There were some very dangerous organized crime figures plying their trade in Las Vegas during the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Tony Spilotro and Frank Cullotta were among them. But one of their associates, although not as well known, may have been the most dangerous of them all. His name was Larry Neumann. Like Spilotro and Cullotta, Neumann was a native of the Chicago area. He was a burglar, robber, and arsonist; but his forte was murder. Larry Neumann loved to kill people.
Nicknamed “Lurch” because of his physical build, Neumann’s story is far different from the many young men forced into lives of crime due to economic hardship. On the contrary, Larry’s family was actually quite well off. In fact, when his father passed away he left his son a trust that produced a substantial monthly income. No, Larry Neumann wasn’t a criminal out of necessity. He robbed and killed because he liked it.
Larry’s first three known murders took place in single incident in Chicago in 1956. On that occasion he used a shotgun to kill the bartender and a waitress in a Chicago tavern. As he left the bar he encountered a young man delivering newspapers and killed him too. The local papers reported that the slayings inside the bar were the result of a dispute in which Neumann thought he had been short-changed in the amount of $2. After the dispute he left the bar, returned with the shotgun and opened fire. The newspaper man was slain simply because he happened to be walking by. Lurch was convicted and sentenced to 125 years. For all practical purposes that should have been the end of Neumann’s criminal career. But incredibly, the killer was paroled after serving only about 11 years of his prison term.
While in Illinois’ Statesville penitentiary, Larry met Frank Cullotta when both men were working in the prison’s psychiatric ward. This unit was home to convicts that couldn’t be housed in general population. They included those with mental problems, stool pigeons, and baby rapists. Known as the “goon squad” by the other inmates, Larry and his co-workers did many of the things the guards didn’t like to do. They dispensed medications, monitored the ward as part of the suicide prevention program and—the most fun of all—rolled in on unruly prisoners and beat them into submission. After Frank was transferred to the federal facility in Terre Haute to finish that portion of his sentence, Larry received his miraculous parole.
Following his release from prison in 1974, Frank returned to Chicago where he and Larry reunited. The former cellmates partnered up on a couple of scores, but didn’t work together regularly. In 1979, Frank accepted Tony Spilotro’s invitation to move to Las Vegas. However, that move didn’t end his relationship with Neumann.
Upon arriving in Sin City, one of the assignments Spilotro gave Frank was to put together a crew of top-notch criminals to operate his street rackets and provide muscle as necessary. Although Larry still lived in Chicago, Frank figured he’d be a good man to have come into town for special jobs. Frank made his proposal and Neumann agreed to help him out as needed. And he said that if Frank had any good leads for robberies in Chicago, he and his partner Wayne Matecki would gladly do the job and give Frank a cut of the profits. A short time later Frank gave Larry a tip on a guy in Chicago who was a prime target for a stickup.
The score Frank turned Neumann and Matecki onto was the robbery of a jeweler. Frank had information that this individual likely had between a hundred-fifty and two-hundred thousand dollars worth of jewelry on hand at any given time.
Frank remembers the caper this way:
“The guy’s name was Bob Brown. He was a friend of Allen Dorfman, who was involved in arranging Teamster loans to the Outfit. It turned out that Wayne knew Brown and wouldn’t be able to do the robbery himself, but he thought he could enter the store under the pretext that he was looking to buy a ring. After he got inside Larry could come in and stick the place up. That seemed like a possibility that might work. Wayne and Larry pulled the robbery, but not exactly in the way we’d discussed.
“Thirty-six hours after the job Larry was at my door in Vegas; he was carrying an attaché case. I said things must have gone well. He said there had been a change in how the robbery went down. I asked him what he meant. He said, ‘I had to kill him.’
“He told me that it started with Wayne going in the store as planned. But it had been in the back of his mind that the Outfit might figure out that Wayne had been in on the robbery and come after him. Larry said, ‘When I got in the store I said fuck it. I put my gun down and grabbed a machete that was hanging on the wall. I started stabbing him and Wayne broke a vase over his head.’
“I couldn’t believe he turned a simple robbery into a murder. I told him he was nuts. I didn’t dare say too much, though. Larry was a very dangerous individual; he feared absolutely no one. If I pissed him off he was liable to kill me, too. Even Tony came to be afraid of him. I sold all the merchandise to a Jew in Las Vegas. By the time I paid all the overhead we got about twenty-five thousand each. It was hardly worth anyone’s life.
“Larry went back to Chicago right afterward. Within thirty days he moved to Las Vegas.”
Shortly after arriving in Vegas, Frank Cullotta and fellow burglar Leo Guardino used the proceeds from their first three scores to open a restaurant called the Upper Crust, located on Maryland Parkway at Flamingo Road. The eatery became a hangout for Frank’s crew and other Vegas wiseguys. The motivation for Neumann’s next two killings began with a phone call he received while at the bistro talking with Frank and Leo.
“One day Larry, Leo, and I were sitting in the Upper Crust when Larry got a phone call,” Cullotta remembered. “He went to the phone and when he came back he was violent. He said some guy had gotten in a beef with his ex-wife in a lounge back in Chicago and grabbed her by the throat. I said she wasn’t hurt and they weren’t married any more, so he shouldn’t get so upset. Larry said, ‘What he did was a sign of disrespect to me. I’ve got to go back and kill the bastard.’
“I told Larry he couldn’t do that; it wasn’t right. For the next hour and a half I talked to him about it, trying to convince him not to do anything. When we finished, I felt in my heart that I’d succeeded.
“About ten days later Larry said he had to go to Chicago. I asked him if he’d take this kid named Tommy along with him. I had something in the works that I was going to use Tommy as an alibi for. I figured if he was out of town there would be less chance that someone would connect us. And in case Larry still had bad intentions about that thing with his ex-wife, he probably wouldn’t do anything foolish with Tommy around.
“I got a call the next day telling me about a big killing in McHenry County. A guy and his girlfriend were shot in the head in a lounge. I called Tommy to find out what was going on, but he didn’t want to say anything on the phone. I told him to have Larry call me. When he called he said he’d be back in a week. In the meantime he was going to keep Tommy under wraps so nobody could talk with him.
“The following week Larry was back. I asked him if he’d killed those two people; he said he had. I told him I thought he’d promised me not to do it. He explained it this way: ‘I thought about what you said, but I couldn’t control myself. I found out the tavern this guy was in and went there; I left Tommy outside in the car. I asked the guy why he grabbed my ex-wife’s neck. I was getting more and more pissed off. I pulled my gun and shot him in the forehead. And then I shot the broad. The guy gurgled, so I shot them both again.’
“I told Larry that the girl was innocent and supposedly had a couple of kids. All he said to that was that the kids were probably better off now.”
Neumann’s homicidal tendencies weren’t lost on Tony Spilotro. According to Frank, Spilotro, considered by some to be the most dangerous man in Las Vegas at the time, once said of Neumann: “Jesus, don’t ever unleash that bastard on me, whatever you do.”
In addition to these six known murders Neumann committed, he wanted to kill or participate in the killing of two more people. One was a member of Cullotta’s crew suspected of being a police informant. The other was the wife of a man who had made a deal with federal prosecutors to testify against Spilotro and Cullotta. Tony Spilotro nixed both hits. He wasn’t convinced the suspected informant was guilty; and he didn’t want to bring on the additional heat that would have resulted from killing the witness’ wife. The fearless Neumann wasn’t happy with Spilotro’s decisions and threatened to do the murders anyway; but Frank managed to talk him out of it.
When Cullotta flipped and became a government witness in 1982, he was required to testify against his former associates, including Larry Neumann. He remembers his court appearance regarding the murder of Chicago jeweler Bob Brown:
“As they were taking me to the courtroom we had to walk by two holding cells. Larry Neumann was in one of them. The cops ordered him to turn his back as I walked by. Larry said, ‘Fuck you, you cocksuckers! I know who you’ve got there.’ They told him again to turn his back; he said the same thing. He didn’t say anything to me directly, but when our eyes met I had the impression he was thinking, ‘What the fuck are you doing to me?’
Neumann was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He died behind bars of natural causes in January 2007. His unclaimed body was cremated at state expense.