19 July 2017

Robbing Zukor's Wife



After having been reported missing about a week earlier, the bodies of Chicago hoodlums Paul “Needle Nose”  Labriola, 37, and his partner James Weinberg, 53, were found in the trunk of a gold Pontiac on March 15, 1954. The two men had been selling protection insurance to tavern owners. Police felt that they had the Syndicate backing in their venture but then something went awry. Both men had been strangled inside somewhere and then their bodies crammed in the trunk. Both corpses were frozen so the police had a bit of trouble removing them from rear of the car.


Police find Labriola and Weinberg


It shouldn’t have been a surprise that either man ended up in that trunk. Both were lifelong criminals. Labriola’s father was killed in a 19th Ward political feud back in 1921. His step father, Capone hoodlum, Lawrence (Dago Lawrence) Mangano was also bumped off, in 1944.


Needle Nose and Weinberg


So, what does this have to do with the Golden Age of Hollywood? Glad you asked. For that answer we must go back another twenty years and return to 1934 when the  great American Crime Wave was in effect and the exploits of desperadoes like John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson filled the headlines. Though the Depression years are synonymous with bank robberies and kidnappings, Hollywood elites were also targeted by hoodlums looking to make a quick buck.

Of the two men pried out of the Pontiac, we are interested in James Weinberg. Back in ’34, he was running a small café in the Windy City but was already enmeshed in the Chicago underworld. On June 9, Lottie Zukor, wife of Paramount Pictures president Adolph Zukor, arrived in Chicago by train and checked into the Blackstone Hotel. She and her maid were going to spend a week in the city before being joined by her husband and son and heading out to Hollywood. They took a four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Not wanting to use the room adjoining her bedroom as an entrance, Mrs. Zukor left the key in the inside lock so that nobody could enter from the hallway. On June 11, the maid noticed the key was missing but failed to report it.


Lottie and Adolph Zukor


The evening of June 13, found Mrs. Zukor attending a dinner party which would be followed by a trip to the World’s Fair. For the occasion Mrs. Zukor-who, as a young girl employed by a department store, worked at the World’s Fair in 1893 and would now be returning a millionaire-adorned herself with numerous articles of jewelry valued at about a million and half bucks in today’s dollars.

At around midnight, Mrs. Zukor called for her limousine. She returned to the Blackstone and, after stopping at the front desk to retrieve her key, headed up to her four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Once in her room she removed her jewelry and, too tired to return to the lobby to place her gems in the hotel safe as she did each previous evening, she simply placed them on the spare bed across from her own and went to sleep. [Most likely it was Mrs. Zukor’s maid who ran the jewels down each night, but on this occasion, the maid had the night off and Mrs. Zukor did not want to wake her.]

At about four-thirty that morning Mrs. Zukor awoke sensing something wasn’t right. She noticed the light on in the next room and called out to her maid but received no answer. She reached for her watch to check the time but couldn’t find it. Glancing to the bed across from her, she saw that her jewelry was gone.

The police dusted the room for fingerprints but found nothing. In fact no clue of any sort was uncovered. All Blackstone employees on duty were questioned but nobody admitted to seeing anything out of the ordinary. Afraid that the publicity might hurt attendance for the World’s Fair, the case was given high priority. Sergeant Thomas Alcock, a fifteen year veteran, was put in charge and was assigned a team of five detectives. Three of the men were assigned to the hotel lobby, each taking an eight hour shift with orders to pick up any suspicious characters or known hoodlums who might pass through. The other two detectives were sent to the World’s Fair to mingle with crowds and look for known jewel thieves. Alcock, in the meantime, visited the local pawn shops giving the proprietors both a description of the jewelry and a warning against trying to sell the stuff.

As the days passed, hundreds of local underworld sorts were brought in for questioning but nothing was learned. The Zukors had had the gems insured for $65,000 and, through the Chicago police, the insurance company offered a large reward for the return of the items. Descriptions of the pieces and mention of the reward were circulated throughout the nation. Still nothing happened.

Finally, on June 29, Alcock received a call from a lawyer stating that a man had contacted him regarding the reward for the jewels. It was decided to tap the lawyer’s found in hopes that the man called back. As this was happening, a U.S. Treasury Agent, working on different case, informed Alcock that he overheard a discussion regarding the Zukor jewelry during a tapped phone call with a notorious Chicago fence he was investigating. During the conversation the fence told the caller that the jewelry was too hot and that he should settle with the insurance company. After this, the lawyer received another call but when it was suggested that they meet in person the caller hung up. The caller was James Weinberg who was already under indictment in the case that the Treasury agent was working on.

