Las Vegas, Nevada – Estate agent Shannon Smith knew this would be unlike any home he’d ever sold.
Prospective buyers peppered him with questions: Did anyone get murdered here? Are there diamonds and cash hidden in the walls? Are there bodies buried in the yard?
"I don’t know. Buy the house and see," he told them. "Get some metal detectors. Knock down the walls."
Smith, a 39-year-old real estate agent and broker, said they’d nod and shake their heads. They’d walk through the home and look up at the mirrored ceiling in the front room. They’d note the smoked mirrors in the master bedroom and along a wall by the front door. A small panel in a closet bore closer inspection.
The house might’ve been a terrestrial 222 square metres, but the space for imagination was limitless. Cocktails in ice-filled glasses. Hushed conversations about hits and heists. Money and power cloaked in pressed suits.
Take a look inside:
It once belonged to Tony "The Ant" Spilotro – a mobster who reputedly oversaw the Chicago Mafia’s considerable interests in Las Vegas. The house has changed hands a few times since Spilotro owned it in the 1970s, but, like most mob-related things, memories run long and nobody really ever forgets.
The last owner, Ethel Guntharp, said she knew of Spilotro’s past, but didn’t really care much about it. For her, it was just a home – even if sometimes she noticed the occasional car driving by to check it out. She didn’t want to say much more.
"I knew who he was," she said. "And I knew that would draw interest."
Smith said the house was on the market for a week and sold on Saturday. There were about 30 showings for the property, he estimated.
Yes, he said, most were serious buyers who didn’t blink at the 419,000-dollar asking price. No, buyers were not required to pay for it with suitcases full of cash. Yes, the new owners did not want to be identified. No, the buyers weren’t in the witness protection programme.
Michael Green, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he used to live near Spilotro when the house was built in 1974. He said the running joke was that it was the safest neighbourhood in Vegas because Spilotro was under constant surveillance by the FBI and local police.
During Spilotro’s heyday in Las Vegas, Green said, he was the first real high-profile street mobster, as opposed to those operating casinos.
He achieved a lot of notoriety between the mid-1970s and early 1980s as a gangster who protected the skim on casino cash profits for mob bosses in the Midwest. But he also had side gigs that involved numerous robberies by his Hole in the Wall Gang. In 1976, he opened a pawn shop to keep the stolen property.
At the time of his death, he was to face charges that he’d run a burglary, extortion and arson ring and had been awaiting trial on charges that he violated the civil rights of a government informant by having him killed.
Spilotro had been implicated in numerous killings, and was charged with murder three times. But his sole conviction came from using false information on a loan application – a crime that resulted in a fine of 1 dollar.
Spilotro was eventually killed and was found buried with his brother in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.