Back When Cleveland Was 'Bomb City, USA'

Ralph DiMatteo History

Danny Greene mugshot photo

When you think of the phrase, “We’re number one," what usually comes to mind is a sports team celebrating a big win or an actual championship. But in the 1970s, Cleveland was able to lay claim to the dubious distinction of being the top city in the country for car bombs, which led to the moniker of "Bomb City, USA."

Plain Dealer article at the time titled “Bombing Business Booming Here” told readers of Cleveland’s disturbing and dangerous rise in the national ranking of bomb crimes that had skyrocketed around the country since 1974.

Danny Greene's Role in Turning Cleveland Into Bomb City, USA

Danny Greene’s Celtic Club and their non-stop gang war with Cleveland’s Italian families was the fuel to the city’s seemingly endless string of assassinations, with car bombs the preferred method of execution.

Even though Greene allegedly arranged or contracted for bombings for years, the turf war really got red-hot after Cleveland mob boss John Scalish died suddenly and chose James Licavoli as his successor. This was not well-received by one John Nardi, whom Greene aligned himself with, helping to take out a number of Licavoli’s men as Nardi fought for control of the Cleveland territory.

Car bombs were Greene’s area of expertise, and he also had a favorite “bomb specialist," Art Sneperger, to ensure things went as planned. Ironically, Sneperger literally blew himself up on Halloween night in 1971. Rumors swirled at the time that Greene may have helped with Sneperger’s self-detonation, but it was never proven.

Even as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms increased its presence in the area, the bombings didn’t slow much. However, in May of 1977, Nardi was taken out by a car bomb himself, right in front of a union hall, and then later that year in October, Greene was also taken out through a bombing in Lyndhurst by his dentist’s office.  

With Nardi and Greene both out of the picture, Licavoli seized an opportunity and was now firmly in control of Cleveland, but not for long. Ray Ferritto, long aligned with Greene, ultimately was arrested and flipped on Licavoli to the FBI.

It can be said that Greene’s death was what ultimately stopped the bombings and started the process of ending the Cleveland mob era. That, combined with Ferritto’s turning on Licavoli, led to the Mafia Commission Trial, one of the biggest mafia trials ever held during this turbulent period. This particular trial led to the start of the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization Act, or more commonly known as RICO laws.

RICO laws were designed to pursue the largest known crime families all over the country. So it can be said that the slow deliberate process of taking down organized crime as it was known during that period started right here in Cleveland, albeit with a vast number of bombing victims in its wake.

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