My Dad was in the Mafia (What Pittsburgh Newspapers Said in 1972)


A story like mine means little without documentation.  Anyone can claim their daddy danced in the underworld that is organized crime.  Few have actually lived it.

The fact of the matter is–fiction only goes so far. 

Somehow there’s power in knowing a story played itself out in an actual, personal past—an experience rooted in real-time, a specific place.

Admittedly, my story is complicated.   In fact, that may be an understatement.  I’ve lived a life many parts of which could make a powerful story, a moving memoir, in and of themselves.  One could write one book about growing up in the Mafia, another about battling bipolar disorder, a third about living in Vietnam, and a fourth about being dropped, with two dogs, in post-earthquake Haiti.

The bottom line is this.  There’s a lot going on here.  The broad range of story itself is borderline bizarre.  Sometimes I almost have trouble believing the narrative I myself have lived.

But I believe God has gifted me with a story to tell.  The life I’ve lived, no matter how difficult, has been my greatest gift.  Perhaps, that’s what makes me a writer–feeling the story itself could be a gift.

Living it is one thing.  Believing it as an outsider is, perhaps, another.  It sounds a bit far-fetched.  Even I know that.

So, I’m in the process of documenting the part about my father.  For years my mother had a folder with newspaper clippings about my dad, but they were lost in a move more than a decade ago.  Thus, I’m in the process of recreating that folder digitally.

Today, then, I thought I’d share links to two articles published in 1972, one by The Pittsburgh Press, the other by ThePittsburgh Post-Gazette, that document my father’s involvement in the Pittsburgh underworld.

For the trial described in the links below, my father was granted immunity—but only after massive coercion on the part of federal prosecutors.  According to my mother, my dad faced imprisonment unless or until he talked, so somehow he decided to come clean, in a sideways kind of way.  I think of it in terms of the Emily Dickinson line, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that there had to be a decision made among those indicted and the Mafia leadership that this was their best strategy—inevitable—and, perhaps, in their best interest.  I’m almost certain there was never a rift between Daddy and his Mafia associates because of this.

For example, I remember my parents, on a number of occasions, driving to the federal, minimum security prison in Allentown, Pennsylvania (on the other side of the state) to visit those who were actually convicted and serving time there.  It also seemed to me my father carried on the “business” in their absence.

You will read, then, in these articles about my father’s role as the prosecution’s prime witness in the case.  

To read the piece by James McCarron, published by The Pittsburgh Press on April 3, 1972, click here.  To look at the second by Karolyn Schuster (published two days later by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), click here.

I was eight-year-old when, in this case, the raids by the FBI took place—ten-years-old at the time of this particular trial.  I try to imagine what I might have felt about all of this at the time, as, frankly, I remember nothing about the weeks the testimony itself took place.

My family one year later in 1973. I am second from the right, the oldest of 4 siblings.

How is it that this was my father’s life, and by extension, mine?  How might events like this, happening over and over to any child, have impacted her in the long run?  Might it have affected my mental health in years to come?  Is there a link between this childhood and my later developing bipolar disorder?

These are some of the questions I’m driven to answer.

What questions do you have?

44 thoughts on “My Dad was in the Mafia (What Pittsburgh Newspapers Said in 1972)

  1. Mark was telling me about your blog last night; the stunning table, your trip to Haiti, your dad’s connection to the mafia. All fascinating stuff for sure, and after reading back a few entries, I’m definitely intrigued and your writing does not disappoint.

    I’m curious about your siblings reaction to your recent posts and how these events have affected them. Is it something you talk about, or is it the proverbial elephant in the room?

    From your comment’s on Mark’s blog and what little I’ve read here, I think you are quite an amazing woman.

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    • Tara, I can’t tell you how happy I am to “meet” you. I’ve been meaning to visit your blog for weeks, and now absolutely must! You and Mark’s story is somehow dear to me, especially now that I know about the dream component it shares with mine and Sara’s.

