If you ever saw the film, L.A. Confidential, then you know a little bit about this story. In James Ellroy’s fictional book and film, LA Confidential, two men, known as the “Two Tonys”, Tony Brancato and Anthony Trombino are shot to death in a 1951 Oldsmobile coupé parked off Sunset Boulevard. This mob hit was used as a depiction of the reporting style of the Hush Hush reporter played by Danny DeVito. James Ellroy’s also kills off Tony Brancato and Anthony Trombino in his fictional book, White Jazz. Author James Ellroy has a special connection and insight into the LAPD and murder investigations because of the unsolved rape and murder of his mother. That crime has never been solved but Ellroy gained a fascination with the LAPD and crime from that horrible experience.
Anthony Brancato and Anthony Joseph Trombino were couple of shake down artists that began thier criminal careers in Kansas City. In the late 1940s, a Mickey Cohn associate named Norfia Brancato asked Cohen for permission to bring his younger brother Tony Brancato in from Kansas City. Shortly after, Tony Brancato arrived in L.A. and became part of Cohen’s crew. He soon enticed his old fall partner Tony Trombino to come out and join him. These two guys became known as the Two Tonys and they did not take long to wear out Cohn’s welcome. They began to muscle in on protected games and other rackets withuot the sanction of thier boss, Mickey Cohn
In “Mickey Cohen: My Own Words,” Cohen describes Brancato’s situation: “Then he started stepping out on his own. He was on the heavy and on the heist, but he was heisting people that were contrary to the rules of the people that he was supposed to have respected – not only me, but others. They were wild-haired young bloods that thought they were just going to run roughshod over everybody. Well, I couldn’t pay them much attention then. But because of my troubles, they thought they didn’t have to show any respect for nobody.”
During 1951, Cohen was sent to prison for income tax evasion. The two Tonys were cutting a wide and violent swath in the criminal underworld with crimes that included aggravated assault, armed robbery, burglary, narcotics violations, rape and they were suspected of several murders.
By 1951, the two Tonys had recruited their own robbery crew. In June they, long with three others robbed the Flamingo Hotel’s cash room of $3,500. Hy Goldbaum, who ran the commission book in Las Vegas, recognized The Two Tonys. He had been robbed by them previously when he ran a bookmaking operation in Beverly Hills. The local police were notified and the pair were arrested. After they arranged for bail, they skipped and went to ground in Los Angeles.
In July of 1951, the two Tonys were given the job of collecting a
$3,000.00 gambling debt from a bookie named Sam Lazes. They pocketed the cash knowing they were supposed to pass it along to a mobbed up bookmaker. Not satisfied with that, the two Tonys went back to Lazes for more money. A complaint was made to the L.A. mob boss Jack Dragna. He is reported to have called in a made guy known as The Weasel who was Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno. Dragna told the Fratianno to take care of this problem. We know this to be true because in 1980, Fratianno would go into witness protection and as part of his agreement, he revealed the details of all the crimes he had committed.
Fratianno will tell F.B.I. agents that he instructed Sam Lazes to contact Brancato and Trombino and set up a meeting at the home of a neutral party, who happened to be an associate of Fratianno. When the Two Tonys arrived, Fratianno demanded they tell him why they were shaking Lazes down. They asserted that they needed the money for lawyers because of their arrest in the Flamingo hold up. Fratianno said to lay off Lazes and offered them a chance to rob an unprotected high-stakes poker game. Fratianno whetted their appetite claiming the take might be as much as $40,000. The two men were quickly agreed. Their lack of intuition is overwhelming. If I had been robbing mob protected people and a “made” man offered me a deal that sounds too good to be true, I would smell a set up.
The two Tonys were more greedy than smart. On August 6, 1951, Fratianno recruited Charley “Bats” Battaglia, Leo “Lips” Moceri and Angelo Polizzi to be the driver. he laid out the plan, they were to meet ujp with the two Tonys at a designated place on the street. Prior to that meeting they were to all meet at Nick Licata’s Five O’clock Club. They planned a party at the club to provide Frantianno and his assassination team with an alibi. They used two cars to go meet Brancato and Trombino near Hollywood Boulevard. Fratianno, Charley “Bats” Battaglia, and Angelo Polizzi, the driver were in the first car. Leo “Lips” Moceri (future underboss of the Cleveland Family), drove the second car. The second car was used as the “crash car.” If the police stumbled onto the crime and any chases were to happen, the crash or “protection” car would stop the police cars.
Fratianno claims that when they arrived at the designated meeting place, “Bats” Battaglia was nervous. It seems this was his first “hit.” Fratianno alleges he noticed the nervousness and tried to calm him down. He asked about the gun, “Is the safety off? Just don’t shoot yourself in the balls.” Soon, the two Tonys pulled up and parked on the street in their car. Frantianno gave the word and they exited the hit car. The nervous Battaglia fumbled with the door handle and Fratianno reached over and opened it.Battalia and Fratianno entered the rear seat of the Two Tony’s car. Trombino was behind the wheel and Brancato was in the passenger seat in front of Fratianno. Fratianno immediately pulled a hand gun and shot Brancato in the back of his head. He turned toward Trombino and emptied his gun. Battaglia sat still and was unable to draw his weapon. Fratianno screamed at him and he finally pulled the gun and fired once. In seconds, the firing stopped and both men exited the Tony’s car, ran to their hit car and left the scene with the crash car following.
The LAPD knew this reeked of a mob hit and they paid a visit to Fratianno. He and his brother, Warren, who was living with him, were booked on suspicion of murder. After Fratianno offeerd the owner of the 5 O’clock Club, Nick Licata, as his alibi, the cops arrested him. Shorlty after this murder the LAPD homicide team correctly indentified all the participants. As with most mob murders, the investigation collapsed after one of Licata’s waitresses testified that Fratianno was at the club all night.
The murder of the two Tonys allowed Fratianno to establish his reputation as a ruthless enforcer. The case would remain unsolved until 1978 when Fratianno was chased into the Federal Witness Protection program.
Thanks to Allen May and True Crime Magazine for help with this story.
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