Billy Gee was a lower echelon mobster with an impossible last name, hence, Billy Gee. He was also a wise guy, smart ass, which did little to impress the police with whom he occasionally came in contact. I was a baby homicide detective when I first ran across him in an interrogation room on the second floor of Maxwell Street Homicide. I was teamed with a seasoned detective in sort of an informal training program. I forget exactly why we were questioning him, but there is a nice way and a smart ass way to tell us nothing. Billy Gee chose the latter. At the end of the interview, Billy had a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
“Just one more thing Billy,” said my partner as he rummaged through some papers. He pulled out a city map printed on legal paper, depicting the six detective areas in the city.
“See here Billy? Right now you’re in Area Four. I want you to carry this map with you at all times, you understand?”
Billy looked quizzically at the map, his smirk replaced by a puzzled expression.
“Ya see, when you get wacked, and you will get wacked, ask them to dump your body anywhere outside Area Four because we don’t want to waste time on your sorry ass murder investigation.”
Billy left our offices with a more serious demeanor, almost as if we had personally put a hit out on him.
A little over a month later, my partner and I were staring into the trunk of an abandoned auto in an industrial area on Chicago’s west side. The victim’s hands were tied behind his back, his throat had been slit and there appeared to be a single bullet wound in the back of his head.
“Is that Billy Gee?” exclaimed my partner as he leaned into the trunk for a closer look.
“It kinda’ looks like him,” I said. “But it’s hard to be positive.” A slit throat and a bullet in the head have a tendency to distort most peoples natural appearance.
“You guys know him?” asked the mobile crime lab guys as they checked his pockets for any identification.
“It might be Billy Gee,” I replied. “Check his pockets for an Area Map.”
“He probably forgot to carry it,” said my partner. “He got dumped here.”
“There’s nothing in his pockets,” reported the crime lab. “You got the rest of his last name?”
“Yeah, back at the office, we’ll call you with the correct spelling and his date of birth. If it’s him, we were just talking to him a few weeks ago. If you can lift some prints from him, he’s the most likely suspect.”
“You mean victim,” I said.
“Same difference,” replied my partner with a grin.
Several hours later the crime lab personnel confirmed that Billy Gee was in fact our victim.
Most mob hits in Chicago are not easily cleared. We might be able to develop information on who wanted the victim killed and why, but to build a case against a specific individual was a long shot, no pun intended. Years down the road some people might be willing to talk, but for the immediate future we most likely had a case that was headed for the filing cabinet with other mysteries.
When we arrived at the office on the second full day into the investigation we were greeted by members of our intelligence unit bearing a folder full of 8 X 10 surveillance photos of none other than Billy Gee parking on the driveway of an upscale home, entering the house and then returning to his car some twenty minutes later. The dates indicated this was almost a daily occurrence.
The homicide commander, my partner and I poured over the pictures.
“Where is this?” I asked. “Whose house is it?”
“Woodridge,” said one of the intelligence detectives. “It’s Jimmy the Turk’s house.”
“You’ll have to interview him,” said our commander.
“Boss, he’s a top level guy, he’s not going to tell us anything,” said my partner.
“You’re probably right,” said the lieutenant. “But we’ve got the pictures and we can’t ignore them. We have to interview him and file a report.”
The intelligence detectives gave us Jimmy the Turk’s private unlisted number.
“He’ll be more likely to pay attention to you if you call him on this number.”
“Is this the line you’ve got tapped?” I inquired kiddingly. They didn’t take kindly to my remark. This would be a high stakes cat and mouse game; one that we were almost guaranteed to lose, but we had to go through the motions.
We emptied the office of spectators and my partner called Jimmy with the boss and me listening on extensions.
My partner stated his name and identified himself as a homicide detective. The reaction from Jimmy the Turk was absolute silence.
“Jimmy, we need to talk with you,” he continued.
“I don’t talk to cops,” replied Jimmy.
“Well, we’re going to talk with you.” my partner said in a very calm but authoritative voice. “We can come out to your place, it won’t take very long.”
“I don’t like cops in my house.”
“Well then come down to the station, we can talk here.”
“I don’t like police stations.”
“Well, Jimmy, we are going to talk to you. Do you understand?” My partner was using the same calm, authoritative tone, never raising his voice. There was a long moment of silence at Jimmy’s end.
“Where’s your office?” he finally answered.
“It’s the Maxwell Street Station, on Maxwell just two blocks west of Halsted.”
