Petro, Julius (1922-1969)

Born Cleveland, OH, June 13, 1922.

Killed Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 10, 1969

Julius Anthony Petro was born June 13, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, to John and Lydia Petro, Italian immigrants. One of three children, he grew up in a residential area several blocks from the rail yards in the South Collinwood neighborhood on Cleveland's east side.

As a young man, Petro became involved in a gang of robbers and safecrackers in northwest Ohio. As a result of his illegal activities, he came close to death at least twice.

He survived an Ohio execution sentence handed down following his October 1946 conviction for murder. He was believed responsible for killing Theodore "Bobby" Knaus, his accomplice, following the robbery of $4,000 from Green's Cafe in Cleveland. While on death row, Petro won a retrial on appeal. He was acquitted of the murder on June 16, 1948.

Just three months later, Petro was identified as one of five gunmen who robbed the Green Acres casino in Struthers, just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. Two hundred and fifty patrons were inside the casino at the time of the 4 a.m. robbery on Sept. 17, 1948. An estimated $30,000 of cash and jewels was taken from the casino and its gamblers. According to rumors, a three-and-a-half-carat diamond ring belonging to Joseph DiCarlo was part of the loot. DiCarlo and regional gambling racketeer Frank Budak were believed to be the operators of the Green Acres.

During the robbery, shots were exchanged between the intruders and casino guards, and, on Sept. 18, Petro was brought into Cleveland's Emergency Clinic Hospital with gunshot wounds to his right chest and arm. Petro recovered from his wounds and went back to his old ways.

At 9:40 in the morning of Aug. 14, 1952, Petro and accomplice Joseph J. Sanzo stopped a car driven by Charles J. Foley, branch manager of Union Savings and Trust Company in Warren OH. The two men, wearing burlap hoods, approached the car. One broke the passenger window of the car with a sawed-off shotgun, while the other stood at the driver's side window with a revolver. Foley turned over a money bag containing $71,000.

Petro and Sanzo were identified fleeing from the scene. They had also been seen in the vicinity at the time of the robbery and previous to it. When arrested, each had in his possession money taken from Foley.
Petro was convicted of armed bank robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served about 13 years of that term, and was released in May of 1966.

Upon his release, he joined a number of Cleveland racketeers who had relocated to southern California. There he reportedly became an enforcer for a gambling operation. By the end of 1968, Petro was seen as a threat to John G. "Sparky" Monica, who ran the gambling rackets. Monica approached another former Cleveland-affiliated gangster, Raymond W. Ferrito of Erie, Pennsylvania, to deal with the threat.

On Jan. 10, 1969, Petro borrowed a 1966 Cadillac convertible from friend Roberta Miller in order to make a drive to Los Angeles International Airport.

Two days later, police were alerted to a man slumped over the steering wheel of a car in the airport parking lot. They found the man dead with a small caliber gunshot wound at the base of his skull. No identifying papers were found with the body. Through fingerprints, police identified the murder victim as Petro.

A federal grand jury was convened in Los Angeles in 1969 to look into the activities of the regional underworld, in particular the murder of Petro. Nick Licata, 72, believed to be the Mafia boss of southern California, was brought in for questioning early in July. Though granted immunity from prosecution, Licata refused to answer questions and was jailed for contempt of court.

Nine years later, Ferrito turned informant and admitted to being the gunman in the Petro murder. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder. He told authorities that John Monica paid him $5,000 to kill Petro. Monica denied ordering the murder. Ferrito also claimed responsibility for the October 1977 bombing murder of racketeer Daniel Greene in Cleveland.

  •  California Death Index.
  •  Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafiosi, 1981.
  •  Dye, Lee, “Parolee’s murder mystifies police,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1969, p. 1
  •  Farr, Bill, “’Hit man’ admits murder at airport,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1978, p. 5
  •  Hazlett, Bill, “1969 gangland slaying case headed for trial,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 8, 1982, p. C6.
  •  Hertel, Howard, and Gene Blake, "Reputed Mafia chief defies court, jailed," Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1969, p. 1.
  •  Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, 2013.
  •  "In the matter of proceedings to compel Robert J. McAuley as a witness in a criminal proceeding in California," Court of Appeals of Ohio, decided Aprl 12, 1979.
  •  "Informers said to give key testimony on crime figures," New York Times, Feb. 8, 1978, p. 16.
  •  Petro v. United States, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Feb. 12, 1954. (Also Joseph J. Sanzo v. U.S.)
  •  “Petro, freed in killing, is found shot,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 18, 1948.
  •  Porrello, Rick, Superthief, 2006.
  •  Porrello, Rick, To Kill the Irishman, 1998.
  •  U.S. Census of 1930
  •  U.S. Census of 1940

Zwillman, Abner "Longie" (1904/5-1959)

Born Newark, NJ, July 27, 1904/5.
Died (apparent suicide) West Orange, NJ, Feb. 26, 1959.

