16 April 2019

Death of former Chicago gang chief goes unnoticed

Torrio founded Chicago Outfit
and mentored young Al Capone

On this date in 1957...

Chicago Tribune
May 8, 1957
Johnny Torrio, seventy-five-year-old former Chicago underworld boss, died April 16, 1957. His passing was virtually unnoticed. Newspapers were not alerted until about three weeks later, when his will was filed for probate.

Raised in the gangs of lower Manhattan's Five Points area, Torrio went west (along with longtime friend and fellow Five Points gangster Rocco "Roxie" Vanella) around 1909-1910. He became bodyguard, enforcer and business manager for Chicago vice lord "Big Jim" Colosimo - possibly a relative of Torrio's step-father Salvatore Caputo.

After a while, Torrio brought young Al Capone from Brooklyn to Chicago to assist him. Following Colosimo's 1920 murder, Torrio turned the Colosimo organization into a bootlegging operation and competed with other local gangs and the powerful Chicago Mafia for rackets territory.

A January 1925 assassination attempt convinced Torrio to retire as gang boss, and he turned his organization over to Capone. Following a jail term at Waukegan, Illinois, for Prohibition violations, Torrio returned to New York. He and his wife settled into a Brooklyn residence, spent winters in St. Petersburg and traveled abroad regularly. Torrio continued his involvement in underworld rackets, repeatedly running into trouble with the authorities.

The final decade of his life was spent out of the public eye. His last years were lived quietly in a recently constructed apartment building, 9902 Third Avenue in Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton section.

On April 16, 1957, he suffered a heart attack while in a barber's chair and was rushed to Cumberland Hospital (named for its first home on Cumberland Street but located on Auburn Place in 1957). He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Torrio was survived by his wife of forty years, Anna.

NY Times, May 8, 1957

15 April 2019

'Joe the Boss' murder befuddles press

On this date in 1931...

U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria was shot to death in a back room at Gerardo Scarpato's Villa Nuova Tammaro restaurant, 2715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island. The murder, arranged by Masseria lieutenants including Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania,  concluded the Mafia's Castellammarese War.

The killing of "Joe the Boss" Masseria was covered by newspapers across the country. But all struggled to make sense of it and many made incorrect assumptions. Lacking precise witness statements, the papers of the New York area presented starkly different accounts of the incident.

New York Daily News of April 16, 1931 ("Joe the Boss slain; Capone marks spot," by John Martin), attributed the killing to a rivalry between Masseria and Chicago gang boss Al Capone (Masseria and Capone actually were close allies during the Castellammarese War, with Capone serving as a Chicago-based capodecina in the Masseria organization):

    Joe the Boss, head of the Unione Siciliana and arch enemy of Scarface Al Capone, was put on the spot by the connivance of his own bodyguards as he dallied over a hand of pinochle in a Coney Island resort yesterday afternoon.

    Two bullets through the head and one through the heart toppled him lifeless beneath the table. Clutched in his hand, when treachery overtook him, was the ace of diamonds.

    In taking off Joe the Boss - Giuseppe Masseria on police records - the killers removed one of the most feared gang leaders in the east; a man who is said to have slain more than 100 persons with his own hand and to have dictated the killings of Frankie Marlow and other big shots of gangland.

    Defiance of Capone is believed to have accomplished Masseria's dethronement, as it has spelled death for countless other racketeers. Recently the Chicago underworld czar sent Joe the Boss warning to pull in his horns or they'd be amputated.

    The slaying took place in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant, at 2715 West 15th st., Coney Island, miles from the domain of Joe the Boss, which took in a large section of downtown New York and a slice of Brooklyn.

    Masseria in addition to controlling the Italian lotteries, was said to have dug in his tentacles so deeply that not a stick of spaghetti was sold in the city without paying him a tax.

    Masseria was in the place with two of his bodyguards - since the murder of Frankie Yale, one of his henchmen, he had never set foot out of doors without his gunmen - when two dapper young men alighted from a large blue sedan and walked in. They emptied their guns and fled.

    The bodyguards went, too. So did the proprietors. They went in such haste they left top coats and hats and $40 in bills scattered on the floor. Outside were found two .45 caliber automatics, tossed away by the killers or betrayers.

New York Times of April 16, 1931 ("Racket chief slain by gangster gunfire"), warned of a tremendous gangland conflict resulting from Masseria's murder:

    It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria - he was Joe the Boss to the underworld - but this enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in Coney Island, and when they walked out into the bright sunshine Masseria's career was ended. There were five bullets in his body.

    To hear some of the detectives at Police Headquarters tell it, the killing of Joe the Boss is likely to cause an outbreak of gang warfare that will exceed anything this city ever has known. Some of the men who had kept tabs on the racketeer's long career insist that he was "the biggest of 'em all - bigger than Al Capone."

