Original script by NICK BROWNLEE
From the audio series “WELL WEIRD, WITH ADRIAN CLAYPOLE“
It’s July 1996 and in a remote corner of Clark County, Nevada, a man named Kenneth Momerath is alone with his metal detector.
Kenneth is 44 years old and works as a termite exterminator in the former mining town of Goodsprings, 40 miles south of Las Vegas. A man of average height and weight, balding and bespectacled, Kenneth is remarkable only for how unremarkable he is. Indeed in his High School Yearbook he was picked out as “Student Most Likely To Become A Termite Exterminator”.
Back home in his garage is a shelf on which Kenneth keeps his most interesting finds. Part of an iron wheel rim from a trail wagon; a rusted seive; a belt buckle; a trowel.
Worthless relics from Goodsprings’ mining past.
But today will be different. In a few moments his equipment will detect something buried beneath the Nevada sand: a silver tie pin attached to the tattered fragments of an expensive silk tie.
The tie is attached to the skeletal remains of a human body.
And by disturbing its rest, Kenneth Momerath will unwittingly unleash death murder from beyond the grave.
Founded by the Mafia it is no secret that throughout Las Vegas’s bloodstained history, the desert that surrounds the city has been used as a convenient burial ground for those who have had the misfortune to cross the Mob.
And the body now exhumed by Kenneth Momerath bears all the hallmarks of one of those victims. It wears a pin-striped suit, shoes with spats, and, still clutched in its bony fingers, a fedora hat.
But without doubt the biggest clue to the corpse’s Mob connections are the 15 bullet holes in its skull, the garrotte round its neck, and the scrawled note shoved in one of its pockets which reads: “This is what happens to Rats.”
The remains are identified as Bobby “Acid Bath” Montangelo, a prolific Mob hitman attached to the Salveretti Crime Syndicate based in Las Vegas.
It’s estimated that between March 1962 and September 1966, Montangelo murdered 2,361 people on behalf of his employers. Montangelo himself claimed the figure was 2,396, but because he dismembered and then dissolved each of his victims in a vat of sulphuric acid the figure was never verified.
But Montangelo was also suspected of working for the Feds – in the Mafia world, an offence punishable by death.
What is known is that on the night of August 17, 1966, while watching a cabaret at the Golden Nugget casino, Montangelo left his table to kill someone – and was never seen again.
News of Kenneth Momerath’s discovery spreads fast. Soon, the first visitors from the City begin to arrive at Goodsprings, curious to see the final resting place of Las Vegas’s most notorious killer – and meet the man who found him.
For his own part Kenneth is quick to exploit his new-found celebrity. He quits his job and begins charging visitors 20 dollars to have their photograph taken with him beside the grave.
He announces he is writing his memoirs. He plans to release an album.
Soon he is planning something even more ambitious. A gangster-themed casino and nightclub complex in Goodsprings, one which will eventually rival Las Vegas as Nevada’s leading tourist attraction.
But by now news of the would-be entrepreneur has reached the ears of other, more established Nevadan businessmen.
Businessmen who don’t necessarily take kindly to someone attempting to muscle in on their action.
Businessmen like Paulie Venizio, head of the Salveretti Crime Syndicate in Las Vegas.
Venizio had been present on the night Bobby Montangelo disappeared from the Golden Nugget. Some believe his rise from humble footsoldier to the position of Syndicate head was due to the fact that he himself had pulled the trigger.
But whatever the truth, Venizio now presided over a much-changed organisation.
By the early 1990s the Vegas Mob was a pale shadow of its 1960s heyday. The Mafia had been all but chased out of town by Federal law enforcement agencies and those that survived had to find alternative sources of income.
The following is an extract from a wiretapped telephone conversation between Paulie Vinizio and the Syndicate’s bookkeeper Albert “The Abacus” Spitzstein in late 1995.
SPITZSTEIN: I’m telling you, Paulie, The rackets. The skim. Things ain’t what they used to be. The numbers ain’t adding up no more.
VINIZIO: Fuck you saying?
SPITZSTEIN: I’m saying We got to diversify.
SPITZSTEIN: I was thinking…and hear me out here, Paulie – I was thinking tourism.
VINIZIO: The fuck?
SPITZSTEIN: Open-topped guided bus tours.
VINIZIO: Are you fucking kidding me?
SPITZSTEIN: Hear me out., I said. One thing we know is civilians can’t get enough of Our Thing. We should cash in on the action. Show them the sights. Tell ‘em a few stories about the old days.
