THE SILVER FOX / THE CREEP
Charlie Broeckel was the Silver Fox or The Creep. He went by both names. He was a burglar and hit-man in Collinwood –- a neighborhood in northeast Cleveland.
I’m not sure where Broeckel is now. Maybe he’s dead. Or maybe he’s in a safe house in Ada, Oklahoma. For a while he was “John Bradford” (federally protected) in the Pacific Northwest.
Broeckel and Phil Christopher — another Collinwood burglar — did a bank heist at Laguna Niguel, California, in 1972. It was supposedly the biggest bank burglary of all time. Charlie and Phil flew to California from Cleveland for the job. California didn’t have quality bank burglars back then, I guess. Collinwood did.
I saw Broeckel and Christopher at trials in Cleveland. They would periodically come in from their federal prison cells or witness protection program locations. One trial was for murder: Christopher and accomplices took a pimp, Arnie Prunella, out on a boat, shot him and drown him.
Collinwood was “think ethnic”-to-the-10th power. There were four distinct neighborhoods in Collinwood: Slovenian (St. Mary’s parish), Italian (Holy Redeemer), black (west of the E. 152nd Street, aka the DMZ) and Lithuanian (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Broeckel’s ethnicity was indeterminate. Maybe German, maybe Slovenian. Christopher was Italian.
Broeckel and his fellow burglars stored nitroglycerin — used for blowing up safes — on a Lake Erie beach. In 1983 a Cleveland policeman operated a backhoe at the local beach, searching for old, very unstable nitro. Traffic cops kept reporters and passersby at a distance. Charlie was supposedly in bad health and wanted brownie points for helping the cops find old explosives.
The chief cop in the neighborhood — Capt. Ed Kovacic — had a warm spot for highly skilled crooks. These thieves would drill out safes and jump burglar alarms. They weren’t entirely stupid. Kovacic often said, “If there was a hall of fame for burglars and safecrackers, it would be in Collinwood.”
In 2006, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello wrote a book, Superthief, about Christopher. Then Tommy Reid, a Hollywood entrepreneur, made a documentary movie –- also Superthief — which came out in March. The movie is mostly talking heads: old cops and old thieves sitting in living rooms, reminiscing about old days.
The documentary ran exclusively in theaters in Euclid and Lake County — where many former Collinwood residents moved to. There were three people in the Lakeshore Cinema. One elderly man, with a walker, said on his way out, “Phil is a thief!” His wife said, “I like Phil!”
Christopher, 66, is out of jail. He has spent nearly half his life in prison. What if Broeckel — the creep, the silver fox, the rat — comes out of hiding and puts Christopher back in prison?
Just like old times.
I was a police reporter in Collinwood for Sun Newspapers in the 1980s. (Last time I’m going to mention this factoid for a while. So please remember.)
Here is the annual “inside baseball” post. Your name might be in here . . .
We interrupt this blog to tell you this blog is three years old.
“I’ve read every word of your blog!” a musician told me.
Hooray for him. I wrote every word.
A blog reader said, “You found your subject — your father, Toby.”
No, you did. I’ve had Toby on the brain for decades.
A woman said, “I look forward to your posts every Wednesday morning . . . I don’t do comments.”
Here’s my comment: Nine-tenths of Klezmer Guy readers don’t do comments. They want to protect their animosity. Listen, you are not above comments; you are not paying for this; chip in the occasional enlightening, humorous or really stupid comment.
Several other readers claim to have read every word of the blog.
What was the first word?
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Special thanks to Ralph Solonitz, the blog’s illustrator. He adds a lot. I encourage him to throw in as many pics as possible. Works out well. Ralph had a Klezmer Guy illustration in The Forward recently.
I met Ralph about 21 years ago when he designed Yiddishe Cup’s logo. That’s still your best logo, Ralph.
Sometimes I send my stories to the media before posting here. This past year Klezmer Guy articles were published throughout the planet: the International Herald Tribune, New York Times, City Journal, Ann Arbor Observer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jerusalem Post. Did I miss any continent? I’ve started to link to some of the newspaper articles. Please see the right side of this blog, under “Articles.” Also, check out “Categories” there. “Categories” is particularly useful if you want to read 68 posts in a row about real estate.
Google Analytics — a spy op — says there are Klezmer Guy readers in every state and many foreign countries. Ohio has the most Klezmer Guy readers, followed by New York, California, Michigan and Massachusetts. The top foreign countries are Canada, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany and Australia.
Google Analytics, for your information, zeroes in on readers by their hometowns, not their names. For instance, somebody in Chico, California, reads this blog.
The bell rings, round four.
I wrote this op-ed, “The Impossible Dream,” for Mother’s Day for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/13/12). It’s about listening to the radio with my mother.
Illustration by Ted Crow, Plain Dealer