In the Name of the Father

The 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert, a Bensenville businessman, unhinged his two sons and set them off on separate, troubled quests to avenge their father. After 25 years, they confronted the man behind his killing—Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo—not at the end of a gun, but in court

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Parallel lives: (from left) the mobsters Joseph Lombardo and Frank Schweihs, who moved in on Daniel Seifert’s business in the 1970s. The Seifert family: Emma with Joe, Daniel, Nick, and Kathy. Anthony Spilotro, another member of the Outfit. See more photos in the gallery >>

 

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.

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