“I know the place,” snapped Jimmy in an annoyed tone of voice. “You know Barney’s?”
“Barney’s Market Club at Randolph and Halsted? Yeah we know it.”
“Meet me there for dinner tomorrow night at seven.”
My partner looked expectantly at the lieutenant and he nodded.
“My partner and I will be there,” he responded on the phone and suddenly the conversation was over.
“You’re going to dinner,” exclaimed the boss with a big grin on his face.
Barney’s was an upscale eatery frequented by elected officials, businessmen, mobsters and occasionally cops. As a newly married father with two toddlers at home, I had never been there.
Our commander made notifications to our downtown command staff as well as the Intelligence Division and the Internal Affairs Division. If any of them happened to spot us having dinner with Jimmy the Turk they would know why.
The next evening my partner and I headed for Barney’s in an old unmarked beat up Dodge sedan. We avoided the VIP spaces at the Randolph Street side and instead parked on a side street nearby. The 8 X 10 photographs were tucked under my arm in a plain brown envelope.
“You gotta a credit card that will cover this? I asked my partner as we approached Barney’s.
“I do,” he replied. “But I’ll guarantee you Jimmy will pick up the tab. To Jimmy, it’s a matter of saving face and impressing us.”
“Saving face?” I inquired.
“Yeah, saving face. Remember, he’s number two or three man in the mob and he’s having dinner with us lowly cops. He wants to show anyone in the vicinity that he runs it—maybe even make them think he owns us. So order what you want kid, it will be the best meal you’ll have all month and it’s all on Jimmy.”
We entered the restaurant and the maître d’ greeted us before we took two steps inside.
“Yes sir Senator! Do you have reservations?”
Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune reporter wrote about Barney’s and the “Yes sir, Senator!” greeting a few years back:
“It was long assumed that its familiar slogan was born of the patronage of politicians. Though many elected officials (as well as mobsters, businessmen, cops and others on their way to and from events at the Chicago Stadium) were known to drop in, it was owner Barney Kessel’s inability to remember anybody’s name that gave birth to the slogan that eventually emblazoned menus, matchbooks and the prominent sign that hung high from the building. He called almost everybody ‘Senator.’”
“We’re joining Jimmy for dinner,” said my partner as he glanced around the room and spotted Jimmy the Turk sitting at a round table near the back of the dining room. He was flanked by two associates and two empty chairs awaited us.
“Yes sir, Senator,” said the maître d’ without batting an eye as he guided us back to Jimmy’s table.
Jimmy introduced his companions simply as Anthony and Vincent. We would learn later that Anthony’s mob nickname was “The Bull” and Vincent was called “Pug,” but only because sinus and adenoid problems made him sound like the dog of that breed.
The waiter placed menus in front of us and we made our selections without regard to cost. Salads were served and my partner began to slide the photos out of the plain envelope and Jimmy held his hand up.
“We don’t discuss business while we’re eating.”
We engaged in polite but totally meaningless chi-chat. When the entrée dishes were cleared, the envelope again came out but once again Jimmy held his hand up.
“We don’t discuss business before dessert.”
I was beginning to think that we might actually “talk business” at some point. “Dessert” for Jimmy and his pals consisted of giant snifters of Grand Marnier and Cuban cigars. We took a pass on the brandy but each of us lit up a cigar. Turned out the cigar probably gave me more of a buzz than the Grand Marnier would have.
The photos came out one last time—it was show time. We passed them across to Jimmy and his friends looked over his shoulder as he carefully examined the pictures.
“Billy visited you daily, Jimmy. What’s your connection?”
“I never saw this man before in my life,” said Jimmy.
“You ever see this guy?” he asked Anthony and Pug.
They shook their heads in unison.
“I’m really sorry, but I can’t help you.”
“Jimmy, this guy came to your house almost every day. These are only a few of the pictures.”
“Yeah well, you guys can do funny things with pictures, I know that. I’m really sorry I can’t help you.”
Jimmy the Turk stood and shook our hands indicating the meeting was over. He did indeed pick up the check. Like I said earlier, there is a nice way and a smart ass way to tell us nothing. Jimmy chose the nice way. He was not the type of person you would expect to find in the trunk of a car, but he did meet an early demise—he died several years after our dinner, at the age of forty-nine, peacefully at Northwestern Memorial Hospital of cancer.
To the best of my knowledge Billy Gee’s murder was never cleared. His file probably still languishes in some file cabinet marked “Not Cleared.”
I never lost any sleep over it…