Detectives began to shadow Weinberg and a tap was placed on his phone. On July 16, two squad cars pulled up in front of Weinberg’s apartment and Alcock lead the raiding party inside. Within a few minutes they retrieved the jewelry. Weinberg, his wife and another couple were arrested.  Though his wife actually had a record in St. Louis and Kansas City for hotel burglary, in the end Weinberg was the only one that would go to prison for the theft. He said that two young women left the jewelry in his café and he held it for a few days to see if they would return for it. When they didn’t he tried to claim the reward from the insurance company. No one believed him and he was shipped off to prison. If Weinberg told the truth about how the jewelry was stolen, it never made it to the press.


Detective Alcock, left, inspects Mrs. Zukor's jewelry


Weinberg was released in 1940 and headed back to the Chicago underworld. As was mentioned his career culminated with his being garroted and shoved in a car trunk like a spare tire. Lottie Zukor fared much better. After Weinberg’s trial, she got her jewelry back and continued with her life as the wife of a Hollywood mogul; traveling with her husband both in America and abroad. As a member of over thirty philanthropic organizations, she dedicated a lot of her time to charity work. She died on April 7, 1956 at the age of eighty leaving behind her husband, two kids, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

12 July 2017

Bonanno boss shot down in Bushwick eatery

On this date in 1979, several masked men with shotguns and automatic firearms murdered Bonanno Crime Family bigshot Carmine "Lilo" Galante, 69, his bodyguard Leonardo Coppola, 40, and restaurateur Giuseppe Turano, 48, at a patio table in Joe & Mary's Italian-American Restaurant, 205 Knickerbocker Avenue in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Turano's son John, 17, suffered serious but not fatal bullet wounds to his back. 

Police immediately began searching for longtime Galante friend Angelo Prisinzano, 73, who reportedly left the restaurant just before the shooting started, as well as Balsassare "Baldo" Amato and Cesare Bonventre, both 28, who were present at the time of the shooting but quickly fled - apparently unharmed - following it. Authorities later concluded that Prisinzano was also targeted in the attack but narrowly escaped. 

(Angelo Prisinzano died of natural causes about one week after the assassination of Galante. Cesare Bonventre was reported missing in early April of 1984. His mutilated remains were reportedly found soaking in drums of acid a month later. Baldassare Amato became an important figure in the Bonanno Crime Family. He was sentenced in October 2006 to life in prison following a federal conviction on racketeering and murder charges.)

Binghamton NY Evening Press

New York Times

Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle

The sentencing of Baldassare Amato was covered in the December 2006 issue of MobNews Digest.



09 July 2017

Garvan battled radicals and Mafiosi

In Wrongly Executed? I outlined connections between the anarchist movement and the early Mafia in the United States. I drew special attention to government officials - like William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Investigation - who worked against both organizations. Francis P. Garvan was mentioned for his work against political radicals, but I neglected to note the full impact of Garvan's campaign against "enemies" of the U.S. and his encounter with the fledgling Mafia of New York. Here is a more complete telling of Garvan's story.

Francis P. Garvan
Francis Patrick Garvan was from a well-connected and wealthy Connecticut family. He was born June 13, 1875, in East Hartford to Patrick and Mary Carroll Garvan. He graduated from Yale University and received his training in the law at New York University Law School. As a young man, he earned a reputation as a fine lawyer in New York City. He was hired as an assistant district attorney of New York County by interim D.A. Eugene Philbin and continued in the office during the term of D.A. William T. Jerome.

Garvan's field of legal expertise was homicide prosecution, and in that role he came in contact with New York Mafia leader Giuseppe Morello.

Following the "Barrel Murder" of 1903, Garvan presented evidence at a coroner's inquest. Secret Service agents testified that they had been watching the Morello organization, hoping to gain evidence of its counterfeiting activity, and saw barrel murder victim Benedetto Madonia with the Mafia leaders on the evening before his bloody corpse was found crammed into a roadside barrel. NYPD Detective Joseph Petrosino helped to identify the victim by testifying about a Sing Sing Prison interview with Madonia's brother-in-law, convicted Morello gang counterfeiter Giuseppe DePrima. The result of the inquest was the best Garvan could have hoped for. The jury decided that, while the killer of Madonia was not specifically known, seven Mafia suspects acted as accessories in the murder:

We find that [Madonia] came to his death on April 14, 1903, when he was found in a barrel at Avenue D and Eleventh-st., by incised wounds of the throat inflicted on the day aforesaid by some person or persons unknown to the jury. We also find as accessories thereto the following named persons: Tommasso Petto, Guiseppe Fanaro, Giuseppe Morello, Pietro Inzarillo, John Zacconni, Antonio Messina Genova and Vito Laduca.

Eventually, the prosecution focused on Petto, as he was found in possession of a pawn ticket for the victim's gold watch. After some time, Petto was freed because of a lack of evidence that he killed Madonia.

Garvan was highly regarded for his work as a prosecutor of homicide cases, and that field continued to be his focus through the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However, he actually proved far more adept at abusing the rights of those categorized by the U.S. as "enemies."

