Superthief: A Master Burglar, the Mafia and the Biggest Bank Heist in U.S. History Hardcover – 1 Feb 2006
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"Superthief" is a captivating first-hand look at the life of Phil Christopher, a career criminal, Mafia associate, and one of the most successful bank burglars in the United States. In a raw and candid accounting, Rick Porrello takes his readers inside Phil's brutal street world and prison life, and exposes the details behind the planning and execution of the daring and record-setting 1972 United California Bank burglary in Orange County, California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Cherie Rohn, Co-author of
THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist
Whether or not imagined, the lines of this book seem rather widely spaced, perhaps a coded invitation to delve between them, which is where the true substance of this book is to be found. As with so many books that involve living criminal contributors, there is usually an element of self-serving deception in what they tell (especially when awaiting release), and this appears to be no exception.
What emerges from this simply written book, itself a skilfully deceptive device that lulls readers while they are led into ever darker, unexpected places, is that the record heist is not its biggest revelation. It is a searing insight into the casual moral vacuum in which criminals such as 'Superthief' Phil Christopher (Cristofaro before Anglicised) exist, a descent into a world where all values are debased until completely inverted. And the reader can only harbor deep suspicions that Christopher's provenance is more sinister than he would have us believe. From early petty thievery to later serious burglary, union corruption and violence, one senses that the 'prints of the mob are dabbed over these pages more than is being admitted into evidence.
And clearly Supertheft does not rely upon Superminds - in one Laurel & Hardy episode, these pros burgle a tough safe one night and Christopher reaches for the crucial device to open it, only to be told by his buddy that he hadn't got it because the pal he went to borrow it from wasn't home! Another fine mess...
But the jolting revelation comes after the Big Heist, after the chapters about prison life, just as the protagonist is beginning to see the light and endear himself a little. Hinted at earlier but artfully forgotten, it comes as a sudden, chilling jolt that would not have been out of place in 'The Godfather 2', yet is told without apology or remorse and in its telling reveals the true nature of this beast, raising bigger questions about his true past.
This is an important book for all those who would glamorize crime and wiseguys; it exposes the reality and the depravity, the ambition and delusions. However, readers should be ready to find their pulses quickening , there are times when they will genuinely feel the fear and tension from the audacity of the crimes so vividly described which will make many thankful for having their mundane jobs to go to on Mondays.
Some have compared Porello's style in this book to that of Nicholas Pileggi, but it is more; there is a taste of the dark side of humanity lurking within not served since the writings of Ed Bunker, and you don't get more authentic than that.
Porrello's most recent book, the self-published Superthief (Next Hat Press, 2006) is largely a memoir written by Phil Christopher. Christopher, the super thief of the book's title, has had plenty of time to concentrate on his life story. A burglar and an admitted paid killer, Christopher has spent approximately half of his life in prison.
The primary job which Porrello took on in Superthief was to pare down Christopher's unruly and too-long handwritten memoir into a manuscript suitable for publication, and Porrello has largely succeeded in that mission. Porrello weaves Christopher's memoir together with material that includes contributions from Christopher's wife, various law enforcement officers and Porrello himself.
A job which Porrello apparently did not take on, and which readers might wish he had, was to push and challenge Christopher for more details in some areas and for an honest emotional reaction from Christopher when reflecting back on his life of crime.
Christopher describes the killing of Arnie Prunella in two paragraphs consisting of 168 words. Did Christopher lose any sleep over shooting Prunella in the back of the head? How does Christopher, who regrets that his incarceration prevented him from being present at many big events in his son's life, reconcile the fact that he took away Prunella's daughter's chance to develop a relationship with her father? Prunella's daughter was three years old when her father was killed.
Christopher concludes his two paragraph description of Prunella's killing by writing, "...I never thought that night would come back to haunt me". Why did Christopher think that? He's been through the criminal system enough times to know there is no statute of limitations on murder. It's reasonable to come away with the impression that Christopher's biggest regret is that he found himself in a situation where it was in his best interest to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter for killing Arnie Prunella. If Christopher was ever tortured by the taking of a human life Porrello does not show that torment to the reader, leaving one to wonder whether this is an editorial omission or whether Phil Christopher is simply a thug without a conscience.
Porrello and Christopher do a splendid job of portraying the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland as it existed in the 1960s and 1970s. The Collinwood of that era, in addition to being a vibrant working class and largely Italian neighborhood, was home to perhaps the most accomplished group of burglars in the nation.
Christopher's description of the famous Laguna Niguel bank robbery in California, along with the lucrative Lordstown bank heist near Youngstown, Ohio, make for fascinating reading and provide an inside look at just how hard Christopher and his ilk worked for their money. One is left to wonder how successful Christopher might have been had he worked as hard at something legitimate as he did at being a burglar. Many Cleveland readers will recognize the names Christopher sprinkles throughout the book, a Who's Who of the days before RICO laws and lure of big money selling cocaine, a time when an accomplished burglar could make a dishonest but comfortable living on the streets of Cleveland.
The most sympathetic figure in Supertief is Christopher's wife Mary Ann, who showed herself to be a well-spoken and dignified woman at a recent publicity event. Mary Ann married Phil Christopher at the Cuyahoga County jail before he got sent away for his most recent stretch in prison. Readers may be left hoping that Phil Christopher will finally break his pattern of finding a new woman every time he is released from prison. It's nice to think he may settle down with Mary Ann to live out the remainder of his life, but Superthief gives little reason for optimism in that regard with the exception of a brief mention of Christopher discovering the Christian-themed Left Behind novels and resorting to prayer.
The realistic prospect for Christopher's rehabilitation is another area where the reader may be left clamoring for more in an otherwise commendable effort by Rick Porrello.