By H. Pitts Evans
I knew he only had one eye and I figured he would be rough, but I was not prepared for what I actually saw. Johnny was in his late forty’s and overweight, with greasy-slicked-back hair, bad teeth and a very nasty attitude. His worse feature was that one piercing eye and the messy uncared for hole where his second eye should have been. The atmosphere that hung around him was like a foul humidity of hatred and anger. We met in the Fall of 1979 in the back of a van. My good friend Herbie had already warned me that he was a dangerous man and a murderer, but I really didn’t understand who he was.
We met that night because I wanted to buy a highly illegal, fully automatic Thompson sub- machine gun for a rich customer and Herbie told me that this was the only man he knew who might have one. I asked him right away if he could get the gun and when he said he could, I asked him for the price. The number he gave me was very reasonable and at that point, I got excited and made a serious error in judgment. I asked him about the potential availability and approximate price of several other hardto- get weapons.
Silence filled the van and as I looked into his one remaining watery eye he quietly said, “I don’t like people who ask too many questions.” A double-barreled derringer somehow appeared in his hand and I discovered it when Johnny poked it under my chin. Cursing me through his dirty broken teeth, he began to tilt my head back with the pistol and threaten my life for asking him suspicious questions. The gun was not put under my chin to impress me and looking into his one remaining eye, I knew without a doubt that this man would kill me if he thought I was an undercover cop.
Herbie was amused by the situation and laughing at both of us he assured Johnny that I was all right and got him to calm down. We negotiated a price for the gun and later I bought it. Having your life threatened is an odd way to start a friendship, but after that first night we became friends. I knew him for the rest of his life. Behind his back we called him Popeye, but nobody in his right mind would have called him that to his face. Years later, me and Herbie were pall bearers at his funeral, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you his story.
In the late 1960s, Johnny became a prison guard at the infamous State Prison known as Central Correctional Institute (CCI) in Columbia, SC. Of course there are many fine people who become corrections officers, but something perverse in his nature drew him into that line of work so he could exert a measure of power and domination over other men. He was known and accepted as a badass guard and with the possible exception of the criminally insane, the inmates did not cross him. He was assigned to the career criminal and violent offenders section.
Aniello Provenzano was an underboss for a New Jersey Mafia family. He was arrested in SC for attempting to bribe a Judge. The contact and payoff details had been worked out between one of Provanzano’s most trusted soldiers and an undercover State Trooper acting as the broker. The money was supposed to bring a “not guilty” verdict for two mob associates who had been arrested for running a major prostitution and gambling business with local branches. Mafia underbosses rarely come to SC and those who do rarely get involved in local activities that could get them arrested. He came because it was on his way to his winter home in Miami and he thought of it as a fairly routine matter. The bribery charge was really not a big problem, but when it was added to his prior arrest record, the trial judge gave Aniello 10 years. As a career criminal he was assigned to Johnny’s section in CCI.
None of the inmates or corrections officers could remember a real Mafia guy ever being incarcerated at CCI. There were many criminals who had claimed connections to the Mob when bragging to their cell mates, but that talk died down with the arrival of Aniello Provenzano. His arrest and trial had been the most talked about item in SC news for many months. The prison had been buzzing with additional details of his much publicized connections and prior record, so there was no doubt that he was the real deal. Johnny wisely decided to proceed with caution and not to make himself an enemy of this man.
Several uneventful months went by and Johnny became acquainted with the new prisoner. He found him to be quiet, respectful and intelligent, so he continued to treat him well. From time to time, Johnny would bring Provenzano to a private room to meet with his attorney. After one of these meetings, the lawyer asked Johnny if he would like to join him on the outside for a nice dinner. Of course this was unusual and somewhat improper, but he sensed this could be something beneficial to him, so he agreed to meet for dinner. After some small talk, the attorney asked Johnny if he would be willing to bring Provenzano outside newspapers from time to time. This was technically an infraction of the prison rules, but it was very low risk and common practice. Johnny was paid lavishly for the “favor” and he was delighted with the extra income.
