The Mob Lesson Murder of Little Caesar Acropolis
John Acropolis was the president of Teamsters Local 456 in Yonkers New York until someone shot him in the head at his apartment at 1080 Warburton Avenue. The police were never certain why Acropolis was killed. Some investigators said it was internal union politics and others said it was a woman, but most other believe that it was a Mafia ordered assassination conducted to send out a lesson to anyone else who planned to get the Mafia’s way
Acropolis was an interesting and admirable man. He was born in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan in 1909, was orphaned at the age of 3 and raised in an orphanage in Yonkers. When he was 16 he was taken into the homes of the Wittes family and he continued to live with them, in a second-floor suite. He thrived in his teens and was a member of the 1926 state high school basketball championship team and played football and baseball as well. He was good enough to enter Colgate on a basketball scholarship. While a college student, he worked during vacations as a truck driver and on graduation he joined Local 456. Primarily through his efforts, the union became one of the most successful in Westchester County, which is just north of New York. Acropolis built up the union from 400 to 2,600 members in 10 years and obtaining pace-setting contracts with employers.
On August 26, 1952, Acropolis left a business meeting of Local 456 at the union headquarters at 53 South Broadway in Yonkers and as he left mentioned a date he had later that night with a woman in New York City.
When he failed to show for a meeting, one of his organizer, Edward Doyle, went to Acropolis apartment and had the janitor open the door for him. Acropolis was sprawled face down and fully clothed. He had been dead for at least 24 hours.
The police theory was that the killer was tipped off by phone that Acropolis was nearing home and then rushed to the darkened four-room apartment and waited. There was no sign of forced entry and the doors and all of the windows were locked meaning, police assumed that the murderer had a key to the front door, a key that Acropolis must have loaned to someone while he was out of town so his mail could get picked up. Whoever had the key made a duplicate.
Depending upon who you talked to, he either rarely carried a gun or always carried his own .32-caliber, pearl-handled revolver in a tan leather holster. He didn’t have it on him that night. The pistol was found in a dresser drawer. In 1958, six years after the murder, a .38 was found in some shrubs outside of the apartment.
It must have happened quickly because he was said to be constantly alert and very cautious. Acropolis entered the apartment carrying the apartment key in his right hand
and a newly pressed suit over his left arm.
The murderer stepped out of the dark from behind Acropolis as he walked toward the living room. The hitman then fired a .38 bullet into the back of his head which came out at the front of the head. A second bullet took the same route.
The Westchester Carting Company had been founded by Austin Sansone, a brother-in-law of a high Yonkers police official. In 1947, Sansone sold out to a four-man group which included Andrew Hyduk, supervisor of Yonkers' 12th ward, and Phil Giamorino, one of the city's better known bookmakers and Nicholas A. Rattenni, (AKA Cockeyed Nick, because he had a lifelong eye problem and always wore dark glasses and Mister Perri, the name he used to sign New York City hotel registers when he attended mob conferences in the 1940s and '50s.) an ex-convict known as an associate of Frank Costello and a soldier (later promoted to captain) in the Vito Genovese mafia family. Rattenni’s wife testified in 1951 that her husband held 6,400 shares of stock in Roosevelt Raceway (About a half0million in value today) for Frank Costello. In a floating crap game in 1942, the cops found out that he won $5,000 and the loser paid off with stock in Roosevelt Raceway. Epic efforts by the IRS were made to get Rattenni to sell out but they held on to the stock. The government finally got the stock out of Rattenni’s name and held in in leu of Costello paying his back taxes on various criminal enterprises. He got the stock back and Rattenni sold his share for $1.3 million to Gulf and Western.
On January 13, 1926, when he was 19, he won a dismissal on a charge of suspicion of burglary in White Plains.
As far as law enforcement know, his only prior conviction was for armed robbery in 1927 that got him sent to Sing Sing prison for five years. He was released in 1932 and moved into mob operations in the Bronx and became a gambler, an enforcer and collector for the Mafia.
In 1934, he married his first wife, Charlotte. The Best Man at the wedding was then and up and coming hood named Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, who would later rule over the Jersey City Teamsters and more than probably played some role in the murder of
Jimmy Hoffa's murder.
Tony Pro and Jimmy Hoffa (left)
In 1936, grand larceny against Rattenni was dismissed in the Bronx. In the 1940s, Westchester County was divided into small fiefdoms with an understanding between hoods over who controlled certain neighborhood and criminal rackets. With time, Rattenni consolidated all of Westchester under his control. He also leaped into real estate speculation/ money laundering in the county with the money he made from his various gambling rackets although the properties were in his wife’s name.
His partner in crime was Nicholas DiCostanza a soldier in the Genovese crime family. DiCostanza and Rattenni formed, in their wives names, the Oakmont Holding Corporation, another illegal tax shelter that controlled large pieces of prime real estate in Yonkers.
At that point, when Rattenni bought the company, Westchester Hauling was so small that when Giamorino and a new partner bought complete control, the new partner paid only out $2,000 for his interest. However, when Rattenni moved into the carting business, things began to happen to his competitors. Important politicians in the city actually went out soliciting business for the Westchester tinting Co. and Little Abe Carting Company, The Alpine Carting Co. and others complained that they were strong-armed into selling out to Rattenni’s Westchester Carting Company. The owner of the Alpine company said that a pair of goons came to his office and said 'I'm giving you a warning. Get out or else.” The following day all of his trucks were burned.
