Wired to blow: Denver home conceals booby-trapped secret mobster hideaway

DENVER - On the outside, the house may look like any other historic home in the north Denver neighborhood, but inside, the secrets of a gangster's paradise are finally revealed.

When Matt Feeney bought an 1891 Victorian on Osage Street, it needed some TLC.  So, he started to knock out the walls, and the walls started to talk.

"So, as we're knocking out the walls, hitting right here, we're smelling matches, as if they're constantly being lit," said Matt Feeney.

Feeney said he discovered a row of matches buried in plaster in the wall.

"I ended up following what I'm calling a fuse from the matches,"  said Feeney. "It went behind the cabinets, and it led to these canvas packets, taped up against the wall."

Feeney is convinced his new residence had been rigged to burn.

"I think it was booby-trapped," said Feeney. "I think that might have been a way for them to quickly make a distraction at a minimum."

Feeney had learned the first homeowners were Denver's most famous connection to the mob, The Smaldone Family.

"They were great for selling papers," said Dick Kreck, author of Smaldone, The True Story Of An American Crime Family.

He said the family basically ran the city's underground gambling from the 1930s to 1970s.

"They were sort of b-level gangsters, but I always tell people today we still love them because they were our gangsters," said Kreck.

They started with bootlegged liquor, and they needed a hideaway. Before long, Feeney said, he found that, too, in his cellar.

"It's like they almost tried to stucco over it, so we started chiseling away and we found the little seam," said Feeney.

He found a hidden door, which led to a small chamber -- empty now, but once full of secrets.

"My dad was a very interesting man. He was a smart man," said Eugene Smaldone, whose grandparents lived in the Osage house.

He remembers playing there as a child and eating his grandmother's ravioli.

He said the story is that once during prohibition, police raided the home and found the liquor, but that his father and uncle took the rap so his grandparents would not have to go to prison.

"The Sopranos? Nothing like them. Nothing at all," said Smaldone. "They were good businessmen. It's just that their business was illegal at the time. They were ahead of their time."

While Smaldone doesn't believe anyone booby trapped the house to burn, Kreck said during that time, there were a series of unsolved murders, almost all to the advantage of the Smaldone family.

"I don't think you stayed in business 40 years being nice guys. Not in that business," said Kreck.

Since Kreck's book was published, Feeney said he has seen people stopping by his block to look at his house.

He joked that he might start charging a dollar to let people see the historic inside.

"It's a lot of fun trying to put myself in their shoes, as the owner of the home now, living here just like they did," he said.

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