      But about my story–yes, we talk about it frequently among ourselves and always have. It was never really much of a secret within the family. It was our very obvious way of life. It was, however, a secret I wanted to keep from my friends, as I was embarrassed at times, imagining what life might be like if my dad were a doctor or an accountant. We still talk about it, and I now share openly with others. I only have one sister who reads my blog sometimes. She knows I’m writing about this. We haven’t yet talked about specific posts, but she and I share openly.

      My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t read, and I hope for now does not know I’m doing this, as she’s forbidden me to mention her at all in my blog, and writing about this part of my life is impossible without acknowledging she exists. (She has bizarrely asked me to write as if I didn’t have a mother–whatever that means.) My sister is nervous about how my mom will react if/when she finds out. And I am, as well. I just have no choice, I feel, but to tell this story. But my mom, I don’t think has a problem with me writing about my dad, she somehow doesn’t want me to mention her. You have to wonder why.

      At any rate, that’s it in a nut shell. Again, I’m delighted to meet you, Tara. I’m so happy for you and Mark!

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      • Yes, that’s my Tara! LOL. 🙂

        And Kathy, the question I have for you is this: who should direct the movie version of your life? I’m thinking Scorsese myself, what with the organized crime angle and all. You DO have at least four stories to pack into one memoir, but I just think that makes it all the more powerful. When you and Sara come out here for your book signing at Powell’s, Tara and I will treat you to a bacon maple bar from Voodoo Doughnut. Deal?

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      • Amazing deal, my friend! Thanks for this wonderful comment. I know nothing about directors, but I will ask you to consult with my Sara about the matter when (not if–ha, ha) the time comes.

        We have wanted to do Voodoo Doughnuts, by the way! And your Tara is a sweetie!

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    • Thanks so much for reading. Whatever it is I’ve achieved or not, the process has been big. It’s taken lots of time. I’m still not “there.” However, I think telling this story is still part of that journey.

      It was great having you, and I hope you’ll come again soon!

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  2. Kathy,
    I think the most interesting question is one you posed yourself. Do you remember discussing the relationship/experience with your father much in earlier therapy sessions? It didn’t occur to me that there could be a connection between a traumatic childhood experience and the later struggle with bipolar disorder.

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    • There was discussion about this during my recovery. I don’t know that it was covered intensely, but we looked at the issue of what happened earlier impacting the illness that came later. Bipolar illness has a large genetic component, which likely came from my father’s aunt. However, trauma can affect whether or not that genetic inclination gets triggered or not. Does that make sense?

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  3. This, as always, was a great post! It struck me as I was reading the articles that news – and movies – were my entire “experience” of organized crime until reading your blog. Your writing is personal and given me another, more fulsome, lens. The two together were incredibly powerful, and each perspective challenges the other. The articles remind me about the “public” implications of your dad’s life. I’m not articulating myself well. The articles somehow brought home to me that your childhood experiences were in some ways very public affairs. I hope this doesn’t sound as asinine as I feel like it does.

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    • Yes, you’re right, Rose. There was a “public” implication. Fortunately I was naive as a kid. I know that sounds hard to believe, but I was very protected/isolated/insulated. I don’t remember until I got to be a teenager, fearing that others would find out about all of this through the media. It just never occurred to me. It wasn’t until I was home alone and actually saw coverage on the evening news that I began to worry about that. In fact, it kind of overwhelmed me when I did.

      By the way, I think you articulated what you were thinking quite well. In fact, you’ve helped me think of some new issues.

      Thank you so much!

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  4. By what little I know of you Kathy, I can tell you have overcome alot and dealt with alot of issues in your life, but have come out as an amazing human being….which is a great testament to YOU. This is going to be a fascination memoir to read when it is completed. HUGS! 🙂

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    • Thanks, dear Idiot. I never seem to think of it as overcoming. I don’t know why. What you say makes sense. The amazing part? I don’t know about that either, but Sara would agree with you–mostly. I’m glad you believe in me, my friend. Hugs to you too!

