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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
Food & Dining

Gangster’s murder remains one of Tampa’s unsolved mysteries

Tribune correspondent
Published:

I may know the answer to Tampa’s version of “Who shot J.R.?” And I once feared that exposing the secret could bring me harm.

At this time 58 years ago, the question on the mind of everyone in the Tampa area was, “Who killed Charlie Wall?” It had been more than a week since the murder and still no one had been charged. And all these years later, the murder of one of Tampa’s most infamous individuals remains unsolved, still considered an open case by law enforcement.

Nicknamed “The White Shadow” by Tampa’s Latin immigrant population, Wall was the dean of the Tampa underworld, this city’s first major crime boss. During his rule, which spanned from the turn of the 20th century through the mid-1930s, Wall owned a controlling interest in the majority of the illegal gambling parlors, brothels and speakeasies in the city, and there were many. For reference, it has been estimated that in 1927, more than $27 million was spent by gamblers in the city.

However, when he was murdered on April 19, 1955, Wall was two decades removed from Tampa’s organized crime industry; by that time, the Italian mafia had taken over.

Some say Wall was murdered because he was bad-mouthing the Italian mafia. Others claim it was because Wall had grown bored in retirement and was trying to take back what was once his. The way in which he was murdered backs up either of those theories. It was a statement killing — extremely brutal. His head was flattened with a baseball bat and his neck was slashed from ear to ear. This was the murderer’s way of telling others “Do not do what Charlie Wall was doing.”

But who killed Charlie Wall? Two sources once told me that law enforcement has long known who killed him; the crime is only unsolved because they were never able to build a substantial case that would hold up in court against the murderer.

In 2007, while my brother, Pete, and I were conducting interviews for a documentary we produced on Charlie Wall, Ellis Clifton, the lead investigator of the murder, said that known Italian gangster Joe Bedami killed Wall. Clifton, who died that same year, said he was told this by mafia informants he could trust. (Apparently there was such a thing.)

Eddie Wall, the infamous gangster’s great nephew, confirmed Clifton’s statement. Sometime in the 1970s, Joe Bedami went out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Eddie Wall said that after Bedami disappeared, local law enforcement called him and told him that the man who killed his great uncle — Bedami — was also thought to have been murdered. What happened to Bedami also has never been solved.

No one had ever made a grand announcement that Bedami was thought to be the killer, though, so my brother and I were a bit nervous when we decided to do so in our documentary. However, Bedami and Wall were both long gone, we rationalized, so we were safe.

In September 2008, the documentary was scheduled to show to a sold-out audience at the Cuban Club Theatre. My brother and I were elated. Then, we found out that 60 of the tickets had been purchased by members of the Bedami family! They had heard that our documentary mentioned their patriarch might be Wall’s murderer! Among those attending was Angelo Bedami, Joe’s son and a man who was once quite the gangster as well. To say I was worried would be an understatement.

I was sitting in the balcony. As the moment in the film arrived when we finger Joe Bedami as the killer, I found the Bedami family in the audience below and could not take my eyes off them. I was ready to run from the building when they angrily looked for me. Instead of anger, however, they showed pride! They stood and clapped! And following the film, many of them took photos with the actor who portrayed Joe Bedami in the documentary’s reenactments. Their reaction seemed to further confirm that he did it, as though their old family secret had finally been revealed.

However, as we stated in our documentary, it must be noted that Bedami was never even questioned by law enforcement about the murder.

Further blurring the case for Bedami as the murderer: There was no forced entry at Wall’s house and he was murdered in his bedroom while wearing his pajamas. He must have let the killer in and taken him to the bedroom, where the 75-year-old Wall was known to hold court over drinks with friends who visited him late at night.

It would not have made sense for Wall to let Bedami into his home; they were not friends and Wall surely knew Bedami’s reputation. If Bedami was the killer, there must have been an accomplice; there must have been someone with Bedami whom Wall trusted.

At the time of the murder, most believed that either “Baby” Joe Diez or “Scarface” Johnny Rivera was in on the murder plot. They were Wall’s drivers, bodyguards and closest friends and both were seen cavorting around the city with known Sicilian gangsters following the murder. Both passed polygraph tests and had rock-solid alibis. However, that didn’t mean they didn’t know who else was in on the murder.

Another individual my brother and I interviewed for our documentary on Charlie Wall was Susan Rivera, “Scarface’s” third and final wife. She said her mother used to always pester him for info on the famous murder, but he would never give in. Finally, when he knew he was in his final days, he decided to talk. His wife was running errands and his mother-in-law was looking after him. From his bed, he called her over and said he would finally tell her who killed Charlie Wall. When Susan returned home, her mother giddily rushed over to her, proclaiming that he finally told her the secret. Susan asked who it was, and her mother hemmed and hawed and said, “I forgot!”

Susan told my brother and me that her mother said it was a complicated Spanish name, and in her excitement it slipped from her memory. When Susan pressed her husband to tell them again, he refused. He died without ever repeating the name.

Perhaps the mystery is not meant to be solved.


Paul Guzzo is a freelance journalist who specializes in Tampa history. He wrote the documentary on Tampa gangster Charlie Wall and the book “The Dark Side of Sunshine,” which chronicles some of the city’s most infamous people and events of the past century.

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