Pierre Zonis-Rogue Cop's name sufaces in 3 mob hits
Rogue Chicago Cop’s Name Surfaces in 3 Mob Hits
IPSN Oct. 12, 1997
The name of a Chicago Police officer identified by the Chicago Crime Commission as being a gambling associate of the Chicago Outfit keeps surfacing in 3 unsolved murders going back more than 10 years. (See Story on 1997 Chicago Crime Commission Report on Organized Crime.)
The idea that a man in uniform is involved with organized crime elements is painful to those thousands of honest cops in Chicago and in the outlaying suburban police departments, that the identification of the suspected police officer has raised immediate concerns and placed the hierarchy of the Chicago Police Department under close and critical scrutiny including them watching out for themselves.
The revelation is further alarming in the wake of a series of police controversies including the exposure of corruption in the Austin Police District, the mishandling of several important police cases, the embarrassing PR gaffe involving spokesperson Paul Jenkins and his “walk the plank” comments about Officer Jim Mullen, and the recent deaths of at least three Chicago Police Officers.
In a report published by the Chicago Crime Commission Chicago Police Officer Pierre Zonis, assigned to the 23rd District, is identified as an associate of organized crime elements involved in illegal gambling activities.
Sources have also confirmed that Zonis owned an Amoco gas station in Chicago at Albion and Sheridan Road, also has suspected involvement in at least three murders, information that was known when Zonis first entered the Chicago Police Academy in October 1994 and later became a Chicago cop.
This story, as it unfolds, will be one for the books — but, let’s start with the despatched victims:
The First Murder
The first murder occurred in March 1982 in Des Plaines.
Richard Campbell was found murdered in Des Plaines at an Amoco station at 1596 Miner Street. He had multiple gun shot wounds to the head. Our sources said that Campbell had been romantically involved with a woman at the time, who was the daughter of his employer, a prominent gas station owner in Chicagoland.
Campbell was fired, and he turned to Pierre Zonis for a job. Detectives traced Campbell back to one of Zonis’ gas stations, at Devon and Ridge in Chicago. The last person to see Campbell alive, Zonis said Campbell had told him he was on his way to Des Plaines, hours before he was found murdered.
The Second Murder
In March, 1986, Evanston police discovered the body of a man who had been shot to death and left in his car.
Giuseppe Cocozzo, 54, of 708 W. Bittersweet Pl., died on March 15, of a single gunshot wound to the head, according to Evanston Police Officers assigned to investigating the murder.
The killing was a typical gangland hit.
The car was found around 1 a.m., illegally parked at the corner of Kenney Street and Forest Avenue, a neighborhood of single family homes. No weapon was recovered. And, the death was ruled a homicide by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The case remains unsolved.
Investigators in the Evanston Police Department and in the Chicago Police Department said that evidence collected during the initial investigation revealed that Cocozzo was involved in gambling and juice payments, and was associated with organized crime elements controlling gambling rackets throughout the metropolitan area.
Cocozzo was a bookmaker linked to street crews controlled by jailed mobster Ernest Rocco Infelise, who is now serving more than 60 years on murder and racketeering convictions linked to organized crime, and Lenny Patrick, a top federal informant and mob turncoat.
And, the investigators confirmed, the vehicle that Cocozzo’s body had been found in, slumped in the front seat with a bullet wound to the head, had been recently worked on allegedly by mechanics at the gas station owned by Pierre Zonis.
It is not unusual for mob hitmen to murder their victims in Chicago and then move the bodies to suburban locations where the investigations are handled by local suburban police units rather than the Chicago Police Department, which has had more resources and stronger information networks, and a greater manpower to chase down murders involved with organized crime.
The Third Murder:
A senior marketing executive for Amoco Oil Co. Who also belonged to a prominent Chicago political family, was found shot to death in his home in Prospect Heights in the early hours of Nov. 5, 1987.
Charles E. Merriam, 52, 457 Sutherland Ct. at the Rob Roy Country Club, had been shot in the chest and in the back of the head by unknown assailants. Colleagues from the Amoco Company went to his house the same morning when Merriam failed to show up for work, and his body was discovered at around 11 a.m.
No weapon was found and there was no evidence of forced entry or a struggle. Nothing appeared to be missing from the home, a burglary was ruled out.
Merriam’s murder caught the attention of the entire city. A district manager for Amoco, Merriam was the nephew of Robert E. Merriam, onetime 5th Ward Alderman and unsuccessful Republican Mayoral candidate who gave the late Mayor Richard J. Daley his closest challenge in the 1955 Mayoral election. Robert E. Merriam was also a member of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s White House staff.
The victim’s other relatives included his father, Charles J. Merriam, who was a patent attorney, and his grandfather, who he was named after, who was a University of Chicago political science professor, reform alderman and an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 1911.
Police said Merriam had been in his pajamas when he went to the front door. Standing in the foyer, police surmise from evidence at the scene, he may have opened the door to greet his killers, and then tried unsuccessfully to close it. One bullet apparently passed through the door Two more shots were fired, one striking Merriam in the chest and causing him to fall to the floor. A second gunshot to his head is believed to have been the fatal blow.
Shell casings from a .380 caliber automatic were found near the body. Two weapons had been used prompting police to conclude there were two triggermen were involved in the killing.
As district manager, Merriam was responsible for 1,000 Amoco service stations in Illinois, northwest Indiana and Southern Wisconsin, including deciding whether some Amoco outlets should be closed. He also negotiated leases, and decided which stations should be expanded or changed to mini-marts, a popular service that service stations offered. He also was responsible for purchasing the properties for the gas stations.
In particular, Merriam was involved in converting service stations that performed vehicle repairs, into mini-marts.
Police said Merriam had received threats in the weeks prior to the killing, but Amoco officials said receiving threats was not unusual for his line of work.
Merriam had been separated from his wife, Carol, who lived in Elmhurst when the murder occurred. The marriage apparently had broken up when Merriam became romantically involved with his secretary, a woman in her 30s, at the time, who had spent most of the evening with Merriam, leaving hours before the killing occurred.
Police later said they believed that Merriam in fact knew his killers.
At the time of the killing, our sources said they were questioning an Amoco Gas Station owner in Chicago who might have been upset with the treatment he had received from Merriam’s company.
He was in the process of closing down several gas stations and was involved in disciplinary work for the company.
The murder was job related and may have drawn the ire of one gas station owner who may have opposed the change, our sources said.
Sources said Pierre Zonis was one of the people under suspicion.
Merriam had received a mysterious second telephone call to his home right before he was hit. The phone call was made from a pay telephone inside Zonis’ gas station.
Certainly, all this is not enough information to charge and convict a man like Pierre Zonis, or to call him a killer.
But, when he is linked to the Chicago mob, his involvement in gambling is identified, and two killings suddenly turn up as having at least been “in the neighborhood,” you wonder how a cop like Zonis continues to work at the Chicago Police Department.
How did he get in?
Who was his clout?
Some believe his clout reaches to the highest levels of the Chicago Police Department, where the only clout that could protect an associate of Chicago’s powerful Organized Crime families come from.