The Two Tonys

January 20, 2022

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.

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Anthony Brancato and Anthony Joseph Trombino were couple of shake-down artists that began their 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 without the sanction of their 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.”

In 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, along 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 into hiding 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 setup.

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 up 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 was 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. Battaglia 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 handgun 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 “Two 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 offered the owner of the 5 O’clock Club, Nick Licata, as his alibi, the cops arrested him. Shortly after this murder, the LAPD homicide team correctly identified 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 and some claim he “earned his bones” and was “straightened out” because of this hit. 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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2 comments on “The Two Tonys

  1. Scott Hanna Apr 29, 2021

    Another good insight into one of the mobs more colorful members, Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratiano. I love hearing that guy talk, My dad, now deceased, grew up in that era, in eastern PA and had a lot of the same speech mannerisms and old school colloquial dialect. It sounds familiar when I hear the gangsters of that era speak.

  2. Scott Hanna Oct 15, 2022

    Gary,
    Interesting background on the two real Two Tony’s. I just listened to the audiobook of Shaun Atwood’s book called “The Mafia Philosopher: Two Tonys” whose nickname was inspired by the guys in your report. Interestingly, his real name is never revealed. If you want to research it, it would be a challenge to find out his real name. However, I doubt it. It would show your research skills if you could find out, though. I have much respect for your stories and reports knowing you put a lot of effort into making sure the facts and details are accurate.

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