Frank Calabrese Sr. (a.k.a. Frankie Breeze) is Dead

The Chicago mobster and hit man who allegedly strangled his victims and then slashed their throats

35 years as a criminal defense attorney causes one to have a special interest in crime and those that commit crime.  For many years now I have followed the exploits of Frankie Breeze, the Chicago mobster and hit man, who allegedly strangled his victims and then slashed their throats.  He died on Christmas Day 2012 in a federal prison in North Carolina. While authorities are not releasing the cause of death, during his own testimony in September 2007 at the Family Secrets trial he portrayed himself as a man dying with a “sloppy” enlarged heart.  He definitely did not die of a broken heart.

While Federal authorities have often struggled to obtain evidence that leads to convictions against real mobsters, in the end, Frankie Breeze was handed to them on a silver platter. Omerta, the code of honor among mobsters that guarantees silence and a lack of cooperation with the authorities, is seldom broken.  If broken, the code calls for death to the person who breaks it.  In this case, the code was not just broken; it was shattered in a most unusual way. The key witnesses against Franie Breeze were his 2 sons, Frankie Jr. and Kurt, and his brother Nick (a.k.a. Nickie Breeze). Nickie Breeze was arguably just as dangerous as Frankie, but sensing his own demise based on the disclosures of his nephews, he cut a deal to turn state’s evidence against Frankie to save himself.

Frankie Breeze actually faced 2 criminal trials: the 1st in March 1997 and the 2nd in June 2007.  The 1st was an uneventful affair in the sense that Frankie Breeze and his 2 sons pleaded guilty to racketeering charges related to events from 1978 to 1992.  What was eventful is that while in prison his son Frankie Jr. wrote to Federal authorities offering to assist them in gathering evidence against his father.  Oddly and surprisingly, according to Federal authorities, he asked for nothing in return.  They accepted his offer and he was wired.  Frankie Jr. provided the Federal authorities with the most persuasive evidence available—audiotapes of Frankie Breeze bragging of all the murders he had committed and how he committed them.

Frankie Breeze did not, however, go down without a fight.  Despite what any objective observer would describe as overwhelming inculpatory evidence–his own voice proclaiming his guilt–he took the stand and in less than articulate fashion proclaimed, “Them is all lies”.  In a strange twist of fate, his own words figuratively strangled him and slit his throat.  The jury perhaps believed some of what he said, however, because they only convicted him of 7 of the 18 counts of murder in the indictment.  Perhaps instead their leniency in registering convictions related more to the fact that Frankie Breeze was said to have threatened the prosecutor, Markus Funk, that he was a “fucking dead man” in a way that was clearly audible to them.  They may have felt that some leniency in their decision-making was in order! Efforts by Frankie Breeze to have his convictions overturned after one of the jurors disclosed that that he had heard this threat were denied.

Here are some of the more interesting facts (or should I say allegations?) revealed during the 2007 trial:

  1. Nickie Breeze testified that his brother Frankie was the capo of the Chicago Outfit, a group of mobsters operating on the south side of Chicago that used all manner of intimidation, including extortion and murder, to collect their loan sharking debts. Frankie Breeze reported only to Angelo LaPietra (a.k.a. “The Hook”) the ultimate boss and founder of the Italian American Club;
  2. His son Kurt testified that Frankie Breeze had buried his proceeds of crime at various unknown locations around Chicago. He claimed that his father had stashed “millions” that would likely never be found. Frankie Jr. agreed testifying, “Yeah, he loved to stash cash” and, “he’d put it in 2 places in the same place so that if you found the one you were so happy you didn’t look for the other one.  And he made the one easier to find with less cash in it”;
  3. His son, Frankie Jr. described his father as “deadly” whose method of murder was strangulation but finished with his signature move, a slit throat;
  4. January 28, 2009 Judge Zagel sentenced Frankie Breeze, then 71, to life in prison describing his criminal acts as, “unspeakable”.  Despite the jury’s findings that Frankie Breeze was guilty on only 7 of the 18 alleged murders, the judge sentenced him on 13 murders.


Frankie Breeze was not treated as a ‘criminal celebrity’ in prison.  His lawyer, Joe Lopez, filed a court application in 2008 to seek improvements in his state of solitary confinement in Federal prison.  He was, according to his lawyer, treated as though he was a terrorist and subject to “Special Administrative Measures” ( SAM’s).  His lawyer claimed those measures were completely inappropriate and should be reserved only for actual terrorists. He ought not to be treated as Hannibal Lecter, the lawyer claimed, referring to the fictional psychopath in the movie Silence of the Lambs. His quarters in the prison were likened to, “an old mop room” more suitable for “a storage room”.

Frankie Breeze died in a way that TS Eliot would describe, “Not with a bang but a whimper”.