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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Robert Bricker / One of region's most notorious killers

Sunday, June 25, 2000

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

One of the region's most notorious contract killers, Robert "The Codfish" Bricker, died of colon cancer yesterday at St. Francis Medical Center.

Mr. Bricker, 59, was serving a life sentence for a 1978 murder. Twice he escaped the death penalty, when the state Supreme Court overturned convictions for another murder. In all, he was suspected of participating in seven murders, most of which he was accused of several years after they occurred when cohorts began cutting deals with prosecutors.

His first slaying became known as the "wedding day murder."

While on parole for an armed robbery, Mr. Bricker got married on Dec. 26, 1963. Needing money for the honeymoon, he telephoned Willie Jenkins, a McKeesport car dealer and an acquaintance from the old county workhouse in Blawnox. He asked to borrow money. When they met, he took $500 from Jenkins, shot him twice in the chest, kicked him out of the car, ran over him and dragged him screaming underneath the car for 300 yards.

In later years, government informants testified that the nickname "Codfish" was based on Mr. Bricker's reputation as a cold-blooded killer.

He pleaded guilty to killing Jenkins and was sentenced to life in prison. But he served less than 10 years.

In 1974, Gov. Milton J. Shapp commuted the sentence to life parole. The state board of pardons recommended release for Mr. Bricker's involvement in a Jaycees chapter at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh and for bettering himself by earning a high school diploma and associate college degree.

"If this man is released," the pardons board wrote, "he will become a useful member of society."

He also earned a movie projectionist license while in prison, and he would later claim that as his profession. He moved to the Shadeland neighborhood on the North Side, not far from his second home, Western Pen.

The same year he was paroled, he allegedly killed Raymond Mitchell and buried him in a shallow grave behind Mitchell's North Braddock home. The body was discovered more than six years later, after two federal informants implicated Mr. Bricker and told investigators where to look. Mr. Bricker was charged but the case was later dropped.

Then, beginning in April 1978, Mr. Bricker was allegedly involved in five murders in 18 months.

The first was the killing of Melvin Pike, a 63-year-old Uniontown racketeer and mob enforcer who was muscling in on the gambling empire of Paul "No Legs" Hankish. Authorities identified Mr. Bricker as the key suspect several times, and in 1990 federal witness Gerald "Snooky" Walls testified at Hankish's 1990 racketeering trial that Mr. Bricker was paid to kill Pike. But Mr. Bricker was never charged.

He was shot in the face, however, in retaliation, according to 1990 testimony of associate William "Eggy" Prosdocimo. Pike was an associate of organized crime member Gabriel "Kelly" Mannarino of New Kensington, and Charles J. "Chucky" Porter reported to Mannarino. After Mr. Bricker was shot in December 1980, Prosdocimo testified, Porter told him, "I shot him with a clean shot in the face and he didn't die."

The second case in the series of killings was in December 1978. Norman McGregor of West Mifflin was gunned down at his home, in a dispute over a vending machine business. Mr. Bricker was convicted in 1983, and it was that murder for which he was imprisoned for life.

The third case was the June 1981 killing of Monessen drug dealer Gary "Stretch" DeStefano, 28, who was gunned down outside a Market Square club. Mr. Bricker was acquitted.

The fourth case was the August 1979 killing of drug supplier Phillip S. Hubbard, 35. Mr. Bricker, Prosdocimo, and John Sherman Glunt allegedly lured Hubbard to a Miami Beach hotel room and killed him. Mr. Bricker was indicted in 1987. The status of that case could not be determined yesterday.

Then in September 1979, Mr. Bricker allegedly participated in the killing of Dormont drug dealer Thomas Sacco, who was ambushed outside a Market Square bar.

Twice, Mr. Bricker was convicted and sentenced to death. Twice, the state Supreme Court overturned the convictions. In 1990, District Attorney Bob Colville dropped the charge, so Mr. Bricker could be extradited to Miami for the Hubbard case.

A few years ago at Western Pen, Mr. Bricker saved the life of another convict. Thomas A. Berkelbaugh was despondent about his failing health. A few days after surgery in which Berkelbaugh lost his right eye, he tried to kill himself by injecting heroin.

"I pulled the needle out and I smacked him a couple of times," Mr. Bricker later testified. "He said, 'Just leave me alone. Let me die.' "

Not long after that, Berkelbaugh tunneled out of the prison with five other men. He was captured a few days later.

Friday night it was Mr. Bricker who was in failing health. He was transferred from Western Pen to St. Francis, where he died at 12:40 a.m.

Arrangements for Mr. Bricker's funeral are being handled by O'Brien's Funeral Home, Brighton Heights. No details were available yesterday.

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