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Vintage KSDK | Car bombs and shootings: When St. Louis crime families were at war

From the late summer of 1980 to the fall of 1981, organized crime families were at war and mob violence shook our city.

ST. LOUIS — This week, our Vintage KSDK looks back at a dark time in St. Louis history.
From the late summer of 1980 to the fall of 1981, organized crime families were at war and mob violence shook our city.

In a long series of reports from that era, KSDK traced the violence back to  Aug. 29, 1980. That was the day St. Louis mob boss Anthony Giordano died of cancer. He had long held the rival Leisure and Michaels crime families together. 

But that was all about to change.

19 days after Giordano's death, gang warfare erupted on I-55 when his ally James Michaels, was killed in a car bombing while behind the wheel.

"I saw the car blow up and the hood flew open and just pieces and body was flying everywhere," said a young woman who was on the highway at the time and witnessed the violence.

Law enforcement officers, many of whom were interviewed by KSDK, explained what the investigation into the bombing found. "The information I've been able to determine at this time is that Mr. Michaels was removed from the quote organization,” said an officer.

Then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Tom Dittmeier, was among those pleading for peace.

"You know it’s a misnomer to say they are fighting amongst themselves. When they're killing each other on the streets of this community, that doesn't just reflect on them it reflects on the whole community,” said Dittmeier.

11 months later, another car bomb. This time, Paul Leisure who had been Giordano's bodyguard is critically injured.

Then-KSDK reporter Dan Gray filed this report: "The powerful explosion shook buildings around the area of Kingshighway and Nottingham shortly before 9 o'clock this morning. The bomb demolished the 1979 bronze Cadillac of reputed underworld figure Paul Leisure. The bomb exploded shortly after the 36-year-old Leisure left his home at 4908 Nottingham."

Leisure's mother was standing near the car when her son got inside and shut the door. Moments later, the car exploded.

Gray continued: "Leisure was gravely injured. Monsignor Lewis Meyer of nearby St. Mary Magdalene Parish administered the last rights at the scene."

Leisure survived.

One month later, on Sep.11, 1981, a grandson of Jimmy Michaels, Senior and a friend were shot as they arrived at a restaurant on LaSalle Street for lunch. 

A month after that, another car bomb. George Faheen, a nephew of the late Michaels was killed. The explosion happened in the parking lot of the Mansion House downtown.

According to an eyewitness, "we were all sitting here having our lunch, and all of a sudden it just sounded like a great big explosion like an earthquake."

In 1985, Paul Leisure was found guilty of a string of charges in the gang war.

The violence marked a disturbing chapter in St. Louis history.

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