For John Murges, it was the bet of his life
LAS VEGAS – John Murges and I are going south on Ashland, turning east on West Fulton. He inspects the buildings on the north side of Fulton. He stops at North Laflin, retreats, shows a deep parking lot and a one-story brick building.
The warehouse at 1506 West Fulton, now home to a production company, is where he once made a book for boys.
“That’s it,” he said. “These old bricks. It must have been built in the 1910s, possibly by Capone. We had the right side of the warehouse, all the way back. Two rows of tables, maybe 25 guys, sometimes 35. I was a worker.
” My heart beats wildly. »
We’re actually sitting in a booth at the South Point bookmaker as we virtually smash his old neighborhood on my laptop. The Chicago native and longtime Florida resident is a professional bettor and Vegas regular.
From 1983 to 1995, he worked at 1506 for the Outfit. Organization. Union. La Cosa Nostra. He renounces pseudonyms.
“I’ll call them the mafia, to make it easier,” says Murges, 58. “It was all about opportunity. From when I started until I quit, business grew exponentially. The golden age of sports betting.
“Us or Vegas, your only options.”
He remembers the camaraderie, the respected bosses, his tours — paying and collecting — in and around Chicago, that noisy, dirty warehouse, and the Bears’ Super Bowl in January 1986.
Younger brother Dean, however, remembers another reality.
“Being scared. For him, for me, everyone. It was serious stuff. Just scary.
NOT YOUR DAY
In the 1930s and 1940s, John Murges’ paternal grandfather ran a market on State Street, paying $100 a month as a tribute, for protection, to connected men.
John’s father grew up in Greektown, Jackson and Halsted, with eight siblings in the same building where the famous Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and his five brothers were raised.
George J. Murges once strapped Tony over the head with a baseball bat for bullying a brother. George first mentioned the incident after Tony and his brother Michael were found dead in a cornfield in 1986.
“He was always worried about the repercussions,” says John.
George became a lawyer, occasionally assisting underworld figures. He and his wife raised John and Dean, and a daughter, in Park Ridge, 12 miles northwest of Greektown.
At the age of 9 or 10, John began receiving odds tutorials – exactly how Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal first learned the game – at Wrigley Field.
“On every pitch, whether it’s a ball or a strike,” says Murges. “It was prevalent throughout the stadium, especially in the stands.”
This warehouse is one mile northwest of Greektown. From there, John could walk to UIC, where he would earn a starting spot as a side arm pitcher with the Flames baseball team.
Executor James LaValley sponsored Murges, who called him Jimmy. As a senior at Maine East High, John met Nick Gio, a freshman who aimed to work for the mob. Murges would introduce Gio to LaValley.
Gio is serving a life sentence at Leavenworth. According to multiple sources, LaValley was murdered while playing the 15th hole of a golf course in 2009.
“The badass,” Murges says. “Strong violence.
A no-show gig was held for Murges at the Cook County Forest Preserve, which employed Bessie, the sister of prominent boss Tony Accardo.
“She was like, ‘Honey, there was a time when my brother said to the Cubs manager, Sorry, guys, today isn’t your day.’ And they would lose. True statement,” Murges says. “That’s why I’m very suspicious of games. I heard the stories.
He heard of Cincinnati player-manager Pete Rose betting on his Reds, calling a certain stadium clubs bookie when the Reds were in the area.
“Five thousand a game,” Murges said. “We knew it, but we were quiet guys. You didn’t want people to know what you did for a living, because people really despised that.
John dated the niece of Pat Marcy, a “First Ward Mob superboss,” wrote William F. Roemer Jr. in his 1995 Accardo biography.
“The Mafia’s political fixer,” Murges says of Marcy, who was born Pasqualino Marciano in Chicago in 1913 and became a gunman in Al Capone’s gang.
In 1992, Murges attended the Rosemont farewell dinner, at a popular mob location, for Joseph Spadavecchio, a gambling boss who the next day would report to jail. “Joe Spa” died behind bars, aged 67, in 1995.
“I approached him and said, ‘My friend, I wish you a speedy return.’ He said, ‘Thank you, John.’ It was part of the old days, when they drove used cars, kept a low profile.
The filthy warehouse floor was littered with tin buckets from the leaking roof. Dirt and dust were everywhere. Folding metal chart tables and chairs passed as furniture. Trucks were sometimes parked inside.
“A boiler room,” Murges said.
Managers collected daily lines from the Angel-Kaplan sports department, run in part by “made” figure Don Angelini, or Michael “Roxy” Roxborough’s Vegas operation. They would even have taken figures from the Sun-Times.
