State Treasure - Illinois

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 50 of the August, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

Twenty-Two Lost CachesMADISON COUNTY – Vito Giannola emigrated from Sicily to the United States in 1915 with his brother, John, and associate, Alphonse Palizzola. Belonging to the Stoppagleria faction of the Sicilian Mafia, Vito settled in St. Louis and established himself as the first Mafiosi chieftain of the Midwest. John helped run the business while Palizzola became Vito’s personal bodyguard and assassin. As their gang grew it became known as the Green Gang, or the Green Ones. Loosely organized in the early 1920’s, St. Louis’ crime rackets were quickly seized by the Italians. Giannola controlled the Italian merchants, the wholesale meat industry, and moved in on St. Louis’s lucrative liquor trade. It was the “Roaring Twenties” and Prohibition (1920 – 1933) had pushed the price of liquor through the roof. Local non-Italian gangs, like the Egan Rats and Cockoos gang, were being pushed out and gang warfare resulted. During the Giannola / Palizzola four year reign (1923 – 1927) 30 people were murdered and 18 wounded. From his secluded Horseshoe Lake farm, across the state line and just eight miles east of St. Louis, Vito managed a huge moonshine operation. By late 1925, federal authorities knew about his Horseshoe Lake still, but took no immediate action. Mrs. Ohmer Hockett contacted federal authorities in St. Louis on Friday, February 5, 1926. She reported her husband, a constable from Edwardsville, and Fred Balke left home a week earlier on Friday, January 29th, to investigate the report of a large still operation by Horseshoe Lake. Neither man had been heard from since. Within hours, five federal agents, Madison County Sheriff Ed Demling and several deputies raided the farm. In a Special Edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, dated February 5th, the story read: TWO RAIDERS SLAIN – “The bodies of two prohibition agents, who left Edwardsville last Friday, were discovered today in a single shallow grave only a few hundred feet from a huge still on a lonely farm three miles east of Granite City. The arms and legs were bound with bailing wire. Each man had been shot under the right eye.” The victims were quickly identified as Constable Ohmer O. Hockett, 38 and Fred Balke, 24. Agents discovered 100,000 gallons of mash and two stills on the property, reporting the farmhouse appeared to have been abandoned just days before the raid. Because of a straw purchase, investigators were unable to determine ownership of the farm, and the neighbors weren’t talking. Charles Young, owner of the Eagle Park Resort, purchased the farm from the estate of the late D.J. Sullivan in 1923. When questioned, Young stated he “represented other parties” who hired him to make the purchase anonymously on their behalf. He refused to identify the buyer(s). Young’s relationship to Vito remains unclear, but my research discovered an interesting fact. In 1923, Young purchased the farm for Vito and protected his name when questioned by authorities three years later. He then sold the Eagle Park Resort to John and Catherine Gray in 1924-25. The Gray’s were discovered shot to death in their car, which had also been torched by the killer(s) on September 14, 1925. Their murderer was identified as Alphonse Palizzola, Vito’s assassin. For years Vito planned for his retirement. It was his practice to visit his Horseshoe Lake property each week to bury money. The cops still hadn’t linked Vito to the farm and, since it remained abandoned after the raid, investigators were no longer watching it. Every week Vito filled up a waterproof lunch pail with U.S. currency of large denominations. Palizzola would then drive him to the farm and remain with the car. Vito walked alone into the woods and buried the lunch pail. Vito buried 22 of these caches here; only Vito knew how much he buried. On September 9, 1927, a rival gang murdered Palizzola. Then, on December 28, 1927, two men identifying themselves as police officers entered the home of Augustina Cusumano, Vito’s mistress. Found hiding inside, Vito was shot 37 times. John Giannola fled St. Louis. After four years the Giannola / Palizzola empire came to an end. None of Vito’s buried wealth has ever been found.Halfway Tavern GoldMARION COUNTY – Located 8.5 miles east of Salem, Illinois, at the junction of US 50 and Omega Road just north of Iuka, sits the historic