Welcome to The Family Debt

The original file on the murder of my father, Jack Bianco, stayed at the bottom of a musty, cardboard banker’s box in Gary, Indiana, for almost thirty years. There was no denying that his case was cold—the leads within were as dead as many of the police detectives who had worked the original investigation.

The term “cold case” sounds so uninviting and final, and the prospects of reopening Dad’s case seemed equally bleak. But despite all this, in 1993, I called a retired police officer I knew, to help me find my father’s file. He asked for the assistance of his fellow officers to locate the Bianco file.

Every month for six months, I would call Jerry and ask what progress had been made. His answer would always be, “We’re still looking but cannot seem to find it.” Frustration started to build with my constant question:, “Why can’t you find my dad’s file?”

As we were going into the seventh month of searching for the file, I started to
believe it did not exist. I made another call to Jerry. After all these months of supposedly searching for it, I was told the file on my father’s murder was lost in a fire the department had some years past. I asked the question that never would be answered: “When did the fire occur and why did it take you seven months to find this out?” Needless to say, I was not convinced his file was burned in a fire!

Then, a call to the offices of the Gary Public Library—where I could order reprints of old newspapers—helped to fill in some of the crucial blanks of that tragic day in August 1970. The librarian was of great assistance. While I was waiting anxiously on the other end of the phone, he was searching for the articles on microfiche. At first he wasn’t able to locate them, thinking they did not exist, but as we went over the dates again, there they were.

I received the articles about four days later in the mail, three consecutive days of the story. The first one, dated Monday, August 31, 1970, was on the front page of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, the day following his murder. The headline read, “Owner of tavern linked to gambling gunned down here.” Linked to gambling? What was that about? As far as our family knew, my father was a legitimate businessman with no ties to gambling—we were enraged! We do know that my father’s half brother Tony Penzato—who was regarded by federal investigators as a top man in the Lake County gambling business—was regularly in the media. The only involvement we knew my father had was to help his brother get out of his unlawful practices.

  • Terrific book!! I couldn’t put it down and now my wife is rapidly reading through it! You get a BIG thumbs up from me!! Well done…” -Tom
  • “Let me know when I can get an autographed copy!” -David “
  • This book stirred my interest from the first page … WOW Teresa incredible story, couldn’t put the book down!” -William
  • “Teresa,what a great read! I was glued!” -Sheri
  • “Congratulations on your book! I just finished reading it and I thought it was great! I didn’t know what to expect … no wasted pages … excellent read!” -Tony

Who would care about the 1970 slaying of a man from Gary, Indiana, with Mafia connections? His daughter for one. This was the culmination of a lot of sleepless nights and worry-lines. For over twenty years, I had harbored resentment and anger that these killers had escaped punishment, after taking away a father, a husband, and a good man.

Chapter 1: The Miracle
New Year’s Day 1997, twenty-six days since her accident. All I could pray and think was, Erika, would you please wake up! The staff coverage was light at the center because of the holiday, and not much was going on. I remember feeling so sad and thinking, Is this it? I thought she was here for progress!

Why is no one doing anything for her?

Chapter 2: Cold Case
I was unable to find the time to pick up the investigation of my father’s murder again until 2003. Finally, I proceeded to request more documents and called the coroner’s office in Gary to ask for copies of the coroner’s report, including the autopsy and death certificate. All these years, my investigation was “hit or miss,” but it still nagged at me, always at the back of my mind. Now I had more time to make it happen.
Chapter 3: The Beginning
Reminiscing, I realized that to understand a person’s death, you first needed to understand his life. For forty-nine years, Jack lived—long before he died in that split-second. My personal research had only gone back as far as August 30, 1970, while I was a living, breathing testament to my father’s life before this date. So it was that I had only just begun researching and remembering the life (and death) of Giacomo “Jack” Bianco.
Chapter 4: Penzato-Bianco
The secret nature of the moonshine business meant concealing the stash was always of the utmost importance. The Veltris had all kinds of secret places to hide their moonshine. One of their more ingenious hiding locations was a sliding, six-foot wide, side window—panel, hidden “in plain sight” beside their front doorway, which opened to reveal a number of shelves lined with the bottles. Despite the obvious location, the police never found this hideaway.
Chapter 5: BulletProof
This was a rough and tough area of town and one of Jack’s nephews, Sam Rizzo,was once robbed at ‘gunpoint’ while clerking in the section of the Pine Grill where you could buy a package of liquor to take home. Sam was handing a package to a man who then placed his fist in his pocket, as though a pistol was concealed there. He ordered Sam to empty the cash register.
Chapter 6: The Family Business
Jack and Tony might have been “in business” together, but that didn’t mean they knew much about the ins and outs of what it takes to run a successful venture. Their bookkeeping skills, for instance, left a lot to be desired. Customers would buy their liquor on credit, and instead of using names, Jack and Tony simply kept a note of their discernible appearance and characteristics!
Chapter 7: Tony's Debt
One day, Mary had arrived home to find that their basement had been turned into a bookie joint—there was a phone and a desk set up, and there were all these guys sitting around. Mary started screaming and cussing for them to get out! Never in your life have you seen grown men grab their papers so fast and scramble up the stairs and out of the house. They were scared to death of her. Needless to say, that was the end of Jack having a key to his own house.
Chapter 8: Morto
Over the months and years that followed, every trail would run cold and, along with thousands of other “cold cases,” Jack’s case was relegated to a box in a basement in the bowels of the police department—barely investigated, with files missing, and without justice for his family.
A Good Father