“There was always a premium with Chicago teams,” Murges says. “If it was Bears -3.5 in the log, we’d make it Bears -4.5.”
On weekends, troops would arrive around 9:30 a.m. to work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The ratings were on the blackboards and early whiteboards, constantly reworked by four people.
A few had never used an eraser, so the outside of their fists, from little finger to wrist, were always inky black.
A supervisor looked over the shoulders, counting how much was bet and on which side. These numbers were calculated by someone working on a bulky metal adding machine.
“If they saw that much money coming from one side,” Murges says, “they would move the line.”
It started in the summer of 1983. During baseball season, maybe a dozen guys were handling the phones. Cubs games were played during the day, until lights were installed at Wrigley Field in 1988, and most bets were made on the Cubs.
For night matches, they would open at 5 p.m., field calls were 2:30. On Wednesdays or Thursdays, they opened at 10:30 a.m., took calls for three hours, closed and reopened at 5 p.m.
A Gonnella Baking Co. driver served as John’s personal bookmaker. Like most freelancers in Chicagoland, this guy was paying a road tax, or tribute, to the mob, maybe $1,000 a week.
Each worker bee slaughtered its own stable of bettors, sticking to a general area to facilitate weekly collection and payment. Each customer used an identification number. Each bookmaker bore initials, one of which was incorrect by design.
Murges was “JT”. He reportedly had 35 to 40 customers, most of whom lived in a strip from Rogers Park to Des Plaines to Barrington. He collected on Wednesdays and Thursdays, paid on Thursdays and Fridays.
On a few occasions, he carried $100,000 in cash in his latest generation gray Nissan 300 ZX. In a typical week, he collected $60,000 and paid out $50,000.
The week of January 27, 1986, Murges paid $150,000. The day before, Chicago beat New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. Everyone had bet on the Bears, as had Murges — maybe $2,000 — with his driver Gonnella.
Chicago -10 was the common line, but Murges remembers hitting Chicago -13.5 in the warehouse. It didn’t matter. All 10 TVs had antennas wrapped in foil, and Murges and his colleagues cheered on the Bears.
“My hometown team,” he says. “They were just so good. They were doing the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’ in November!
That week, the money to pay all the winners arrived in vans.
“Big black bags and briefcases,” says Murges. “They stuffed money into envelopes. On the front were my initials, the customer number and the amount, written in very small letters. Rubber bands held the envelopes together.
He earned about $1,000 a week. Year-end bonuses ranged from $2,500 to $5,000. A colleague, with high-end clients, once received $10,000.
When a customer failed to pay, they received the usual three percentage point penalty per week. For someone who couldn’t pay $20,000, $600 would buy them an extra week to pay off their entire debt.
Offending customers were threatened with being referred to law enforcement. Murges has heard of broken fingers or hands. Small debts were sometimes forgotten, names blacked out all over town.
Security would guard the warehouse and the screen door, but Murges says they weren’t too worried since the police were on payroll. However, the federal agents, whom they called “the G” (for government), were another matter. “To pay off the Feds?” Almost impossible,” he says. “These guys were pretty clean.”
One of the main concerns was out-of-state phone calls.
“There was no caller ID in the 80s, so when the phone rang, you didn’t know where it was coming from. We were worried, if we got caught, how many years we would do in prison.
Murges was promoted to supervisor in 1993, increasing his weekly salary to $4,000. “Huge money,” he says. Two years later, he and his wife had two daughters, and a third was on the way.
His father had always taken his family on vacation to Longboat Key, near Sarasota, Florida, and Murges’ wife insisted that he not only get out of that business, but that they move to safer territory.
He nods when I ask him if he considered this lifestyle permanent.
“My wife didn’t,” Murges says. “She said, ‘You can’t do this for the rest of your life.’ We moved to Sarasota and left life. That’s what we called it – Life.
Today, the Mob has far fewer tentacles. Sports betting has been legal in Illinois for nearly two years, as it is in 29 other states and Washington, DC. He said, “It’s become this monster.”
Chicago’s independent factions still dangle credit as a decoy but, according to Murges, they are rare.
If it’s true that 10 years in this profession equals 30 years in any other job, as Accardo once told Sam Giancana, then John Murges has survived a challenging career shrouded in danger.
What you saw and how you experienced, Dean Murges tells his older brother, is almost surreal. In this warehouse in West Fulton. John talks about this chapter, in a candid tone, because it was so long ago and a lot of these characters are gone.
And it’s a different world.
“I’ve seen so many guys fall, just for taking sports bets. Now you can make a bet at a kiosk. It was quite a trip. My dad’s only wish was that I didn’t sully his name. I fulfilled his wish, because I was never arrested.
“I was lucky.”