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Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Milwaukee mob hit on Anthony J. Biernat

Milwaukee mob screws up a hit: still manages to get away with it

For many years I have read bits and pieces about the 1963 murder of Anthony Biernat, a Kenosha business man who owned a jukebox vending company. The FBI and Police always believed that the hit men included Frank Balistrieri mob captain Steve DiSalvo and associate Frank Stelloh (Stelloh was a lifelong criminal, but not Italian and could never be a “made” man in the Italian mafia), but never had enough evidence to charge or convict them. After doing further research thanks to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Archives, I’ve learned more of the real(?) story. I always assumed that the hit was ordered by Milwaukee mob boss Balistrieri because of Biernat’s refusal to share the business. According to one or more unidentified informants, it was actually the Chicago “Outfit” mobsters who were shunned by Biernat and ordered Frank Balistrieri to handle the hit. A lot of the businesses that Biernat provided jukeboxes for were in northern Illinois and the Chicago mob could well have asserted control if they wanted. Although Frank Balistrieri was the Milwaukee godfather, he dared not pick a fight with the Chicago Outfit.
Whether or not the Chicago Outfit ordered the hit, it was carried out under the direction of Frank Balistrieri’s thugs who screwed up so badly, they should have gotten nailed for it.

Jan 31, 1963  According to information obtained by the James G. Wieghart of the Sentinel, the murder of Anthony J. Biernat was carried out for the Chicago crime syndicate by three hired killers who probably did not even know him.
The details of the brutal murder and gruesome burial of Biernat were learned from confidential sources who picked up the information from Milwaukee underworld figures.
the jukebox mafia

Biernat, 46, owner of Lakeside Music Co., was beaten and forced into a waiting car at Kenosha’s North Shore line depot parking lot about 10 p.m., Jan 7, 1963.
His trussed up body was found Monday, the 28th, in a lime sprinkled grave in the basement of an unoccupied farm house on the abandoned Bong Air Force base site. Biernat died from three or four vicious blows to the back of the head, authorities said.

Information from underworld leaks began flowing to authorities last week after the announcement that the FBI officially entered the case.

One underworld tip given to a law enforcement official and relayed to the FBI helped locate Biernat’s body. “If you want to find Biernat’s body, look in the basement of an empty house in an abandoned area in Kenosha county,” the underworld tipster said. “They put him in a lime pit”. When the official asked the tipster to be more specific about the location of the house, the tipster replied: “Well, you can be sure of one thing, it (the body) ain’t going to fly away.”
It wasn’t until later that the authorities caught the significance of the last remark, obviously referring the defunct Bong base.

Events Reconstructed
The underworld sources reconstructed this apparent sequence of events in the murder:
On orders from the Chicago crime syndicate, Milwaukee hoodlums last November visited Biernat and told him they wanted a partnership in his business. Biernat refused, although he was warned he had no choice in the matter.

The Chicago syndicate wanted particularly to gain control of Biernat’s contract with the Great Lakes naval training station, Great Lakes, Illinois. They also wanted to gain a toehold in the jukebox business in Kenosha and Racine counties, where most of Biernat’s 85 machines were located. Biernat, although a respected citizen, was not totally unfamiliar with the Chicago mobsters. During the 1930’s, he repaired most of the syndicate’s slot machines in northern Illinois counties. He later worked for a Kenosha jukebox distributor, Stanley Miller, then took over Miller’s business while the latter went into service during World War II.

Because of Biernat’s outright refusal of a partnership, the Chicago syndicate decided to have him killed. The “contract” for his murder was arraigned though the Milwaukee (Frank Balistrieri) underworld. The Milwaukee mob decided that, if Biernat were kidnapped, murdered and his body carefully disposed of, authorities might eventually conclude that he had simply run off and was not a victim of foul play.

“City Killers Hired”
With that in mind, three Milwaukee killers were hired. A burial plot in a secluded area was selected and a grave prepared, possibly as early as December. To help speed decomposition of the body, the hoodlums obtained two bags of lime. They also got two bags of mortar. Their intention was to seal off the fruit cellar with cinder blocks, thus hiding the unfinished room from the rest of the basement.

Since the three killers did not know Biernat, it was necessary to obtain a “finger man” who could identify him. The mob impressed the services of a Racine gambler who had good mob credentials and knew Biernat by sight. On Jan. 7, the well prepared plot went into operation. The three killers waited near the parking lot until they observed Biernat pull in on his almost nightly errand to buy a Chicago newspaper. The killers pulled the kidnap car the lot and awaited Biernat’s return. The finger man fled. When Biernat approached his car, two of the men got out and ordered him to get in their car.

“Plans Upset”
From this point on, the carefully laid plans were upset, as a series of coincidences came into play. The coincidences, it is believed, caused the three killers to botch the job badly. Instead of getting into the car, Biernat screamed and put up a terrific fight. The driver of the kidnap car had to leap out and help subdue him and drag him into the car. One of the killers received a sharp blow from Biernat, which caused the killer to bleed.

The driver of the car then noticed several startled witnesses eye the car with suspicion as it pulled from the lot. The killers were by this time badly frightened, thinking the witnesses must have called the police. They sped to the burial site.

The two killers in the back seat continued their struggle with Biernat and finally subdued him by binding his hands and putting a wire choke noose around his neck. Biernat’s frantic struggle angered the hired assassins, and they apparently, lost control of their temper, particularly the injured one. They pummeled Biernat repeatedly. Biernat finally lapsed into unconsciousness. When they arrived at the secluded farmhouse, they forced the again conscious victim into the basement where they intended to shoot him. Biernat, although bound, renewed his struggle, kicking violently.

Because of the violent struggle, blood from Biernat and one of the killers was spattered around throughout the cellar. The killers hurriedly covered the burial mound with boards and tried to hide the blood trail with ashes and dirt. Plans to seal up the room were abandoned for fear the police, alerted by witnesses at the parking lot, might be on their trail.

The killers jumped into their car and fled, sticking to country roads until they reached a secluded area near a river. Ducking down a trail, they pulled up alongside the river. Here they washed the blood off their hands and discarded their bloody outer garments.

“Kidnap Car Ditched”
They then traveled a short distance farther, ditched the kidnap car and jumped into a getaway car which was waiting for them and sped off. Left behind were a trail of clues, from the parking lot where Biernat’s bloody and torn coat, glasses, car keys and blood spattered newspaper were found, to the bizarre burial place, where the trio neglected to seal off the burial room.

Ironically, the alarm which they were sure had been spread by the parking lot witnesses, was not turned in because  none of the six witnesses called the police. One of the killers, injured and bleeding from Biernat’s earlier blows and frightened half out of his wits for fear the police had picked up their trail, lost control. Giving vent to his fury, he decided to beat Biernat to death instead of shooting him. After several savage blows to the back of the head from the killer’s gun butt, Biernat, dying, slumped to the ground. The killers dumped him into the grave, covered his body with lime, wrapped a canvas over it and filled the grave.

To this day, the 1963 murder of a Kenosha businessman has never been solved. It’s hard to believe with all the witnesses, evidence left afterwards and bungling that took place!

Credit and links:
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


  1. My understanding was that the killers were Steve DiSalvo and Joseph Gurera, probably with the help of William Covelli. Kenosha was an interesting place in the 1960s where Milwaukee and Chicago divided power, so it could have been either side. Biernat was definitely in competition with Waukegan's "Little Pete" Gargano.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Sorry I didn't see it until now. I'll see whet I can dig up on Joseph Gurera & William Covelli. I don't know much about them. Thanks!!!