Monday, June 29, 2009

Babysitter Turns Crime Sleuth

by Susan Murphy Milano

What do a babysitter and a former mob boss Frank Cullotta, co-author with Denny Griffin on the book "Cullotta" have to do with answers to a 28-year-old McHenry County, Illinois unsolved homicide of a bar owner and his employee?

On June 2, 1981, in McHenry, Illinois the bodies of Ronald Scharff and his barmaid Patricia Freeman were discovered. The local authorities had the man, the motive, and the evidence shortly after the crime. For some reason police sat on the evidence and the case went cold.

Last year a former babysitter to Scharff’s son Paul, now grown with a family of his own who at the time of his father’s murder was only ten years old began asking questions about the 1981 unsolved murder. The babysitter's father also happened to be best friends with the deceased Ronald Scharff. The former babysitter googled the names of Anthony Spilotro head of a violent street crew with whom the movie
casino was based played by actor Joe Pecsi, and others from the notorious “hole in the wall gang.” On her Internet search the book “Cullotta,” co-authored by retired veteran cop, tuned author and radio show host Dennis Griffin appeared.

The book is based on the life of Frank Cullotta, who happened to be a childhood friend of Chicago Outfit enforcer
Anthony Spilotro. Frank Cullotta in the early 1980s joined Spilotro's violent Las Vegas street crew. The former mobster committed crimes ranging from robbery to murder, and later turning government witness in its investigation of the mob's influence in Las Vegas.

When the former babysitter turned crime sleuth read the book "Cullotta," there is was in black and white on page 130, providing enough details to the June 2, 1981 murders of bar owner Ronald Scharff and waitress Patricia Freeman at the P.M. Pub in McHenry, IL.

Frank Cullotta named "hole in the wall" crew member Larry Neumann as the killer of Scharff and Freeman. After serving time in prison with Neumann, Cullotta introduced him to Spilotro's gang. As Cullotta recalled during his law enforcement debriefing, Neumann admitted committing the murders. Larry Neumann was angry when he learned earlier that evening bar owner Ronalld Scharff had thrown his ex-wife out of the tavern.

The feds provided McHenry authorities with information on the man and the motive. Ronald Scharff had been killed for the perceived slight. Patricia Freeman was murdered because she was a witness in the wrong place at the time. Instead of arresting Larry Neumann and closing the case McHenry County detectives went out of their way to discredit Cullotta's details of the crime. Those detectives have since retired.

Larry Neumann died in prison in 2007 after a lengthy criminal career that included at least six murders, including a 1956 triple homicide from which he managed to gain release.

Since discovering and reading the book, Paul Scharff has been working with McHenry Detectives to get his father’s case closed. And with the unlikely pair of co-authors Denny Griffin and Frank Collutta who set out to tell a tale of one man’s life in the mob, could have never predicted the
book would take on a unique and important journey, Justice!


Cherry said...

I gave my husband this book for his summer reading and he loved it!

Amazing story! Great writing!

Delilah said...

The story in itself is interesting, but when you add in the way the crime was solved it makes you go Wow!

Paul Scharff said...

Thank you Susan for writing about my father and Patricia Freeman's case. Your support and the support of others have been a great comfort to the Freeman and Scharff families. Thank you again Susan.

Paul Scharff

Anonymous said...

Thank you, because after 30 years you set my brother free. He was Patricia's boy friend at the time and this hung over his head his whole adult life. He told the police who's car he saw behind the bar but they still went after him. The police would rather have pinned this on an innocent man than go after the mobster who committed the crime.