Win Lose Die

Belleville racketeer Thomas Venezia goes out with a bang

Still, the May-December relationship was an odd one: Anderson was five years old in 1988, the year Thomas Venezia purchased his first strip club. A few weeks earlier, the Andersons had pleaded with their daughter to come home. Now Cynthia Anderson's heart raced as she parked beside the Golden Eagle tavern. Making her way through the throng, she noticed the telltale yellow tape and saw Stacey nervously clutching a small blue towel.

"I looked at one of the police officers standing on the porch and I said, 'My daughter lives here. Where's my daughter?' He held up his hand and said, 'Wait a minute,'" Anderson recounts. Again she asked. Again the officer told her to wait. "The third time I said it, he motioned with his hand to [Belleville Police Chief Terrence] Delaney to come over and talk to me. [Delaney] said, 'I don't think you want to see your daughter.'"

Eventually Delaney relented and escorted her into the house, where St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone and several police officers and detectives were gathered. Anderson saw a white body bag atop a gurney. As she approached, a staffer in the coroner's office partially unzipped the bag and gently brushed the hair from her daughter's face.

"Her hair was oily. She was blue," Cynthia Anderson recounts. "I reached in the bag and pulled it open wider, so I could see. She had jeans on, black flip flops, and a black tank top with a dragonfly on it. I basically identified her from earrings and her hair and her shoes," Anderson continues. "The rest of her wasn't my daughter."

As the gurney was wheeled from the house, Anderson found her other daughter, Stacey. "My first instinct was to go to her. I didn't walk out with Jennifer," Anderson recalls, still clearly troubled by her choice. "I didn't know what to do. There were reporters and camera people everywhere. I just wanted to protect her. I put my body over hers. I basically covered her with my body. I didn't know what else to do."

Three months after the killings, the Andersons keep their daughter's cremated remains in an urn in an improvised dining-room shrine. Rather than scatter the ashes, they intend to have their daughter's remains buried with their own. "She's going to stay with us," Cynthia Anderson says.

Evenings are now spent poring over property, court and criminal records, hoping to find some clue to the mystery of their daughter's death. "I have a growing anger. There are so many questions around this that we can't really put her death into perspective for ourselves," explains Michael Anderson. "After all of this is over, and we do find the answers, then we get to go somewhere, and, possibly, grieve."

As the Andersons continue their search for answers, Sandra Nations Venezia has remarried and moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, where she has gone into business as a realtor. After serving two and a half years in prison, Erin "Bobby" Griffin married her high school sweetheart and earned a master's degree in animal science. She now teaches at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, her hometown.

Of the more than $13 million the federal government fined Thomas Venezia, authorities have managed to collect roughly $1 million, prompting widespread rumors that Venezia was able to squirrel away a fortune estimated at $48 million.

Amiel Cueto, who was disbarred in late 2004, arranged to sell a 32-acre tract of East St. Louis riverfront land he'd once owned in partnership with Thomas Venezia via their company En Futuro. Price: roughly $8 million. The deal was announced the day before police discovered the bodies of Venezia and Anderson. The transaction has yet to be finalized. (Though Venezia testified that he was in on the deal, Cueto contends that Venezia "never owned" a share of the land.) On November 21 Cueto filed a lawsuit against Richard Bechtoldt, a businessman who in the early 1990s entered into several land deals with Cueto and Venezia. Cueto's suit alleges that his former business partner never repaid the $260,000 Cueto lent him in connection with a Mexican gambling enterprise.

To this day, Cueto maintains his innocence of all the charges for which he was convicted.

"[Venezia] did what he had to do," Cueto says of Venezia's testimony. "All the way through, Tom Venezia perjured himself."

"[U.S. Representative Jerry] Costello was the object of the exercise from the beginning," fumes Cueto, who was released from prison in 2003. "[Venezia] himself is a tragedy. The idea that all of this, this holocaust and this catastrophe came about over basically him just running his mouth when there was no crime, no one was harmed.... The only crimes that were committed, as far as I'm concerned, were misdemeanors committed by him."

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