By Allan May
Although most women are safe from the atrocities of organized crime, the deaths of Christina Colletti and Janice Drake prove that the mob will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.
The year was 1930. The city was Cleveland. It was not a safe place to be if your name was Lonardo or Porrello. In the past three years three of the four Lonardo brothers had been annihilated by the Porrello gang. However, before the smoke cleared, four Porrello brothers would also lie dead.
The first to go was family leader Joe Porrello. Although not the oldest of the seven Porrello brothers, he was looked on as the brains of the family. Joe Porrello wanted to be recognized as the leader of the Cleveland underworld. This brought him into direct opposition to Frank Milano, the first leader of the Mayfield Road Mob.
On July 5, 1930, the two men met to discuss their differences. When the discussions ended Joe Porrello and his top lieutenant, Sam Tilocco lay dead in the Little Italy section of the city. The murders of the two men made front-page headlines. Within the next thirty days two more murders would make the headlines in Cleveland. The first surprised no one. Joe Porrello’s brother James was cut down while purchasing lamb chops at a Woodland Avenue butcher shop on July 26.
The second murder, committed on August 1, was a mystery. The body of eighteen year old Christina Lorenzo Colletti was found in the “Lover’s Lane” section of Barrett Road on the West Side of Cleveland. The pretty, young newlywed had been shot five times.
Christina had married Tony Colletti on July 8, less than a month before her body was found. Tony was the nephew of Charles Colletti, a former bodyguard of the Lonardo brothers. The boyish faced gunman was now the top gun of the Mayfield Road Mob and had been implicated in many of the highly publicized murders of the past decade.
Tony Colletti was the first suspect the police wanted to question. When interviewed, Tony told the police that he had borrowed the car of John Angersola, another member of the Mayfield Road Mob and close associate of “Big Al” Polizzi, and driven past his sister-in-law’s house where Christina was staying. He blew the horn, she came out, and the two of them talked. Then, according to Tony, Christina left him to visit a girlfriend around 8:00 p.m. However, after twenty-six hours of non-stop grilling by Cleveland Police detectives, Tony broke down and confessed that he had killed Christina, claiming she had been unfaithful to him.
Tony, who was working as a driver and liquor deliveryman for the Mayfield Road Mob, then revealed the following story. He said that ever since the wedding he had been hearing stories that Christina had been linked to other men. The two soon separated – Christina living with her sister and Tony with his notorious uncle.
“I did not know whether the rumors were true, so I said nothing but kept all these things in the back of my head,” Tony confessed.
When she met him Friday night, Tony claims she asked to go for a ride. “I drove out past the airport and down Barrett Road and I got to thinking about the rumors I had heard. I asked Christina if there was any truth in those rumors. She said that since our marriage she had gone out with other men,” Tony said.
“I stopped the car and got out. Then I said, ‘Come on, you get out, too.’ She got out the other side of the car, and I walked around to where she was standing in the road. I took the gun from my pocket and shot her five times. She fell in the road, and I left her there and got in the car and drove back toward Cleveland. As I came across the Hilliard Road Bridge I slowed the car down and threw the gun over the railing,” Tony told his interrogators.
After his confession, detectives took him back out to Barrett Road and had him re-enact the crime. When detectives went back to the Hilliard Road Bridge however, they were unable to locate the murder weapon.
Tony soon recanted the confession, claiming that he made it under duress. According to one cellmate, Tony told him detectives had beaten the confession out of him. His court appointed lawyers even claimed there had been two attempts to poison Tony in his cell.
The police believed they had an airtight case against the young man. But, hours before his trial was to begin, Tony, using a leather belt, hanged himself from a water pipe in his “murderer’s row” cell in the county jail. He was found by cellmate and Mayfield Road Mob associate, Frank Brancato. His lawyers claimed he had been murdered, but a coroner’s inquiry declared he died from the strangulation.
Tony’s lawyer told the grand jury that before he committed suicide he had confided to him that he and Christina had witnessed the Porrello / Tilocco murders. After some debate the Mayfield Road Mob had passed a death sentence on her.
Whether Tony had actually murdered Christina, or if other gang members carried it out, was never made clear.
On September 25, 1959, the long criminal career of Anthony Carfano, better known as “Little Augie Pisano,” came to a brutal end. Joining him in death that night was Mrs. Janice Drake.
Carfano, whose life of crime dated back to the Prohibition years, when he was a friend and associate of Al Capone, and Drake, were found dead in the front seat of “Little Augie’s “ Cadillac in Jackson Heights, in the Queens’ section of New York City. Mrs. Drake, wearing a mink stole and a cocktail dress, had been shot once in the neck and was slumped against the passenger side door. Carfano, shot once in the neck and once in the left temple, had fallen over to his right with his head resting on Drake’s lap.
