George Lee had just dined at his favorite Italian restaurant when he was shot to death in a Downtown parking lot.
Lee’s murder — on Feb. 12, 1977 — set off a battle for control of his lucrative empire of massage parlors, thinly disguised fronts for prostitution.
Nick DeLucia, a former city fireman who was with Lee when he was gunned down, took over operation of three massage parlors — Maya in Market Square, Gemini on Liberty Avenue and Scandinavian.
For awhile, DeLucia’s business partner was Dante “Tex” Gill, an overweight Brentwood woman who dressed like a man in suits and ties, wore short hair and sideburns and preferred to be called “Mr. Gill.” A lesbian, Gill married Cynthia Bruno of Dallas, Texas, in Hawaii and lived with her in Pittsburgh before the couple eventually split.
Gill ran a string of businesses, including the Spartacus Massage Parlor in McKees Rocks, the Japanese Meditation Temple and the Taurean Models massage parlor, located at Penn Avenue and Ninth Street, Downtown. When authorities raided Spartacus in 1978, Gill threw a birthday cake at undercover Pennsylvania State Trooper Gerald Fielder.
During Gill’s trial in 1984 on income tax fraud in federal court, former employees testified that she lived well, traveled extensively and owned several rare and expensive pets. Gill could be generous with gifts of mink stoles and diamond rings to women she employed but could also insist they take lie detector tests if she suspected them of stealing.
An expert horsewoman who had worked as a blacksmith and taught riding at Schenley Park’s stables, Gill was born Lois Jean Gill. Her rap sheet for providing prostitutes to men dated as far back as 1964.
Somehow, Gill managed to stay alive during 1977. That year, Joanna “Sasha” Scott, an employee at Gemini, was killed as she opened a letter bomb that also destroyed the massage parlor. That same year, Anthony “Bobby” Pugh, who had worked for Nick DeLucia, was murdered in his suburban apartment.
In 1980, a fire authorities believed was deliberately set destroyed a building at Penn Avenue and Ninth Street that housed the Taurean Models massage parlor, restaurant and bar. Three men who were sleeping on the top floor of the four-story building died in the blaze.
The law caught up to Gill in 1984 when a federal jury convicted her of under reporting her personal income by more than $60,000. That was walking around money compared to the more than $1 million raked in by just two of the massage parlors she controlled.
That same year, The Pittsburgh Press awarded Gill the “Dubious man of the year” and “Dubious woman of the year” title.
“In Tex we see the perfect symbol for the upscale androgyny of the 1980s,” read the Press. “She embodies business savvy, sexual confusion and an eye for fashion like no one since Michael Jackson.”
In 1985, Gill was sentenced to a 13-year prison term. But U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond promised to reduce that sentence by three years if Gill would close three massage parlors within 24 hours. So, the Roman V and Aardvark, both on Downtown’s Liberty Avenue, and the Airport Executive Swim and Bath Club in Moon, closed for business.
Gill was released from prison in November of 1987 and died at age 72.
Her attorney, Carl “Max” Janavitz, recalled his former client this way:
“She was a very good businesswoman, but she just had a different lifestyle. You’re talking about a person who was very complex. She was very tough. A lot of fun. She drank a lot. She partied a lot. She could recite poetry endlessly. Irish poetry.”