From burglary to armed robbery and murder, infamous bad guy Frank Cullotta not only did it all, in Cullotta he admits to it—and in graphic detail. This no-holds-barred biography chronicles the life of a career criminal who started out as a thug on the streets of Chicago and became a trusted lieutenant in Tony Spilotro’s gang of organized lawbreakers in Las Vegas. Cullotta’s was a world of high-profile heists, street muscle, and information—lots of it—about many of the FBI’s most wanted. In the end, that information was his ticket out of crime, as he turned government witness and became one of a handful of mob insiders to enter the Witness Protection Program. “Frank Cullotta is the real thing,” says Nicholas Pileggi in the book’s Foreword, and in these pages, Cullotta sets the record straight on organized crime, witness protection, and life and death in mobbed-up Las Vegas.
Murder in Las Vegas
At approximately 4:30 a.m. on October 11, 1979, a dead man was found floating face down in the swimming pool of his residence at 2303 Rawhide Avenue in Las Vegas. He’d been shot in the head several times by a small-caliber handgun. The corpse was that of 46-year-old Sherwin “Jerry” Lisner. His wife Jeannie, a cocktail waitress at the Aladdin, found the body. She’d left work early after becoming concerned when her husband failed to answer her telephone calls and made the grisly discovery.
According to investigating police officers, Lisner had put up quite a fight. Bullet holes were discovered throughout the inside of the dwelling, and blood was found on the walls and floor leading from the garage, through the residence, and out to the pool. Although the house had been ransacked, the cops didn’t believe robbery or burglary was the motive. They declined to speculate on the reason Lisner was killed, but they did have a theory on how the murder went down. The killer, or killers, knocked on the garage door, surprising Lisner. When he answered the knock, the shooting started. Although wounded, the victim attempted to escape his assailant, running through his home, the would-be killer in close pursuit and bullets flying. After a valiant effort to survive, Lisner’s luck ran out when he reached the pool. No murder weapon was found and no suspect named.
But the police had their suspicions on the why and who of it. They knew that the dead man had mob connections and was in legal trouble. He’d been arrested by the FBI on July 11 and charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, aiding and abetting, grand larceny, and conspiracy. Free on $75 thousand bail, Lisner was scheduled to go on trial October 29 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Lisner was also believed to have been acquainted with Chicago Outfit enforcer and Las Vegas organized crime kingpin Tony Spilotro. And it was rumored that the deceased had been negotiating with the FBI to work out a deal in the cases pending against him in Washington. Could those negotiations have included providing incriminating information against Spilotro, one of the FBI’s prime targets?
Metro investigators knew all this and suspected that Spilotro might well be behind the killing. However, they couldn’t immediately prove their suspicions and kept their thoughts to themselves.
As it turned out the cops were pretty close to the truth in their idea of what occurred at Lisner’s house that night. But they were wrong in that Lisner had not been surprised by the arrival of his killer, he had been expecting him. And the victim had drawn his last breath in his living room, not outside by the pool.
There was no error in their belief that Tony Spilotro was behind the murder, however. When the soon-to-be dead man answered his door that evening he invited his murderer inside. In a matter of moments the visitor began to fire a total of ten bullets aimed at his host’s head, with several finding their mark. The assassin wasn’t Tony Spilotro himself, but he was there at Tony’s behest. The man was Spilotro’s trusted associate who ran a crew of burglars and robbers known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. His name? Frank Cullotta.
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