Halfway Tavern, formally known as the Halfway House. Built in 1815, the tavern was one of several located along the Vincennes-St. Louis Trail, and takes it name from being near the midpoint of that trail. The site served as an Inn, livery stable, and stagecoach stop. Abraham Lincoln stayed there when he rode the circuit from courthouse to courthouse trying cases as a young attorney. But the historic Inn is also linked to a tale of buried treasure. Old-timers recalled that a stagecoach was robbed of its gold by Indians on this trail. When a posse closed in on them, they rode into a wooded area just north of the tavern and buried it. But when officers searched the woods they saw no evidence of recent digging and never did recover the gold.Dr. Anna’s Treasure CaveHARDIN COUNTY – If history can get it wrong then it truly missed the mark when it failed to record the achievements of American physician Dr. Anna Pierce-Hobbs-Bixby (1808-1869). In 1824, at 16-years-old, Anna Pierce left her parent home in the frontier crossroads settlement of Rock Creek in southeast Illinois to attend medical school in Philadelphia. Concerned about the poor state of health in the pioneer settlements, and folks having no access to treatment, Dr. Anna returned to Rock Creek after graduating medical school. She continued to serve as Rock Creek’s only physician until her death at 61 in 1869. She was a popular figure in southeastern Illinois and, being the only doctor, enjoyed a brisk practice. When an epidemic of the “highly fatal disease” called Milksick broke out in the settlements Anna observed that it wasn’t always fatal, but it killed humans and animals indiscriminately. The disease had already claimed the lives of Anna’s mother and sister-in-law. To her credit, Dr. Anna studied and documented the disease’s behavior in both species. On consulting with an old Shawnee medicine woman, Anna was shown white snakeroot weed and told this was the cause of milk sickness. By studying the snakeroot, the good doctor was able to quickly determine a course of community action and treatment. In three years the disease and snakeroot had been eradicated throughout southern Illinois. Dr. Anna saved untold hundreds of human lives, thousands of head of stock, and the livelihoods of families whose farms and ranches were threatened with ruin. Fifty-nine years after her death, the American Medical Association (AMA) caught up with Dr. Anna when they recognized white snakeroot as the cause of Milk sickness in 1928. Dr. Anna spent her life dedicated to her patients and their well-being. Sadly, her personal life wasn’t always a pleasant one. Her first marriage to Isaac Hobbs, a Rock Creek framer, by all accounts was a pleasant one. Her second marriage to Enos Bixby was a sham. Bixby intended to acquire his aging wife’s wealth through marriage, but Anna, who by now was quite prosperous, opted to keep her banking to herself. Rock Creek was still a tiny village with no bank and the locals all kept their money cached below ground, or in and around their homes. Several months into their marriage, Bixby demanded Anna reveal where her fortune was hidden. He threatened to kill her, but she steadfastly refused. Before Anna could reach the door to leave, her husband blocked her and two other men appeared from hiding. She was bound in chains and thrown over a cliff to die. The men then set fire to the woods near the cliff to conceal their crime. Unknown to them, Anna became hung up in a tree on her way down and dangled helplessly. People coming to fight the fire eventually rescued her. They all then turned their attention to Enos Bixby and his two confederates. There fate is unknown; however, they were never heard from again. Legend states that after the attempt on her life, Anna moved her personal fortune away from her home - office to a favorite retreat she loved to visit, a cave along Rock Creek in Hooven Hollow. Today the cave still bears her namesake and is known as Dr. Anna Bigsby’s Cave. The site is located about six miles north of Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, just west of Route 1.Sources:Howes, Nick, Illinois’ Horseshoe Lake: Buried Treasure, 5/illinois_horseshoe_lake_largemou th.html?cat=8 City of Salem, Legend of Half-Way Tavern, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Henson, Michael Paul, “Dr. Anna Bigsby’s Treasure,” March 1978, Lost Treasure magazine, p. 58. Bailey, Laurel, Dr. Anna and the Fight for the Milksick, April 1996, Illinois History


