35th Anniversary: Mafia Men

Before there was tony soprano, there was Alex “Shondor” Birns and Danny Greene. Clevelanders in the ’70s didn’t need color TV — they had something better: a Technicolor drama chock full of colorful characters in their own front yard.

In 1976 alone, there were 37 bombings in Greater Cleveland. “Last year, in fact, more bombs were placed and set off in Cleveland than in any other major city,” Edward P. Whelan noted in 1977.

Birns and Greene were figures outside the mob — gangsters, enmeshed in the violence and double-crossing swirling around the mafia. But oh, were they smooth. Shondor hosted the toast of the town at his popular Alhambra restaurant; his buddies, the reporters, dined alongside Cleveland’s finest. In later years, he lunched at the Theatrical, and lawyers and businessmen would stop by just to shake the hand of the famous criminal.

“A basic need for prestige, a demand for respect and admiration welled deep within Shondor Birns,” wrote Michael D. Roberts back in 1975.

Greene was less suave, but Clevelanders admired his guts. He dared to challenge the Mafia and dodged repeated attempts on his life — “the luck of the Irish,” he boasted.

Danny Greene orchestrated the bombing that killed Shondor Birns in his car outside a Saturday evening Mass at St. Malachi, as payback for a bomb he found planted in his home, courtesy of Shondor (
was payback for a $175,000 loan Greene never repaid to Birns). Greene got his in the end; his car was bombed in 1977.

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