Win Lose Die

Belleville racketeer Thomas Venezia goes out with a bang

In another run-in, police officer Jimmy Farley gave chase after seeing Griffin run a red light. Trailing her Lexus into Main Street's parking garage, Farley tried to talk to her.

"I stopped under the door, and...asked her to come back to my car," the officer would later tell jurors. "[S]he said that she was a detective with Washington Park [and that] she didn't have time to talk to me."

Griffin showed Farley the badge Jackson had issued her and started to walk away. But Farley persisted.

Right: The Andersons created a shrine to their daughter's memory. "She's going to stay with us," says Jennifer's mother, Cynthia Anderson.
Jennifer Silverberg
Right: The Andersons created a shrine to their daughter's memory. "She's going to stay with us," says Jennifer's mother, Cynthia Anderson.

"I said, 'Show me your driver's license and I will be on my way,'" Farley continued. "She said she didn't have time to talk to me. She went over to the garage door, to the button, and closed the door down on the hood of my car, then back up again. She pushed it again, [and it] came down on the hood of my car.... I am just sitting there looking at her waiting for her to show me the driver's license.... I pulled away and left. It [was] common practice that you don't bother B&H employees."

When Belleville police discovered the bodies of Thomas Venezia and Jennifer Anderson on July 19 of this year, the pair had been living in a ramshackle house at 311 Mascoutah Avenue. Police found the 61-year-old Venezia in a bedroom recliner, dead from a single gunshot to the temple. Twenty-one-year-old Jennifer Anderson died on the kitchen floor, felled by a shot to the back of the head. After a brief investigation, police ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.

Like Erin Griffin, Jennifer Anderson was young and pretty. But in 2005 Thomas Venezia had nowhere near the clout he'd wielded circa 1993. Though he maintained his signature mustache and was still a sharp dresser, he also had throat cancer, a paltry $387 per month salary and serious debt. Before moving into the house on Mascoutah, he and his daughter had been evicted from a rented home in Millstadt, having racked up more than $6,000 in back rent.

According to an April 2004 account published in the Belleville News-Democrat, the Land Rover Venezia had been driving was registered in the name of his friend Robert Staack. The same article reported that Venezia was "consulting" with Staack, who had a management contract for the Golden Eagle Saloon, one door down from the house at 311 Mascoutah. The former head of security at Venezia's strip clubs, Staack was reportedly living at Venezia's old horse farm and had an option to buy the Golden Eagle from its owner, Belleville attorney Charles Stegmeyer.

St. Clair County property records indicate that ownership of the tavern — where Venezia and Anderson both worked until the business was shut down in early 2005 for serving minors — was more complex. The documents show that in 1999 Stegmeyer entered into a twenty-year, $90,000 contract for deed with the property's owner, Belleville businessman Charles Minton. Then, in February of this year, Minton and Stegmeyer agreed to turn over the property to the Eagle Land Trust (for which Robert Staack is a trustee) for $65,000.

Stegmeyer says that transaction was never consummated. "The [Golden Eagle] had closed at the end of January," he explains. "At that point in time the building was vacant, and I wanted to sell the building or put another tenant in there. I thought we had a buyer in the Eagle Land Trust and that would be the end of it. But we didn't have a buyer, we had a buyer with no money to do anything. So the deal fell through."

Three days after the deaths of Venezia and Anderson, Minton filed a quit-claim deed, turning over the Golden Eagle to Stegmeyer. And in October Stegmeyer filed papers indicating he'd sold the bar for $75,000 to a woman named Elizabeth Gold, who'd applied for a business license to operate Deuces Restaurant Services Inc. on the property a week after Venezia and Anderson died.

Meanwhile Minton, who also owned the house on Mascoutah where Venezia and Anderson were living, was in foreclosure proceedings on all four properties he owned in St. Clair County. In fact, the court handed down a foreclosure judgment against him for the Mascoutah house on July 21, 2005. Additionally, Belleville municipal records reveal that the house hadn't had a valid occupancy permit since 1999.

Charles Minton and Robert Staack declined to comment for this story.

"I've got a lot of questions," says Michael Anderson, Jennifer's father. "The [police] investigation was very lax: The building wasn't secured. There was never any crime-scene tape put up. Why was there no crime-scene tape put on all the windows? I still don't have an answer. The best I've got is: 'I don't know.'"

Anderson says police gave him and his wife two cell phones found at the scene. The phones — one of whose call history had been erased — appear to have belonged to Thomas Venezia. Additionally, the Andersons claim that Jennifer's diaries, clothes and other personal effects were never recovered from the scene.

At the outset of the investigation into the deaths, Belleville police announced they'd recovered what appeared to be a suicide note left by Venezia. But their subsequent handwriting analysis revealed that Jennifer Anderson wrote the note, not Venezia.

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