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Before Jimmy Fratianno made ratting out mob bosses fashionable, Jesse Stoneking's testimony against St. Louis mob figures was the most damaging ever heard in a courtroom. It helped send more than 30 gangsters to prison. Stoneking was a respected and feared wise guy, a lieutenant to St. Louis Outfit boss Art Berne and an accomplished thief. When Stoneking was packed off to prison in 1981, Berne failed to take care of Stoneking's family as promised. That disloyalty quickly turned Stoneking into an FBI informant.
"I never thought anything about cracking a guy. So what? It was just something you had to do. I figured the guy deserved it."
- Jesse Stoneking
It was a little after 1 a.m. in 1988 when the swarthy, ruggedly handsome man stepped out onto the porch of his mother's house in north St. Louis County. The mid-summer day had been one of stifling humidity and heat. He could hear a distant rumbling of thunder and see a glimmer of lightning. Above him rain-laden clouds low on the horizon forebode an approaching storm. It was what much of Jesse Stoneking's life of 42 years had been about. One storm after another, endless crises, and of late, countless burdens that would break the wills of weaker men.
Stoneking's eyes surveyed the landscape in all directions, but they detected nothing alarming. He was in hostile territory and he only was being prudent and cautious as he had learned long ago to be. It was how one survived in his world. As he drove away, a red Buick with a white top eased out of the shadows half a block down the street behind him, its headlights off. He saw it immediately, but he was not alarmed. He increased his speed. So did the Buick. He slowed and so did it.