A. Mitchell Palmer, Francis Garvan, William Flynn (left to right).

Near the conclusion of the Great War, Garvan was appointed to the position of alien property custodian, succeeding A. Mitchel Palmer. In that federal role, he far surpassed Palmer's activities. (The office was intended merely to hold and maintain U.S.-based assets of the nationals of enemy countries. Palmer expanded the scope of his office by seizing U.S.-based properties and trust funds of American women who had married Germans and Austrians.)

Garvan seized thousands of lucrative drug and dye patents and hundreds of trademarks and copyrights held by German companies and distributed them to U.S. companies through the Chemical Foundation he created and personally led. The action broke longstanding German monopolies and launched the American chemical industry. Postwar lawsuits - one was brought by the U.S. Harding Administration - against the Chemical Foundation and federal officials, including Garvan (who was accused of using his position as a public trustee to sell the valuable patents to himself), were largely unsuccessful.

Germany, financially crippled by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, noted that just one group of the seized and sold patents relating to nitrogen would have been worth approximately $17 million (more than $200 million today). Garvan had set aside only about $250,000 as compensation for all of the patents.

During the postwar "Red Scare," Garvan was installed as the U.S. assistant attorney general for investigations (under Palmer), personally in charge of the Justice Department's war against political radicals. The effort appeared to be the result of a series of bombings directed by anarchists against government figures and leading capitalists. There is some evidence that a war on radicals was in the planning stages before the bombings occurred.

NY Evening World, June 12, 1919.

Garvan oversaw (pre-FBI) Bureau of Investigation head William Flynn and a young John Edgar Hoover (selected to lead the Anti-Radical Division) as they rounded up and quickly deported to Russia hundreds of foreign-born American residents suspected of anarchist or communist beliefs. Behind the scenes, the Bureau conducted an extensive search for an anarchist leader named Giuseppe Sberna, believed to be a mastermind of the bombings. It appeared that Sberna had left the country.

In early November, 1919, agents of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration teamed with local law enforcement to raid offices of the IWW-aligned Union of Russian Workers in cities across the Northeast and Midwest. The raids resulted in many hundreds of arrests. The total was found to include a large number taken by mistake, and the final official tally for the November raids was 211. That was just the beginning of a Garvan campaign to "stamp out the Red menace." Under his guidance, the Justice Department was said to have assembled a list of 60,000 targeted radicals.

Over the following month, additional "undesirable" aliens were added to the group held in custody. Longtime anarchist editors Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were arrested. In December, the number of detained radicals reached 249. On Dec. 22, the transport ship Buford left New York harbor bound for Russia with the 249 on board. The Buford was nicknamed "the Soviet Ark," and the Justice Department announced plans for additional arks.

New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920.

More extensive raids against political radicals occurred in the opening days of 1920. These targeted members of the Communist Party and Communist Labor Party in thirty-three U.S. cities.

By spring, the Justice Department's persecution of political dissenters was being compared with the secret police of czarist Russia. A group of prominent U.S. legal minds publicly opposed the "lawlessness, cruelty and persecution on a wholesale scale by the government agents." The group found evidence that undercover agents in the Justice Department's employ were infiltrating radical organizations and inciting members toward criminal acts; that searches, arrests and imprisonments were being conducted without warrant; that prisoners were being forced to confess and that detainees were prevented from communicating with friends or attorneys. Additional groups condemned the unconstitutional actions of the Palmer-Garvan Justice Department, and Congressional inquiries were launched.

On Sept. 16, 1920, an anarchist bomb exploded in the center of New York's financial district. Dozens of people were killed, many were injured, and buildings were torn apart by the blast. Garvan was by District Attorney Palmer's side as he began an investigation. Once again, federal agents searched in vain for anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna.

1920 Wall Street bombing.

Even in the wake of the Wall Street bombing, the anti-radical campaign of the Justice Department continued to lose public support. Warren Harding's election as President in November was its end. Palmer and Garvan were pushed out of their government jobs upon Harding's 1921 inauguration, and Flynn was removed from the Bureau of Investigation several months later. (Hoover was moved up to the position of assistant BOI chief and later became director of the renamed Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

Garvan continued his work with the Chemical Foundation, headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City. He died at his Park Avenue home on Nov. 7, 1937, at the age of 62. He had lived just long enough to spot the familiar name of "Sberna" in the news.

Charles Sberna, son of the fugitive anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna and son-in-law of New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Morello, was charged with the murder of a New York City police officer one month earlier.

