The Unsolved Mystery of the Wannabe Mafioso (Who Got Whacked)

Max Adonnis had no shortage of enemies.

Most people knew Max Adonnis as the hospitable host of Giovanni’s, the restaurant at 1683 N. Van Buren St. Who could forget a gregarious, rotund man missing an arm since an accident with a bread machine as a young man? But by the 1970s, Adonnis — born Maximillion Ludwig Gajewski Jr. in 1935 — had made it clear to police in Milwaukee that he wanted to be a mobster.

Adonnis served “unusually short sentences,” according to the Chicago Tribune, for a number of criminal charges befitting an easily provoked tough guy on the rise. In 1985, after a two-year stint in prison for battery, someone stabbed him in the chest with an ice pick in front of Giovanni’s. The Polish spitfire survived but was still seen by the town’s Italian mobsters as a wannabe.

On March 18, 1989, two still-unidentified shooters gunned down Adonnis and a cleaning woman outside Giovanni’s. While she survived, he didn’t. The case remains open at MPD, but investigators haven’t received any substantial tips in recent years.

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Milwaukee’s Unsolved Mysteries and Hidden History


According to the Milwaukee Sentinel, friends, family and associates paid their final respects to Adonnis at a funeral home in Whitefish Bay. Those in attendance told the paper of the man’s kindness, generosity and joie de vivre, but almost all declined to be named.

Rumors swirled about Adonnis’ possible involvement with Chicago drug gangs, so much so that when two men were found buried underneath a house on that city’s South Side in 1991, some in Milwaukee theorized they were killed as payback, or perhaps were hitmen who offed Adonnis and were in turn snuffed out. This theory was just one of many: Although he had many fans among the patrons of Giovanni’s, Max had no shortage of enemies.

‘Unsolved Mysteries & Hidden History’ appears in the May 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Claire Hanan worked at the magazine as an editor from 2012-2017. She edited the Culture section and wrote stories about all sorts of topics, including the arts, fashion, politics and more. In 2016, she was a finalist for best profile writing at the City and Regional Magazine Awards for her story "In A Flash." In 2014, she won the the Milwaukee Press gold award for best public service story for editing "Handle With Care," a service package about aging in Milwaukee. Before all this, she attended the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and New York University's Summer Publishing Institute.