THE RIVER FOREST BANK
On March 17, 1955 there were three officers on patrol that afternoon and the desk was
being manned by Officer Frank Ahrens. At the time, there were half a dozen parking stalls in what is now the parkway
at the southeast corner of Franklin and Lake. A car with 4 offenders pulled into and parked in the northern-most stall (just
south of the stop sign at Lake Street). One of the offenders exited the car and walked across the street to the Klotz Pharmacy
(on the Southwest corner), and at 1:46pm dialed the River Forest Police and reported an Armed Robbery in progress at the Caron
Real Estate Office at 7327 North Avenue involving several armed men. The offender hung up the phone and exited the pharmacy,
standing on the corner and listening to the patrol car sirens as all three officers responded to the north end of town. After
about two minutes, when all the River Forest officers were at North and Harlem searching for a crime scene, the offenders
entered the bank armed with a machine gun, revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. Two of the men wore Halloween masks while
the other two wore handkerchiefs over their faces. They jumped over the tellers' cages and relieved the bank of more than
$54,000. A teller tripped the alarm and Ahrens, realizing what had happened, broadcast the bank alarm on the radio and then
ran to the scene on foot, running east on Central and north on Franklin. By the time he arrived, however, the bad guys were
Submitted by Lt. Craig Rutz
A River Forest Police Department Extortion Case
in the pages of a Detective Stories Magazine.
The following excerpts
are from the October, 1955 issue of
Official Detective Magazine:
“This Is the Day You Die”
“It’s Lt. Frank Bramhall”
Chief Gerard’s wife called out. “Chief, we just had a man in here who was robbed and beaten up. Schoff and
Berry took him to Oak Park Hospital.
……it’s Frank Munao, the
contractor……it’s more than a beating and robbery……”
Chief Gerard, a muscular,
200-pound, six-footer……hurried to the garage where he keeps his Buick equipped with a two-way radio……has
achieved an outstanding record as a policeman during his 27 years on the River Forest Force……has seen the sleepy
suburban village grow into a thriving city with hundreds of modern homes……”
Frank Munao, a millionaire…..owner
of racing horses……was robbed……(and) painfully injured……Sergeant Edwin Petersen
came in with (him).
“To tell you the truth, I’m
afraid……deathly afraid……not for me but for my wife and kids.”……Munao took a deep
breath……"He had a mask……pointed a nickel-plated revolver……bound me with tape.” “We
know who you are……get twenty-five grand to us by Thursday……(or)we will torture your wife and kids
and then we’ll kill you……they mean it, Chief……I can tell from the way they beat and kicked me.”
Chief Gerard stood up and buzzed for Officer
William Bailey. “Go with Mr. Munao to the spot where he was attacked and see what you can find.”
Gerard sent his communications expert,
Sergeant William Ingle, to the contractor’s home, a modern two-story brick building……(he) attached
tape recorders to each of the telephones……and two-way radios.
“……officers in plain clothes assigned……Officer
Arthur Willing……Officer Carl Bangert……Officer Albert Berry……in addition to the squads
who were keeping the house under surveillance.”
|River Forest resident, Frank Munao
Chief Gerard gave final instructions to
Munao: “If you get a call……pretend to go along with their scheme. Tell them you have the money. Tell them
you haven’t told the police and that you’ll meet them wherever they want you to……we’ll go on
“I don’t like it” Munao
said frankly “I don’t like it at all……these hoodlums aren’t fools……these men mean
business and they’re vicious…….they have already beaten and kicked me for no reason at all”
“Stop worrying” the chief told
him. “We’re doing the best we possibly can.”
Munao said, “I hope its enough.”
So did the chief although he did not voice his thought.
But nothing happened (that first night).
No one called, no one rang the bell. …. and then at 6:48am the phone rang. A chilling, frightening, all too familiar
voice: “I hope you got the twenty-five grand?” “Yes-yes I have it” “…..wrap it in brown
paper and bring it to the corner of Chicago and Central between one and two this afternoon. All small bills……and
remember, no tricks.”
