Years later, mob enforcer may decide it's time to talk

"There's a bunch of people running around with federal convictions and gun cases at 26th Street (Cook County Criminal Court) that they don't send over here," Lopez said.

But they aren't Mario Rainone.

If I were an investigator, I'd want to know if Rainone could help solve the killing of Charles Merriam, the oil executive slain in 1987.

Merriam, a former Marine, had become embroiled in business disputes with gas station owners suspected of having connections to underworld figures. Law enforcement documents alleged that some stations had become fronts for bookmaking and loan-sharking operations.

Cold cases fade, remembered only by investigators and the victim's loved ones. The victim's daughter, Joni Merriam Sims, 47, told us last week that the family can only get closure if "someone like Mario starts speaking years later."

"After all these years," she said, "it feels like a crime novel."

Her brother Ken, 50, in California, greeted the news of Rainone's conviction this way:

"I'm amazed anybody called now because you thought it's sort of a dead story. … With some of the principals dead, you'd actually like to see that somebody can actually solve the thing. You'd like to have at least somebody solve it, or say this is how it went down. This is the way it happened."

Someone might know how it went down. And that someone has to decide if he wants to spend 15-to-life behind bars, or if he's ready to beef.

jskass@tribune.com Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

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