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WHO BURNED THE BARBERTON QUEEN

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It was a wet, miserable Thanksgiving. Cold to the bone as some would say. While most families were gathering throughout the area for turkey and trimmings, everything in Barberton seemed normal except maybe a labor rally at Lake Anna. The day was about to change.

The protest down at the lake was meant to show solidarity over a city anti-strike city ordinance. Organizers expected over a thousand people to show up. Only about thirty, mostly angry men attended. Because jobs were rapidly disappearing and prospects for employment were looking bleak, people chose to find comfort with families, not out in the cold, insulating everyone by calling them scabs.

On Thanksgiving night, November 28, 1975 at 11 p.m., firemen were called out to the Burger Queen Restaurant at 88 31st NW. The 50-by-50-foot structure owned by Elias Manolis of Barberton and his brother Steve from Bath Township was fully engulfed by flames by the time firefighters arrived. The firemen reported a loud explosion with flames coming out of windows on three sides. In a half an hours’ time the Burger Queen was gone. The damage-over $100,000. There was little doubt in the fire investigators mind, this was arson.

Some folks may have asked if the fire was the result of the labor protest. But why would a seemingly small burger drive-in be a labor target. No labor movement involved, instead it turned out to be much more sinister, the Burger Queen fire soon brought more questions than answers. This fire had yet to reveal the evil tentacles that spread out over several cities.

This story is not going to be a simple one. During the next several years the Burger Queen will be part of a tale of murder, suspicion, payoffs, and a lot of questions about who ordered the building to be torched. Many questions, some of which were never clearly answered. The complete story could be told in a book or podcast but condensing here will be the hard part.

To many it seemed like the arson case went silent the day after the fire.  In truth, the story was just beginning. On November 30, 1975 only two days after the Burger Queen fire, another restaurant, La Cuisina, owned by one-time Canton racketeering figure, Louis “Bones” Battista was torched on Massillon’s east side at 1731 Lincoln Way E. The circumstances were similar, except this time three Massillon firemen tragically perished in the fire by flying debris after the building exploded.  

Also connected to the arson was the home of Joseph Fenton, 867 16th St. NE. in Massillon causing $80,000 worth damages earlier on October 17th, 1975.

What nobody realized at the moment is the horrible fire and explosion that shocked Massillon area residents had a connection to the arson of Barberton’s Burger Queen. 

Pieces started falling in place on February 14th 1976. At 7 a.m. when Ferdinand “Fred” Dalesandro was arrested by Stark County Sheriff George Papadopulos along with the help of twenty other officers representing police and fire departments from both Canton and Massillon. The officials entered his home 2122 Millerton St SE, waking both him and his wife. Officials also raided another Millerton Street home and a farm in Osnaburg Township also owned by Dalesandro. He was charged with three counts of aggravated murder and three counts of complicity to commit aggravated murder.

The Stark County grand jury had been probing the Massillon restaurant fire since mid-December. The investigations were conducted by police, fire and U.S. Treasury Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and FBI.

The citizens of Massillon were rightly upset about losing their firefighters. Earlier that month 4,000 area residents signed a petition urging the justice department to stiffen penalties against crimes committed with explosives.

Dalesandro was no stranger to crime with an arrest record going back to 1957 when he was charged with running a house of prostitution. He ended that business for a while but in 1963 he was once again running a house and he also torched a second house he owned in Massillon. He was also convicted on three counts of breaking and entering and grand larceny which put him behind bars for six months.

Later Dalesandro was arrested in a burglary ring that reportorially stole more than $90,000 in cash, clothing, and furniture from area stores. In 1971 he was arrested again for interstate theft after being discovered with merchandise from a stolen semi-trailer from West Virginia. The loss was reportedly about $50,000

Because of his extensive record he was held in Stark County jail without bond, but he was defended by Gerald Gold, a prominent Cleveland attorney. The next day Dalesandro pleaded innocent and Stark County Pleas Judge William Morris set a trial for April 12. His lawyer argued they did not have sufficient evidence to hold him, but a secret grand jury established probable cause and jail became his new home.

Along comes March 27th and a few new faces enter the mix. Myron Tilton 35, Gary Thompson 32, both of Canton, were apprehended along with a jewel thief George M. Florea who just pulled off a robbery that morning in Farmington, Michigan.

Myron Tilton-accused arsonist
Gary Thompson-accused arsonist

On April 5th, Thompson and Tilton were arraigned on murder charges and conspiracy to commit murder along withtwo new players, Louis “Bones” Battista, whose wife, at least on paper, owned the former La Cuisina. Florea arrested on possession of burglary tools. On April 5th they all pleaded innocent. Thompson and Tilton claimed they were indigent and needed a public defender.

Moving through the many weeks of legal haggling to June 29th, the second day of testimony, Fred Dalesandro now admitted he was involved in the torching of La Cuisina and the Burger Queen in Barberton.  To save his hide, Dalesandro turned state’s evidence after he was promised by the prosecutor to be charged only with arson, a two to five year stay in the pen.