A monitor at the phone company had taken
down the message, but the conversation had been too short for a trace. The call had come from Chicago, that was as far as
the tracing operator had gone when the connection was broken.
“I think your worries will be over
soon.” Assured Chief Gerard. “We’ll have those fellows before nightfall. I’m really glad they called.”
Silently Chief Gerard wished that he felt as confident as he sounded. He knew from experience that slightest hitch may spoil
The phone rang again at 9:45. “If
it’s the extortionist,” Gerard said, “stall him as long as you can.” It was. “We changed our
minds. We want you to bring the money to Division and Central…….same time. Between one and two. And remember this:
You better not bring no cops.” With this the connection was broken.
Chief Gerard grabbed the phone and called the tracing operator…... It
had originated at a public phone in the 2800 block of West Madison Street in Chicago.
“This is it.” Gerard said. “We’ll be there. And you
too, with your money.”
Gerard and Lieutenant Orlow Stensby had plans made for the trap
but now they were worthless. The meeting place was in Chicago outside the jurisdiction of the River Forest police. (Gerard
arranges help from the State’s Attorney)
Munao withdrew the full $25,000……serial numbers (recorded)……wrapped
in brown paper. Munao provided with a bullet-proof vest. Five detectives from the State’s Attorney……in two
unmarked cars……One got out, to loiter on the corner……Chief Gerard followed Munao……
(The Chief) received a radio message from Lt. Stensby. Mrs. Munao had (received
a suspicious phone call).
(The intersection is a) busy commercial corner (but) a swarthy young man is
noticed idling on the southeast corner……in a gaudy sport shirt and slacks.
Strolling back slowly, Chief Gerard acted as if he were interested in the shop
windows. But from the corner of his eye he could see that the young man still loitered on the southeast corner. Gerard……entered
a delicatessen……(where he) could watch.
He saw Munao drive up and pause briefly at the intersection. But the swarthy
young man made no effort to halt him. (After a second pass-still no contact and the man leaves. No attempt was made to stop
him-so as not to spoil the plan. The only other suspicious circumstances is a two-tone Buick and a Plymouth that “had
dealer’s plates both cruised the area twice.”)
Two o’clock passed……(the officers on stake-out) waited half
an hour longer……the trap had failed……then a rendezvous several blocks away.
At the Munao home, the contractor was upset again. “They spotted you!”
he cried to Chief Gerard. “What are we going to do now?”
“Just wait,” Gerard counseled. “They couldn’t have
seen us; they’ll call back tonight.”
“And what if they don’t?……cant go on living like this,
in constant fear, day after day.”
“Don’t worry.” Gerard said. It was easy advice to give, he
knew. And at the same time, it was advice he couldn’t take himself, for he couldn’t stop worrying.
Exactly at 6:48 that evening the telephone rang once more......the same deep
menacing voice. "You called the cops......you're really gonna be sorry!"
“We’re gonna make an example
outta you and your family……show what happens if you don’t go along with us”
“Look, I didn’t call the police!
Ive gone along with you all the way.”
Perhaps it was the note of earnestness
in Munao’s voice. The caller became calmer. “All right,” he said, “we’ll give you one more chance,
and you better not have any cops around.”
“I won’t,” Munao promised.
“Believe me. I’m as anxious to get this over with as you are. It’s upset my whole life……”
“You haven’t seen anything
yet,” the extortionist replied, “compared with what will happen if you don’t play ball.”
Chief Gerard notes that all calls are made
at exactly 6:48, whether am or pm....and just at 6:48 the next morning, the next call comes in-coincidence or deliberate?
Lt. Stensby is present and Sgt. Ingle notifies Chf. Gerard by radio. Chief Gerard is on the line with the phone company-three
detectives are standing by to rush to the scene if a trace can be completed.
"This is the day that you die if
you don't come across!"