VINIZIO: Open topped fuckin guided bus tours?
SPITZSTEIN: Why not? You put someone like Lips Tortillio up there with a microphone –
VINIZIO: Heh heh, that fat fuck could bore the ass off the Lincoln Memorial.
SPITZSTEIN: That’s what I’m saying! He would be perfect.
VINIZIO: I don’t know, Spitz. I’d kinda miss the extortion. The killing…
Despite his reservations, Vinizio knew that Spitzstein was right. And, in early 1996 Salveretti Crime Tours Inc duly opened for business, offering walking tours and open-topped guided bus trips around all of Las Vegas’s most notorious gangland attractions.
Albert “The Abacus” was right. The public, it seemed, couldn’t get enough of the Mafia. A Mob museum was opened on the site of the old Stardust casino. Bugsy Siegel’s old house became a visitor centre. Dozens of ageing gangsters were brought out of retirement to be tour guides. One of the most popular attractions was “The Whack Experience” in which paying customers were abducted, thrown in the boot of a Cadillac and driven to the desert where they were ordered to dig their own grave at gunpoint.
But when the bones of one of Las Vegas’s most notorious hitmen was unearthed in Goodsprings, it seemed the past was about to catch up with Paulie Vinizio.
The following is a wiretapped conversation between Vinizio and his underboss Jackie “Three Toes” Scelza in September 1996.
VINIZIO: You hear about this fuckin termite guy with the metal detector in Goodsprings?
SCELZA: Yeah, I heard. Fuckin Bobby Montangelo! I knew that fuckin piece of strunz would come back and bite us in the ass.
VINIZIO: Fuck Bobby Montangelo. You hear what the termite guy is planning?
SCELZA: You mean the hotel casino? Yeah I heard. You believe the stones on this finook?
VINIZIO: It’s going to hurt business, Jackie. The Abacus says the take could be down 35 per cent.
SCELZA: What do you want me to do?
VINIZIO: I want you to take care of it.
SCELZA: …I thought we was kinda out of that business now.
VINIZIO: Just take care of it.
SCELZA: Sure thing, Paulie. Anything else?
VINIZIO: Yeah. Bobby Cardello died.
SCELZA: Yeah, I heard. He was a great guy. What was he? 84, 85?
VINIZIO: Fuck that. I need someone to run the souvenir stall at the Museum.
On the morning of September 23 1996, Kenneth Momerath left his home in Goodsprings to pick up a new stemlock nut for his metal detector from the nearby shopping mall.
He was never seen again.
But that was not the end of the story.
To many in the Cosa Nostra, Paulie Vinizio’s decision to rebrand the Salveretti Crime Syndicate into a tour company amounted to heresy.
And on the evening of October 4, 1996, as he left a newly-opened branch of Burgers Inc, a gangster-themed fast food joint on Mainstreet, Vinizio was shot 25 times by three men, thought to be connected to the New York mob.
Remarkably, he survived. And now, fearing for his life, he cut a deal with the FBI. For immunity from his crimes he would give evidence against the very Mafia bosses who wanted him dead.
The sensational court case was scheduled to take place the following Spring. Meanwhile Vinizio was placed under 24-hour armed guard in a safehouse somewhere in the desert outside of Las Vegas.
But on the morning of February 15, 1998, following two days of torrential rain, the house was swallowed up by an enormous sinkhole. It seems the ground in that area had been left deeply unstable by the sheer number of shallow graves nearby.
It is a fundamental human flaw to believe that we are somehow above the fates, or in control of our own destiny.
More often than not, that self-conceit leads to destruction.
The ancient Greeks had a word for it: they called it hubris. A more modern interpretation is “comeuppance”.
And when considering the events that took place in Goodsprings more than 30 years ago, it is impossible not to think that each of the players in this particular drama got their comeuppance.
Bobby Montangelo was an evil man. A killer who acted above the law, but who was eventually destroyed by those he called his friends.
Paulie Vinizio built his reputation on murder and organised crime. Did he really think the fates would spare him when he attempted to go straight?
And what of Kenneth Momerath? Of all the dramatis personae, surely this simple termite exterminator from Goodsprings, Nevada, most warrants our sympathy.
Fate, it would seem, dealt him the hardest blow of all.
Unless, that is, you count greed as hubristic trait. Unless you count delusion. Unless you count rank stupidity.
Indeed it can be argued convincingly that the world is a better place without Kenneth Momerath. That he was little more than an unsightly stain upon it. A waste of time and resources…