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Thu, October 02, 2014
West End Word

Crooks Kill, Cops Lie


Book by retired St. Louis detective tells "true story" of early 1980s mobster war



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Timothy Richards’ new book recounts the mobster wars of the early 1980s. (click for larger version)
January 16, 2013
When Timothy Richards wasn't investigating mob car bombings, he was doing bodyguard work for visiting celebrities in St. Louis. The South County writer tells all in his book, "Crooks Kill, Cops Lie."

Police intelligence unit detective Richards was on the scene in 1979 when a car bomb killed mobster John Paul Spica in Richmond Heights. Raised in East St. Louis, Richards saw his first car bombing in his hometown at age 9. That may have prepared him for what he saw in Richmond Heights.

"It was a big car, a Caddy, but it was completely destroyed," Richards writes of the 1979 bombing. "The first responders were removing Spica's blown-to-bits cadaver as I walked up. His legs and parts of his body were missing. It was overkill, but all car bombings are."

The horrific hit on Spica ignited a 10-year battle between organized crime factions. Richards was on-site that day, and in the years that followed the detective investigated numerous crimes from murder to diamond heists through the rise and fall of the Italian and Syrian mob war in St. Louis.

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The scene of Jimmy Michaels’ murder by car bombing on Sept. 17, 1980. The bombing occurred at Interstate 55 near Reavis Barracks Road. (click for larger version)
"I was on site for investigations of the Jimmy Michaels car bombing on I-55, the Leisure car bombing at Nottingham and Kingshighway, and the Faheen bombing in the Mansion House garage," said Richards. "These bombings shook up the city and they had to be stopped."

At the scene of the Paul Leisure bombing, Richards retrieved the victim's Local 42 union construction hat blown into a front yard. He thought about keeping the helmet as a souvenir, but he said the federal investigators took it when he got back to his office.

"I inspected the helmet as I drove," writes Richards. "It was brand new and it had his name emblazoned on it: 'Paul Leisure, Laborers Local 42, Business Agent.' The man was proud of his achievement, and he obtained his success by using what he had been trained to do: intimidate, murder, maim."

Richards explains in his book that a lot of local mobsters were mixed up with unions in St. Louis, although their bosses were in Chicago. Unions provided a source of political and financial power and an outlet for employment for loyal friends.

"The unions are pretty clean now, but there's going to be thugs here and there, of course," said Richards. "The thing is, gangsters can make more money with one big drug deal now than they could ever make messing around with a union."

Guarding Celebrities

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Author Timothy Richards at one of his favorite detective hangouts, the Central West End. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Tracking down bad guys and doing investigations of mob hits was the grimy part of Richards' detail. On the more glamorous side, Richards took on work guarding celebrities in St. Louis, from Dick Gephardt to Henry Kissinger, from Maureen Reagan to Linda Ronstadt to Bob Hope.

"Kissinger was not my favorite," said Richards. "His own personal body guard obviously thought I was a rube and tried to impress me with his gun, a Walther PPK. He made a big deal of how several heads of state would like to have Kissinger dead.

"My favorite body guard work was with Bob Hope," recalled Richards. "None of the guys in intelligence wanted to do this stuff, because they thought it was beneath them and that they would be treated like servants. I didn't care about that.

"Bob Hope was a courteous, gentle, non-violent man," said Richards. "He was something I had not seen a lot of in my work. He loved St. Louis, staying at the Chase and walking in the Central West End. I would be with him on those walks."

According to Richards, the two of them would walk Lindell Boulevard, with its stately granite mansions on the right and historic Forest Park on the left. Richards said there was glee in Hope's face, because the mansions were like art work compared to the gaudy symbols of money and power in Los Angeles and Hollywood.

One of Richards' more intriguing assignments was when then Rep. Gephardt brought a contingency of the Supreme Soviets and the KGB to St. Louis. The Russians got the usual tour of St. Louis with the brewery and the Missouri Botanical Garden, but what they really wanted to see was a good pig farm.

"They didn't like our beer, they wanted vodka," said Richards. "Then we had to arrange for a bus trip to Valmeyer, Ill., to see a good pig farm. Another thing they wanted was to buy some good winter coats when all the stores were closed. We had to arrange for the downtown Boyd's to open up at night to help them out."

The Diamond Heists

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John Paul Spica was killed outside his Richmond Heights home on Nov. 8, 1979, when a bomb exploded beneath his 1977 black Cadillac. (click for larger version)
One of the more intriguing parts of Richards' book is his recollection of the mobsters' sideline business: breaking into homes of the rich and nabbing jewelry. They specialized in removing diamonds from their settings and "laundering" them for sale elsewhere in the states.

The hyphenated word, "pistol-whipped," comes up a lot as Richards talks about gunmen barging into stores and residences to terrorize and steal from the owners of rare gems, jewelry, stones, wristwatches and much more.

Throughout the book, Richards is hot on the investigation of the robbery of the "Brussels diamond" from its owner Carl Wittmond of the Wittmond Hotel and the hotel's popular Illinois eating spot in Calhoun County.

Richards' instincts led him to Jesse Stoneking, a thug who did prison time and then moved to a house in Oakville after his release. The thought of Stoneking back in operation and living in a nice South County neighborhood enrages the city police investigator.

Though Richards is never able to recover the 16-carat diamond and its platinum setting, he does get the satisfaction of confronting Stoneking. According to Richards, he pulled over Stoneking in his Lincoln and told him to get his "murdering ass" out of Oakville.

"I know everything about you, Jesse. I know you beat up and robbed that old man and his lady friend over in Brussels and stole his ring," Richards reportedly says in the confrontation. Afterward, Richards said he realized he was a little over the top and needed to calm down. His partner also said as much.

Richards comes off as a bit of a renegade in his book, "Crooks Kill, Cops Lie." He concedes to being a "lone wolf," who sometimes saw a fraying of the line between right and wrong in his police intelligence work.

His book is now available through Bluebird Publishing (www.bluebirdbookpub.com) and at local bookstores as well as Amazon.com.

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