Union Boss's Murder Now Active Cold Case

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The mob-like murder of Seattle labor leader Mario Vaccarino, 61 - his body found seasoned with parmesan cheese and floating face down in his bathtub - is now among a half-dozen perhaps related cold cases from the 1970s and 1980s that have heated up again. They include dead bar owners and associates who were in competition with longtime convicted racketeer and aging strip-club king Frank Colacurcio Sr. "We're reviewing all those cases," says King County Sheriff's Detective Scott Tompkins, whose cold-case team has worked with a Seattle and federal task force but is pursing the union case separately. "Vaccarino's death is one we're actively trying to solve," says Tompkins.

Colacurcio, 91, has not been charged with any of the crimes and has denied any involvement. Investigators were recently told that a former Colacurcio associate claims Vaccarino, head of Hotel and Restaurant Employees union Local 8, was killed Oct. 24, 1985 by a man now serving life in prison for another murder. The associate never indicated, however, that Colacurcio was himself any way involved.

The killer reportedly was told to rough up Vaccarino but took it too far. He ended up putting the body in the tub and sprinkling it with parmesan to suggest it was an Italian mob killing, the associate said. But the killer's identity and who hired him remains a mystery, and the trail in the past actually led away from Colacurcio to the union's international headquarters and elsewhere. ("What we're learning," a police investigator said at the time, "is that there are 50 people with a motive for killing him.")

Colacurcio, in 2006, told Seattle Weekly that calling his business a mob organization makes him laugh. "I've given them [prosecutors] every chance to prove it," he said. "They're still trying, I guess."

Federal investigators are currently probing Colacurcio's four nude-dance club businesses for alleged "promotion and facilitation of prostitution," the FBI says in court papers. All the recordings and transcripts from FBI wiretaps have now been turned over to Colacurcio and, insiders say, there is an offer on the table for he and his associates to get out of the business, sell their properties, and avoid indictments.

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Among other cold cases being probed is the slaying of strip club owner Frank "Sharkey" Hinkley, 45, (left) and his fiancé Barbara Rosenfield, 42, at Hinkley's Bear Cave club in 1975. One man, James Braman Jr., 56, was charged with the killings in part to force him to cooperate with investigators. But, after refusing to talk - "he said `They'll kill me if I do,'" recalls Det. Tompkins - Braman killed himself in 2006 with an overdose of methadone.

One of the cold cases has been solved, the contract killing of Leroy Grant, 36, in 1978. The hitwoman, Karen L. Martin, 53, is now doing 20 years in prison, admitting in 2007 she was hired to kill Grant by someone connected to a local mob. Grant had obtained money "he wasn't supposed to have," said Martin, who has given investigators leads to follow. Martin never received the $10,000 she was to be paid for the hit, she said.

 
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