Cold-case probe links mob to murder of KC civil rights leader

Kansas City StarFebruary 9, 2011 

KANSAS CITY — A police investigation into the 40-year-old murder of civil rights leader Leon Jordan has found that a little-known mafia associate was a key link in what appears to have been a mob-related conspiracy to have Jordan killed.

The case has been turned over to the Jackson County prosecutor’s office for review.

Alvin Sykes, a local civil rights advocate, has been briefed twice by police on the investigation. He had lobbied them to reopen the case last year after stories about Jordan’s murder in The Kansas City Star suggested an organized crime connection.

“The Star’s reporting was confirmed and enhanced by the police investigation,” Sykes said.

He said the police investigation also found evidence that now-deceased mob boss Nick Civella gave his blessing for the Jordan killing, which allegedly was carried out by black assailants connected with Joe Centimano, a low-profile mob associate.

Civella, who forged one of the most powerful crime families in the United States, oversaw an organization involved in skimming from Las Vegas casinos and corrupting Teamsters union leaders, among other things. Civella’s death in 1983, along with the federal prosecution of organized crime members in the Tropicana skimming case, all but dismantled the Kansas City mob.

Jordan, a former Kansas City police officer and co-founder of the black political club Freedom Inc., was gunned down on the street about 1 a.m. on July 15, 1970, just outside his Green Duck tavern at 2548 Prospect Ave.

His bare-knuckle politics, and what one friend called his “truculent manner,” had angered influential people in the worlds of crime and politics, and may have been part of the motive for his murder, according to Sykes and others who knew him.

Alvin Brooks, a police board commissioner and president of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, also attended police briefings on their investigation. Brooks did not want to speak specifically about the findings. However, he said detectives did an excellent job because now there is plenty of evidence to consider.

“When those 900 pages are reviewed and the new evidence is presented, I believe it will put everything into a perspective for the prosecutor,” Brooks said.

Capt. Steve Young, a Police Department spokesman, also declined to discuss specifics of the investigation, only commenting that it was complete and the case file has been turned over to Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.

“We are reviewing the case, as the Police Department has requested,” Kanatzar said this week. “But it’s 900 pages long and it will take some time.”

It’s unclear, however, whether the investigation will lead to any prosecutions. Kanatzar said his review could ultimately result in his “declining the case for a myriad of reasons,” or filing charges if anyone involved is still alive, or sending it back to police for further investigation.

“We want to carefully go through this case because the police spent a lot of time investigating it, so I hesitate to put a time frame on it,” Kanatzar said.

In the meantime, Kanatzar said, the Jordan case remains an “active investigation.”

Sykes remained optimistic. “I truly believe that both the Kansas City Police Department and the Jackson County prosecutor are looking for ways to find the truth and do justice here,” he said.

In stories last summer and fall about the 40th anniversary of Jordan’s murder, The Star noted that despite eyewitnesses, fingerprints, numerous suspects and the recovery of the murder weapon, police were never able to solve one of the city’s most vexing mysteries.

In late July, when The Star asked for an inventory of evidence in the case, police acknowledged that they had lost the shotgun used to kill Jordan. Later, they found the weapon in the trunk of one of their patrol cars.

Police reopened an investigation into the Jordan murder at that time. After reviewing old police files and interviewing one-time suspects, The Star published stories last fall suggesting a likely mob connection to Jordan’s killing.

A police report obtained by The Star showed that the shotgun used to kill Jordan may have made its way into the hands of organized crime several years before the murder.

In addition, police informants at the time said Centimano — known on the street as “Shotgun Joe” — may have provided the gun and recruited the killers in what now appears to have been a complex murder plot.

Centimano died of cancer in 1972, and police never questioned him.

But cold case squad detectives pursued the Centimano angle last summer and apparently determined that he appears to have played a role in the murder, along with the leadership of the Kansas City mob.

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