Taking A Tour Of Kansas City's Old Mob Scene Despite its wholesome image, Kansas City has a decades-long history of mob involvement in city affairs. In a rebroadcast, host Alex Chadwick visits Kansas City to check out the old gang scene.

Taking A Tour Of Kansas City's Old Mob Scene

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Back now with Day to Day and our old friend and former Day to Day host, Alex Chadwick. In September of 2007, he took a trip to Kansas City, and there he discovered an unexpectedly gruesome slice of history. Here's Alex.

ALEX CHADWICK: You want a soundtrack for the mob. How about this?

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Or perhaps you prefer the Corleone family to the Sopranos...

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Or well, how about this?

(Soundbite of song music)

CHADWICK: Yeah, Kansas City as gangland. Maybe it's a cultural hangover from frontier days, but there is a history here of very bad guys, and it's the subject of a bus tour that begins right here, out in front of Union Station.

Mr. TIM PHILLIPS (A.K.A. Johnny Holiday, Tour Guide, Kansas City's Gangster Bus Tour): All right. Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen. How are you doing today? How are you?

Unidentified Man: Great.

Mr. PHILLIPS: It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming on. How are you doing, Toots? This is the way we do things in Kansas City. You're going to hear that expression a lot this afternoon.

CHADWICK: That's Johnny Holiday in a gangster cut '20s era pinstriped suite in fedora. OK, actually it's Tim Phillips, a 36-year-old actor who adopts the wise-guy persona to lead these tours.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Now, when we think of prohibition, and we think of gangsters, and we think of the 1920s, what's one name that usually comes to mind?

Unidentified Man: Al Capone!

Mr. PHILLIPS: Al Capone, that's true. Right up here is the Rieger building, ladies and gentlemen, where Al Capone used to stay, among other places, when he came here to Kansas City.

(Soundbite of saxophone)

CHADWICK: Oh, and there's the Bellerive Building, where Mr. Capone used to throw those gangster parties with entertainers like Frank Sinatra and Liberace.

(Soundbite of piano)

CHADWICK: And there's The Hotel President. It used to have a popular speakeasy, with an underground entrance to tunnels used to smuggle in the bootleg booze.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And 12th Street, where a gambler named Slicey Sauly Weissman coined a colorful gangland term.

Unidentified Man: We're taking this guy for a ride. He's the guy who came up with that concept.

CHADWICK: Yeah, If you're a mob nut, Kansas City is a very happy place to be, and there are mob nuts.

Mr. TERENCE O'MALLEY (Local Attorney): It dawned on me that there had never been in any really good treatment of the history of organized crime in Kansas City, so that's what I'm trying to do.

CHADWICK: Terence O'Malley, a local attorney, a reformed journalist, an amateur mob historian at work on a Kansas City's gangland documentary. This is the town coming through the Depression, he says.

Mr. O'MALLEY: Kansas City's mafia was so closely connected with politics during its formative years.

CHADWICK: The big boss was Tom Pendergast, once a city councilman for Kansas City, Missouri, he left office, but he held onto power. He understood getting people together to recognize and work on common interests, mob guys from Sicily, say, with the Democratic Party, sure. Maybe he wasn't personally running for office, but Tom Pendergast won a lot of elections, and gangland politics, Terence O'Malley says, was thriving.

Mr. O'MALLEY: He purposely made sure that the police were underpaid so that they would take bribes, so that they would leave the bars, the saloons, the speakeasies alone.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Through prohibition, it was very easy to buy a drink in Kansas City or buy company for an evening out on the town, which could be a very good time.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. O'MALLEY: It's the music, baby.

CHADWICK: Mob nut Terence O'Malley.

Mr. O'MALLEY: God! This was just a party in town because of the great tunes that were coming out of this town. And so, that's just another thing that made it a raucous, wild, fun place to be. It was known as a wide-open town.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: When liquor was legal again, the old speakeasies turned into bars and nightclubs, but the mob guys hung around. By the '70s, a seedy-looking neighborhood, called River Quay, was a violent place in Kansas City. Charles Gray was a reporter on the crime beat.

Mr. CHARLES GRAY (Reporter): Nick Spero was killed and left in a car trunk. David Bonnadonna was killed. John Broccato was found in car trunk. He'd been frozen, tortured, and strangled. And Johnny Amaro, known on the streets as Johnny Green. A little later, Sonny Bowen(Ph), group of guys shot and killed him at the table, shot Carl Spero in the back, severed his spinal cord. He was paralyzed for life, but life wasn't very long for him because they got him with a bomb later in his wheelchair. They have some quaint ways of dealing with each other.

CHADWICK: OK. But the Kansas City mobsters who did survive, they were doing great. They ran a skimming operation in Las Vegas casinos. Martin Scorsese later based his Vegas mob film on it.

(Soundbite of movie "Casino")

Mr. Joe Pesci: (As Nicky Santoro) They had so much money in there, you could build a house out of stacks of $100 bills. Now, that suitcase was going straight to one place, right to Kansas City.

CHADWICK: And in the end, that pretty much was the end, because the FBI eventually broke the skimming operation and rolled up most of the Kansas City mob. They went to jail. The city got respectable. Music is still here, says Terence O'Malley, but the monsters are gone. He almost sounds regretful when he says that. But then, I ask a former FBI man. Are they really, really gone? And he mutters something under his breath and turns away to study the neighbor's yard.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: Kansas City Gangland, produced by Sarah Spivack.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: That of course, the great Alex Chadwick reporting from September 2007, dabbling in mob nuttiness.

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