The mother and her son drove the twisting cemetery road in silence, making their way across the corrugated landscape of monuments and mausoleums to the pine-shaded gravesite they had visited so many times before. It was September 27, 1999, just after dawn, 25 years to the moment after it had happened. The mother carried a book wrapped in plastic; the son gripped a shovel. They passed a large stone obelisk perched on a small hill and ducked beneath a towering pine with spreading branches.
When they reached a rectangular marker bearing the name Daniel R. Seifert, the son went to work. The ground was hard and cold and the steady breeze that always seems to move across the gently rolling plain of the memorial park, just off the Eisenhower, felt raw on his face. His mother, Emma, watched him dig. She had been fond of the book, The Enforcer: Spilotro—The Chicago Mob’s Man Over Las Vegas, because the author had written kindly of her dead husband, Danny Seifert. When the son, Joe, had finished digging, she placed the book with reverence in the shallow hole and watched him cover it with dirt.
With that, she told herself, she was done with it. Her husband’s murder a quarter century earlier had nearly destroyed her family. It had consumed the life of Joe, the son helping her bury the book, and her older son, Nick, who had vanished with scarcely a word years before. By interring the book this way, she had hoped to inter the past. So why did she feel so hollow?
Joe could answer—at least for himself. Because it wasn’t over. He appreciated his mother’s gesture. But done? No. Now 29—he had been a terrified four-year-old that day the Mob men chased his father through his factory. Later, he had seen his father’s body in a pool of bright-red blood. He watched one of the killers—the man for whom he was named—shoving his mother, holding her down. There had not been a day that he had not thought about that and wanted revenge. So, no. This was not over. Not until Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo and the rest of the mobsters who had participated in his father’s execution were in prison or dead. With him playing a part, either way.
A little more than a thousand miles away, Nick Seifert wasn’t ready to bury the past either. Like Joe, he wanted to bury Lombardo, not a book. Over the years, he had obsessively searched for answers, the how and why of his father’s death. His obsession, in fact, had led him to leave home and move to Florida, without so much as a forwarding address.
Unbeknownst to his mother and brother, he had visited his father’s grave, too, on quick trips in and out of Chicago hunting Lombardo. The visits were just long enough for him to leave flowers and assure his father, “Don’t worry. I’ll get these guys. We’ll have the last laugh.” On one trip, he noticed the loosened earth where the book had been buried and wondered what had happened. No matter. All he cared about now was justice—by any means.
Twenty-five years earlier, on September 27, 1974, Emma Seifert and Joe climbed into their station wagon, and the head of their family, Danny, drove them from their Bensenville home to the small factory that housed Danny’s business. At 29, Danny Seifert had done well for himself. He had a nice suburban townhouse, a car, a lovely blond wife, and three kids who adored him. A high-school dropout, he had used his street smarts, a gift for working with his hands, and an entrepreneurial bent to create a thriving fiberglass molding firm, International Fiberglass, in Elk Grove Village. Later, he started a company called Plastic-Matic Products in Bensenville, which is where they were headed that morning.
There was little to suggest that the day would be other than routine. The morning had dawned clear. Joe was playing in the back seat, and Nick, 12, and Kathy, 11, were in school. Danny and Emma had decided to come in a little early to clean up. Still, Emma couldn’t shake an ominous feeling. The events of the past few months, in fact, had disturbed her to the point that she could scarcely leave the house anymore without wondering when a car would screech up and its window roll down.
Her fears stemmed from a seemingly innocuous deal made seven years earlier. Danny had been a carpenter’s helper doing some work for a businessman named Irwin Weiner. The son of a bookmaker who had been shot to death in Chicago, Weiner had offered to help Danny open a business after overhearing him talk about how much money he was making by working with fiberglass out of his garage. Under the arrangement, Weiner would put up a third of the seed money, Danny a third, and a man named Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio the rest.
The business, International Fiberglass, was a success, enough to provide a comfortable life for the Seiferts. Whether Danny knew he was getting involved with one of the underworld’s major financial figures is unclear. But over the next few years, there would be little doubt, particularly after Weiner announced that he was selling his part of the business to some “associates.” Almost immediately, a group of reputed mobsters began coming around the shop, among them Anthony Spilotro, Frank Schweihs, and a man named Joseph Lombardo.
