War Stories

John Auble rustles up a collection of St. Louis' baddest

Feb 13, 2002 at 4:00 am
As America endures yet another ridiculously long wait for a new season of The Sopranos, St. Louisans can get their organized-crime fix by reading about the real-life bad guys who once operated syndicates in our back yard and took care of business the old-fashioned way.

Dour-faced KTVI (Channel 2) veteran newsman John Auble is the author of A History of St. Louis Gangsters, a compendium of stories from the last 100 years of organized crime in the Lou. The book has been available for about two years, but its continued popularity finds Auble still doing booksignings, including an event this weekend at St. Charles Community College.

The fun-to-read book is loaded with pictures, news clippings and stories about such notable wiseguys as Prohibition-era Southern Illinois thug Charlie Birger, who in 1928 became the last man executed by public hanging in Illinois; John Vitale and Frank "Blinky" Palermo, who got mixed up in scandal with homegrown boxer Sonny Liston; lawyer Morris Shenker, who kept hoods out of jail until his 1989 death; and latter-day king of the Hill Mike Trupiano.

"I was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio," Auble explains, "which was a hotbed of criminal activity. Pretty Boy Floyd came through there. My dad was a writer for the Youngstown Vindicator, and a lot of these hoodlums he brought over to the house to talk to them. I think I became comfortable being around them, though my mom never did."

Some of these thugs actually had a charming side and, strangely enough, craved publicity. Auble says that shortly after Gangsters was published, he received a message on his answering machine from con man and suspected killer Jimmy Boyd, who's featured in the book and may actually still be on the lam. "'I loved the book,'" Auble says Boyd stated, "'but is it possible to get a better picture of me? I don't like that one.'"