Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society brings us different historical tidbits from Western Springs. In this edition, we look at the time Western Springs police had to respond to a deadly car bomb attack which wouldn’t be solved for a long time.
On June 24, 1981 a Western Springs police officer was working radar at the corner of Ogden and Grove avenues. Suddenly, at 9:43 a.m., he heard a loud explosion a short distance to the west. As he drove his squad car to the top of the tollway bridge, he observed a cloud of gray smoke, a huge hole in the southbound entrance ramp, and automobile debris scattered over a 200-foot radius. He immediately blocked the entrance ramp and called for additional assistance, including the Western Springs Fire Department.
According to later reports, the explosion was caused by a car bomb that had been attached to the underside of a silver 1979 Mercedes-Benz. The car was driven by Michael Cagnoni of Hinsdale, who was on his way to work. As the car passed by the Cypress Restaurant parking lot (now part of Whole Foods’ property), a remote control device detonated the bomb, killing Cagnoni instantly.
Immediately behind the car was a van driven by a Downers Grove man and a car driven by John Wyckoff of Western Springs. According to Wyckoff, “The Mercedes went from 45 miles per hour to nothing.” The roof of the car flew 200 feet in the air and debris from the blast hit both of the vehicles behind it. Wyckoff ran to help the occupants of the van who were in a state of shock and subsequently hospitalized.
But, who would do such a thing? Cagnoni owned several companies involved in equipment leasing and freight forwarding. Part of the business involved shipping produce from California to Chicago. But, the victim did not have a criminal record, nor were police aware of his having any ties to organized crime or drug rings. He and his wife led a very normal life. In fact, his wife had driven their daughter to school in the same Mercedes less than an hour before the explosion.
According to state investigators and federal ATF agents, the explosive device was very powerful and sophisticated. The dynamite had probably been attached to the car the prior night, including a radio-controlled detonator. A stolen car found in the nearby Cypress Restaurant parking lot contained a radio transmitter, similar to a garage door opener. When the car came within range of the device, the explosive device was triggered.
While the case remained dormant for a number of years, in 1988 authorities identified two individuals who were likely involved in the actual bombing. But, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. As for a motive, police learned that Cagnoni’s trucking company was frequently undercutting the mob’s produce-hauling operations. Investigators also learned that Cagnoni had been paying thousands of dollars a week in “street tax” to the mob, but had still run afoul of them.
In 2007, federal prosecutors had finally accumulated enough evidence through wire taps and DNA. They placed Nicholas Calabrese and four other defendants on trial for masterminding the murder of 14 people, including Cagnoni. Following the guilty verdicts, Margaret Wenger, the former Mrs. Cagnoni, praised the FBI and prosecutors, saying “It’s taken 26 years to solve the murder, but they never let the case die.”
Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. To view prior stories, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.
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