Vincent J. Serio, a retired Baltimore City police lieutenant renowned for his plainclothes work with the vice squad, died Wednesday at his home in Arbutus of pancreatic cancer. The Baltimore native was 81.
A 25-year veteran of the police force, Mr. Serio often was quoted in the press for his sometimes humorous exploits with the vice squad investigating gambling rings, prostitution, strip joints and illegal marriages.
His cases included arresting a bevy of illegal fortune-tellers and helping to break an illegal adoption ring in 1959 that had operated in four states. He led the push for legislation outlawing strippers under the age of 21.
"He was like a pre-Columbo kind of guy," said his son, Sam Serio of Arbutus. "If he was watching a house, he'd dress in really old clothes and cut the grass across the street, or shovel snow.
"He'd make some money while he was watching the house and have a good excuse to be on the street rather than sitting in the car."
While investigating unlicensed ministers performing illegal weddings, Mr. Serio repeatedly "married" Officer Marian Crawford -- a practice that didn't go over too well with his wife, the former Kathleen M. McGowan, Sam Serio recalled.
"Mom would get really upset," their son said with a laugh. "She was always worried about what would happen if it really worked." Before joining the police force in 1941, Mr. Serio was a professional boxer, a sport he had pursued since he was 16. In 50 bouts during his 10-year career, Mr. Serio only lost two and fought to a draw only five times.
He was inducted into the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame in November 1990.
"He was always tough, but he was fair," said his daughter, Concetta "Connie" Serio of Violetville.
As one of 16 children raised in Southwest Baltimore, Mr. Serio dropped out of St. Peter's Catholic School after seventh grade and wanted more for his children, she said.
"He would not allow that to happen to us," Ms. Serio said, adding that education was always very important to her father. "He was an avid reader. When he'd hear a word that he didn't know, he'd always go for the dictionary, even when he was sick."
Ms. Serio said her father was the "best playmate I ever had," recalling the 20-by-4-foot pool her father dug behind their rowhouse in Southwest Baltimore. "Every kid in the neighborhood lived in our back yard during the summer. Nobody had to go to the beach."
Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Joseph's Monastery, 251 S. Morley St. in Irvington. Interment will follow at the New Cathedral Cemetery, 4300 Old Frederick Road in Irvington.
In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Serio is survived by a brother, Joseph Serio of Tampa, Fla., and a sister, Mary Avara of Baltimore.