johndoe2569's picture

john gray

you know the location of where the farm was?

johndoe2569's picture

horseshoe lake loot

im from collinsville and interested in looking for the lootwould you be willing to share the location of the old hotel and egale park is.if you wanted someone to hut with you id go and hunt with you.

nsel's picture

Horseshoe lake loot

I have metal detected at Horsehoe lake no less than 35 times in the past year. I have hunted every accessable area I can get to. I do know where the old hotel was on the NE end of the lake. I know where Eagle Park is and that area is creepy.  I may have discovered the area the loot was buried but no loot. I have found three different places with broken mason jars. There had been a still on the farm. Each place had no less than 6 and up to 20 Jars. Is it coincidence or I found the jars in three places not to far a part or could it have been where the loot was uncovered and the jars left behind. I did find what may have a been a rusty handle to a lunch pail but then again it could be imagination. Horseshoe lake is a big area but one must consider where a farm may have been almost 100 yrs go and maybe it was close to 100 yrs old at that time. I did a lot of research and come up with about 5 logical places to start with then eliminated two of them almost immediately. I concentrated on 3 of them and the wooded area I found the broken mason jars seemed to be the best bet. The trees were old enough including old growth and rotted trees.  I have long since suspected the loot was dug up shortly after the death of Vito and actually still believe that. 

nsel's picture

Green Gang

I have read all you have posted and written about the murders and the Green Gang. I have never heard anyone say exactly where the Eagle park Rsort was. There is an area called Eagle Park near SE Horseshoe Lake. There was also a resort on the NE area of Horseshoe Lake called Molenbrook Resort.. I guess what i am asking is there is no evidence of the farm that Vito Giannola owned and supposedly bought through Charles Young. You was supposed to have bought th4 estate of the late D J Sullivan. I cannot find any plots owned by D J Sullivan from 1873 to 1906. I just canno find plot maps later that 1906.I am rather curious if the farm was actually on Horseshoe lake or near by. I know exactly where the Molenbrook resort was but not sure if it is the same as Eagle Park Resort. It is an interesting story and I continue to find as much info as I can. I doubt really if there is any buried treasure at Horseshoe. Even if Giannola's driver didn't know where it was he knew the woods and would have searched after Giannola's death. He would have been a fool not to.

SMC103's picture

Louis Colone

Louis Colone what my Great Grandfather. I am intrigued by this story.  I'm trying to find information on my family history.  I am an only child and Great Grandchild of Louis Colone from his Grandson Louis Colone, III.  I hope I can come across more information like this.

Anthony Belli's picture

RE: Murder of John and Cathrine Gray

Dear AeldSidhe,Thank you for posting to Lost Treasure Online. I’d be happy to provide you all primary and secondary sources used to develop the story, Twenty-Two Lost Caches, from the August 2010 issue of Lost Treasure. On request I will always provide our reader’s with all source references and data I’ve developed through research for any of my stories.I have viewed the story mentioned above in the August 2010 issue and see only primary sources appeared in print. Understand that space and word count restrictions sometimes make it difficult if not impossible to list secondary sources which maybe omitted by the writer or editor to met those requirements.The principals in my story, Twenty-Two Lost Caches, are Vito Giannola and Alphonse Palizzola. Also mentioned are Charles Young, Ohmer Hockett, John Blake, John Giannola, Sam Palizzola, and John and Christine Gray. My research focused on Vito Giannola and Alphonse Palizzola since they are the only two directly linked to the treasure. So I’ll do my best to address your questions regarding the Grays but it sounds as if you’ve done far more research on them then I.The primary source that provided the framework for this story was Nick Howes’ story entitled, Illinois’ Horseshoe Lake: Largemouth Bass, Indian Mound and Buried Treasure. Though this source appeared in print here is the link to Howe’s story. sources used are:A story entitled: “St. Louis, MO,” written by investigative journalists, Mario Machi, Allan May and Charlie Molino. This story can be found at: American at: article written by Allan May entitled: “The St. Louis Family - The Green Ones,” appears on Crime Library on at: Daily Tribune, Two Raiders Slain, February 6, 1926, Chicago, IL, p.1Chicago Daily Tribune, Graft Looms as Motive in Dry Raider’s Slaying, February 7, 1926, p.1Genealogy Research: Hockett, Ohmer O. d. 02-03-1906, Illinois Statewide Death Index,, Re: Killed by gangsters 1926, are three points in your post that I can respond to.

  1. You mention that there is no evidence that John and Catherine Gray “were actually married.” I don’t know if they were married or not. Two secondary sources listed above show them as “John and Catherine Gray,” and claim they were murdered “after complaining about having to purchase liquor for their Eagle Park resort from the Green Ones.”  I simply assumed they were husband and wife.
  2. Your second point states, “Nowhere in my research have I come across the names Vito Giannola or Alphonse Palizzola.”  Vito Giannola, the principal in my story was the head of the Sicilian gang known as, The Green Ones. He ran the gang with his brother John Giannola, and associate, Alphonse Palizzola who worked as Vito’s driver, bodyguard, and hit-man. The period of the Giannola/Palizzola rule over the gang was from 1923-27, which pre-dates Capone’s influence in St. Louis.
  3. Your third comment being, “I would very much like to see the evidence you say you have uncovered that link Palizzola irrefutably to the murders.”  On this point I cannot comment since I have never made any such claim. The truth is I do not know, or have any evidence as to who murdered John and Catherine Grey.