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  5. Thanks for sharing the links to the news stories published about your dad testifying in court. I know this was a very serious situation and you’re still feeling the effects of it, but I was amused that the Feds offered both a garbage disposal “and a once soggy mass of ground paper” as evidence of wrong-doing.

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  6. Having been interested in the “Mob” since I was an early adult, I find your history interesting. I cannot imagine what would have been like growing up in that culture. As to the bipolar, I know in my family it is hereditary since my Dad had, I have it and a brother of my paternal grandmother had it. So, is bipolar also caused by life experiences? This I do not have the answer to. I do feel sharing your story in a memoir would be a book I would buy.

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    • Thanks so, so much for reading. I don’t think it would cause the illness as much as serve as a trigger for a genetic predisposition to develop it. Does that make sense?

      At any rate, I suppose now it had to have been a bizarre way to be raised, but as a kid it was the only life I knew–thus seeminly normal.

      I’m so happy you stopped by today. Hope you’ll come back again soon!

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  7. Hey Kathy, great article. I love the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mention of the evidence as a “garbage disposal unit and a once soggy mass of ground paper… ”
    That was extremely hilarious to me. And the Home ‘n Hammer advertisement planted right beside the mention of using hammers to gain entry is very funny also. I wonder who planned that.

    On a more serious note though, it must have been a very stressful and confusing time in childhood for you. Do you know much about the childhood your father would have experienced?

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    • This is so funny, Marianne, cause one of my friends emailed me, saying the exact same thing! It’s so ironic, at the very least. It would seem that someone laying this all out had a great sense of humor.

      At the same time, what you ask about my dad’s childhood is important. I don’t know a lot. I will have to get my mom talking about this, as she’s the only one alive who might know. Though I may also be able to track down some of my dad’s chilldhood friends. Great suggestion!

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  8. Kathy, I am in awe of you. I was drawn here to your blog initially by your experiences in Haiti and your superb writing skills. What kept me here is the raw emotion you are so eloquently able to express (and your beautiful art 🙂 ) and now I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment. And to think all of this is from real life – wow.

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  9. “The broad range of story itself…”

    I’ve often wondered how you will find the time to tell ALL of your stories. You are such a gifted writer with so many amazing stories to tell. I look forward to reading as many as you’ll share. 🙂

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  10. I don’t have questions. Not that I’m not curious what happens next. I’m just open to whatever you have to tell. I’m so glad you found a track and have been running on it with your story. It is fascinating, especially for someone who was born and raised in Boring, Nowhere under the (too) strict guidance of a couple of mega-overly protective parents. And while I say that like it’s a bad thing, I also recognize how much you probably longed to have that cookie-cutter, boring life at times. But as you said, your life, chaotic though it may have been, is your gift. Write it, girl!

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    • Yes, you’re right. I did long for boring and normal. I would have done anything to have it as a kid. Now I think otherwise, but then I wanted that more than anything–truly. You’re correct, Terri. Thanks for seeing that!

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    • Thanks, Lisa. I know there are lots more articles out there. I just don’t quite know how to track them down. From a research perspective this project is challenging. But I’m so glad this aspect of the story interests you, as well. I think the media narrative that runs along side the one I tell can’t be ignored–if that makes sense.

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  11. Pingback: Mafia Madness or Christian Craziness—Which Tipped the Scales? | reinventing the event horizon

  12. Like an earlier commenter said, I’m not only curious about your childhood now, but I’m also interested to hear more about your father’s upbringing, if it’s possible to trace his thread back that far. How did he possibly get involved with the Mafia, and why?

    The real challenge with your memoir (aside from all the research) seems like it will be reiterating again and again that your story is TRUE. 🙂 It’s unbelievable that you’ve had all of these experiences all rolled up into one existence, but like they say– you can’t make this stuff up!

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  13. Pingback: We Interrupt your Regularly Scheduled Program to Bring you—another Kathy? « Lake Superior Spirit

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