Rascals and Rogues: Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo

During my travels, adventures and travails in 1950’s and 1960’s Cleveland, I got to know a quite few people who fit into the categories of “Rascal” and “Rogue” very well. Let me tell you about some of the most interesting ones who could be found mostly on Short Vincent in those days.

Big Ange
A man named Angelo married the woman I wanted to marry. My family lived on Whittier Avenue in Hough and our neighbors in the next apartment were Cliff and Ethel Gardiner. Cliff and Ethel had two daughters, Peggy and Judy.

Judy was about two years older than Peggy and they both were teenagers. Peggy was very pretty. Judy was movie star beautiful. I begged my mother to help me buy a wedding ring so I could marry Judy. I wanted to get a ring at Sherbert’s dime store.

<span class="content-image-text">Joseph Lonardo</span>Joseph LonardoMy mother wouldn’t do it and I couldn’t understand why. She said that I was six years old, and she didn’t think it was really a good idea.

Teenage boys hung around the Whittier Avenue apartments in the summer in droves because of Peggy and Judy. They would come on their motor bikes to ask Peggy and Judy to go for rides. Motor bikes were very big then. They were regular bicycles that had little gasoline engines on them. 

The boys used to act like they were Hell’s Angels as they hung out in front of the apartments. Heck’s Angels may have been a more accurate term for the young, would-be Rebels Without a Cause. They did their best impersonations of Marlon Brando in the movie “The Wild One.”

Some of them even had the same kind of hat that he wore in the movie.

As Judy grew into her 20s, she became even more beautiful. She had steady boyfriend by the name of Angelo, who was about 15 years older than her. He was Italian and seemed to not have a job.

He would come to see Judy at any time during the day. He seemed to have a lot of money because he drove a very nice car, had very expensive-looking clothes, and he often bought all the Gardiners presents.

To me he seemed like a very nice man. He was quiet, well-mannered and very gentlemanly. As nice as he was, my mother and father speculated that he might be in “the rackets.” That was what they called it in those days.

The Gardiner family eventually moved to 131st Street and Union Avenue, but my mother and father still maintained their friendship with them. Sometimes on Saturdays I used to take three buses to go and spend the day with them. In the evening, my mother and father would come out and pick me up. 

They would play pinochle with the Gardiners and Angelo. All of the sudden, the whole family, along with Angelo, up and moved to Los Angeles. There was no talk about it, no building up to it. One day Ethel called my mother and told her that they were moving and then they were gone.

I never thought much about it or why they moved so suddenly. Ethel and my mother still called each other a there were occasional cross-country visits. 

Many years later, after I was grown up and had a family of my own, I was reading a book about the Cleveland Mafia. I found and incredible revelation in the book. 

Not only was Angelo in the “rackets” but he was Angelo “Big Ange” Lonardo—the Capo de Capo (Boss of Bosses). He was the Don, the head of the Cleveland Mafia!

That may have been a natural progression because his father, Joseph Lonardo, was the Don of the Cleveland Mafia in the 1920s. Joseph Lonardo was the first nationally known Mafia boss in Cleveland. Angelo had shot and killed another Mafioso on the corner of East 110th Street and Woodland Avenue when he was 18 years old. He did so on the instructions of his mother. He avenged the death of his father by killing the man who murdered him. 

Joseph was devoted to his mother, and, on the anniversary of her death, he would walk from the Mt. Carmel area to mass at Holy Rosary Church in Murray Hill. That was a long trek, but it was like a pilgrimage for him. The walk was nearly six miles long. He would put on black high-top sneakers with his suit and tie for the walk. He would carry his beautiful Stetson shoes in a paper bag and change shoes and put the tennis shoes in the bag before he got to the church.

<span class="content-image-text">Salvatore Todaro</span>Salvatore TodaroThe man he killed was Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro. Angelo went to East 110th and Woodland and sent word that his mother wanted to speak to Salvatore. As Todaro approached to speak with Mrs. Lonardo, Angelo “Pulled out a gun and emptied it into ‘Black Sam's stocky frame.”

Angelo disappeared for several months—reportedly hiding in Chicago, courtesy of Lonardo friend Al Capone.

Later it was believed that Angelo spent time in California with his uncle Dominick, who fled west when indicted for a payroll robbery murder in 1921. Eventually Angelo was arrested and charged with "Black Sam's" murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Justice, although served, would be short lived—as was released only a year and a half later after he won a new trial.

No member of the Cleveland Mafia was respected by his peers as much as “Big Ange” Lonardo. By the time James Licavoli became boss, Angelo Lonardo was a grizzled veteran of the rackets. 

After the disappearance of Leo “Lips” Moceri, Licavoli was the obvious choice for under boss. When Licavoli was sent to prison, Angelo became the new boss of the Cleveland family. Lonardo was greatly respected nationally by many of the most powerful Mafia leaders.

Angelo Lonardo’s quiet nature—typical of the last breed of Mafiosi was a form of protection against treacherous betrayers of the brotherhood.

My childhood perceptions of Angelo Lonardo as a kind and gentlemanly person may have been fairly accurate. Even the people who were trying to put him on jail respected him in spite of some of is more ruthless activities “To me, he was almost like the movie version of The Godfather,” a police officer commented. "He was always the gentleman, not a tough street rat. He was someone who recognized us as people in the same general line of work only on an opposing team, of course.”

And Angelo retained respect for the police. When detectives would arrive at his home to execute a search or arrest warrant, Lonardo and his wife would treat them like guests—even inviting them to sit and have coffee.” 

Angelo finally was arrested for a criminal activity that he was involved in, and the overwhelming evidence of that crime most probably would have put him in jail for the rest of his life.

After much soul searching, he decided to turn states evidence on his Mafia cohorts. He was put into the witness protection program and a number of his Mafia associates were sentenced to 100 years in prison each. Angelo never served another day in prison.

A few years ago, I read an article about the death of Big Ange Lonardo former head of the Cleveland Mafia who died in his bed of natural causes in Los Angeles at the age of 95. A documentary on Angelo Lonardo’s life entitled “The Sugar Wars” was released in 2014.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.