If there was a hall of fame for true crime authors, Dennis Griffin would be in it. He was a talented and prolific contributor to the genre, especially in the subgenre devoted to Mob history. Griffin died of lung cancer Monday, June 21, 2021, in Verona, New York. He was 75 years old.
For those interested in Las Vegas crime history, Griffin wrote two books of particular value: Policing Las Vegas: A History of Law Enforcement in Southern Nevada (2005, Huntington Press), and The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. the Mob (2006, Huntington Press). The latter is particularly helpful to understand the Chicago Outfit’s involvement in Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s and 1980s.
Griffin also co-wrote four books with Frank Cullotta, the Chicago mobster who ran a notorious burglary racket, dubbed the Hole in the Wall Gang, in Las Vegas in the late 1970s and early ’80s. After the Hole in the Wall Gang was caught breaking into a Las Vegas store in 1981, Cullotta became a government witness and testified in numerous trials against his former Mob associates. Griffin co-authored Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness (2007, Huntington Press); Hole in the Wall Gang, in My Own Words: A Memoir (2014, Houdini Publishing); The Rise and Fall of a ‘Casino’ Mobster: The Tony Spilotro Story Through a Hitman’s Eyes (2017, Wild Blue Press); and Frank Cullotta’s Greatest (Kitchen) Hits: A Gangster’s Cookbook (2020, Wild Blue Press). Cullotta died in 2020.
He also co-authored Andrew DiDonato’s memoir, Surviving the Mob: A Street Soldier’s Life Inside the Gambino Crime Family (2010, Huntington Press), and Vito Colucci Jr.’s Rogue Town (2013, Houdini Publishing).
Two of his final contributions were collaborations with Glen Meek on Wrong Numbers: Call Girls, Hackers, and the Mob in Las Vegas (2019, Wild Blue Press), and with David Bowman on Bringing Down Cullotta: The Story Casino Couldn’t Tell You (2021, Coastal West Publishing). He also edited The Accidental Gangster: From Insurance Salesman to Hollywood Fixer (2020, Costal West Publishing) by Ori Spado.
“Denny Griffin was a talented and prodigious organized crime writer who helped me in more ways than I can count,” said Meek, who collaborated with Griffin on Wrong Numbers. “Incredibly, we never met in person, even though we co-wrote a book together on the Mob and Vegas escort services. Perhaps that demonstrates more than anything what a gifted and generous collaborator he was. Denny will be missed.”
Griffin also wrote several books on crime and law enforcement subjects unrelated to the Mob, as well as several mystery/thriller novels.
Mob historian Gary Jenkins said when putting his first documentary together, he turned to Griffin for help in finding sources to interview on both sides of the law. Jenkins, a former Kansas City Police detective, did not know Griffin but was impressed with his book The Battle for Las Vegas.
“He hooked me up with all these people,” Jenkins said. “He was so generous.”
Jenkins’ 2013 documentary, Gangland Wire, examines the 1970s casino skimming pipeline from Las Vegas to the Civella crime family in Kansas City.
Griffin was generous with many other authors and filmmakers interested in telling Mob stories, Jenkins said. “He always had time for everybody.”
Griffin was helpful in many ways to The Mob Museum staff, sharing his knowledge and making connections over the years.
Jenkins said Griffin could get anybody to talk to him — mobsters, cops, FBI agents, even former Stardust hotel-casino employees who worked for Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. “Everybody trusted him,” Jenkins said. “He just wanted to tell the story.”
In 2017, Griffin founded a Facebook group called The Transparency Project, dedicated to helping the survivors of victims of murder and suspicious deaths to obtain records from governmental agencies.
Griffin was born August 6, 1945, in Rome, New York. He was the only child of Walter and Dorothy Kraeger Griffin. He attended Rome Free Academy. He served four years in the Navy and had a 20-year career in law enforcement before retiring in 1994 as director of investigations for the New York State Department of Health. He published his first book, a novel called The Morgue, in 1996. Griffin lived at least part time in Las Vegas for several years before returning full time to New York state.
He is survived by his wife, Faith Finster Griffin; his two daughters, Margaret Carro and Antoinette Mahoney; his stepchildren, Pamela Ashley and Robert McAree. Kimberly McAree predeceased him in 1986. He is also survived by five grandsons, two granddaughters and five great-grandchildren.
Geoff Schumacher is vice president of exhibits and programs for The Mob Museum. Larry Henry, who writes the monthly Mob in Pop Culture blog for the Museum, contributed to this report.