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CHICAGO — When federal agents came for Phil Cresta in 1974, not even his wife knew why the toy store owner was being arrested.
Later she found out her husband was actually the best thief on the eastern seaboard, and had been hiding out from both the mob and the law until he was discovered.
Cresta started getting good at stealing during reform school, where he learned to pick locks. Later in prison, he noticed the lock pickers lived longer than the mobsters. So when he got out, he became a thief.
He’d go on to steal millions, with the help of powerful friends in the Chicago outfit.
In one 1965 heist in Boston, mob-connected jewelers dropped their trunks off at a safe inside the Parker House Hotel. Contained in one trunk: Cresta’s short partner with nothing more than a flashlight, oxygen tank and a sandwich.
When the safe closed for the night, he stole all the jewels inside. Then when the jewelers returned the next morning, they retrieved the trunk, and millions in diamonds inside it.
After angering the mob in Boston, Cresta ran from a hit put on his name, and escaped to Chicago where he opened a toy store under the alias Tony Zito. He even counted Richard J. Daley as among his friends.
Then one day in 1974, there was a knock on the door.
Larry Potash has the Backstory.