Abner Zwillman was born July 27, 1905 (some records indicate 1904) in Newark, New Jersey. He was one of seven children born to Reuben and Anna Slavinsky Zwillman, Russian immigrants. Zwillman was raised in one of Newark's poorer neighborhoods. He reportedly dropped out of grammar school in the eighth grade. Zwillman's departure from school roughly coincided with the disappearance of his father from available records.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as Zwillman advanced in rank within the Newark underworld, he had his first brushes with the law. He was arrested by the Newark Police Department on March 8, 1927, for assault and battery. The charge was later dismissed. In November 1928, an additional charge of assault and battery was filed against him, this time by the Essex County Sheriff's Office. Zwillman remained free until December 1930. He was convicted on the charge on Dec. 11, 1930, and was sentenced to six months in Essex County Penitentiary and a $1,000 fine.

Outwardly a fruit and vegetable dealer, Zwillman actually controlled much of the illicit alcohol flowing into the State of New Jersey during Prohibition. Around 1926, he had begun a close association with New York racketers Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, Morris Samuel "Dimples" Wolinsky and Benjamin "Cuddy" Kutlow, and also became acquainted with Mafiosi Willie Moretti, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, "Trigger Mike" Coppola, Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto, Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano, Gerardo Catena and Charles and Rocco Fischetti.

His underworld relationships were not always positive. Press reports discussed a rivalry between Zwillman, de facto political boss of Newark's Third Ward, and Ruggiero "Richie the Boot" Boiardo of the First Ward. At one point, Zwillman's Third Ward Political Club at Waverly and Avon Streets was held up by armed intruders, presumably Boiardo men. There followed a peace conference between the Newark factions, brokered by Mafia leaders.

With the end of Prohibition, Zwillman moved to 120 Hansbury Avenue and later to South Munn Avenue in East Orange from 1936 to 1946. On July 7, 1939, he married Newark native Mary Mendels Steinbach, previously divorced mother of a five-year-old son. The wedding was attended by 300 people, and the press indicated that most of the attendees were racketeers from eastern U.S. criminal syndicates. After returning from a honeymoon lasting 40 days, Zwillman found himself in a federal courtroom. Called as a witness before a Southern District of New York grand jury looking into the disappearance of Lepke Buchalter, Zwillman was asked about his business and business associates. He refused to answer the questions. Judge Johnson J. Hayes found Zwillman in contempt and sentenced him to six months in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal.

The Zwillman family moved to 50 Beverly Road in West Orange in 1946. Costly improvements made to the household in the following years caught the attention of federal investigators, who determined that the improvements could not have been paid for with the meager income Zwillman and his wife reported on their tax returns.

In the summer of 1950, Zwillman appeared before the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee for questioning in its investigation of organized crime in interstate commerce. At that time, Zwillman was regarded as the boss of the New Jersey underworld. His rackets included gambling operations and coin-operated vending and jukebox machines (a racket allegedly shared with Charlie Luciano). His legitimate business interests included Public Service "PS" Tobacco cigarette vending company (shared with Luciano's close friend Michael Lascari), Federal Automatic washing machine company, E&S Trading scrap iron company, A&S Trading machinery company and Greater Newark GMC Truck Sales Co.He was said to have considerable influence in politics and labor unions.

A first effort to prosecute Zwillman for tax evasion failed in summer 1953, when a federal grand jury would not indict. In the spring of 1954, Zwillman was indicted by a federal grand jury in Newark on two counts of income tax evasion. The charges related to tax returns filed by Zwillman and his wife in 1947 and 1948. Trial began before Judge Reynier J. Wortendyke Jr. in January 1956 and concluded with a hung jury on March 1.

In January 1959, an FBI microphone installed at Newark's Supreme Beverage Company overheard Zwillman men conversing about steps that were taken to ensure that Zwillman would not be convicted in the 1956 trial. Federal prosecutors early in February filed charges against Peter Dominick LaPlaca, Samuel "Big Sue" Katz and Edward A. Goodspeed for offering and paying bribes to two jurors in the 1956 Zwillman tax trial.

On Feb. 26, 1959, Zwillman was found dead in his West Orange home. That morning, his wife discovered his lifeless body suspended from its neck by an electrical cord tied to a basement rafter. She told police she recalled her husband getting up in the middle of the night complaining of chest pains. Zwillman had reportedly battled deep depression since Senate investigators recently began examining his role in the jukebox industry.

(See an expanded Zwillman article on the American Mafia website: The Capone of New Jersey - Abner 'Longie' Zwillman.)


  •   Abner Zwillman FBI files.
  •  Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee) hearings, Volume 12.
  •  New York Times archives.
  •  Washington Post archives.
  •  1910 and 1940 U.S. Census.
  •  1927 Newark City Directory.