Frank Bellini had been careful for so long. He had varied his routines, alternated his routes and surrounded himself with trusted friends.
His enemies waited for him to let down his guard.
Bellini owned a confectionery at 106 N. Howard St. in the 1920s. He and his wife, Florence, lived upstairs in the three-story building with their wards Angelo, 5, and Carmen, 3, the sons of Bellini's cousin, and maintained a soft-drink parlor on the street level.
Every once in a while, police raided the business and charged its operator with illegal possession of liquor and violating Prohibition laws. Bellini was rumored to be the proprietor of at least a dozen establishments in Akron. Some were legitimate, others less so.
Authorities believed the Sicilian-born Bellini, whose real name was Giacomo Ripellino, was an underworld czar who had filled the void after Furnace Street kingpin Rosario Borgia and his notorious gang went to the electric chair for plotting the deadly ambushes of five Akron police officers from 1917 to 1919.
Police linked Bellini to bootlegging, prostitution and murder, saying he commanded a squad of lieutenants, although he never was convicted of any serious crimes. While Borgia was a selfish brute with a hair-trigger temper, his nemesis Bellini was more cosmopolitan and suave, donating money to needy Italian families and local causes.
Bellini’s distinguishing characteristic was a large, protruding, bat-like mustache whose tips he kept carefully waxed, and whose very presence made him easily recognizable.
He was indicted in the 1919 murder of Tony D’Agostino, a Youngstown man whose bound-and-gagged body was dumped in the Gorge with a dozen stab wounds. Bellini, who was seen leaving a Howard Street restaurant with D’Agostino on the day he vanished, pleaded not guilty and posted a $5,000 bail. Charges were dropped.
Police also investigated whether Bellini ordered the deaths of Garibaldi Penny, slain in a drive-by shooting on Furnace Street, and Tony Ferino, gunned down in front of his Howard Street poolroom. He was not charged.
Bellini let down his guard June 26, 1929.
He was sitting in front of his store at 10 p.m. Wednesday, socializing with his brother Gasper Bellini, Rox Deluca, Jerome Kehner and Norman Rastetter, when a 1922 Peerless touring car rolled past.
Two shotguns poked through a curtain covering the window and three deafening blasts shattered the calm.
“Bellini fell forward from the chair, his knee shattered by the heavy slugs,” the Akron Times-Press reported. “Desperately he turned his back to the fire; frantically he tried to claw his way to the shelter of the door.
“There was another spurt of flame, and this time the charge took him in the back. Still more fire — and the slugs tore holes in the wall of the building.”
The automobile sped away as Bellini writhed on the sidewalk. His brother had been peppered with pellets but escaped serious harm. The other men weren’t hurt.
An ambulance rushed Bellini to St. Thomas Hospital while police converged on Howard Street. Chief Detective Ed McDonnell stayed at Bellini’s bedside, asking if he had any idea who shot him.
“I don’t know,” Bellini said. “I don’t know.”
But Bellini whispered something to a lieutenant who nodded and left. The waiting room filled with Bellini’s men.
“He says nothing,” Gasper Bellini told a reporter when asked about his brother. “I know nothing.”
Motioning to the waiting men, he added: “They all know nothing.”
Police found the abandoned Peerless at Market and High streets. Two 12-gauge shotguns, one long barrel and one sawed off, were left behind with gloves that had concealed any fingerprints.
The car was registered to a Cleveland address that turned out to be a vacant lot. The license plate was stolen from another car. Police had nothing.
Doctors removed slugs from Bellini’s wounds, but his condition worsened as infection spread and his temperature spiked to 108 degrees. He declined to say anything more to Detective McDonnell and fell unconscious.
Bellini, 50, died about 2:30 p.m. June 28. Coroner M.B. Crafts ruled the cause of death as gangrene.
St. Vincent Church was filled to capacity Monday, July 1, for what one reporter described as “Akron’s first intimate glimpse of a gangland funeral.”
“The solemn mass, the respectable surroundings of a holy church, the beauty of a service rich in dignity and garnished with all the impressive ritual decreed by the faith to which he trusted his soul — all this could do no more for Frank Bellini than to pronounce the event a last tribute, a parting gesture of respect from gangland to a leader both feared and loved,” the Times-Press reported.
Huge floral tributes decorated Bellini’s bronze casket, which weighed 1,200 pounds and had to be moved by a block and tackle.
“Pray for your dead,” the Rev. John J. Scullen told the crowd. “Pray for those dear to you. Pray for the one and only one here this morning whose heart is heavy,” motioning to the widow, Florence. “She is the only one suffering today.”
Fifty cars rode in a procession to Holy Cross Cemetery, where more than 300 mourners gathered. Undertaker Carmine Rossi said a few prayers as the casket was lowered into the ground.
No one was brought to justice for Bellini's slaying — at least officially.
A wave of violence over the next five years made police wonder if someone was settling old scores.
Michael Corcelli was blasted with a shotgun May 22, 1930, on his Cuyahoga Street front porch. Theodore Papa was shot to death Feb. 18, 1931, in an alley off McCoy Street. Paul Moreca was shot through a window at a West Bartges Street cafe Aug. 22, 1932.
Gunmen killed Joseph Papp in a West Bartges poolroom April 11, 1933. A drive-by shooting felled Harry Matteson on his Johnston Road lawn June 18, 1933. George Eppiotis’ body was found July 2, 1933, on a back road in Mogadore.
Louis Azar was blasted Sept. 18, 1935, in his Rhodes Avenue kitchen. One night later, Mike Saviolis was ambushed Sept. 19, 1935, in front of an East Exchange Street garage.
“Bellini went to his Maker with his lips sealed,” the Times-Press noted after the kingpin's burial. “And if his lieutenants know who fired the fatal shots they cannot be induced to tell.
“The underworld is a law until itself. Perhaps other shots will be fired before the episode closes. But the underworld won't squeal.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3850.