Partial list of sources:
  • "Seven Italians held," New York Tribune, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • “Another arrest in barrel murder case,” New York Times, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • "Palmer takes over American trusts," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1918, p. 20.
  • "Restore Ehret property," New York Times, Dec. 20, 1918, p. 8.
  • "Francis P. Garvan promoted to assistant attorney general," New York Times, June 3, 1919, p. 15.
  • "Will deport Reds as alien plotters," New York Times, Nov. 9, 1919, p. 3.
  • "249 Reds sail, exiled to Soviet Russia," New York Times, Dec. 22, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Reds raided in scores of cities," New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Sue Palmer and Garvan," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1920, p. 13.
  • "Palmer promises more Soviet Arks," New York Times, Feb. 29, 1920, p. 25.
  • "Lawyers denounce raids on radicals," New York Times, May 28, 1920, p. 6.
  • "Seek owner of truck that carried bomb to Wall Street," New York Times, Sept. 18, 1920, p. 1.
  • "12 lawyers renew attack on Palmer," New York Times, Jan. 19, 1921, p. 28.
  • "President orders return of patents," New York Times, July 2, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Joins German plea and Harding order," New York Times, July 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Says Garvan called Metz a 'traitor,'" New York Times, June 28, 1923, p. 19.
  • "Denies politics in patent sales," New York Times, July 4, 1923, p. 15.
  • "Court upholds sale of German patents seized during war," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Dye sales stand; government loses," New York Times, Oct. 12, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Francis P. Garvan, lawyer, dies here," New York Times, Nov. 8, 1937, p. 23.

Read more:


Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

05 July 2017

Hennessys capture Sicilian brigand in New Orleans

On this date in 1881: Cousins David and Michael Hennessy, members of the New Orleans detective (or "aides") force, capture fugitive Sicilian brigand Giuseppe Esposito near the St. Louis Cathedral in the Crescent City.

Esposito
Esposito, also known as Giuseppe Randazzo and as Vincenzo Rebello, had escaped Italian authorities while headed to trial for homicide and other crimes. In the 1870s, he crossed the Atlantic and settled briefly in New York City before moving on to New Orleans. Police and press believed the Mafia of Palermo assisted in his escape and flight from Sicily. Esposito became the recognized leader of the Sicilian underworld in New Orleans, settled down and started a family.

He was betrayed to Italian authorities by some of his New Orleans associates. A U.S. private detective firm was hired to locate him and bring him to justice. Private detectives of the Mooney and Boland Agency worked through the New Orleans Chief of Aides Thomas Boylan to arrange the capture.

Esposito's arrest was conducted very much like a kidnapping. The Hennessys caught him alone, grabbed him and threw him into a carriage, taking him off to a secret location. He was prevented from seeing any of his New Orleans family or friends. The following day, he was smuggled aboard a steamship that was already underway for New York City.

The circumstances of his arrest and his New York City efforts to avoid deportation to Italy became international news and the subjects of Congressional inquiries.

NY Evening Telegram
In a series of hearings before U.S. Commissioner Osborn in New York, the prisoner contested his identification as the brigand Esposito and claimed to have been a good citizen in New Orleans at the time that Esposito was committing crimes in Sicily. Witnesses - some of whom were later linked with the Mafia - came from New Orleans to support his story. The prisoner had difficulty in explaining his documented use of aliases. His alibi failed when Italy sent police officials to New York to identify the fugitive brigand.

Esposito's deportation was handled as suddenly as his arrest. Once the U.S. Commissioner was satisfied of his identity and before any legal appeals could be considered, Esposito was turned over to Italian authorities and placed on a ship for Europe. His wife and child were left behind in the U.S. (Esposito trusted New Orleans allies to care for his family. They failed to do so and took Esposito resources for their own benefit. Esposito later tried without luck to sue them from his Italian prison cell. His wife gave birth to a second child after his deportation. Both children were later placed in New Orleans orphanages.)

In his absence, the Crescent City's Sicilian underworld broke apart into warring factions - the competing Provenzano and Matranga organizations.

The Hennessys became instantly famous following the Esposito arrest (though the local police superintendent accused them of insubordination for acting without his approval). Their fame came at a terrible price. Within ten years of Esposito's capture, both of them were murdered. In each case, the killings remained officially unsolved but were widely believed performed by Sicilian gangsters.

David Hennessy
Mike Hennessy, who relocated to the Houston-Galveston area and started a private detective business there, was shot to death a short distance from his Houston home on Sept. 29, 1886. He was shot repeatedly from behind. One suspect, D.H. Melton, was arrested but later released for lack of evidence.

David Hennessy became police superintendent in New Orleans and actively fought the local Mafia. As he returned home from work on the evening of Oct. 15, 1890, he was attacked by a group of gunmen. He was knocked down from a distance by a shotgun blast of bird shot and then mortally wounded by higher-caliber slugs fired into his body at closer range. He died the next day. The assassination of the police superintendent resulted in the imprisonment of members and associates of the local Matranga Mafia and later to the Crescent City lynchings.

Read more about this subject in:
Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon