Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness
Josephine Cullotta cashed in some savings bonds her husband had left in Frank’s name and bought him a used car, an Oldsmobile 98. To Frank it was big and beautiful. He loved it and washed it all the time.
One day while he was giving the car a bath an old neighborhood acquaintance stopped by. The man’s name was Bob Sprodak, also known as “Crazy Bob.” Sprodak was a year or two older than Frank, and it was common knowledge on the street that he always carried a gun
“Nice lookin’ car you got there,” Crazy Bob said. “I’ve got a car parked down the street, but mine’s hot. You workin’ anywhere?”
“My uncle’s getting me a job at a newspaper stand downtown. I’ll be starting any day now.”
Then Sprodak did something that would change Frank’s life forever: he reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of money.
Frank was impressed and curious. “Where did you get that?”
“Sticking up places; I do armed robberies. I hold up taverns, restaurants, and gas stations. There’s a lot of money in it and it’s real easy,” Crazy Bob said.
Frank had more questions. “Do you work by yourself?”
“Usually, but you’re welcome to come with me sometime if you want. There are times when it’s better to have another guy along.”
“I don’t know…that sounds pretty dangerous,” Frank said. “What do you do if somebody fights back?”
“Then you shoot him.”
Frank wasn’t completely sold on the idea. “Okay, I’ll think about it,” he said.
The next day Frank’s uncle took him to the newspaper stand to start work. It was then that he learned there was a little more to the job than selling newspapers.
“This is very important,” the uncle said, holding up a cigar box. “Guys are going to come by here and give you money and slips of paper. They’ll be for their bets on horse races. You take the money and slip of paper and put it in this cigar box. Whatever you do, don’t mix the bet money up with the newspaper money. Got it?”
“Yeah, sure. What do I do with the bets and money after I collect them?”
“Just put them in the box like I told you. Somebody will stop around every so often and pick them up.”
Frank tried the job for a while. But the weather was turning cold, and he had to sell papers and collect the illegal bets while standing next to a fifty-five gallon drum with a fire in it in order to keep warm. From time to time a car pulled up and a guy got out to collect the betting slips and money from the cigar box.
As it got colder Frank thought more and more about Crazy Bob and that big wad of cash. He started to ask himself what the hell he was doing out there freezing to death for a few quarters when there was an easier way to make a lot more money. He told his uncle he was quitting.
“Quitting? What the fuck do you mean you’re quitting?” the uncle screamed at him.
Frank wasn’t intimidated. “This is bullshit. I know of better ways to make money than standing out here freezing to death. I’m all done.”
With that decision Frank’s life turned another corner. The days of stealing newspaper money and fighting with teachers and other kids were behind him. From then on, the cars he stole would be work cars, used in burglaries and armed robberies. The next phase of his career was about to begin.