"You mean right now?" Munao
"Yeah, right now"
Lt. Stensby was writing suggestions
on a pad for prolonging the call. Munao pleaded for more time saying the money was in his attorney's safe.....the called warned
him about stalling and told him to get the money and wait for another call. The call was long enough for a trace, but
the exchange was too far away for the detectives. They could not get there in time.
Preperations were made, Officers
Art Willing and William Bailey join Lt. Orlow Stensby at the Munao home. Officer Albert
Berry is stationed at a neighbor's house to watch Munao's property and the street. Two State's Attorney's detectives
were also patrolling the area. An old panel truck with three State's Attorney's Detectives and with holes in its sides
for shotgun muzzles was at the ready. Officer George Strauch is disguised as a mail carrier and has his revolver
in his mail satchel. Officers Norman Goodman, John Kessler and Carl Bangert are all disguised as laborers.
At headquarters, Chief Gerard waits for the call with the three detectives-Sgt. Schoff, Ralph Marsh and Richard
The phone rings-but its a business acquaintance
of Munao who is unaware of all the tension that's building up. Minutes pass slowly. Officer Berry reports by radio that a
car with a dealer's license passed by. And then the phone rings, "You got exactly five minutes to get to Ridgeland and
North with the money!" Munao tries to stall with questions but is soon given another warning and is hung up on. The trace
was not complete but came from the Austin area of Chicago. Munao is outfitted in a bullet-proof vest and is told
to get going The truck is dispatched to the area as well as Off. Strauch.
|The gas station at Ridgeland and North
Chief Gerard and Det. Rehmer drove to within a block and walked to the area where
they entered a gas station and dressed in work clothes and sat near a window with their guns ready.
An excited and upset Munao gets into his
Olsmobile and drives to North and Ridgeway Avenue in Chicago. When he realizes his error he speeds back west and draws
the attention of a Chicago Motorcycle Officer who pulls him over. Desperately, Munao tries to explain his predicament.
When Munao shows him the bundle of money the policeman whistles and says: "With that much money, you better have an escort."
Munao protested but of course the bewildered
traffic officer could not just let him drive away. “I’ll stay behind so they wont see me.”
Chief Gerard and all the detectives had
been waiting impatiently at the correct intersection. The same swarthy young man from the day before now was at the intersection.
Minutes ticked by and Munao didn’t show. The young man became restless and kept looking at his watch and craned his
neck looking at traffic. Then Munao’s car appeared and once more the carefully prepared plan ran into a snag.
Excited, distraught Munao forgot all about
what he had been supposed to do. As soon as he saw the swarthy young man, he hit the brakes, opened the door and leaped into
he is!” Munao cried. “That’s the man! That’s the one.” The swarthy youth turned and ran-straight
into the arms of Chief Gerard, who had rushed out of the garage. The man, who was unarmed, identified himself as John Muscato,
22, a gas station attendant. He was taken to River Forest Police Headquarters, where, according to Chief Gerard, he admitted
the extortion plot and implicated two others, Mike Castaldo and Joseph Amabile.
Officers who were posted at the intersection
arrested Castaldo later. He was driving that vehicle with the dealer’s plates. He tries to use a female acquaintance
that lives in the area as an alibi but she tells police that she was working all day.
Bangert and Kessler had seen
a two-tone Buick around the intersection. They recorded the license number and it turned out to be Amabile’s. An order
went out for his arrest.
|Chief Gerard, Muscato and Castildo
On July 1, 1955 First Assistant State's
Attorney, Irwin Bloch announced that both Muscato and Castaldo had signed confessions. That afternoon Officer Fred Pienkos
took the two men to the office of the sheriff in Wheaton, where they were charged with kidnapping, robbery and other misc.
When they appeared before Magistrate Louis Mahoney in River Forest, on
July 11, 1955, they were charged with extortion attempt and held for the grand jury, and later indicted. Amabile later surrendered
to police; he was wanted for being the master-mind of the whole plot.