Provenzano was very appreciative of Johnny acting as his personal newspaper boy and they shared small talk on a regular basis. Johnny enjoyed a certain status in the prison as the mobster’s only apparent friend. All the while the mobster was observing Johnny’s violent nature and frequent cruelty to other inmates. He recognized him as a dangerous man who was utterly without morals or compassion. The outside lawyer gradually added other favors and increased the payoffs. Johnny moved up from newspaper boy to postman, bringing sealed letters to and from Provanzano. This routine worked well for all parties and several years went by with no complications.
One day, as Johnny approached the cell with his regular correspondence, Aniello looked around to make sure nobody was within ear shot. He looked Johnny up and down and quietly asked him if he knew who he actually was and what organization he was connected with. Johnny affirmed that he did with a nod of his head. Provenzano then told him that his “Family” had determined that a certain man in a certain city had become a problem and there was no question of allowing him to continue. The man in question was a criminal and it was determined that he would be killed. The underboss explained in reasonable, unemotional terms that once this type of decision was reached, it was irreversible. He continued by saying that someone was going to make a lot of money for killing the man. He looked Johnny in the eyes and let his meaning sink in, then switched the conversation to other matters.
A few days later, Johnny approached Provenzano and said he had been thinking about their conversation and he would like to earn the fee that was to be paid if it could be done without anyone knowing. The mobster assured him that it was a routine part of their business that involved low risks using methods that they had long ago perfected. No details were discussed and the man’s name was never mentioned, but Johnny was told someone would be in contact soon. He was also told that everything needed would be provided for him, so he was not to make preparations of any type.
Johnny later told me that he had considered the matter carefully and justified his involvement because once the Mafia issued a contract on a person, the man was already dead. He also told himself that the man who was to be killed was not a “good person”. Killing this man was not a moral consideration at all. It was practical and unemotional. The death was not his responsibility, because the Mafia was going to kill the man and there was nothing he could do to change that. To him, it was a simple matter of evaluating the potential risk and the potential reward. The prospects were acceptable and even exciting to Johnny, so he asked for the contract.
Several weeks later a plane ticket came to Johnny’s house in an unmarked envelope with no note. The ticket was for a Saturday flight that same week, so Johnny packed an overnight bag and got on the plane. When he arrived, he was met by a man who did not identify himself and handed a small canvas, gym-size bag. He went into the airport, found a men’s room with a private stall and proceeded to examine the contents of the bag. Inside he found a 38 Special and an envelope with $20,000 in cash. The bag also contained the picture of a middle aged man and an index card with his name, his favorite bar and his home address.
Late that night Johnny isolated the man walking to his car and shot him twice in the head. He left him where he fell and walked off without looking back. He walked several blocks, took a taxi across town and got a hotel room. He burned the picture and index card in his room, then walked to a nearby river and tossed the pistol. The next day he flew home with his $20,000. He had never seen the man before and there was absolutely nothing to connect him with the crime. The matter was never discussed between him and Provenzano, but the results spoke for themselves. That’s how Johnny became a hit man for the Mafia.
He was methodical and efficient. His job as a prison guard provided a livable income and an excellent cover. Most of his assignments were similar to his first. He killed perfect strangers and justified their deaths by telling himself they were criminals and somebody was definitely going to kill them anyway, so he might as well get the money. He was a good shot when he started and he became an expert with small bombs, using them in cars when he needed to.
Normally he did not dispose of bodies, but occasionally he would do it as part of a contract. He would beat the teeth from the corpse with a hammer and cut their fingers off with wire cutters. The teeth were removed and pulverized to hide connections with dental records and the fingers taken and burned to prevent identification from finger prints. If there was time, the bodies were then put in 55 gallon drums of lime and buried, but sometimes that was not possible. When burial was not an option, he would beat in the victim’s chest cavity with a sledge hammer and fold him over, wrapped tightly in fence wire. The body was then weighted and dropped off a boat in deep water. Smashing the chest cavity kept the body from bloating enough to float.
In describing these things to me years later, his truly malevolent nature revealed itself. There was no remorse. There was an unthinkable element of pride associated with his twisted memories and the fact that he was never caught.