I can however provide you with some information I obtained during research that did not appear in my story, which I hope will be helpful to you.   According to American & Crime Library, John and Catherine Gray were murdered by being “shot dead in their automobile, which was then set on fire.”  Further, Allan May in his article entitled: The St. Louis Family –The Green Ones, claims in essence that the Gray’s were victims of a turf war between the Green Ones, and the non-Italian gangs of St. Louis, to wit: the Egan Rats, and Cockoo’s gangs, who then dominated the prohibition-era liquor trade.According to May’s account Vito Giannola made his move to seize control of the St. Louis rackets by first extorting money from the city’s Italian businessmen. In 1923 his next move was to take control of the city’s wholesale meat industry. When one local distributor objected he became the first “example” of what happens to those who oppose the Green Ones. He was brutally murdered and his body was recovered on September 16, 1923, from under a highway viaduct.At that time the Green Ones were opposed by the Egan’s Rats gang. As Giannola’s control in St. Louis expanded members of the Egan Rats decided to send Vito and Alphonse a message. Sam Palizzola, a relative of Vito’s lieutenant, Alphonse Palizzola, was murdered in September of 1924. But before Vito could retaliate, members of the Egan Rat’s were arrested and sent to prison in 1925. Vito now set his sights on eliminating the Cuckoos Gang.After complaining about having to purchase liquor from the Green Ones (Italians) for their recently acquired Eagle Park Resort, John and Catherine Gray were murdered on September 14, 1925, making them victims number 3 and 4 in this gang turf war. The Cuckoos Gang retaliated by shooting up Vito’s moonshine operation and home at his Horseshoe Lake property.In my Lost Treasure story I did state, “my research discovered an interesting fact.” The “fact” I was referring to was the undisclosed relationship between a man named Charles Young, to Vito Giannola. As a retired police chief who has been an investigator for nearly 30 years, I found it interesting that Charles Young, who according to the Chicago Daily Tribune sold the Eagle Park Resort to John and Christine Gray, also maintained a clandestine relationship for years with Vito, something law enforcement knew nothing about at the time.With regard to the deaths of the Grays it maybe worth your time to take a closer look at Young, specifically the terms of the sale of the resort. It may lead no where, but I believe Young had a much deeper and trusted relationship with Vito then what has been reported.I base my conclusion on the following fatcs:   It was Young who arraigned the straw purchase of the Horseshoe Lake property secretly on Giannola’s behalf. Three years after the sale and after federal agents discovered a shallow grave on the property containing the bodies of two Edwardsville men, one a police officer, it was Young who refused to name Vito Giannola as the true buyer and owner.It was Young who owned and sold the Eagle Park resort to the Gray’s in 1924-25, just months before both were murdered. It would be interesting to know the terms of the sale and if Young retained ownership of the resort after the Grays, through no fault of their own, defaulted on the payments. If in fact they were making payments to Young, and since my research did not extend that far, I don’t have that information.At some point in the investigation suspicion fell on Vito and John Giannola, as well as Alphonse Palizzola. Investigators believed Hocket and Balke, were killed on orders from Vito Giannola, which by protocol would’ve been a job carried out by Alphonse Palizzola.According to two sources, and Crime Library on TruTV, the murders of the Grays was a hit ordered by Vito as the “first blow” in the turf war between the Green Ones and the Cockoos, after the Egan Rat’s were out of the way. If correct, by protocol their executions would’ve been carried out by Alphonse Palizzola.You claim, “John Gray was a member of the Cockoo Gang.”  If you are correct that could explain why Vito targeted them… according to the above sources they were killed after complaining about having to buy liquor from the Green Ones. Always thought that explanation was a bit weak. You offer a much better explanation.Also you state, “The case was eventually dismissed for lack of prosecution. (sic)” Again if this is true… that charges were dismissed against the seven people indicted by a grand jury for the Grays’ murders because of lack of evidence, maybe its cause the 7 were innocent? And perhaps the explanation for this can be found by digging further into the events surrounding their deaths and ties to Charles Young, Vito Giannola, and Alphonse Palizzola.Respectfully,Anthony M. Belli

cnielsen's picture

Follow up

I will be sure Mr. Belli, the author of the article, sees your comment and, hopefully, can provide the information you requested.Have a great day,
Carla Banning, Lost Treasure

AeldSidhe's picture

Murder of John and Catherine Gray

"He then sold the Eagle Park Resort to John and Catherine Gray in 1924-25. The Gray’s were discovered shot to death in their car, which had also been torched by the killer(s) on September 14, 1925. Their murderer was identified as Alphonse Palizzola, Vito’s assassin." I am a descendant of John Gray - my paternal grandmother was his sister.  I have researched the murder of John and his "wife" (there is no evidence that they were actually married).  I have copies of the court records from the murder trial, from the Edwardsville courthouse in Madison County, Illinois.  I have copies of the hand-written police ledgers from the Granite City Police Department, into whose jurisdiction the Resort, and thus the murders, fell.  I have done extensive research in the local papers of the day, and even followed the case to San Quentin Prison in California where an inmate testified that it was the deed of a fellow inmate.  I have followed the twisted trail down the years of the men indicted for the murders, most of whom met a brutal end within a short time after the murders.Shortly after the murders, seven people were indicted by a grand jury and arrested.  Three were released to other jurisidictions to face other charges, and the other four posted bail.  The case was eventually dismissed for lack of prosecution.  Indicted were bothers Alfred and Frank Selvaggi, George Herwig (bartender with Gray), Frank Collins, Marvel Paul Michaels, Joseph Costello, and Louis Colone (uncle of the Selvaggi brothers, and owner of another speakeasy).Within a week's time before their murder, John and Catherine sold half the concession rights to Frank Selvaggi, changed their residence from the resort to a boarding house in East St. Louis, Illinois, purchased a 1918 Cadillac touring car, changed their names to Mr. and Mrs. John Dorsey, and on the night before their death, visited John's sister, my grandmother, and her family (John's mother was also then living with his sister and her family).  From all indications, John and Catherine knew something serious was about to happen and they were covering their tracks and preparing to run.According to the death certificates of John and Catherine Gray, the cause of death was "By being gasoline being poured on body and set on fire."  The coroner testified that the condition of the bodies was such that he could not say with certainty whether the couple had been beaten or shot before being set on fire, although a farmer who lived in the vicinity reported hearing gunshots that evening.  John's body was claimed by his brother Ross; when no one came forward to claim Catherine's body, Ross also accepted it, and both were buried in the family plot in Sunset Hills in Edwardsville, Illinois. Nowhere in my research have I come across the names Vito Giannola or Alphonse Palizzola.  Your cited references do not lead to the conclusion that Palizzola was the murderer.  Your cited references don't refer to Palizzola, nor do they refer to the murder of John and Catherine Gray or the other circumstances surrounding the murder.There is, however, circumstantial evidence that the murders *could have been* committed by the gang "The Green Ones," as John Gray was a member of the Cuckoo Gang (who had been so named by Al Capone) because they were crazy.  The Cuckoo Gang were direct rivals of The Green Ones.  The Green Ones were Al Capone's henchmen and acquired their name because they were mostly Italian immigrants fresh off the boat from Italy.  At the time of the murders, Capone was expanding his kingdom.  The St. Louis area, and especially the areas across the Mississippi River, were hotbeds of speakeasies, murders, cabarets, stills, and vast underground transportation systems that supplied hooch to the area and far beyond. 
But there is also circumstantial evidence equal to the above theory that they were murdered by the Selvaggis and their uncle Louis Colone.  Frank Selvaggi obtained a half interest in the Resort just days before John and Catherine's murder.  The day before the murders, Alfred Selvaggi, along with Marvel Paul Michaels, and Joseph Costello, three young men in the middle of a depression with no jobs and no money, purchased a new car and were joyriding in it.  When arrested in connection with the murders, the new car, which they had owned only two days, had 700 miles on it, the bumbers and runners were filled with weeds and mud, and found tucked in the seat cushion were strips of paper that had been cut from John Gray's old bank account and were used as scratch paper - matching strips were found in the Grays' apartment.  Louis Colono, who owned several rival speakeasies, may have been involved in silencing the Grays to prevent them fron testifying against his nephews, or to eliminate his rival.I would very much like to see the evidence you say you have uncovered that link Palizzola irrefutably to the murders.  

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