June 18, 1946: Mob murder suspect takes a fall.
(Second of two parts)
Pittsburgh homicide detective Peter Connors was driving to work along Cape May Avenue one day when he looked up and saw a man wearing a dark suit and slicked-back hair walk into a gas station near West Liberty Avenue.
That’s Frank Valenti, Connors said to himself.
Police had spent the last four weeks searching for Valenti. The dapper gangster was suspected in the murders of two small-time numbers guys, Frank Evans and Freddie Garrow. Evans and Garrow were shot to death in May, their bodies stuffed in the back seat and floorboard of a Pontiac found near Washington Boulevard. Police traced an inspection sticker on the vehicle to Valenti.
Connors couldn’t believe his luck. He stopped his vehicle and followed Valenti into the gas station. Valenti was on a pay phone. Connors slapped the cuffs on him and said, “Let’s go.”
Next stop for Valenti was the Oakland police station, and this is where things got dicey. Valenti would later claim that one of his legs was handcuffed to a bench and three men began simultaneously throwing questions and punches at him. Blows landed on his face and ribs, he said. A guy wearing overalls whacked Valenti with a foot-long section of rubber hose.
When Valenti passed out, he was revived with the smell of ammonia.
Finally, Inspector John Flavin entered the room.
“Frank, you had better tell these people what you know,” Flavin said. “We know you’re not the one, but we know that you know who did it.”
Valenti wouldn’t talk. So the beating resumed.
Later, Flavin returned. Ice was applied to Valenti’s battered face. Possibly in an attempt to make up for the plastering his boys had applied, Flavin got the suspect a milkshake with a double scoop of ice cream.
“How are my boys treating you?” Flavin asked.
“Fine,” Valenti said with a gasp.
Police hauled Valenti to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was bandaged and x-rayed, then sent to the county jail. Newspaper photographers got wind of the arrest and were waiting.
Evans and Garrow had been shot a total of 22 times. The excessive violence fascinated and shocked the city. And now police had a suspect — Valenti, impeccably dressed owner of both a chain of Pittsburgh restaurants called Spaghetti Village and an extensive criminal record that dated back more than a decade.
Reporters saw Valenti’s battered face, his stunned expression. How’d he get hurt? they inquired.
“I asked him what happened and he said he fell in his cell,” Flavin replied.
Charges against Valenti were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Five years later a grand jury investigation of the killings recommended no indictments. Too many “untruthful” witnesses, the jurors said.
Valenti eventually left Pittsburgh and become a founder and boss of the Rochester, N.Y., crime family. He’s perhaps best known as the mastermind of a 1970 scheme in which his organization detonated a series of bombs in Rochester. His intent was to deflect attention from his organization’s criminal activities. Crazy as it was, the scheme worked. Police focused their energies and attention on suspected Vietnam war protesters.
Valenti headed the Rochester mob from 1964 until he was convicted of extortion in 1972. He moved to Arizona and died at age 97 at a nursing home near Houston.
Top picture: A battered Valenti heads to the Allegheny County Jail. (Pittsburgh Press photo)