Robert “The Codfish” Bricker, Thomas A. Sacco, and Charles “Monster” Kellington worked as part of a complex network of drug dealers active in Pittsburgh in the 1970s.
Concerned that Sacco had become a liability to the operation – he was in debt to William “Eggy” Prosdocimo, who occupied a higher position in the network, had been involved in a dispute with Prosdocimo regarding a bar fight with Pittsburgh Steelers star linebacker Jack Lambert, and was believed to be cooperating with police – plans were developed to kill him.
Miles Gabler, who had escaped from prison on September 18, 1979, was hired to kill Sacco. The plans came to fruition on the night of September 25, 1979, hours after the Pirates won en route to a World Series championship and two days after the Steelers ran their record to 4-0 en route to their fourth Super Bowl. Bricker lured Sacco out of Butchies bar, an after-hours club in Market Square, on to the street where Gabler shot and killed him.
Police investigation led them to link the killing to Sacco’s drug dealing, though no arrests followed for more than a year. The case began to take shape when Kellington, who was arrested in 1980 and threatened with the death penalty for the Florida drug-killing of Phillip Hubbard, began to cooperate with police.
In an unrelated case, Gabler was arrested for the non-fatal shooting of Jeanette police officer William Drylie on March 19, 1980, after Drylie responded to a burglary in progress.
After a lengthy and complex investigation, nine men, including Gabler, who was already in prison, and Bricker, were arrested and charged on June 10, 1981, for the “racket slayings” of Sacco, Gary DeStefano, who was killed on June 14, 1979, and Melvin Pike, who was killed on April 19, 1978 (Pittsburgh Press, June 10, 1981).
At trial, Kellington, who entered into the federal witness protection plan after his release from prison, testified against the defendants.
Bricker, who had a long criminal record, including a conviction for a 1964 robbery-murder committed on his wedding day to finance his honeymoon, was convicted on November 15, 1981. He was formally sentenced to death on February 8, 1983. He was acquitted of DeStefano’s murder in 1982 and convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983 for the murder of Norman McGregor.
Gabler confessed his role in Sacco’s murder, as well as the shooting of Officer Drylie, and some murders committed in West Virginia. After withdrawing his guilty plea, he was convicted at trial on September 25, 1984, and sentenced to death. His death sentence was reversed on December 24, 1988, due to improper jury instructions, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Bricker’s death sentence was overturned on February 13, 1985, due to prosecutorial error and ineffective counsel (Commonwealth v. Bricker, 506 Pa. 571, 1985). Retried, he was again convicted on June 3, 1988, and sentenced to death the next day. That death sentence was reversed on September 21, 1990 (Commonwealth v. Bricker, 525 Pa. 362, 1990), after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled serious errors had been made in the jury instructions.
On December 14, 1990, Allegheny County dropped charges against Bricker in the Sacco case. While serving a life sentence for the McGregor murder, Robert Bricker died of cancer on June 24, 2000.
Miles Gabler’s long criminal career began as a teenager. He was arrested for his role in a burglary and car theft ring in 1960, sentenced to prison, paroled, and returned to prison for a parole violation. Once released, he returned to prison in 1967 after an armed robbery. Paroled again, he was arrested for bank robbery in 1971 and returned to prison. He was serving that sentence when he escaped and murdered Sacco.
Gabler died in prison on September 18, 2017. He was 76 years old.
William Prosdocimo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison on November 7, 1983. Now 66 years old, he remains in prison.
Forty years after Sacco’s murder, William Rende, long associated with the Pittsburgh underworld and implicated in the death of Norman McGregor, was killed in Greenfield by Anthony W. Miller on December 28, 2019. Though appearing to be a robbery, the 90 year old Rende was said by police to be targeted by Miller.