Win Lose Die

Belleville racketeer Thomas Venezia goes out with a bang

When Belleville detective Matt Eiskant testified about the note at a coroner's inquest, he stated that witnesses had told police that Jennifer Anderson had been talking about going on tour with a band. According to Eiskant, "The note pretty much said: You say I don't care about you and what I am saying is a lie, then read this. You don't see what I do when you are asleep. I lay there trying to hold you in my arms as you sleep. I watch over you when you are not feeling good, and when you 'F' up. I [help] you keep track of things that you need to do. I try to keep you from harming yourself when you feel like no one cares. I do care about you. I see something in you. You're a very big part of my life. Don't do this to yourself. You say you don't want to take me down with you, but you are. You are taking me down because I care."

But Anderson's parents are troubled by recollections offered by one of Jennifer's friends. The friend, Emmy Hamby, says that shortly before her death Jennifer had confided that she believed she was going to be murdered.

"She called me about ten o'clock at night after she'd gotten out of [a] meeting. She was very upset. She said there were these three partners who wanted her to put her name on the liquor license because she was 21 and had a clear record," Hamby recounts. "There was a house that went with it or something. She really didn't want to do business with these people. She said, 'I don't want to do it.' And I said, 'Oh, well, baby girl, you've got to go with your feelings. If you don't want to do it, then don't do it.' And she said, 'No, you don't understand. They'll kill me if I don't.'"

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.

Hamby says she contacted Detective Eiskant after she learned of Jennifer Anderson's death and that she later provided Belleville police with a statement about the phone call from Anderson.

After determining that the Anderson-Venezia deaths were a murder-suicide, Belleville police closed the case.

"Why was a known monster able to work in this city? The chief of police was the federal agent that arrested this man," says Michael Anderson, alluding to Belleville Police Chief Terrence Delaney's prior career as a U.S. Marshal. "He knew this man's history. He knew [Venezia] was running a bar; he might not have been touching the alcohol, he might not have been serving it, but he was close enough to fucking smell it and nobody checked this man out. [Delaney] didn't go over there and give him any kind of resistance whatsoever. None. Why? Why not?

"How did Venezia get the gun?" Anderson continues. "The minute they tell me who did own [the gun], I want to know what detectives are working to build a bridge from that owner to the hand of Venezia. Why isn't that being done?"

The Andersons say Belleville police learned that the .38 caliber revolver found at the crime scene was registered to Robert Staack, Venezia's longtime associate and the man who discovered the bodies. A federal official familiar with the investigation confirms the gun's provenance. Additionally, the federal official and others familiar with the investigation say Staack is scheduled to appear before a federal grand jury.

The nature of the grand jury's investigation has not been made public. Citing U.S. Department of Justice policy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Massey says he cannot confirm or deny that an investigation is under way.

Belleville police chief Terrence Delaney declined numerous requests seeking comment for this story.

Though he labored to insulate his empire from the probing eyes of law enforcement, by 1991 the flashy cars, designer suits and flamboyant lifestyle of the five-foot-seven Venezia had caught the attention of state authorities. Initially the Illinois State Police assigned twelve officers to investigate the bar-top gambling ring. They made some arrests, seized money and machines, but the cases withered in the courts.

"[We] would [make a] criminal arrest for keeping a place of gambling. [But when] we would try to find dispositions on what the status of the case was, [we] couldn't get the information.... [It] was like Lost in Space," Illinois state trooper Victor Morris told jurors during Venezia's racketeering trial. "[Then we'd see a] B&H Vending truck pull up with a court order to get the machines and money back.... That is the only way we found out that there was maybe something moving on the cases."

The state police enlisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and in April 1992 federal and state agents raided one of Venezia's most lucrative stops: the VFW post at Scott Air Force Base. As was his policy, Venezia promptly replaced the confiscated gambling machines. Still, he was troubled. Who was turning up the heat?

His suspicion soon centered on Bonds Robinson, an agent with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.

"He wanted to meet with Bonds because he was puzzled," Sylvester Jackson would tell jurors during Venezia's trial. "He wanted to see what he and Bonds could come up with. He was looking for a friend."

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