    It would be hard to tell why Masseria was "put on the spot," according to the police, for his name has been linked with numerous gang murders in the last ten years. And on the east side last night there was much furtive whispering and speculation as to what would follow. Even to his countrymen Joe the Boss was a mysterious power, greater in strength than many whose names appeared more often in the daily newspapers.

    At 1 P.M. yesterday Masseria drove is steel-armored sedan, a massive car with plate glass an inch thick in all its windows, to a garage near the Nuova Villa Tammaro at 2,715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island, and parked it. Then he went to the restaurant.

    What happened after that the police have been unable to learn definitely. Whether he met several men in the restaurant or whether he was alone when he went into the place, is uncertain. Gerardo Scarpato, the owner, said he was out for a walk at the time and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Anna Tammaro, said she was in the kitchen.

    At 2 o'clock the quiet of the little street near the bay was broken by the roar of gunfire and two or three men walked out of the restaurant to an automobile parked at the curb and drove away. When the police got there they found Mrs. Tammaro bending over the body of Joe the Boss. He lay on his back. In his left hand was clutched a brand new ace of diamonds.

    A few chairs were overturned in the restaurant and a deck of cards was strewn on the floor. There were several banknotes and a small amount of silver, about $35. Whether the ace of diamonds was put in Masseria's hand after he was shot, as some significant message for his friends, the police do not know. They are not inclined to believe that he was shot during a quarrel over a card game...

    Four hours after the shooting the automobile in which Masseria's murderers escaped was found abandoned at West First Street, near Kings Highway, Brooklyn, about two miles from the Nuova Villa Tammaro. On the back seat were three pistols. One lacked two cartridges; another had discharged one cartridge recently,a nd the third was fully loaded. Two other revolvers were found in the alley that runs along one side of the restaurant.

Paterson New Jersey Evening News of April 16, 1931 ("N.Y. fears gang war in slaying"), printed an INS wire story that echoed the incorrect gang war prediction of the Times but corrected the Capone relationship mistake of the Daily News:

    A violent gang war was predicted in New York as the aftermath of the killing of Guiseppe Masseria, known as "Joe the Boss." He was said by police to be an ally of Al Capone and worked with the Chicago gang leader in the liquor business, racketeering and gambling.

    Masseria was shot to death in a Coney Island cafe by two well-dressed young men who calmly walked into the restaurant and began shooting. They fired twenty shots and five struck Masseria - all in the back. He was found dead near an overturned card table.

    The killers walked leisurely out of the cafe and escaped in an automobile. Although fifty detectives surrounded the cafe shortly after the shooting, they uncovered no clews at the identity of the slayers.

    An armored steel car, equipped with bulletproof glass an inch thick, in which "Joe the Boss" was said to have traveled to protect him from many enemies, was found near the scene of the shooting. Police said they believed three of the Masseria gang, who had been with their chief in the cafe, might have hired the two young men to kill Masseria.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 16, 1931 ("Suspect seized in murder of 'Joe the Boss'") noted the arrest of a murder suspect (the suspect turned out to be a Villa Nuova Tammaro restaurant waiter who had borrowed Scarpato's automobile) and further discussed the Capone angle:

    Brooklyn detectives were rushed to Jersey City shortly before noon, where a suspect had been taken into custody in connection with the slaying yesterday of Giuseppe (Joe the Boss) Masseria, big shot racketeer.

    According to information from the New Jersey authorities, they had seized Anthony Devers, 31, after he had given an erroneous Jersey City address.

    Devers was arrested on the State highway on suspicion. He was driving a car owned by Charles Starapata, of 2715 W. 15th St., Coney Island, the address of the Nuova Villa Tammara, where Masseria was slain.

    The slaying of Masseria led the police to take steps to prevent, if possible, the worst gang war in the city's history which they fear will follow the "rubbing out" of Masseria.

    When Police Commissioner Mulrooney was asked about the shooting he declined to admit that the dead man was an underworld big shot or that he ever had heard he was the arch enemy of Al Capone, Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1.

    The Commissioner was asked:

    "Did you know that several Chicago gunmen are known to be in Brooklyn and are supposed to have done the shooting?"

    "No, I do not," Mulrooney replied.

    "Have you learned any reason for the shooting?"

    "No. But we have detectives making an extensive investigation."

    Joe the Boss was far from his usual haunts when three slugs wrote finis to his 11 years of criminal activity.

    ...Masseria was playing cards in the back room of the Nuova Villa Tammara with three other men at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon when a blue sedan drove up to the door and two men leaped out.

    Walking directly through the restaurant, the men disappeard into the rear room. Instantly there came the sounds of several shots. Leaving by a side door and throwing their weapons away, the men entered their machine and disappeared.