Alpine sold out to Rus-Co Carting, which shared an office with the Westchester Carting Co. Officers in the company included Bronx hoodlum Stanley Marks and all-around hood Alfred D'Antonio. (They were both locked up after Acropolis was murdered. Marks was picked up for violation of parole in 1954 and sent back to prison. D'Antonio was arrested for armed robbery in the Bronx and jailed.
Without competition, Westchester and Rus-Co upped their prices by 40% and rarely actually collected trash from their routes. The Yonkers Chamber of Commerce held a hearing but not a single witness showed up to testify against the companies.
Westchester Carting had uncomfortably close relation with Local 813 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The local was run from top to bottom by the Gambino Crime family which controlled day to day operations through the unions secretary-treasurer, Bernard Adelstein. In 1992 Adelstein was barred from the union for his association with organized crime and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano testified that Adelstein was run by the Gambino family.
Adelstein and John Acropolis were involved in a bitter battle over who should organize garbage haulers in Westchester County. Edward Doyle later told US Senate Rackets Committee that he and Acropolis bad been threatened by, about two weeks before Acropolis was killed. Doyle said that Adelstein told Acropolis that “…you’re not that tough. Tougher guys than you have been taken care of"
In July of 1952 s the Rex Carting Company owned by two Yonkers businessmen, Joe Pelose and Vincent Troiano who signed a contract with Local 813’s competitor Local 456 of the Teamsters which was run by John Acropolis.
Rex embarked on an aggressive campaign of trying to take customers away from Westchester Carting with some success, despite the fact that Westchester immediately began warning its accounts not to sign over with Rex.
In August of 1952, Ed Doyle, 456 union business agent, got a phone call from someone who warned him that if Rex carting did not go out of business "five men will die." Four days later, John Acropolis was murdered.
Rex Carting remained in business for a few months, but the Acropolis murder sent home the point that the mob meant business and most of Rex’s customers drifted back over to Westchester Carting. In January of 1953, Pelose and Troiano sold what was left of the Rex Carting to Stanley Marks, the Bronx hoodlum who worked with Rus-Co and Westchester Carting. After the take over the county was done, Nick Rattenni, the hood who owned Westchester Carting got rid of Stanley Marks by simply telling him he was through. Mark’s replacement was a thug named Joseph Feola, a partner in a Queens carting firm that rented trucks to Rattenni. Feola, AKA Joey Surprise, murdered a cop in 1935 and was an associate of the Genovese family and a close associate of Vincent J. Squillante, a boss of the then $50‐million carting industry in the New York metropolitan area. On the record, Rattenni said he brought Feola was a consultant to survey his business and give him hints on how to improve his profits.
In 1965 Feola was murdered by the mob and buried in one his waste dumps in New Jersey after taking the waste‐disposal contract for the Ford Motor Company plant in Mahwah, New Jersey from a Gambino run carting firm. Five years before, in the fall 1960, Feola actual boss Vincent J. Squillante was indicted on extortion charges. The bosses in the Gambino family were certain that Squillante would talk to save himself so on September 23, 1960, he got disappeared. The word was that he, too, was tossed into a trash compactor then melted down in an open hearth furnace.
Vincent J. Squillante
Only four days after the John Acropolis slaying, more than 200 people had already been questioned. For all the good it did, Fanelli was hauled in for questioning in the Acropolis murder. In fact, he was a prime suspect. A year later Rattenni was questioned after the head of service workers at Yonkers Raceway was killed.
Alliances change in the mob. Although Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. called Rattenni a "known associate of underworld figure Frank Costello" it was one of Rattenni's soldiers, Vincent Gigante of Yonkers, who tried and failed to assassinate Costello in 1957.
In 1963, at the U.S. Senate hearings into organized crime, Joseph Valachi testified that Rattenni was a soldier in the Vito Genovese crime family, but the Justice Department ranked him closer to captain.
For the last part of his life, the law started to crack down on Rattenni. In 1970 he and two other hoods indicted with seven others on charges of conspiring to bribe Internal Revenue Service employees. The first trial ended in a hung jury and he was acquitted during the second trial. But he didn’t walk. The feds indicted him again for allegedly trying to influence one of the jurors in the case.
While that was going on, Rattenni and a hood named Peter Variano, were arrested with five other and four state troopers in what was called the breakup of a $650 million organized crime gambling syndicate in Westchester and Rockland counties. The feds said that Rattenni paid the Troopers with free vacations, cars, and cash to protect his gambling operation. It took two years but on November 26, 1971, Rattenni and three of the troopers were found guilty of conspiracy in the operation of the sports betting rackets and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $30,000.
It didn’t end there. In 1971, he was indicted with four other for loansharking, reportedly charging 250 percent for loans and then using threats of violence to collect. Rattenni was eventually acquitted just in time to be convicted of conspiracy and jury tampering from his IRS bribery scandal. He served five years on that conviction.
“The garbage czar of New York” died of natural causes in 1982. Many years after he retired from the rackets, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies kept the multi-millionaire hoodlum under surveillance.
Despite being more than a half-century old, the Acropolis murder case is technically still under investigation by the Yonkers Police Department’s cold-case unit. In October of 2008, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Yonkers, New York Police Department, demanding access to the department's file on the investigation into the death of Acropolis. The City of Yonkers said it would fight the lawsuit, claiming that because the investigation was still technically active, the case file was not subject to Freedom of Information laws.