Short, fat, funny, and—according to the feds—a ruthless killer for the Chicago Outfit, Lombardo had a way of disarming people with a combination of cunning, street smarts, and goofy charm. “He was funny, very outgoing, a clown, a character,” Emma Seifert recalls. He had been added to the company’s payroll, but he rarely did any work, though he had someone take a picture of him in work clothes. More often, he would sit in the office cracking jokes, talking on the phone, or throwing thudding punches at the heavy bag he had hung in the building. Emma noticed his crouchy boxer’s stance. He was overweight—one of his nicknames was “Lumpy”—but he was also very solid, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with.
While Emma and Danny found Lombardo amusing, their oldest son, Nick, idolized him. “He was like an uncle. That’s actually what I called him, ‘Uncle Joe.’ I think that my mom and dad would plan events and Joe Lombardo would always say, ‘Well, I’ll take Nicky,’ and he’d take me to the circus or he’d take me to the Cubs game or he’d take me out to eat with his girlfriend, Bonnie Vent. I always had a blast with him.”
A tough kid who often provoked his father’s ire—and backhand—Nick also appreciated how Lombardo rose to his defense, acting as a shield against his father’s temper. “There were a lot of times where I’d get in trouble at the factory and my dad was going to pull my ear and Joe Lombardo would say to him, ‘Ah, leave the kid alone. Come on, he’s not doing anything we wouldn’t do.’”
Emma privately harbored suspicions about Lombardo and the men he sometimes brought with him to the office, but, like her husband, she came to trust him, enough so that by 1970, when she gave birth, the mother named her newborn Joseph.
By 1972, however, Lombardo’s Mob connections were apparent, and Emma began to worry that her husband was in over his head. Danny told her not to worry. “He thought he could work with them and get the business going and at some point, buy them out,” she says.
In 1973, Danny indeed sold his part of International Fiberglass and later opened Plastic-Matic in Bensenville. “He didn’t want them telling him what to do,” Emma says. He was also concerned over growing evidence that Lombardo and his associates were using the business to launder dirty Mob money. Indeed, Danny had been approached by FBI agents and had agreed to testify in a fraud case accusing Lombardo and several other reputed organized crime figures of embezzlement and money laundering involving a Teamsters pension fund.
The indictments were filed in 1974. Among those charged were Lombardo, Anthony Spilotro, and Irwin Weiner. Word got out that not only was Danny cooperating with the feds but he was to be the government’s star witness and the only person who could link Lombardo to the case. Danny had hoped the Bensenville move would keep him out of harm’s way, but Lombardo made it clear that there was no hiding from him.
On a couple of occasions, Nick recalls, Lombardo sat in his car outside the Seifert home. Once, Nick pedaled up and said hello. “I was wondering why he wasn’t going in,” Nick recalls. “He said, ‘I’ll be in to talk to your dad in a minute.’ Later, I walked into the house and said, ‘Where’s Uncle Joe?’ My father was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ and I said, ‘Well, he was just outside, sitting in a car.’ That’s when my dad got nervous and called us into the house.”
Not long after, Lombardo paid an even more troubling visit, recalls Emma. “He was driving, and there was someone in the passenger seat,” she says. “I was standing at the door because the kids were due to get off the bus at any second.
I got the kids in the house and called Daniel and I told him that Lombardo and someone else just drove by the house, and they were turning around and coming back. He said, keep the kids in the house, get your gun, and wait for me. About an hour and a half later he was brought home by four or five undercover FBI agents. They all had shotguns inside their trench coats. I was sent upstairs to stay with the children while he talked to these guys and then they left. From that point on, it was a day-by-day thing, waiting for something to happen.”
You “better straighten Danny out,” Lombardo told Danny’s brother Ronald, according to testimony years later, or “you know what’s going to happen to him.” By this stage, says Emma, “I was beyond worrying. I was in a state of constant fear because I knew that after something like this, there had to be repercussions. . . . One thing you have to know about Daniel: He was not afraid of anybody. . . . But at that point, you’re starting to wonder: This isn’t going to end good.”
