Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



Charlie Broeckel was the Silver Fox. Or sometimes he was The Creep. He went by both names. He was a burglar and hitman in Collinwood. 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, up till then. Charlie and Phil flew to California from Cleveland for the job. California didn’t have quality bank burglars back then, I guess.

I saw Broeckel and Christopher at trials in Cleveland. They periodically came 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 still ethnic in the 1980s, when I was a reporter there. There were four distinct neighborhoods in Collinwood: Slovenian (St. Mary’s parish), Italian (Holy Redeemer), black (west of the E. 152nd Street, a k a the DMZ) and Lithuanian (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Broeckel was of indeterminate ethnicity. 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. Charlie was supposedly in bad health and wanted brownie points for helping the cops find old explosives.

The chief cop in the neighborhood — Captain Ed Kovacic — had a warm spot for skilled crooks. These thieves would drill out safes and jump burglar alarms. They weren’t entirely stupid, Kovacic said.

In 2006, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello wrote Superthief, a book about Christopher. Then Tommy Reid, a Hollywood entrepreneur, made a documentary movie. The movie was 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 had moved to. There were three people in the Lakeshore Cinema when I attended. One elderly man, with a walker, said on his way out, “Phil is a thief!” His wife said, “I like Phil!”

Christopher is 78. He did some talking recently on a podcast produced by WKC-TV. I didn’t listen. The subject of gangsters is like cowboys and Indians. Done. The Wall Street Journal did a piece about Mob finances yesterday. I didn’t read it.

A good book about gangsters is The Pope of Greenwich Village by Vincent Patrick. Check it out. And skip this blog post.

Yiddishe Cup plays a concert at the Geauga Theater, Chardon, Ohio, 7:30 pm Sat. Oct. 16. Buy tickets here.

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1 Ari Davidow { 10.06.21 at 9:09 am }

Skip this blog post? Never.

2 Kenneth Goldberg { 10.06.21 at 9:26 am }

Whoosh! It just took me THREE HOURS AND FIVE MINUTES to read through that, Bert! And it wasn’t worth it; I could have seen the 1963 Italian film, “The Leopard,” for that much commitment. Some of us have other things to do with our time, you know….

3 Mark Schilling { 10.06.21 at 9:54 am }

”I didn’t listen to podcast.” Are you Hemingway in the Lillian Ross profile? And any guy with nicknames like Silver Fox and The Creep is ipso facto interesting. Nice piece.

4 Bob Mayes { 10.06.21 at 10:15 am }

My grandparents and parents grew up in Collinwood-Slovenians! My Mom recalled how well their neighbors made money-counterfeiting!

5 Dave Rowe { 10.10.21 at 11:04 am }

During my time covering Collinwood I learned that cops aren’t the enemy; they can be pretty cool; take for instance Sgt Sam Hennie, a friendly bear of a guy who gave me the lowdown on gypsy swindlers.

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