Sunday, September 26, 2010

An Email

There have been so many people who have sent me emails with their accounts of how they, or someone they knew personally, experienced my family and found them to be the people I knew. The following is a recent letter I just received from a man who has spent over 60 years reading and researching my family. I have his permission to publish this. In his note he used the word ‘omerta’ which is the Mafia code of silence. That is how I was raised, your word is your bond. You never break a promise.

I'm currently waiting for my literary agent to sell my book on Jack McGurn and Louise Rolfe, but I'd like to give you something that I always thought was truly dear, that will be in my book. Feel free to "scoop me." I had an anonymous source extremely close to the Gebardi/DeMory family whom I interviewed at a large party in the north suburbs  in 1979. I attended Highland Park High School in the early 60's and approximately 35% of my classmates were either Italian or Sicilian from Highwood; they are still my close friends. As I formally began researching Vincent Gebardi in 1969 after undergraduate school, one of my high school classmates invited me to this wonderful BBQ and Bocce tournament, and that's where I met and spent several hours talking to my incredible source. I made this person a promise to never reveal his identity, and I never will, because even though I'm Jewish, I have a profound respect for omerta, and I refuse to betray a confidence, even though this person has long passed.

I will call him "Sal" (it wasn't his name). He was in his late seventies, but had one of those incredible, clear memories of everything. Out of respect and good conscience, I asked him nothing concerning criminal enterprise; I was only interested in family matters. He knew your great grandmother Teresa and your aunt Mafalda. He told me that McGurn's mama, Josephine Gebardi (Gibaldi until 1919), used to attend mass with your great grandmother (at her church) once in a while, and that they were good friends. He was also at McGurn's funeral at Rago's in 1936 and he watched as your Aunt Mafalda went to the aid of Angelina DeMory (McGurn's sister) when she passed out. Teresa and Mafalda also went to Mount Carmel that morning to bury McGurn, and your great grandmother stood by Josephine DeMory, holding her up (Sal stood close by). The reporters, who were all parked along Roosevelt Avenue, which is right beside the Gebardi/DeMory plot, were all "admonished" not to take photographs because your great grandmother was there. There wasn't a single picture snapped. It was a February day, about 20 degrees, and the only photograph ever taken was of the hearse with McGurn's casket in front of Rago's. Sal also told me that Josephine DeMory loathed her son's wife, Louise Rolfe (the "blond alibi"), who stood on the opposite side of the grave braced by two detectives, and not with your family.

Here's what I liked best: Sal also told me that before Mafalda became a Maritote, when she was still a teenager, she had a huge crush on Jack McGurn, who was already married to Helen DeMory. It was joked about at a few of your family dinners and Mafalda would uncharacteristically "blush." Your grandfather, Uncle Al, and Uncle Mimi kidded her about it. When your uncle Frank was killed, McGurn came to dinner at the Prairie Avenue house more often, almost as if he was "filling in" as an adopted Capone son (you know how few people from the outfit were invited to dinner with your family in that house). Sal trusted me with a few other tidbits (none of them regarding the Capones) that I have left out of the book to protect living members of McGurn's family, much the same way I would protect your family if I knew something sensitive that could be embarrassing and has no importance to history.

I've been at this for most of my life, Deirdre. I would probably sell my soul to be invisible and attend one of those dinners, to see your family interact. I must be getting old, because just the thought makes me tear up. The more you know, it is nearly impossible not to fall in love with your people. Everybody in Wisconsin loved your grandfather Ralph. My uncle used to sell Albert Francis golf clothes in Miami in the late '40's, early 50's. He would close his store on Lincoln Road so nobody would bother Sonny while he shopped (early on he was accompanied by a bodyguard). Sonny didn't have lots of money, and my Uncle Austin, who was a huge admirer of your uncle Al, used to give him nice discounts. When Mae put Palm Island up for sale, Sonny gave my Uncle Austin a snooker ball from Al's table. It was passed on to me, and I gave it to another gangsterologist as a gift for helping me over the years with my book. I should have kept it.

I wanted you to know this about Mafalda, because of all the Capones, I've always felt the most affection for her. She was a tough cookie, but McGurn warmed her little heart!

I cannot wait for your book. My "Sal" was the real deal, Deirdre. Everything I've told you here is true, small things that mean more to me than most of the work I've done because it is love of and from family that redeems anyone's faults.

Good luck, Deirdre. I truly hope it's a blockbuster. I'm so sorry you lost your dad so early. Not only would he have made your life better, he could have helped all of us as well.

Warmest regards,
Jeff Gusfield
P.S. Please don't be upset with me for disagreeing with Jonathon Eig; I've quietly been at this longer than he's been alive.

I passed on another tid-bit of information to Jeff about my Aunt Maffie. She was madly in love with Rocco Fischetti also which should put to rest what many ‘gansterologists’ have claimed, that the Capones and Frishettis were related. They were not.

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