresta told about some of these crimes is now being made public.

Phil Cresta started robbing before the crimes related in this book occurred. His robberies of jewelers, furriers, and armored car companies in the Boston area and elsewhere happened during the 1960s, and he was finally tried in 1974. During his career, he injured and killed when he felt he had to; he bought politicians, bribed judges, and got sentences fixed; he toyed with city, state, and federal law enforcement for over thirty years—yet his generosity and compassion were legendary. Here are parts of his story.

1

The Parker House Heist

THE PARKER HOUSE HOTEL opened in the fall of 1855 and since then has housed an array of famous guests, including Charles Dickens, Ulysses S. Grant, and John Wilkes Booth. Booth used the shooting range in the hotel’s basement to hone his skills eight days before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The Parker House’s basement vault also became the site of one of Boston’s most ingenious jewel robberies.

The year was 1965. It was early October and the Red Sox had long since put away their gloves and were sitting home, like everyone else, watching Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Harmon Killebrew and the Minnesota Twins in a seven-game World Series. Early October in Boston is a teasing time of year, tossing out samples of summer and winter from opposite hands while painting the landscape with wonderfully colored foliage.

Phil Cresta’s only interest was in the green of money. While shopping in Filene’s Basement one day, he ran into an old acquaintance, Louie Cohen, a well-known Boston diamond merchant known on the street as Louie Diamonds. He had one foot in the jewelry business and the other in the wise-guy business.

Phil didn’t like Louie Diamonds personally, but he liked the leads he got from him. Louie knew when big-time diamond merchants were in, or coming to, Boston. He knew where they were staying and where they did their business.

That day, Louie told Phil about a huge jewelry convention and exhibit coming to Boston: the Diamond Extravaganza would be at the Parker House in six days. It was going to be a three-day show with some of the richest jewelers in the country participating. Phil didn’t need to be told that this just might be the big break he’d been hoping for.

Knowing he’d need help, Phil called Augie Circella in Chicago. Augie had married Phil’s older sister, Mari, who was a professional dancer, a little over a year before. He had also made enough money working for Frank The Enforcer Nitti in the late 1940s and 1950s to open up the Follies, the most successful burlesque house in Chicago. The Follies was the place where everyone in the Chicago mob hung out, including Tony Accardo and Joe Ferriola, the two top guys in the city. To say the least, Augie Circella was well connected, as everyone in the Windy City knew, and he had often told Phil to call him if he needed help.

Until this time, though, Phil had rarely taken Circella up on his offer. Still, Phil was relieved when Augie sounded pleased to hear from his thirty-seven-year-old brother-in-law again. Phil got down to business.

Augie, there’s a huge diamond show coming to Boston and I need your help. Sounds great, Phil, Augie said, but whadda ya need from me? Diamonds, Phil replied, lots of diamonds. Augie asked, Since when are you in the diamond business? Since I got wind of this Diamond Extravaganza, Phil said. Augie began to laugh and, after hearing more details, told him to come to Chicago in two days. He would set Phil up with some people.

When Phil returned from Chicago he called his two partners in crime, Tony and Angelo (whose real names are not given in this book), and asked them to meet him at McGrail’s, a bar on Boston’s Kilmarnock Street where Phil liked to hang out. After a few beers Angelo asked, Whadda ya gut, Phil? Phil told him all about the Parker House diamond show. Both partners listened intently, then Tony asked, "What do you know about diamonds? They’re worth a lot of money, Phil responded light-heartedly. Well, I guess that’s enough, Tony replied, laughing. You’re too easy, Angelo said, looking at Tony and shaking his head. All right, now both you knuckleheads shut up," Phil said, and he began to outline his plan.

Two elderly registered jewelers who also worked for the Accardo mob in Chicago were bringing their diamonds from Chicago to Boston. They would rent a booth in the show.

What’s that gut to do with us? Angelo inquired. I’m getting to that, Phil answered. And then to the diminutive Tony, who was munching on a hot dog, he said, Tony, are you claustrophobic? Tony hesitated and then blushed. Come on, Phil, you know I’m married. You know I’m not like that. No, no, no. I mean are you afraid of being closed in, like in an elevator or an airplane? Of course not, Tony replied, ignoring Angelo’s laughter. And then, puzzled, Tony asked, What’s that gut to do with the price of tea in China? Angelo laughed again. Where do you get those ridiculous sayings?

Come on, come on. This is important, Phil said, trying to get them to settle down. You asking me if I get scared in an elevator, Phil? Well, kind of, Phil answered. And then he added, What I really need to know is if you can be locked in a small space without going crazy. He’s already crazy, Angelo replied in jest. Tell him to shut up, Phil, Tony said in the tone of a little kid. Phil just shot Angelo one of those keep-your-mouth-shut looks. Then he turned from Angelo to Tony and said, Well? I guess it depends on how small a space and for how long, Tony answered honestly. Fair enough, Phil said. Let’s go across the street and I’ll show you how small a space.

Phil paid the bar tab, and they walked across the street to the Fenway Motor Inn on Boylston Street, where Phil had been living since he’d separated from his wife in 1963. In the middle of the floor stood a large black storage box about three feet high and two feet wide. Since it was standing on end, its lid seemed like a small door. That’s how small an area, Phil told Tony, whose face grew pale. That’s pretty small, Phil, Tony whispered. Get in and try it for size, Phil

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