The night I met him in Herbie’s van, he was in very bad health with advanced diabetes. He had lost his eye to the disease and gotten too freakish looking to continue anonymously as a Mafia hit man, so the contracts stopped coming. Provenzano had been paroled long before and Johnny had no recourse. Shortly after, he lost his job at the prison too. He became a part time handyman and part time illegal gun dealer. He would also occasionally buy stolen goods and resell them. We had absolutely nothing in common but my love for guns and the fact that I worked at a local lumber yard where he began to do business.
In 1985 Johnny was hospitalized with complications from his diabetes. It was a fairly routine hospital visit and after a few days he was told that he would be released the afternoon of the following day. The night before his release, he went into a deep sleep and had a powerful dream.
In the dream, his hospital bed was surrounded by flames and there were people trying to pull him off the bed into the flames. He recognized people he had killed and knew they were trying to pull him into the fires of hell. He woke up in terror and told his wife to get him a preacher. She quickly called the hospital chaplain and Johnny confessed his wicked history, prayed with him for forgiveness and asked to receive Christ into his heart. Johnny did not get to experience his new faith long, because several hours later he unexpectedly died. He was supposed to go home the next day, but died.
His wife told me the story of the dream and hospital conversion when she asked me and Herbie to be pall bearers at his funeral. Johnny’s body was prepared well for the viewing and I can honestly tell you that he looked like a different person. There was a look of complete peace and even joy on his face. This face that had once been fearsome and hideous in life now looked serene in death. Herbie and I both agreed that he looked MUCH better dead than he ever had when he was alive. The difference was the incredible mercy of God that clearly showed its influence on his face.
This is based on a true story and actual events. Obviously, the names have been changed, but most of the details are factual as they were relayed to me by the man I call Johnny. The episode with me in the van actually happened and it was just as I described it. He was once a prison guard at CCI, he was recruited as a hit man by a mafia guy and he did kill people over many years for the mob. He never gave me the name of the mobster and he never told me any details that could lead to the identity of the people he killed or where bodies might be found.
After knowing Johnny for several years, I returned to my deep Christian roots and stopped allowing him to tell me his wicked stories. We stayed friends and I hired him to do some remodeling on my mother-in-law’s home and got him other handyman jobs. He was a pretty good carpenter and he built a large, wooden bookcase and toy box for our first child after Mary and I married. I tried to share my growing faith with him occasionally, but there was no indication that my words had any effect on him. I actually visited him in the hospital days before he died and I offered to pray with him, but he refused. God graciously gave him one more chance in the form of a terrifying dream and he took it.
His wife told me the story of his dream with the flames of hell surrounding his bed and people trying to pull him into the flames. She also told me the details of his deathbed conversion to Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that he did not know he was on his deathbed and fully expected to go home the next day. Who can fathom the mercy of a God who would present one last chance for salvation to an unconvicted murderer on the last night of his life? God sent a supernatural dream of hell to Johnny hours before he was appointed to join his victims there. This event reveals God’s incredible willingness to forgive sins and His burning desire to see all men saved. Even this Evil Man was a candidate for salvation and so are you.
Some people think they are too bad for Jesus to love them and save them. This story proves that’s not true. Others think they are too good to need salvation. I find that the second group is much harder to reach than the ones like Johnny. Interestingly enough, we all come into this world lost and dying, but we have all been offered eternal life by Jesus Christ. Citizenship in Heaven is unconditionally granted to anyone who applies with a sincere heart. Not only will God freely grant you forgiveness and citizenship in His eternal Kingdom, He will adopt you as his son or daughter. Your new life in Christ is only a prayer away.
Will you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior like Johnny did? Here is how. Admit you are a sinner, separated from God and in need of a Savior. Be willing to repent and turn from your sins. Believe that Jesus Christ died for you, was buried and rose from the dead. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ to come in and take control of your life.
Here is a suggested prayer you can use or use similar words from your own
Dear Lord God, I know I have sinned against You and stand separated from You. I need Your forgiveness and I need You. I confess and turn from my sins today. I ask You to come into my life and be my Lord and my Savior. I put my trust and hope in Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation in Him. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.
If you prayed to the Lord God and meant it with all your heart, God says…, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Rejoice, today, because your name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Please tell someone about your new relationship with Jesus and may the Lord bless you today and always.
If you have questions or comments, you can write me a private email at: