Philadelphia Weekly posted my Crime Beat column on Longmire author Craig Johnson's Philadelphia connection:
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
A South Philly Cop In Wyoming: My Philadelphia Weekly Crime Beat Column On ‘Longmire’ Author Craig Johnson’s Philadelphia Connection
Sunday, October 17, 2021
I ventured out last week to see the latest James Bond film, No Time To Die (perhaps it should have been called No Time To Think of a Better Title).
I haven’t been to a movie theater in years, preferring to watch films on TV at home even before COVID 19, but I wanted to see this film on the big screen, even though I fully expected to hate it.
Instead, I came away with a mixed review of the film.
As I’ve noted here before, I became an Ian Fleming aficionado when I bought and read all of the Bond novels as a teenager in the early 1960s after seeing Sean Connery as Bond in the first two Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love.
Reading the Fleming novels, I was surprised and pleased that the thrillers were darker, more complicated, and more interesting than the films.
I did not initially like the selection of actor Daniel Craig for James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, as he did not fit Fleming’s physical description, but I was glad that the producers had returned to making true thrillers rather than the silly, action-comedies of the past. Craig is a fine actor, I admit, and he handles the action and fight scenes well.
The five-film Daniel Craig arc now ends with No Time To Die.
There are no spoilers here.
The film, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and written by a committee consisting of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is overall well done and well worth seeing, in my view.
But I have to say that I was not fond of the film’s convoluted sci-fi plot, and I yearn for the good old days of robbing Fort Knox, nuclear blackmail and biological warfare that were the high-end crimes featured in Fleming’s novels and the Bond films of the 1960s.
No Time To Die kicks off with a good opening scene in which a young girl is being attacked by a solo gunman in a broken Japanese mask. It was clever and well done.
Next, we find that James Bond has retired from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and is living in Jamaica (where in fact the character was born, as Ian Fleming wrote the Bond novels at his Jamaican villa, Goldeneye).
Bond meets his old friend and CIA ally Felix Leiter, who recruits him to help recover a kidnapped scientist (what, the CIA does not have any paramilitary operators on their payroll?).
The mission leads to Cuba, where Bond, in his proverbial black tux, is aided in a gun fight with countless men by a woman who claims to have had only three weeks training - and yet fights like a veteran U.S. Navy SEAL.
Bond is unable to rescue the scientist, who turns out to be duplicitous and escapes from Bond and company with deadly nanobots technology.
Back at SIS headquarters in London, more commonly known as MI6, the SIS gang is all there, with Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. Ben Whishaw as Q, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner. There is also a newcomer, Lashana Lynch as Nomi, the operator who assumed the 007 codename after Bond retired.
I like that the SIS is holding Bond’s arch-enemy, Spectre's founder and leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (portrayed by Christoph Waltz) in a Hannibal Lector-style prison. I like the idea that Blofeld manages to control outside criminal events from his supposedly secure, high-tech prison.
I would have liked to have seen Blofeld as the primary and solo mastermind villain, and done away entirely with Rami Malek’s character, a creepy little guy named Lyutsifer Safin.
One mad, disfigured villain is quite enough for one film, thank you.
I didn’t mind the romance of Bond and Madeleine Swann, or even Craig appropriating Bond actor George Lazenby’s line from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “We have all the time in the world,” - but I didn’t think Lea Seydoux was a strong enough actress to pull off the role.
I liked that the film also used the late, great Bond composer and conductor John Barry’s We Have All the Time in the World song, sung by the late, great Louie Armstrong, as well as other songs from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but I do tire of the endless self-referencing the Bond films appear to love.
The highlights of the film are the splendid and exciting actions sequences that were so well done. The money was up there on the screen, as the late Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli used to say.
But on the downside, the film was far too long.
And lastly, I didn’t care for the film’s ending, which I won’t divulge here.
I suspect the producers will come back in two years’ time and once again reboot the Bond series, as they did in 2006 with Craig in Casino Royale.
I’d like to see Aidan Turner (seen in the below photo) get the role of James Bond, as he fits Ian Fleming’s physical description, and he is a fine young actor.
I liked Turner in Poldark, and I especially liked him in And Then There Were None.
He was very good as a cold, tough, tux-wearing killer. The part was practically an audition for Bond – and Turner nailed it in my view.
As No Time To Die notes in the film's end credits – James Bond will return.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Philadelphia Weekly published my Crime Column on the DEA warning about fake opioid pills that kill.
You can read the column via the below link or the below pages:
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
The American Navy was born in Philadelphia, like me, and the Navy has served and protected America faithfully since the country’s beginnings.
I’ve “stood the watch,” as the Navy puts it, serving two years on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in 1970-1971 during the Vietnam War. I later served two years on the Navy tugboat USS Saugus at the U.S. nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland.
You can take the proverbial boy out of the Navy, but you can’t take the Navy out of the boy.
The U.S. Navy offers the below on her 246th birthday:
The 13 October 1775 resolution of the Continental Congress established what is now the United States Navy with “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months….” After the American War of Independence, the U.S. Constitution empowered the new Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress established the Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798.
In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized official recognition of 13 October as the birthday of the U.S. Navy. Since then, each CNO has encouraged a Navy-wide celebration of this occasion “to enhance a greater appreciation of our Navy heritage, and to provide a positive influence toward pride and professionalism in the naval service.”
13 October 2021 will mark the Navy's 246th Birthday. The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is “Resilient and Ready”, which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.
God Bless America and the U.S. Navy.
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine.
Murder by the Park
By Paul Davis
“I’m a criminal,” the man at the bar said to me as a way of introduction. He said this as nonchalantly as if he stating he was a salesman or lawyer.
I was at the bar talking to an old friend from the old neighborhood in South Philadelphia when the 30ish, dark haired, thin and short man approached me and asked if I wrote the crime column for the local newspaper. He said he recognized me from my column photo.
I said yes. The man introduced himself and said he read my column on a recent murder by a nearby park.
"The story was really good, really interesting," the man said.
I thanked him, he shook my hand, and he rejoined his friends at the other end of the bar.
The column the man at the bar liked was about the murder of a drug dealer whose body had been discovered in a car parked next to the park at 13th and Oregon Avenue.
The story interested me as I grew up at 13th and Oregon. Murders in that middle-class, predominantly Italian-American neighborhood were rare. And I played sports in that park as a teenager and did somewhat less wholesome things with girls in the park after dark.
After the man walked away, my friend told me the man was Anthony “Tony Banana” Venditto, a local thug. My friend explained that he was called “Tony Banana,” as all of his friends described him as a banana, a South Philly euphemism for an insane person or a goof.
I was later informed by a Philadelphia detective that Venditto was the prime suspect in the murder of the drug dealer found next to the park. Small wonder that he found my column about the murder so interesting.
The detective filled me in on the story of Venditto and the murder by the park.
Venditto was proud of being a criminal. His life-long goal was to be a “made man” in the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra crime family. But because he was, as his nickname indicated, a banana, he didn’t stand a chance.
Venditto had a police record with multiple arrests and two convictions. He was convicted on two separate burglaries, and he was given parole on the first and served two years in Graterford State Prison for the second. He had been briefly married, but his wife divorced him while he was in prison.
Venditto hung around a mob crew in the neighborhood, and they used him for assorted jobs, such as robbery and extortion. For Venditto, being an associate with the crew was the next best thing to being a made member of the local mob.
The crew of gamblers, thieves and extortionists spent their usual days at a local bar, gossiping, bragging and scheming. The crew captain, Joseph “Big Joe” Farina, sat at a back table up against a wall and held court all day and some nights, as if he were a king. His crew would report in, hand over money, and linger as Farina, a large, overweight man with sparse gray hair, would sip Sambuca and impart his wisdom and wit to his fellow criminals.
No one questioned his wisdom, and everyone laughed at his jokes and asides.
The crew didn’t do much in the way of work. Mostly, they extorted money from other working criminals, such as bookmakers, drug dealers and burglary crews. The crooks paid their “street tax” to the crew as they figured it was the cost of doing business in South Philly. The crooks who didn’t pay had a visit from crew members, who wielded baseball bats or pointed guns.
Farina waved over Venditto and Salvatore “Sonny” Grillo. Grillo was huge, muscular and tattooed. Standing next to the diminutive Venditto, he appeared even larger.
“Did you see that drug guy about our money?” Farina asked Grillo.
The man Farina referred to was John “Opie” Taylor, a South Philly drug dealer who resembled the child actor Ron Howard from the 1960s Andy Griffith TV show. Taylor was told on several occasions that he had to pay a “street tax” to Farina’s crew if he wanted to sell drugs or commit any crime in the neighborhood.
“I sent him an email.”
“You did what?” Farina said, slapping the table.
“I sent him an email, telling him he better get right with us.”
“Look at you, ya mamaluke. What’s the point of being a big ugly gorilla, when ya gonna send email messages to a guy we want to scare?”
Grillo stood there, his head held low, and kept quiet.
“When I was a soldier back in the 1960s we didn't send emails. We looked them in the eye,” Farina told Grillo and Venditto. “We were true gangsters and racketeers then. Now look at what I have to deal with,” Farina said, throwing his hands up in the air in disgust.
“I’ll handle the guy, Skipper,” Venditto said.
“Oh yeah? And how will a skinny banana like you do that?”
“I’ll scare the shit out of him.”
“All right. But take this mamaluke with you.”
“Two stunods,” Farina said out loud as Grillo and Venditto left the bar.
Venditto and Grillo went to the variety store where Taylor worked. They walked in and told Taylor to come outside with them. Not wanting to cause a scene where he worked, Taylor walked out with the two.
Venditto pulled a .38 Ruger hammerless revolver out of his jacket pocket and placed it up against Taylor’s side.
“Where’s your car?” Venditto asked.
Taylor pointed to the Toyota on the corner. Venditto told Taylor to give the keys to Grillo.
“Get ina the car,” Venditto told the drug dealer.
Venditto shoved Taylor into the back seat and sat next to him with the gun between them. Grillo drove them to the park at 13th and Oregon Avenue. Grillo parked the car next to the park on 13th Street between Oregon Avenue and Johnson Street.
“You gotta come up with our money,” Venditto told the visibly shaken drug dealer. “We own this city and if you want to make money from drugs, we got to get our tax.”
“I ain’t making all that much money,” Taylor whined. “Why do you think I’m working in the store?”
“Bullshit. You got a new car here. So pay up, motherfucker.”
Taylor grabbed the door handle and attempted to get out and flee. Venditto grabbed his shirt and placed the gun against his chest. He shot Taylor and the drug dealer slid down on the seat.
The gun blast inside the car deafened the two mobsters. Grillo held his ears in pain. A minute later he said, “What the fuck, Tony?”
“He had it coming. He was disrespectful.”
Grillo wiped down the steering wheel and door handles with a hankie and the two criminals left the car next to the park with Taylor’s dead body inside. Venditto took off his blood-stained jacket and rolled it up in a ball. They walked the three blocks to the bar.
Venditto approached Farina’s table in the back of the bar.
“I handled the drug guy, boss.”
“Good. Did you get our money?”
“No, he didn’t have no money. But I whacked him.”
“You did what?”
“He was disrespectful to us, so I shot him.”
“Is he dead?”
“Then how the fuck are we supposed to get our money from him, ya fucking banana?”
Venditto shrugged sheepishly and looked away.
A man walking his dog noticed the slumped corpse in the backseat of the parked car and called the police. A 3rd District patrol officer responded. He looked into the backseat. With blood all over the seat and the floor of the car, he knew the man was dead.
The officer called his sergeant. The sergeant rolled up and got out of the patrol car. He looked into the back seat and opened the car door. The awful smell of the corpse drove him to step backwards and he shut the door quickly.
The sergeant called his lieutenant as three more patrol cars pulled up and parked. The lieutenant called South Detectives.
Two detectives rolled up and stepped out of the car. They peered into the car but didn’t touch anything. One of the detectives interviewed the dog walker as the other detective called Homicide at Police headquarters.
A crowd of onlookers stood on the sidewalk and gawked and spoke among themselves.
The uniformed officers tried to stop the onlookers from getting too close to the car and the two detectives walked among the gathered people, asking if they heard or saw anything.
A half hour later, Detectives Angelo Marino and Charles Magee rolled up and took charge of the investigation.
The two were veteran homicide detectives and worked as partners for the past five years. Both detectives were in their mid-40s. Marino was a South Philly Italian American. He was a six-footer and well-built former soldier who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Magee, a Black cop from North Philly, had a squat and solid figure and was of average height. Like Marino, he was a veteran, having served as a Marine in Afghanistan. Both detectives had seen scores of dead bodies and much blood, both overseas and in Philadelphia.
The two detectives watched as the forensics team rolled up, unloaded their gear, and began to examine the crime scene.
“I live about six blocks from here,” Marino said to Magee. “We don’t see many murders in this neighborhood.”
“Mob hit?” Magee asked Marino.
When the forensics team finished, Marino and Magee looked for a wallet on the corpse. The found a wallet in his back pocket and they looked at the name on the driver’s license. Neither detective knew John Taylor.
Marino and Magee added the Taylor murder to their already overloaded case load.
The forensics report came in and established that fingerprints lifted from the car matched the fingerprints of both Grillo and Venditto, despite Grillo’s wiping down the wheel and door handles with a hankie.
Marino and Magee ventured out and arrested Grillo and Venditto.
In police custody, Venditto sat still and said nothing to the detectives. With a smirk on his face, he refused to answer their questions. He also refused to respond to the detectives’ claims they had him dead to rights with fingerprints and witnesses from the variety store who can testify that Grillo and Venditto walked Taylor out of the store and placed him in his car.
Venditto, acting like a tough guy, sat back and smiled.
"I want a lawyer," Venditto told the detectives.
The detectives then laid out their case to Grillo in another room. Grillo sobbed and beat the table with his huge hands.
“I don’t wanna go to prison,” Grillo said. “I can’t do hard time.”
“Tell us what went down,” Magee said. “And maybe we can help you.”
So Grillo gave up Venditto.
Venditto pled guilty on advice of counsel. He was sentenced and shipped off to prison.
Venditto, the man who introduced himself to me as a criminal, said he liked my column on the murder by the park.
I don’t know what he thought about my follow-up column, which covered his arrest and imprisonment.
© 2021 Paul Davis
Christine Flowers offers her take on progressives and working-class ethnics in a piece at Philadelphia Weekly.
As I was standing at Marconi Plaza last Saturday, waiting to hear whether the city would honor a judge’s order that the wooden box hiding the Columbus statue be removed (spoiler alert, it didn’t and it wasn’t,) I had a few moments to ponder why Mayor Jim Kenney (seen in the above photo) was so intent on letting the Italian Americans of Philadelphia know just how undeserving of respect he thought we were. It took a few moments, but I ultimately realized why this former son of South Philadelphia is leading this legal, cultural and administrative juggernaut against us.
And with this realization came a troubling corollary revelation: Kenney doesn’t just hate Italian Americans. Kenney is opposed to all of the white, working-class ethnic populations that built this city, the Irish like himself, the Poles, the Germans, the Jews, the Slavs and all the other nationalities that defined their geography and history by what parish they belonged to, what school they attended, what union their grandparents paid dues in, or where they bought their kielbasa, their baccala or their chopped liver.
If you’ve ever been at a meeting of progressive Democrats, or even of the country club sort of Republicans who like to “get along” with them, such as the ones who define as “Never Trumpers,” you will detect an obvious disdain for working-class white ethnic groups. I have “passed” in those circles, being an attorney who practices in the so-called liberal field of immigration. Those who have not read my columns or heard me on the radio or TV assume I am one of them. It’s “Imitation of Life,” just substituting mindset for race. I’m not one of them, but I look like one of them and so the guard is down. Like that fly on the proverbial wall, I have access to what they say when they think no one is listening beyond the sterile bubble of elite wisdom.
You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:
Monday, October 11, 2021
Ben Feuerherd at the New York Post offers a piece on the Navy civilian engineer accused of being a spy.
The Navy nuclear engineer accused of trying to peddle US military secrets using a peanut-butter sandwich not only allegedly dreamed of being a spy - he saw himself as a Medieval swashbuckler, too.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, of Annapolis, Md., allegedly began his espionage bid in April 2020 — while buying up Medieval sword-fighting gear and attending classes at a local “historic swordsmanship” outfit.
According to social-media posts by Toebbe, about two months after the would-be Benedict Arnold sent a package of restricted Navy documents and other materials to a purported contact in a foreign country, he boasted about a new sword to fellow members of the “Mid-Atlantic Society for Historic Swordsmanship.”
You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:
You can also read my earlier post on the accused spy via the below link: