A regular visitor to my father’s bar was the Mob associate who assaulted Helene Stapinski’s grandfather, Beansie. (For you nostalgia fans out there, the Downtown Jersey City restaurant where the fight took place now is the location of Santana’s Hard Grove. Maybe like Domenic can get Historic Preservation to put up a plaque outside the eatery.)
Ms. Stapinski identified the Organized Crime figure as Joe Wyckoff; we-all knew him by the name of Joe Weisskopf. When I met Weisskopf, he was around eighty years old, but appeared at least twenty years younger. His hair was white, but he walked without any trace of weariness or pain. Hal opined that a lifetime behind bars — reading, regular exercise, good nutrition, and “rearing back” with no cares or concerns — had a preserving, rejuvenating effect. Weisskopf told me that if it wasn’t for prison, without doubt, he would have died a long time ago. Way back when, his crew tried to navigate the narrow strait between two factions in a Mob war – without success. Each and every one of Weisskopf’s cohorts was exterminated. Truly any harbor during a storm, getting thrown in the slammer turned out to be a life-saving stroke of luck for Joe Weisskopf.
Weisskopf described himself as a “born thief.” He said that his first jail experience was in striped clothing with a ball and chain – that the silent film rendition of prison was a true description, not an exaggeration. One of Weisskopf’s more spectacular jobs was the bombing of a union hall that resulted in one man losing a leg.
Hal was six foot, four inches tall, weighed about two hundred sixty pounds and was even stronger than he looked. Hal was around forty years old and had a long record of major crimes. He was once friendly with Mob hit man Harold “Kayo” Konigsberg, had done time with “Hurricane” Carter, and had sold guns to “Crazy” Joe Gallo. Hal was much bigger, much stronger, and much younger than Joe Weisskopf. Hal’s experience in the many facets of the criminal justice system was extreme. Still, Hal always treated the little old man with deference. Perhaps like the respect a grizzly bear might have for a rattlesnake.
In addition to the practice of hard crime, Weisskopf also was a shoplifter. Hal considered this streak of petty larceny deplorable. Hal lamented that often after having been in a local shop, once back in Hal’s car, Joe Weisskopf proudly displayed like a trophy a lifted item. Hal’s few scruples didn’t allow for stealing from friends and neighbors. Also, he worried that his reputation would be ruined if he was arrested for taking a cheap trinket.