Last October, I decided to find the Spilotro Brothers’ 1986 gravesite.
It wasn’t an Indiana Jones impulse, or even a quest for a good follow-up to an earlier article “Buried Crime: the True Tale of the Spilotro Brothers.” To be honest, we were in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, and I was getting damn bored.
The site, just on the Hoosier side of the Illinois-Indiana border in the unincorporated community of Enos, had been trampled by hundreds of feet at the time of its discovery in June of 1986. The discovery had made national news. Every reporter in the country wanted a closer look into the unseemly end of Anthony Spilotro, whose reputation as a brutal mob enforcer (the FBI involved him in at least 25 murders) had made him something of a celebrity. Ten years after Tony Spilotro’s death, Joe Pesci would play a similar character in 1995’s Casino.
After a farmer reported the shallow grave first to Indiana wildlife authorities and then to police, it didn’t take long for reporters to catch wind. Police kept media at a distance while the bodies were removed, but that didn’t prevent helicopter flyovers…and a lot of speculation. The story had everything: celebrity, criminality, murder, and a whole heap of morbidity.
“Dug about three foot down and we run into the first body…and we hit ‘im somewhere along on his side. I told Deleon ‘Hey, this don’t look like any animal skin I’ve ever seen—unless it’s human.’ And, uh, we dug around a little bit ’til to his skivvies or his underwear, and we decided that was far enough and we left.”
~Indiana State Wildlife Supervisor Dick Hudson
These aerial photos, only marginally newsworthy at the time, were the key to locating the gravesite today. For decades, the location had been an informal secret that wasn’t hard to keep. If you’ve ever been to the unincorporated farmland of Illinois or Indiana, it’s a wilderness of nothingness. Flat land, monotonous fields, and narrow country roads. Heck, most roads out there didn’t have even names, only numbers.
As much as I’d like to paint this story with false modesty, it wasn’t any great stroke of genius that revealed the site’s location. I knew roughly where it was, took an old aerial photo of the grave during the investigation, then superimposed modern GPS photos of the same site over it. It didn’t take the world’s greatest detective, just a computer and a basic knowledge of Adobe’s InDesign graphic arts program. Inspector Gadget more than Sherlock Holmes.
Now, 35 years is a long time for anything, including unincorporated farmland. Crop lines shift. Property changes hands. Utility roads are born and die. While superimposing the photos, I decided the only uniform feature was the width and direction of the County Road W 100 N. That had not changed in the intervening years, outside minor renovations and repairs.
And there is was.
I added the location to Google Maps under “Favorites” (I told you I wasn’t a detective) and then copied it to Google Earth Pro, THE GREATEST COMPUTER APPLICATION IN HISTORY. Google Earth Pro contains a treasure trove of free, high-resolution GPS maps, and its database allows you to compare images going as far back as 1985.
Using this FREE and priceless resource, I saw the farm’s scrub line hadn’t changed in the last 20 years. It had only growth thicker and taller. The gravesite would still be along the edge of that field, just north of a tree that jutted out slightly from the line of wilderness.
My uncle and I tromped out there, parking in a graveled turn around about 200 yards away from the site. Equally bored from COVID-19, my uncle provided a welcome extra pair of eyes. Recent rain had turned the field into something of a mud pit, but the decaying cornstalks had made a husk mat. We were lucky.
I am aware this was private property and that this would technically be trespassing. I was also aware I had $100 in cash on me, just in case. In four years of combing over old historic sites semi-professionally, I’ve learned cold, hard cash quickly extinguishes boiling anger. Turned out we had nothing to worry about. In the 30 or 40 minutes we were out there, no one questioned our presence.
Crossing two hundred yards of pitted terrain in the cold grip of fall isn’t an easy thing to do. By the time we reached the jutting tree, which I had used as a marker, I was trying to hide my heavy breathing while I looked around.
I could make the confirmation of the site sound really technical here, but I’ll be honest: I looked at Google Maps and saw the phone’s blue location dot was right over the red pin thingy. We were here.
There was nothing there. Decaying cornstalks. A hodge-podge of wild scrub. The spidery trees of heaven and some squat-looking poplars. A couple honeysuckles. I saw two thin maples that couldn’t have been more than a decade old about ten yards into the scrub. There was no ancient mound of dirt, no bowled indentation, nothing to indicate that one of the most notorious crimes in Midwest history had happened there. It was a cornfield.
I’d love to pretend or manufacture some trivial detail that hinted at the site’s sordid past, or insist that I felt a “presence”, but I didn’t find a thing. Same with my uncle, who searched with me, looking for any break in the field’s edge. We gave up. I knew that if I ever decided to do a story on the site today, I couldn’t provide readers with a decent ending.
Later on, I would discover police had carefully masked the grave 24 hours after the bodies had been found, blending it into the rest of the field so it wouldn’t become a quest for tourists. The story had made national news, so that wasn’t far-fetched. I wish I had read bit of information before traveling out to Enos…although I likely would have gone anyway.
I am confident the GPS location is correct. I am equally confident my boots stomped on the same dirt as the Spilotro Brothers…but in truth there’s nothing to see out there. Corn, dirt, scrub, and memories. Barely enough for an article.
But, to be thorough, here’s the site in its entirety…
I wrote the original Spilotro story two years ago, and since then, dozens of versions of their murder have come my way, ranging from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-told-me tales to admissible courtroom testimony. Red Wemette, the famous FBI informant, even supplied me directly with some interesting details—the grave was never supposed to be found, but it had been too muddy, and no one wanted to drag the bodies into the thick brambles and scrub.
Folks, when it comes to telling half-truths, misinformation, disinformation, and plain old lies, Vladmir Putin has NOTHING on the Chicago Outfit or American organized crime. These institutions are composed of individuals who see misdirection as both art AND a kind of duty.
The entire truth of what happened to Anthony and Michael Spilotro in the summer of 1986 has long since vanished, along with any trace of their Indiana grave.