Dalesandro now testified Tilton and Thompson set the fire that killed three firemen. On June 30th Dalesandro said before a packed courtroom of 60 spectators, after he was on the stand for two hours and forty minutes, he was hired by Battista and Joseph R. Paone, Battista’s restaurant manger, to torch the La Cuisina, a charge Battista strongly denied.

Evidence showed in all three fires (including the house) there were explosions after the fires reached the planted five-gallon containers of gasoline. In all the torched buildings, plastic containers with remnants of gasoline were found.

This was also the first time anyone admitted to torching Burger Queen, nearly eight months after the fire.

Now, as of June 30th the arson case of the Burger Queen was acknowledged by both Summit County prosecutor Stephan Gabalac and Barberton officials that the case had not yet been turned over to the Summit County grand jury. Stark County prosecutor James Unger asked if they could finish their trial before Summit County takes it up and it was agreed on.

As the first days of the trial began, a Cleveland wholesaler of wine making equipment said Dalessandro purchased 210 plastic five gallon containers similar to those found at both the La Cuisina and the Burger Queen. Also, sources indicated that when Dalesandro was arrested about 10 pounds of Burger Queen coffee was found at his house.

But for now, nothing more was added to the Burger Queen fire other than Richard Sternberg, attorney for the Manolis brothers said they voluntarily took a lie detector test that cleared them of any involvement in the arson. Steve Manolis said he knew nothing of the investigation and he never knew Dalesandro.

By July 1st Dalesandro implicated both Tilton and Thompson as the ones who set the fires to the La Cuisina at the behest Louis “Bones” Batista and his associate Joseph Paone. He explained that Tilton told him the arson job was the La Cuisina and they would be paid $6,000. Dalesandro did not think that was enough but he agreed to it anyhow.

The day of the fire Tilton and Delsandro placed ninety containers of gasoline in the basement, kitchen, and bar area while Thompson delivered another load of jugs also filled with gasoline. Meanwhile the guys looted chairs, a large mixer, and other items from the restaurant.

They told the court they used 40 to 50 newspapers to line the floors, disconnected the appliances and shut off the pilot lights, but one appliance could not be disconnected. They poked holes in the containers so the gasoline would flow easily. As they were leaving, they heard an explosion, so they never lit the paper trails. The three were heading out on Lincoln Way and drove by the restaurant, saw that it was burning and kept going.

On July 2, 1976 Tilton and Thompson took the stand one last time in a heavily guarded courtroom to defend themselves. The prosecutors called 41 witnesses to the stand. The defense witnesses called nine.

The next day the two were found guilty on three counts each of aggravated murder of the Massillon firemen. The verdict was unanimous. Dalesandro was to be tried later for the lesser count of arson which he received for turning on the others. Sentencing was to be conducted later.

As the trial wore on into August the courtroom was sometime contentious as attorneys dug deeper into the evidence. Defense lawyer Ralph Ross referred to Dalesandro’s days of running a prostitution house in which he replied, “You didn’t mind visiting there and knowing his (Dalesandro’s) women and also accused the attorney of having an affair with his wife while Dalesandro was locked away. Ross vehemently denied the accusation

In mid-August 1976, the trial turned to questions about Barberton and just what connections did Dalesandro have with the arson. Dalesandro stated he was hired by Alex Maglis, chef at the Brookside Country Club to burn down the Burger Queen and he was to be paid $10,000 for the deed after the insurance company paid off.

Only problem, Maglis vanished and had not been seen since Dalesandro was arrested. Jim Petrou, manager for Brookside Country Club told the Beacon Journal, Maglis, who was in his mid-40s at the time, was the chef for five years until he disappeared July 1st, the day after Delsandro first testified about the fires.

Petrou said Maglis worked the Barberton Police ox roast on June 30 and was seen at the club next day. When he was not around for the preparation of the next banquet, they entered his apartment, and everything was gone except the furniture and a note saying he was going to pick up the pieces later.

Norton police was called in, but they agreed with Petrou that no foul play was involved.

Both of the Manolis brothers told reporters they did not know Maglis and knew nothing of the continuing investigation of the trial. But for the moment the Burger Queen arson mystery remained silent when both the Stark County and the Summit county commissioner agreed to let Stark County finish the trial before handing over to Summit.

Slowly the contentious trial moved through the Stark County courts, but in mid-August another unexpected snag occurred when the body of Jim Tilton was unearthed in Carrol County. Jim Tilton was the brother of Myron. Because taped confessions of certain illegal acts were already presented, lawyers attempted to use this new twist to have convictions overturned.

The trial was now looking at what, if any, the owner of La Cuisina, Louis “Bones” Battista and his manager, Joseph Paone had to with the arson and how convincing Dalesandro’s testimony had impacted the court.  Battista involvement in the underworld went back as far as the 1930’s.

On August 26, the Jury received the case for Battista and Paone. It was time to dig through 100 pieces of evidence and recall the testimony of 54 prosecution witnesses and 31 defense witnesses. Of course, the facts would be too numerous for this article.

Both men denied having any part in the arson, but if they were found guilty, they could also face the death penalty.  The defense team concluded that people involved in illegal gambling in Massillon torched the restaurant. Battista and Paone both pleaded guilty to federal numbers racketing in 1972.