After they arrived that morning at the factory, Danny, Emma, and the boy went into the office. Emma put on some coffee; then Danny returned to the car for a vacuum cleaner. Suddenly, the back door of the shop flew open, and two men burst in, both of them stocky, wearing hooded sweatshirts and ski masks and clutching handguns. “This is a robbery!” they said. “Where is that son of a bitch?”
Emma screamed, in hopes of warning Danny, but it was too late, and when he walked through the door, the men pounced on him. Using the butt of his gun, one of the men slugged Danny on the head, knocking him off his feet.
Emma scrambled to a desk where the couple had stashed a .38, but one of the men intercepted her. Pulling away, she scooped up her confused, crying son. The man grabbed her again. This time he stuck a gun to her temple, herded her and the boy to a bathroom, and shoved them inside. “Don’t scream,” he said. “We’re not going to hurt you. We’re just going to rob you.”
A few moments later, a gunshot rang out and the man left. “I waited for a few seconds, walked out of the bathroom, and looked around,” she said. “I thought for sure I’d see Danny laying there.” Instead, “I saw blood on the wall. I saw blood on the entryway door. I went to the front door and opened it, and I saw Danny running toward the end of the parking lot.” He was heading toward the corner of another building’s loading dock. “Then I saw a guy standing behind a parked car with a 12-gauge shotgun.” The gun glinted as the man swung it on Emma, chasing her back inside. Then he turned back to Danny and trained it on the bloody, fleeing man.
“That was the last time I saw [Danny],” Emma says.
After it was over, the little boy, the one who bore Lombardo’s name, sat in the back of a police car, peering out the window. “All I remember from that day was that at the point when the fight started, everything went to black and white,” Joe Seifert says, 35 years later. “The only color I remember seeing is the blood on the wall and then it kind of went dark. But I remember seeing my father lying in the grass. And when he was lying in the grass, everything was back to color. The trees were brown, the grass was green, the blood was red.”
It had all happened fast, but not so fast that Emma failed to note something familiar about the man who had shoved her. . . the way he walked, the way he was built—he was short and fat but solid-looking. His stance was like a boxer’s crouch.
Later that day, when the Bensenville police asked Emma if she knew who had killed her husband, she was evasive for fear that identifying him would endanger her family. Still, she had previously mentioned to the police chief the name of a man she thought was out to harm her husband. And she knew in her bones that it was the same man who had pushed her into the bathroom that morning. Later, talking to Danny’s brother Ronald, she spoke the name out loud: “Lombardo.”
“What she told me is that she knew it was Joey that held her in the washroom,” Ron Seifert testified years later.
Out of deference to Emma’s fear and a suspicion that the Bensenville police might leak word of his cooperation, Ron did not tell the cops. Still, Lombardo knew he was under suspicion. The night of the murder, flanked by two attorneys, he paid a visit to Chicago police headquarters. However, during a brief interrogation by Commander Walter Murphy of the Intelligence Division, he refused to give a statement or discuss the case in any way. At a driving range the next day, he was more talkative. He and an associate were laughing about the murder, a career criminal named Alva Rodgers later told the court. “That son of a bitch won’t testify against anybody now, will he?” Rodgers recalled Lombardo saying.
The pension fraud case against Lombardo fell apart, and the outcome added to an already-legendary talent for beating raps, including 11 arrests and no convictions.
Investigators looked into the case for a year or so. The FBI tracked down the title for the brown 1973 Ford LTD used as a getaway car. An agent named Roy McDaniel extracted a fingerprint from the document, which he would later match to Lombardo. But, for whatever reason, authorities chose not to pursue charges against him. By 1975, the Seifert murder case had languished, then dropped into the cold-case file.
Emma, meanwhile, tried to hang on to the business, but the grueling work proved too much. Within eight months, she moved on. As much as she was crushed by her husband’s murder, she pleaded with her boys—and with Danny’s brothers—not to seek revenge. “So I went on with my life, raised the kids. Got remarried [about eight years after Danny was killed]. In my heart, I didn’t think there would ever be any answers.”
What Emma didn’t realize was that her two sons, Joe and Nick, had no intention of letting the case rest. Not until the man responsible paid either with his life or with his freedom.
“I was shocked that right from the very beginning Joe Lombardo was being blamed for the execution,” says Nick. “Uncle Joe. I really didn’t believe it. But then as time went by, the wake, the funeral, he never came by like he always did, and he never expressed any type of apology or anger that the news media was blaming him. He never comforted us and said, ‘I’m going to find out who did this.’ The anger and the confusion drove a passion for me to find out what had happened. And it wasn’t going to go away.”
It also sent Nick into a spiral. He developed behavior problems and sank into depression. He became obsessed with finding his father’s killers. At 16, he grilled his uncles for information and discovered that the answers he sought weren’t always going to be pretty or simple. He learned that his father’s father, Nicholas Seifert, had once been connected to the underworld, for instance. “He had a huge home, horses, a big farm, servants,” he says. “The IRS confiscated everything.” What’s more, he had to come to grips with the fact that his father had continued to deal with Lombardo even after he knew he was in the Mob.
The closer Nick came to the truth, however, the more he worried about the risks that he might pose for his family. His relentless demand for answers was rattling cages. For his own part, he was willing to die to find the truth. But he wasn’t willing to jeopardize his family. And so, at 20, he decided to strike out on his own. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he says, “as hard as dealing with my father’s death. My brother meant the world to me. But I knew what my motives were. Without a doubt if I would have stayed in Chicago, I would have ended up in a box or many other people would have ended up in a box. So I thought maybe it would be best if I backed off and moved.”
Joe was devastated. “He was the next father figure I looked up to,” he says, “and he bailed—not even, ‘Hey, I’m going, here’s a phone number.’ Just left.” On some level, though, Joe understood. He came to view his brother’s decision as another way his father’s killer had destroyed his family, another reason for revenge. Like Nick, Joe also became obsessed with finding answers. He also shared his older brother’s ultimate goal: “If I found [Lombardo],” Joe says matter-of-factly, “I was going to kill him.”
In the 1990s, his love of motorcycles opened a door for him. He had befriended members of a local gang who had connections to the Chicago Outfit. “I finally met some people who could get information,” he says. “They could get you whatever you wanted and they didn’t care as long as you paid for it. . . .I found out where people lived, where they hung out; if they were going out of state, where they were going. . . . That’s where I got to the point of finding Lombardo.”
It’s also when he realized the dark power he was dealing with. Hanging out with his motorcycle friends, immersing himself in the life, the lines between right and wrong, good and bad, began to blur. He began to see what had drawn people like Lombardo to organized crime, and to feel the pull of it himself. “The money, the power, the fun, the lifestyle,” Joe says. “They’re free; they always have money in their pockets. They never have the normal everyday worries of having to be at work by nine o’clock, having to take your 15-minute break and half-hour lunch. Given everything we had been through, it was kind of strange that you would [be drawn to] the very thing that destroyed you.” On the other hand, given his family history, “it’s almost like you’re fighting destiny . . . like it’s in your blood.”
Emma knew nothing of Joe’s investigation of Danny’s death. By the early fall of 1999, in fact, she had spent two and a half decades trying to put her husband’s death behind her. “Twenty-five years is a long time to carry around something like that, and, so, on the anniversary of his death, Joe and I went to the cemetery. We were going to close it, try to get it out of our lives.”
They buried the book and, Emma hoped, the past. It was not until three years later, however, that Joe began to share her feelings. Through his motorcycle connections, he uncovered what he believed was reliable information about Lombardo’s whereabouts. “I had talked to a couple of people and gotten some information of a certain time and place where he was supposed to be, in Las Vegas. His brother was out there, tied to a strip club, and he was supposedly going out there to visit him.”
Joe went to Vegas with several friends—and murder in his heart. He found the strip club. But in a flood of anger, disgust, and finally, insight, he realized the implications of what he was doing. Seeking his vendetta was one thing when he was alone. But he was married now, with two children. “What if things didn’t work out—what if they went bad?” he recalls thinking. “I was either going to be dead or locked up. I would basically be starting the cycle over for my kids.” He returned to Chicago with a renewed focus and less violent mission: to see Lombardo pay for his father’s murder through his arrest and conviction.
Not so, Nick. In the years since leaving, he had moved to Florida and started a business as a licensed gun dealer—for his purposes, the perfect job. His work required him to run background checks on people he met, compile dossiers, build connections. His new state was a good base for investigating his father’s murder “because a lot of people were connected to people in Florida.” Over time, he learned that the killing had been a meticulously planned hit, involving many members of the Outfit and aimed at protecting Lombardo and others, including Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, John Fecarotta, and Frank “The German” Schweihs. “As I got older and older, I started to get more information,” he says. “First, I started to discover the affiliations with organized crime. Then I started to discover the money end of it. Then the contacts that all these individuals had. It just spider-webbed.”
Nick tried to share information with law-enforcement agencies, but he says they were no help. “I walked into the Bensenville police department and asked for documentation on the case, and they said, ‘Well, we can’t give you anything because it’s still an open case.’ It’s 20 years later. Nobody was working on it. That was my frustration.” When the feds contacted him, he says, “they wanted to know everything from me, but they didn’t want to tell me anything, so then we played that little fuck-you game, where I’d tell them just enough, and they’d want to know more, and I’d say, ‘Well then, you tell me more.’”
His top priority was identifying exactly who was involved in his father’s murder. “What I didn’t want to do was kill anybody who didn’t deserve it. And, by the way, it wasn’t going to be a simple death. I had given great thought to what I was going to do. I’m not a talker. If I tell you I’m going to rent a storage area and fill it full of plastic, cable-tie you to that chair, take a pruning tool and cut your fingers and your toes, your ears off, your nose off, you better believe me, because I’m going to do it.”
About the same time that his brother, Joe, was having his moment of truth in Las Vegas, Nick experienced his own turning point. During one of his visits to Chicago, he decided to stop in at a restaurant known to be frequented by Lombardo and get the word out that someone wanted to find him. Inside, he asked about Lombardo, but everyone insisted he didn’t come around.
“Outside, a couple of guys walked behind me. I turned around and they had walked into an alley, and one of the guys pulled a gun on me and said, ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ and I said, ‘You know who I am, and what I’m doing.’
“He had a .38, and I said, ‘Go ahead, fucking shoot me. I’m not afraid to die.’ Then I reached behind me, and I always carry a .45. I pulled the gun out and I said, ‘Of course, I’m not afraid to shoot you either.’”
For a moment, Nick says, the men glared at each other; then the other man backed down. In some ways, Nick says, the confrontation earned him respect. But that night, Nick was confronted by the feds, who had watched the scene from their car. They were upset that he was sticking his nose into a reactivated investigation. That is when he learned that his father’s murder case was back on.
Emma got the call in 2003. the FBI had reopened the case, an agent told her. Frank Calabrese Jr., the son of the mobster Frank Calabrese Sr., had written a letter to the FBI offering to help put his father and his uncle, Nicholas, away. That had spawned a much broader investigation, dubbed Operation Family Secrets, aimed at bringing down the top brass in the Chicago syndicate. The probe included a fresh look into the murder of Danny Seifert. They would like her to go before a grand jury, they told her, and, if the case ever came to trial, to testify.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t think I can live through this again,’” Emma recalls. “Suddenly, you’re back in ’74. You have a gun in your nightstand—I hadn’t had a gun in my house in 20 years.” She realized then the folly of her burying the book. Whether she liked it or not, the murder of her husband would not fade away.
As for Nick, at first he was unsure he wanted to help. “Were they really going to be able to get a conviction?” he wondered. His worries were assuaged by the agent sent to Florida—a man named Chris Williams. “He was like a tough street kid, not some FBI agent who was going to guard somebody and get whacked himself,” says Nick, who now felt comfortable sharing the information he had gathered.
With the possibility of a trial looming, Nick also realized that he could no longer remain estranged from his family. It was time to reconnect. The two brothers met in Florida, at a restaurant, and began catching up on the lost decades. “We picked up like we had seen each other yesterday,” Joe says. The men were surprised and amused to learn that each had been investigating their father’s death—and saddened to discover how much of their lives had been consumed by what had happened that day in 1974. “I’ve lost my entire life,” Joe recalls saying. “That black hole has completely consumed it. You’re never really in the moment. You’re always thinking about it, always wondering about it; you’re living the mobster’s life—looking over your shoulder: Who’s this? Who’s that? It’s affected my entire life in every way.”
On September 2, 2004, Emma testified before a federal grand jury. In a statement she read aloud, the widow told her story: how Lombardo came into their lives, how the relationship between him and her husband soured, the threats, the murder. She told the jurors that she believed Lombardo was the man who had shoved her and Joe into the bathroom that day.
Eight months later, on April 25, 2005, federal authorities announced that Lombardo and 13 other defendants had been indicted on charges that included 18 murders dating back to 1970. On the strength of Emma’s testimony and the willingness of several other witnesses to testify against him, Lombardo was indicted for his role in Daniel Seifert’s murder, as well as for running a racket based on illegal gambling and loan sharking.
Lombardo had known the indictments were coming. Long before, federal agents had come to his Near West Side machine shop and taken DNA swabs. When agents fanned across the city to arrest the 14 defendants, he was nowhere to be found. Emma, Joe, and Nick were furious. After their hopes had been raised, was Lombardo going to get away again? Adding to the irritation, Lombardo began playing a cat-and-mouse game with authorities, writing to them through his attorney, Rick Halprin. “I am no part of a enterprise or racketering [sic],” a letter read. “I have no part in the poker machines, extorcinate [sic] loans, gambling and what ever else the indictment says.” The torment continued for nine months, until a dentist who had treated Lombardo called in a tip (the dentist himself was the brother of a murdered Outfit mobster, Tony Spilotro, who served as the inspiration for Joe Pesci’s character in the 1995 film Casino). A short time later, on January 13, 2006, Lombardo was arrested outside the Elmwood Park home of his longtime friend Dominic Calarco. His mug shot revealed him to be an old man now, with a full white beard, long hair shot through with gray, a wild glint in his eyes, and a leering half smile.
At Lombardo’s arraignment, Joe braced for his first glimpse of the man he had hunted for so long. “So I was sitting in court, doing my usual looking around, and he walked in, and he’s got his little orange jumpsuit on and his little shackles and I’m sitting there and I’m looking around and someone said, ‘There he is.’ I said, ‘There who is?’ ‘Lombardo.’”
Joe’s first thought was: “That little guy is Lombardo? I was expecting this huge beast, barrel-chested, kick your ass, and it was this little man.” His second thought was: “I wanted to rip his head off.”
After several of the defendants pleaded guilty, the trial of five others—Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., James Marcello, Paul “The Indian” Schiro, and Anthony “Twan” Doyle—started in June 2007, with Lombardo representing himself. During the trial, Lombardo showed why he is known as “The Clown.” He cracked jokes, flirted with court reporters and sketch artists. He testified in his own behalf, and during cross examination, the assistant U.S. attorney Mitchell Mars closed in and stared at the old mobster. Dressed in a gray jacket and silver tie, Lombardo leaned forward and returned the stare. At one point, Lombardo prompted laughter when he told a story about the meager tips he got from cops when he was a shoeshine boy. “They were very cheap people,” he said in a Jimmy Cagney rasp. “Let’s not press our luck,” his lawyer cautioned. “You told me to tell the truth,” Lombardo said.
The emotional climax of the trial came when Emma took the stand. Dressed in a dark pantsuit, her short blond hair neatly trimmed and parted, she answered questions about her husband’s murder in a calm, steady voice that broke only occasionally. She said that while she wasn’t 100 percent sure, she believed that the man who shoved her that day was Lombardo. At one point, she was asked whether she saw Lombardo in the courtroom. For the first time in 30 years, she made eye contact with her husband’s killer. “It was very surreal seeing him,” Emma says. “Intimidating. But at that point I was focused and determined. I was going to get through this, and I was not going to let anything faze me. I was going to tell what I saw, what I knew, and what I felt.”
During the trial, several people commenting on a Chicago Sun-Times blog rose to Lombardo’s defense, questioning the government’s evidence, saying there really wasn’t much that was new. “The feds don’t have a thing against Lombardo,” a poster identified as “Alex” wrote on July 3, 2007. “No DNA, no witness except for the widow who said she didn’t see their faces because they were wearing masks. . . . If that’s the best the feds can do, then good luck man.”
