When the Outfit asks you to kill somebody, you do it. It’s as simple as that. If you show signs of resistance to one of their decisions, then you too could wind up as “trunk music”, a phrase often used to describe victims of those who crossed the Outfit or it’s associates. If he didn’t already know it, Nicholas Calabrese found this out in 1976 when he was ordered to “case” a man named Paul Haggerty, who had been marked for death by the Outfit bigwigs. He was not given a reason, but he knew better than to ask. For months he and a group of other men – Ronnie Jarrett, Frank “Gumba” Saladino, and Nick’s brother, Frank – shadowed Haggerty’s movements, following him from the halfway house where he had been staying to various locations throughout the city, even onto buses and elevators. The job was made more difficult by the fact that the Outfit bosses had wanted to question Haggerty before he was killed, so he needed to be taken alive.
Jarrett developed an idea wherein he would “run into” Haggerty on the street, breaking the ice for a future time when Jarrett could wave him down from his car – allowing Haggerty’s potential abductors to pounce on him and quickly toss him in the car. The others agreed to the idea and on June 24, 1976, they decided to act on it. When Haggerty left the halfway house, Jarrett would pull up a few blocks down the road and call him over to the car – where Frank and Saladino would be waiting in the backseat to leap out and grab their unsuspecting victim. Nick would be following behind the threesome and would communicate with them via a two way radio. Haggerty left the halfway house and began his walk, followed closely by Nick. After receiving radio confirmation from Nick, Jarrett raced ahead and pulled over to the side of the road. Saladino and Frank leaped from the car and grabbed a surprised Haggerty, who put up quite a resistance considering the hulking nature of his two abductors (Saladino tipped the scales at 300+ pounds while Frank was no lightweight, either).
Haggerty soon found himself cuffed and sitting battered and bruised in the backseat of Jarrett’s automobile. He was destined for Jarrett’s mother-in-law’s garage, which had become the crew’s preferred destination for disposing of their victims. Haggerty was dumped out of the car and left on the floor of the garage, now with his eyes and mouth taped. Frank and Jarrett left to retrieve James “Turk” Torello and Angelo LaPietra, the top two guys in the Outfit’s 26th Street crew. “Gumba” Saladino also left leaving Nick alone with Haggerty in the garage. Soon, Frank and Jarrett returned with Turk and LaPietra, who asked Haggerty a couple of questions concerning the robbery of an Outfit-owned jewelry store, then left. Unfortunately for Haggerty, he was doomed regardless of how he answered. Alone again with Haggerty, Nick helped him urinate and then fetched him a glass of water. Frank and Jarrett soon returned with a car they had stolen from a movie theater parking lot. Frank exited the vehicle with a piece of rope which he looped tightly around Haggerty’s throat until he stopped breathing. Per the usual, Frank cut the corpse’s jugular with a butcher knife for insurance purposes before tossing the body in the trunk. The killers would leave the vehicle on a Chicago street – a grim reminder to others who might think about crossing the Outfit.
Nine months later, in March of 1977, Nick was given another assignment: Henry Cosentino, who had gotten into some sort of disagreement with “Gumba” Saladino which resulted in Saladino being shot in the leg. Since Saladino was an associate of Frank’s, the latter asked permission from his immediate superior, Angelo LaPietra, to dispose of Cosentino. With LaPietra’s blessing, Frank and Nick began to case Cosentino. Never ones to rush – and potentially bungle – a murder, the brothers took their time plotting Cosentino’s fate, once again joined by Ronnie Jarrett. During one night’s surveillance, Nick was granted permission by Frank to leave the stakeout early. The next day, he was told by Frank that Cosentino had been disposed of – his body was found in a car trunk at an impound lot as another example of those who were unfortunate enough to find themselves on the Outfit’s bad side.
“Making an example” out of their victims was a common and effective Outfit method of deterring future troublemakers but some still took their chances at defying the Outfit. One such example occurred on the evening of December 17, 1977, when John Mendell and a crew of burglars robbed an Outfit-connected jewelry store for more than a million dollars worth of jewels and diamonds – plus $30,000 cash. John Mendell, the ringleader of the crew, was widely suspected to have been responsible for the heist. The owner of the jewelry store just happened to be friends with Tony Accardo, known in the media as “Big Tuna” but known to his contemporaries as “Joe Batters”, a moniker he had gained after allegedly bludgeoning three men to death with a baseball bat on the orders of Al Capone. Accardo was one of the last holdovers from the Capone days, and had served as boss of the Outfit in the late 1940’s and early 50’s before conceding the position due to relentless pressure from the feds – although he somehow managed to avoid serving a single night in jail. Since then, he had relaxed into an advisory role, although he still exercised enormous amounts of power and conferred with the Outfit’s leadership on most major policy decisions.
Because of Accardo’s connection to the store’s owner, the word hit the streets that the loot was to be returned – it was obvious to everyone what the penalty would be if it wasn’t. Mendell remained stubborn, however, and refused to return the stolen goods, instead hiding them at his wife’s business. The Outfit had enough connections in the burglary underworld to figure out where the loot was hidden and stole it back from Mendell in late December. Mendell was angered at this and took advantage of his own connections to discover the new location of the jewels and begin to scheme on how to steal them back – he had done it before, he would do it again. The only problem was that the treasure was hidden away in Accardo’s own personal vault at his River Forest mansion. Mendell then decided to do the unthinkable and began plotting to break into the “White House” of the Outfit.
On the night of January 5, 1978, Mendell and his crew acted. Miraculously, they were able to bypass numerous security systems and break into Accardo’s vault and re-steal the loot, plus a bit extra. When Accardo’s housewatcher arrived the next morning and discovered the break-in, he notified Accardo, who was currently at his second residence in Palm Springs, California. Accardo immediately flew back to Chicago and began to plot how he and the Outfit would enact their revenge on such a blatant disregard towards their authority. Mendell and all those involved would need to pay, and Nick Calabrese would be one of those called on to extract that payment.