The next day the jury acquitted both men of the arson charges. This created a lot of anger between the lawyers who once again stood up and called each other liars. Battista and Paone, despite Dalesandro’s accusations walked free.

And just as the numerous vicious charges ended at the court house, in a strange way, a cold front came into Northeastern Ohio and cleared out stagnant polluted air that had been plaguing the area for some time.

Later, on October 18, Myron Tilton 36, and Gary Thompson 32 received three separate life prison terms for their part of the deaths of the three Massillon firemen. They were sentenced to the Southern Ohio Correctional Institute in Lucasville.

Of course that did not end the long drama over the Stark County arson case because on October 20, 1976, nearly eleven months after the Burger Queen fire the Summit County Grand Jury indicted the three men from the La Cuisina fire, Myron Tilton, Gary Thompson and of course Fred Dalesandro. The newspaper said a fourth man is reportedly being sought which was Alex Maglis, the chef at the Brookside Country Club.

On November 12, Tilton and Thomson pleaded innocent to the Burger Queen arson charges. Ironically, Dalesandro finally pleaded guilty earlier that week before Stark County Judge William R Quinn to a charge of arson, avoiding the murder charges his two friends received, therefore drawing a two to five-year term.

So, the Burger Queen trial begins with three convicted felons already serving prison terms and one man allegedly missing from the face of the earth. The trial was set to get underway January 24, 1977 baring any delay and there seemingly was some.

Soon after the trial was set to get underway Steve and Elias Manolis bring a suit against Nationwide Insurance Company for $210,400 plus $281,000 from Dalesandro, Thompson, Tilton and Maglis. In the suit Manolises claim that Nationwide has refused to pay off on a $115, 400 fire insurance policy on the Burger Queen.

In early March Dalesandro continued being states witness and kept up the story he told Stark County, except this time he testified that he, Tilton and Thompson were hired by Alex Maglis to torch the Burger Queen Restaurant. The job was similar to the Massillon restaurant, using five gallon containers of gasoline supposedly hanging from the ceiling tied together with a fuse.

Alex Maglis was arrested June 1 when he returned to the Akron area. He stated he had been out of the country for a year and did not know he was wanted in the case.

The three, Dalesandro, Tilton and Thomas, received $300, with another $9,700 to be paid from the insurance money. After a four-day trial against the convicted arsonists on the first week of March, Tilton and Thompson took the stand and pleaded not guilty.  Tilton said he spent the day at home with his common law wife Doris and her three children. He said they attended a movie later that evening.

Thompson said he and his girlfriend spent the day at his parents’ house before returning home to his apartment, where they spent the night.

Earlier that day the Manolis brothers denied again they knew Tilton or Thompson and said they did not pay anyone to burn down the restaurant.

“We had no reason to,” said Elias Manolis, who described the business as “fair”.

Under questioning by County Prosecutor Carl M. Layman III, both Manolis brothers admitted they owed several thousand dollars to suppliers and they only cleared $4,500 a year apiece from the restaurant.

They described Maglis, who is of Greek extraction, as a “fellow countrymen” who used to stop in the restaurant to talk with them and read the Greek language newspaper.

But with no real evidence of either Tilton or Thompson being at the Burger Queen that November night, the trial ended for the two with a hung jury with prejudice so they can be refiled if evidence ever turns up.

On July 19 Maglis, who was 50 at the time, was granted immunity by Summit County Pleas Judge Frank J. Bayer at the quest of the prosecution office because Maglis agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

September 13, the arson charge against Manglis was completely dropped by Common Pleas judge Frank Bayer. Assistant Prosecutor Layman said there was not enough evidence to take the case to court.  

Nationwide Insurance Company finally settled with the Manolis brothers in early August for $35,200 which was $28,000 in money for damage to the contents of the restaurant and $7,200 for interruption of the business. Nationwide also agreed to pay off the $75,000 mortgage.

So, in a few months short of two years the Burger Queen fire went from a local arson to a three county, two city arson, murder, and prison sentences with all the accusations one could toss into a trial. And even though it started in Barberton and ended in Barberton there were no answers to who really torched the Burger Queen other than Dalesandro, who saved his hide by going states witness.

The Burger Queen arson is now history in Barberton, long forgotten by many. Tilton and Thompson remained in Lucasville until 1981 when they were granted a retrial much to the anger of Massillon authorities. In the retrial agreement they would serve their time until 1986 when they were released. Dalesandro served two to five. There is no record of what become of the Manolis brothers or Maglis.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The Labor Rally at Lake Anne in 1975 was in support of 2 Strikes in Barberton at the time. Merriweather Latex Rubber was On Strike, and Barberton Citizens Hospital AFSCME LOCAL 684 had went on strike Oct. 30,1975. I know I was working at BCH at the time.

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Micheala Johanson
Micheala Johanson
I've worked at several occupations throughout my life including journalist, photographer and chef/owner of Micheala's Cafe. Local history is one of my first loves. I sit on the board of the Wadsworth Area Historical Society and a member of the River Styx Historical Society. Being a resident of Barberton for the past fifteen years I have become interested in Barberton area history as well.

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