Posted by: Willie | December 30, 2008

Blood, Sweat and Tears and a Dash of the Cleveland Mob con’t.

Well that little adventure (Dec 8th posting)  took me down memory lane.  From the drag strip to the autobahn and Dachau, but my life has always been like that!  I have always been full speed ahead and always loved speed.  That brings me to the glorious days of going to nursing school. I had three little ones to get off to school in the morning and classes to get to by 8AM.  It was always a mad rush.  By the time I got them to the sitter’s house before school, to pointing the car in the right direction of my classes, I was speeding. It was never really a big surprise to hear the police sirens behind me.  I was stopped more than a couple of times and I am not proud of that fact-believe me I am not.  I was young and had a great set of legs.  Everytime I was stopped I hiked up the skirt of my uniform and made sure enough leg was showing as the officer approached my vehicle.

We all do what we have to in certain situations.  I certainly did not offer any bribes or promises (other than to drive more slowly) of course.  Of all the times I was stopped I got 3 tickets, the rest of the time I got off with warnings. I have great legs.

Nursing school was not easy.  I had three children at home and I was one of the first married students that my school of nursing allowed to live off campus.  Prior to that year even married students had to live in the dormitory during the week.

I am amazed I made it through to graduation.  We were an unruly group.  First of all anyone who has gone to nursing school knows that most of the instructors were absolutely the nastiest people.  They were drill sergeants and yes while learning was a matter of life and death experiences, they were hateful.

I just wanted it all to be over.  I had started nursing school years ago and was in my third year when Willy got ill.  After that I came home and went to work to help my family out with expenses, got married, had three kids and finally 15 years later I was about to get my stripes on my cap and my pin.

The cap lasted about a year, no one was really wearing them that much any longer, and mine met it’s demise in the middle of a code blue when it fell off my head and ended up in the middle of CPR only to be knocked off the bed, and onto the floor.  The cap went into the trash after that night.

I went to work at the local county hospital that I have written about in the past in my continuing stories.  Before I was honored to be working in the ER I was a floor nurse.  One night I was asked to float over to the Rehab floor from Internal Medicine.  Rehab was less stressful nursing.  Most patients there were closed head injuries, motor vehicle accidents and the like, head traumas, coma patients but no one was critical.  I looked at the patient names and was so surprised to see a name I recognized. The name was Robin Ritson and I only knew one person by that name. 

Robin was the son of one my my mother’s high school girlfriends and the brother of Keith Ritson, known lieutenant to Cleveland mobster, Danny Greene.  This was the early 80’s.  I had not seen Keith in person in years.  Even though we had been playpen mates as kids, and we had attended many family get togethers over the years, I did not keep company with the mob. 

I asked Robin where Keith was, and he told me he was in witness protection.  I do not know how true that was because Robin was dealing with a closed head injury, a traumatic brain injury, and I did not know if Robin could process thoughts in the time frame we were in at the time.

I do know that in doing my research back into that time frame I came across many court documents and articles about the Danny Greene.  I vividly remember the day he died after leaving his dentist’s office in Beachwood, Ohio.  I knew Keith had been involved with the mob.  His mother had died years earlier and my parents were never impressed by his father.  The family owned a bar in Parma, Ohio right off Brookpark Road called the Vanguard Lounge. The original bar had been on Ridge Road but there were many complaints and they moved their location.  I was there one time at the ripe old age of 18, and Keith was working behind the bar.  If my parents had found out I would probably have been grounded because even then the Vanguard had a bad reputation.

I can remember when Keith and I were in the playpen and we were about two years old.  He pulled my hair hard, he was a bully even then.  His life obviously went down the wrong road, and he was accused of doing many things.  One of the last times I heard of him, he had been arrested at Cleveland Hopkins Airport for cocaine possession.  I had heard he was giving up names and offering up a mob graveyard in Lorain County, and I thought Robin might be right.  Maybe Keith had turned informant and was in protection.

I don’t know.  Public records say he was shot in the back of the head and murdered in November, 1978. 

I had never heard that story, of all the many times that I had seen articles in the paper or heard about Keith on the evening news, somehow I had never heard he had died.  Considering my mother was still in touch with all her high school girlfriends, and that they all went to high school with Keith’s mother, it strikes me as odd that none of them knew that Bea Ritson’s son had been killed.

Since I did not know that Keith had been murdered I asked Robin one night if Keith had been to see him.  That was when he told me Keith could not come because he was in witness protection. 

All I know is I had one more very strange happening 2-3 years later in which I was approached by a man at a hotel bar in Independence, Ohio.  He and I talked.  We laughed, we danced, and as I said we talked a little.  He got up to leave, and he turned to look at me one last time as he was going out the door.  He came back in bent down, cupped my chin in his hands and whispered in my ear “Thank you Carole for taking such good care of my little brother.”  I sat there totally surprised because we had never exchanged names.   Then it dawned on me.  I ran out into the hotel lobby – only a minute had passed and there was no one there.  I ran out into the parking lot, and there was no one walking to a car.  In fact there were no cars even pulling out.  I cried.

There was one more Ritson brother – but I never really knew him as well as I knew Keith.  I only knew Keith and that relationship was one of family picnics and birthday parties and a stolen kiss or two as teenagers before our lives went in different directions.   Bad boys are so easy to fall for, and my parents made sure we were miles apart in our later teen aged years.

If Robin was right then I know who I spent the evening with, if the articles on the internet and the court documents are right then I spent the evening with a ghost or this man had the wrong girl and it was all coincidence.

Then again my life has been a series of amazing coincidences and Keith Ritson was not the only connection I had in my life with organized crime.

The time frame is 1983 and I was now working for the American Red Cross as a blood mobile nurse.  I really loved that job.  I was extremely skilled at placing a 16 gauge needle in a small vein and getting a pint of blood in return.  I had a great donor record of completed pints of blood and this would be my first Teamsters Union blood donation.  I had heard the stories and believe me there were stories. 

The event was so big it was held at the Masonic Hall on Euclid Avenue.  Every nurse employed by the ARC was there.  Any teamster who came in to give or attempt to give got a day off with pay.  It was an enormous undertaking on all of our parts.  It was so big it was even covered by the local TV stations.  If memory serves me right it lasted several days.

Rumors flew around that in years past a donor or two had been found dead after donating blood.  I do not know, I am only repeating what I was told. 

Normally we had two men per blood mobile event that processed the bags after collection, and a team of volunteers that escorted the donors to the recovery area where they were given food and drink.

Since all hands were on board and our drivers were busy moving blood product back to our service center, the event was staffed with teamster bosses and labor leaders as the escorts.

I clearly remember when one of the donors was getting up off the chair and became lightheaded.  I jumped up to help the teamster escort and as I went to assist him my hand came to rest on a gun in his shoulder holster.  I just acted like I had not realized what I had touched and the day went on.

It was mid-afternoon and everyone was waiting for the one and only Mr. Jackie Presser, newly elected president of the teamsters union to arrive.  All high ranking teamster officials paid their respects to their workers over the course of this event, and Mr. Presser was due to arrive at any minute.

If you google Jackie Presser you will find out that in all actuality by the time he was elected union president he was one of the most prized informants the FBI ever had on organized crime.   He even carried a radio device that he could use to check to make sure his car was not wired to explode and  that device was given to him by the FBI. 

Those were rough years in Cleveland.  The history of the Cleveland mob is deep and filled with violence and truly bad people.  Jimmy Hoffa was one such person and we all think we know what happened to Hoffa.

We were busy working getting the teamsters in and out as quickly as we could and I had three donors in my unit all with bags filling very nicely.  It was hot and I was getting tired, I remember turning to look up at the doors of the auditorium when I heard them open and all I could see was the bright sunlight filling the space as the door opened and then all of a sudden……….



  1. Dear Carole,

    I also knew Keith Ritson when I lived in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1970’s. The Keith Ritson that I knew was a caring and generous friend. The last time that I saw Keith was in July of 1977 when he and his wife, Carmella, stopped in Denver Colorado for a few days. If he is still alive please let him know he has a friend in Denver, Colorado.

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