The saga of Whitey Bulger, the South Boston mobster, ended in August with his conviction on 31 counts of standard gangland stuff, like racketeering, extortion, money laundering and, by the way, implication in at least 11 murders.

Chances are, if you followed the year or so of news stories closely, you know a lot more about Whitey than I do. The media has been fascinated with Bulger. What was so interesting was that he had been living the good life in California for 16 years under another name.

He's not the first, of course. Many others have taken, or been given, new identities in order to evade the law or their Mafia constituents. My colleague Chris Coursey wrote recently of one Joseph "The Animal" Barboza who was Santa Rosa resident Joe Bentley for half a dozen years — until he was shot down on the streets of San Francisco in 1975.

But even Joseph the Animal wasn't the first.

In the late 1940s there was Santa Rosa resident Vincent Rossi, a 39-year-old retired furniture dealer (wink, wink) from the Midwest.


There are people still around who were here in 1946, when the population was about 15,000. Some of them remember Rossi and his family. There are former neighbors of the house he bought on Bryden Lane where he spent most days puttering in his garden or sitting on the front porch watching the Santa Rosa world go by.

They are Catholic parishioners who remember his wife, Lena, and her faithful attendance at Mass at St. Rose Church almost every morning. They are people who went to school with one or more of his four children.

Maybe, most of all, there are octogenarians who were car-struck kids in 1946 who remember crowding around the Rossi family's shiny new Chrysler Town & Country, when it was parked on Fourth Street when they all came downtown for ice cream in the evenings.

It was the same car that San Francisco police found, in May of 1947, abandoned on a North Beach street. The cop who checked it out found that the keys were in the ignition and — right out of a Raymond Chandler novel plot — there was the tail of a man's coat sticking out of the trunk.

Inside was the body of Vincent Rossi with either a length of piano wire or a piece of braided fishing line, accounts differ, wrapped very tightly around his neck.

Almost immediately, police announced that Mr. Rossi, the Santa Rosa family man who liked ice cream and gardening and big cars, was actually Nick DeJohn, a former "associate" (capo, muscleman, hoodlum, gambler) of the Chicago mob organization headed by Al Capone.

DeJohn, Chicago police reported, had come west in haste after the gangland killing of his relative and immediate boss, Vincent "The Don" Benevento.


The newspapers carried the DeJohn story for months as San Francisco police attempted to prosecute a suspected killer.

His Santa Rosa acquaintances read with great interest how he had friends in San Francisco with names like Loud Mouth Levine, Big Nose Charlie and, of course, Big Al.

This explained the many men in silk suits and fancy shirts who visited the Rossi family regularly, staying at the Occidental Hotel where they stunned the bellhops with enormous tips.

A San Francisco mobster was brought to trial on the word of a semi-underworld SF figure, abortionist Anita Venza, who claimed to have overheard the plot to kill DeJohn. The district attorney, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, called for a mistrial when he learned that Venza was a pathological liar.

(Venza later became a central figure in a Sonoma County criminal proceeding of her own when she was convicted of running an "abortion mill" in Glen Ellen in 1955.)

Ten years after DeJohn's death, the Senate Rackets Committee linked him to an attempt to take over Texas labor rackets. Others said that he had absconded with a wad of gambling funds and there was talk he was associated with Jack Kent, an SF nightclub owner who was just then converting the old French resort called Villa Chanticleer on Healdsburg's Fitch Mountain into a casino and high-priced brothel.

Kent testified at the inquiry into DeJohn's slaying, denied all knowledge, stopped his Healdsburg project and left the county.

The Villa Chanticleer sat empty for eight years before the City of Healdsburg bought it for a municipal events center and park.

This may be the one redeeming aspect of this whole story.