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RFPD: past events-in the news

THE RIVER FOREST BANK ROBBERY

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 long gone.

Submitted by Lt. Craig Rutz (May 2009)

 

************************

A River Forest Police Department Extortion Case

was featured 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”

 

by Peter Oberholtzer

special investigator

 

“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.”

 

 

The victim
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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 from there.”

 

“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 any plan. 

 

 

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 asked

 

"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 Rehmer.

 

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.

det001a.jpg
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 the street.

deta.jpg

“There 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.

det003a.jpg
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. offences.

 

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.