Food and contract killings equal life without parole

Our latest column from William Thomas

Toronto Star reporter Peter Edwards covers Canadian organized crime with an easy, elegant and suspenseful style of writing. Both his newspaper features and his books are of the “must read” and “can’t put it down” genre. He also has a slightly twisted sense of humour.

Many years ago Peter wrote about the bloodbath slayings of crime boss Johnny (Pops) Papalia in Hamilton and his second-in-command Carmen Barillaro in Niagara Falls. In this piece he fingered the Musitano brothers, Pasquale and Angelo as the masterminds behind the contract hits.

Quote: “Pat Musitano, who runs a popular James St. N. restaurant known for its tasty thin-crust pizza, was charged with first-degree murder in Papalia’s death.” What? A tasty thin crust pizza pie lands topping-side up in the middle of a mob murder story!?!

I used that quote when I taught a writing course at the Chautauqua Institute in New York, showing students how to slip a restaurant review into a grizzly, organized crime massacre. Years later I had dinner with Peter and called him on that incongruous quote: His answer: “I like to work as many senses into stories as I can. And that pizza was good. It’s a crime everyone can’t make pizza like that.”

Blink, and I would have missed that line. You gotta’ read the fine print. Right about now Uloma Walker-Curry is sitting in a jail cell in Cleveland wishing she’d taken a magnifying glass to her husband’s life insurance policy. Uloma invested $1,000 in the killing skills of her daughter’s boyfriend to murder her husband William Walker and collect $100,000 from his life insurance. Chad (not a great mob name to start with) failed in the first attempt to kill the husband/police officer, but succeeded in the second try which involved fast food take-out that Uloma had ordered. All to no avail because the insurance policy had not been updated, so the $100,000 payout was to William Walker’s first wife. Uloma is now looking at a bunch of empty take-out food cartons and life imprisonment without parole.

As food and contact killings emerge as the unlikely central theme of this column, I’m reminded of the contract killing that took place in Niagara Falls, Ontario about a dozen years ago. A man wanting his wife murdered approached local mob lieutenant Vito Arti to do the job. Arti, a no-nonsense businessman and bone breaker demanded the guy’s wallet. Ignoring the wad of cash, the mobster pulled out a Loonie and shoved it in the husband’s face.

“Now we have a deal,” said Arti according to court records. “This dollar is the down payment of death.” At this point the man became fearful of the paid killer and wished he’d never got himself into this venture. But he knew of Arti’s reputation and there was no backing out. Vito Arti actually bit into a knuckle on his right hand which drew blood and then crossed himself before they parted ways in a downtown park. The soon-to-be widower was terrified.

Weeks went by during which time the mobster stalked the wife, studying her habits. Gradually a plan materialized in the criminal mind of the man who was once voted “Scariest Guy On Cell Block Nine” at Kingston Penitentiary. And a brazen plan it was: broad daylight, 10 am., opening

hour at Sobey’s supermarket. Not one for weekend crowds, but keen on marked down produce, the wife never missed shopping first thing Monday morning.

Arti’s modus operandi was also his trademark – a garrote watch left to him by a cousin who was a founding member of the notorious Sicilian Ndrangheta family. Ironically the cousin, Anthony Pulguese was himself strangled by an ambitious gang member who used a garrote watch but … with better timing.

As usual, the store was almost empty when Lillian, the wife walked with her hand basket from the produce section to Aisle #4. Vito Arti was suddenly behind her pulling the wire by its gold loop from inside the garrote watch. He strangled the woman in less than twenty seconds.

Hearing what he thought was an odd sound “like a subdued gurgle” he told the court, the produce manager came running down the aisle to the aid of what be believed to be a woman who had fainted.

“Help me get her up,” he yelled to a customer wearing a Fedora pulled down over sunglasses. Arti was only too happy to oblige.

“You get her feet,” said Arti and as the produce manager bent down, out came the wire from the watch for the second time in as many minutes. A hefty guy wearing an apron, the man took about ten seconds longer to dispatch.

Shades of Uloma in the orange jumpsuit, all was to no avail. The contract killer had forgot all about the surveillance cameras in each aisle of the store in order to catch shoplifters. Vito Arti was arrested at his home one hour later after he committed the double murder and subsequently pleaded guilty to the charges, also receiving a life sentence without parole.

Police said the cold-blooded killer remained calm throughout the one-day trial, but went ballistic when they handed him the next day’s Toronto Star with Peter Edwards headline: “Artichokes two for a dollar at Sobey’s.” Okay, this last one I made up but that other stuff is absolutely true.

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to



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