The Seifert family tried to ignore such musings, but they worried. If Lombardo walked, would they be in danger?
After a ten-week trial that featured more than 125 witnesses and some 200 pieces of evidence, including dozens of photos, jurors began deliberating on the charges against Lombardo on September 4th. A mere 20 hours later the jury announced it had reached its verdict.
Joe was the only member of the family able to reach the courtroom in time. The clerk for the U.S. district judge James Zagel read the verdicts to the packed courtroom. As he stared at the man who had taken part in his father’s murder, Joe smiled. Lombardo was convicted on all counts.
Afterward, Joe praised the prosecution team and expressed his appreciation for the jury’s decision, but he and his family immediately turned their attention to the sentencing. It was not until two long years later that Lombardo finally faced his day of reckoning. He was an old man, so virtually any prison term would be a life sentence. Still, they believed he must be sentenced to life. Anything less, they felt, would be an insult to Danny’s memory—and their own long struggle for justice.
The long-delayed sentencing took place in the Dirksen Building on February 2nd of this year. As if in mourning, Emma wore a plain black dress, black suede boots, and small black dangling earrings. In a quiet, even voice, she described to the packed courtroom the devastation wrought on her family by her husband’s murder. “How do you explain to your four-year-old why his daddy died?” she asked. “Please acknowledge our loss. . . . Give us some justice.”
Nick, his stocky frame upholstered in a pinstriped suit, spoke of the deep depression he experienced after his father’s death, of a life spent running from his past. He explained how important it was to the family that Lombardo be given life for taking his father’s life and, in some respects, Nick’s own life and those of his family.
And, then, as Lombardo, now 80, listened from a wheelchair, his head cocked as if he were puzzled by the entire proceeding, Joseph Seifert—Lombardo’s namesake—stepped to the lectern. As Joe spoke, photographs of his family, including his father, flashed on a screen. It was an eerie sight: thin, with dark hair and a goatee, Joe looked nearly identical to the man smiling in the photos above him. Joe started by talking about the day of the murder, how all he wanted to do was to play with his toys. “Instead, I stood frozen in the middle of chaos and watched as men viciously beat and shot my father in the front of the office, as blood spattered the walls and the floor. The last time I remember seeing my father, I was sitting in the back of a car. It was sunny out and he was lying twisted in the grass. As I think about that image today, I wonder if I said goodbye.”
Before Judge Zagel pronounced his sentence, Lombardo heaved himself up from his wheelchair onto a cane, clutched the sides of the lectern, and spoke in a raspy voice. He cracked no jokes on this day.
He simply repeated his claims of innocence and complained that he wasn’t given a fair trial, and then he shuffled back to his wheelchair.
Judge Zagel left Lombardo with an epitaph suitable to a man who was nicknamed The Clown. “In the end, we are judged by our actions, not by our wit or our smiles,” the judge said. “In cases like this, we are judged by the worst things we have done, and the worst things you have done are terrible.” With that, he sentenced Lombardo to life in prison.
The next day, on a raw late afternoon, the two brothers drove the twisting cemetery road to their father’s gravesite and crunched through new-fallen snow to the modest granite marker bearing the name Daniel R. Seifert. Nick was scheduled to fly home to Florida later that day, but first he had to visit his father’s grave. After all those years of promising to get Lombardo, he had something to say. In the waning afternoon sunlight, the two brothers stood under a sheltering pine, hands clasped in front of them. Nick nodded toward a tall evergreen. “It was just a sapling when we came here 30 years ago,” he pointed out.
The men fell silent. Neither thinks he has found that clichéd ideal, the sentiment so often assumed to follow a tragedy finally resolved: closure. Yet, each of them acknowledged feeling less heavy-hearted this day as they stood before the grave. “I feel like I can let the past go a little and look forward,” Joe said. “I can live for myself instead of living for my dad. But I have to say, it’s still not over.”
Nick nodded. “It will never be over.” He paused for a moment, before turning back to get in the car and head home.
And then Joe did what he wasn’t sure he’d done that day in 1974, when he saw his father’s body lying twisted in the grass. He said goodbye.
11 months ago