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In the Company of Killers (1 of 2)
January 2, 2012
George Knapp investigates Tom and Gramby Hanley, a Las Vegas father and son hitman team who performed murders-for-hire on behalf of mobsters, casino owners, labor unions, and others.
Following a tumultuous few years of hard-core partying and forced prostitution, wild child Wendy Mazaros became romantically involved with Tom Hanley. After moving into the Hanley home, Mazaros said, she began to learn about the family's criminal dealings, such as bombings of restaurants that had run afoul of organized labor and murders of people that had crossed casino owners. Despite her growing knowledge of the Hanleys activities, Mazaros was fearful of asking questions or seeking help. "Tom taught me from the very start that 'silence is the fence around wisdom,'" she recalled. So powerful was Tom Hanley's grip on her that, after they'd been together only a few months, he forced Mazaros to pen her own suicide note as a form of insurance should she ever stray. "I was a little girl brainwashed and afraid and running with killers and I did what I was told to do," she lamented.
One of the Hanley's most notorious murders was that of Al Bramlet, Nevada's most powerful labor leader. Restaurant bombings and Bramlet's death occurred during years when the Chicago mob was trying to claim a larger share of every street racket in Las Vegas. Rackets boss Tony Spilotro provided protection for the casino employees who were skimming millions from mob-tainted gaming properties. Spilotro associates also sought influence within labor unions in order to pilfer from health and pension funds. After Bramlet's death, one of the men convicted of murdering him testified that Bramlet had been warned that he would be killed if it became necessary. To make the point, "They knocked his ass off the barstool and stomped him," said Gramby Hanley.
The Hanleys performed murders for hire, but arson was also part of their list of services. They manufactured and planted sophisticated explosive devices, according to Gramby, and Al Bramlet became their best customer. On the morning of Jan. 12, 1,976, a bomb blew up David's Place, a nonunion gourmet restaurant on West Charleston Boulevard near Rancho Drive. A year later, sophisticated booby-trap bombs were discovered on the same night in autos outside the Village Pub on Koval Lane and at the Starboard Tack restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. Each failed to ignite. These restaurants were also involved in labor disputes with the union.
But according to later testimony, Bramlet balked at paying for bombs that didn't go off.
The Hanleys stewed over the perceived injustice for a couple of months. They did not stew in silence. On Feb. 22, 1,977, Bramlet told his wife police had warned him Tom Hanley was out to get him. The next night, she testified, he got a phone call from one of the Hanleys and agreed to meet him two days later at the union hall and pay him.
But on Feb. 24 the Hanleys and Eugene Vaughan waited for Bramlet in the parking lot of McCarran Airport. Bramlet had a permit to carry a .357-caliber revolver, but federal laws and the airport metal detectors meant he would be unarmed upon arrival after a business trip to Reno. As Bramlet walked toward his car, Vaughan later testified, Gramby pointed a pistol at him and ordered, "Get in the van or I'll kill you right here." Bramlet was handcuffed and gagged with duct tape.
They rode into the desert. On the way, Tom assured Bramlet he wouldn't be murdered. "You've got to come up with some money or we're all going to prison." So the group drove to a pay telephone and Bramlet called Sid Wyman, an executive at the Dunes Hotel, asking him to send $10,000 to Benny Binion, operator of the Horseshoe. The cash would be used for a personal matter, Bramlet said.
Then they drove back into the desert. Tom Hanley said, "Hey, Al."
Bramlet turned and Tom Hanley shot him, Vaughan said. He was shot six times in all, including once in each ear.
Gramby Hanley said years later that he had not expected Bramlet would be killed after cooperating. "Mr. Bramlet had as much right to live as anyone else. But I wasn't about to get shot over him, with my dad and Vaughan both drunk and armed."
The men stripped the body of clothes and buried it under a pile of rocks. Vaughan told the story to a woman, and eventually police learned it. Gramby and Tom Hanley pleaded guilty and got life sentences without parole.
The official opinion of police and prosecutors was that the Hanleys killed Bramlet because he owed them money for the restaurant bombings. Wendy Mazaros says there was a much larger and more sinister motive. In the Company of Killers, she explains why Bramlet was murdered, who was behind it, and why. Her explosive allegations directly contradict historical accounts of the Bramlet slaying but they are supported by other evidence and testimony which were obtained for this program.