Born in Union City, New Jersey, Janice Hansen was a drum majorette at St. Michael’s High School. In 1944 she won the Miss New Jersey beauty contest. She later won a title for having the “most beautiful legs in the United States.” Within a year of winning the beauty title, she met Alan Drake, a struggling nightclub comedian. The two married and in 1956 she gave birth to their only child, a son.
In 1952, Drake was questioned in the murder of Nat Nelson who was described as a “garment district playboy.” According to one time mob play toy Arlyne Weiss, Nelson had run afoul of James “Jimmy Doyle” Plumeri and his nephew Johnny Dioguardi. Weiss was dating Nelson and went to see him on the morning of February 9, 1952. She ran into Plumeri, who she knew, as she got off the elevator on Nelson’s floor. She then found the door to his apartment ajar. When she walked in she saw her boyfriend lying on the floor with a bullet between his eyes.
Police had pulled Drake in for questioning because she was seen bar hopping with Nelson in Greenwich Village the night before he was murdered. Later, because of her friendship with Carfano, she was questioned after the murder of Albert Anastasia in October 1957. Carfano had been a longtime associate of the “Mad Hatter.”
There has been much speculation about the relationship between Drake and Carfano. At sixty-one years of age, “Little Augie” was thirty years older than the attractive, curvaceous blond. Friends close to the Drake family told reporters that Carfano had been a close friend of the Drakes for years. Drake’s son called him “Uncle Augie”. Carfano, it was said, had helped Alan Drake with his career.
Alan Drake, who had been performing in Washington D.C., was one of the first persons to be interrogated by the police. As he left the police station after questioning, he told reporters, behind teary eyes, that, “I lost the greatest wife a man ever had.”
Police tried to piece together the trail of Carfano and Drake the night they were murdered. Drake and a girlfriend, Madeline Unger, went to the Copacabana after their earlier plans to meet stockbroker Irving Segel and his wife Shirley fell through. At the Copacabana, Carfano met Drake and Unger. The three then went to Marino’s, an Italian restaurant on Lexington Avenue near Fifty-Eighth Street, for dinner. There they were joined by Irving Segel.
After dinner, between 9:30 and 9:45, Carfano and Drake left to watch a televised boxing match at an undisclosed location. Shortly after 10:30, Carfano’s 1959 Cadillac came to a stop with one wheel on the curb, the lights on, and the motor running on Ninety-Fourth Street in Jackson Heights.
Carfano and Drake had told no one where they had planned to go watch the fights and police believed that whoever killed the pair were either hiding in the car or were let in because they were known to Carfano.
In Teresa Carpenter’s, “Mob Girl,” the biography of Arlyne Weiss, she writes that Weiss had been introduced to Janice Drake through Shirley Segel. Weiss claims that Drake was having an affair with Carfano. Weiss and a girlfriend had been at Marino’s that night also, where she says she was trying to get the attention of Anthony Mirra. She claims that she spotted Mirra at Carfano’s table and, after he spoke to the group, returned to the bar where he told Weiss to leave stating, “I’ll catch up with you later.”
The following day, Weiss read about the double murder. She later received a telephone call from Mirra asking her to come to a hotel where he was staying on Lexington Avenue. Once there, Weiss became suspicious.
“What are you hiding from?” Weiss asked.
“Do you read the papers?” Mirra replied.
“Yeah, I read the papers,” Weiss said.
“Well, you know who killed Little Augie?” Mirra stated.
“You?” replied Weiss, now incredulous.
Tony was silent, but his silence said a lot.
“And Janice. Why Janice?” she asked finally.
“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mirra replied blankly.
Arlyne scrutinized his expression but could not detect any remorse.
In “Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello,” author Leonard Katz discusses the reason for the murder of Carfano:
“Pisano, an aging and independent Mafia lieutenant, had been close to Costello since the days of Prohibition. He was intensely loyal to Costello and openly expressed his indignation over the way Genovese was handling things. Don Vitone (Vito Genovese) took offense, and Little Augie was added to his purge list.”
“Little Augie’s unforgivable act of defiance apparently came sometime between the shooting of Costello and the murder of Anastasia. Don Vitone called a conference of the upper echelon of his family in a midtown hotel. Everyone obeyed the summons except Little Augie. Genovese noted his absence and warned Little Augie’s close friend, Tony Bender: ‘If he doesn’t come in, you’ll be wearing a black tie.’ Bender sent soldiers out to look for Little Augie, and he was brought to the meeting. While he bowed to the authority of Don Vitone, his attitude and tone of voice left little doubt as to how he really felt.”
A few days after the murder detectives verified from witnesses that Anthony Mirra and Anthony “Tony Bender” Strollo had both met at Carfano’s table at Marino’s that fateful night. Both were questioned and released. Carfano had also received two telephone calls while he dined. The last lead the police had to go on was that two gunmen from Texas, Nick Cassio and Johnny Luke had been seen in town the day of the murder.
On September 29, a private funeral was held for Janice Drake. The former beauty queen was buried in her hometown. Many show business friends of her husband sent floral pieces. Among them were ones from Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Copyright A. R. May 1999