    When the police of the Homicide Squad under Capt. Ray Honan arrived, no one was found who could give a clear description of the slayers or of the men playing cards with Masseria. Two bullets had struck Masseria in the head, another pierced his heart...

    One of the officers of the Union Siciliano, an organization of Sicilians, Masseria was the king of the wine, fish and beer rackets, his domain including a large portion of the east side of Manhattan and a part of Brooklyn.

    The reign of this underworld chieftain began in 1920, when he graduated from burglary and assault into the policy racket.

    In his day he had control of practically every purveyor of Italian food in the city, demanding and receiving tribute from wholesaler and shopkeeper alike.

Brooklyn Standard Union of April 17, 1931 ("Police follow scant clues to murder of 'Joe the Boss'"), discussed the murder investigation while dismissing boss of bosses Masseria as merely "a piker" (small-time operator):


    Forty detectives sought to-day, by clues and what little they could learn from the underworld, to untangle the murder of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, without much hope of success, while sagas of racketeer power grew up about the Italian policy slip seller Commissioner Mulrooney has called a piker.

    Masseria's body still lay in Kings County Morgue, where it was identified yesterday by his son James, pending removal to the Masseria home at 15 West Eighty-first street, Manhattan, and the funeral accorded by henchmen to a gangster.

    The assassins who shot him from behind while he played cards Wednesday in a Coney Island restaurant were still unknown to police, and shielded by the frightened silence of all who might know anything about them.

    Acting Capt. John J. Lyons of Coney Island station questioned a half dozen local racketeers brought before him yesterday, without tangible results. Police Department fingerprint experts have gone over Masseria's armor plated car, which he parked near where he was killed.

    But hopes of police center now on three overcoats left in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant at 2715 West Fifteenth street where Masseria was killed. Two bear cleaners' marks, 6-504-28, and T-T 504. Detectives are checking these against the codes used in the city's dry cleaning establishments and tailor shops...

    The rumors about "Joe the Boss" continue to grow. Chicago gangsters of Capone ambushed him, one had it, because he was muscling into Brooklyn racket territory from his own bailiwick, the Bronx. Another had it he was taken by Al Wagner's gang on the East Side, over an insult from one of his followers to the wife of one of the Wagner gang. But "Joe the Boss" was, Commissioner Mulrooney insisted, a piker.

It is interesting that several accounts reported that Masseria's hand was holding a playing card when police reached the murder scene. The newspapers stated that the card was the Ace of Diamonds. A famous photograph of the scene, however, clearly showed an Ace of Spades card in Masseria's hand (at right). It has long been rumored that the photographer placed the legendary "death card" in Joe the Boss's hand before snapping the picture.

10 April 2019

Egan's Rats rob the Baden Bank

One hundred years ago today, the St. Louis-based Egan's Rats mob committed their first bank robbery of note in the North St. Louis neighborhood of Baden.



After first gaining notice in the early 1890s as a gang of Kerry Patch hooligans known as the Ashley Street Gang, the Egan gang had evolved into the city's premier organized crime outfit. Headed for much of their history by Thomas "Snake" Kinney and Thomas Egan, the crew specialized in both traditional street crime and political terrorism. In addition to being best friends and brothers-in-law, both Kinney and Egan were active in Democratic politics, the former as a Missouri State Senator and the latter as chairman of the St. Louis Democratic City Committee. The Kinney-Egan combine controlled several key St. Louis political wards and was able to use their muscle to not only influence elections but the passage of laws that would benefit both themselves and their constituents. With money and favors exchanging hands both above and under the table, the Kinney-Egan operation usually ran like a well-oiled machine. The only messy periods were the periodic Election Days, where the kid gloves came off, and the Egan crew used muscle and bullets to get the desired results at the ballot box.

After Snake Kinney's death from tuberculosis in May 1912, Tom Egan assumed full control of the gang's St. Louis-area operations, with Kinney's younger brother Michael taking his place in Missouri state politics. Egan's Rats (Tom hated the name and told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter as much during a 1912 interview where he flaunted his crew's power) numbered over 300 men at their highest total and seemed virtually immune from prosecution for various criminal misdeeds, some of which included very public murders in downtown St. Louis.
As the great debate about whether or not to outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol progressed in the early 1910s, Tom Egan accurately predicted that the Eighteenth Amendment would eventually pass. As a result, Egan went to great pains to construct a whiskey smuggling network between several cities in the Midwest and South. Known to be brutal and cunning, Egan was recognized as one of the most powerful crime bosses in the Midwest as the decade progressed.

With the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in January 1919, it looked as if Tom Egan's foresight was going to pay off incredibly in the form of thousands of dollars of profits from illegal bootlegging. As fate would have it, Tom would never see a cent of that windfall. In late 1918, Egan was diagnosed with the degenerative kidney disease then known as Bright's disease. In modern times, a transplant may have saved his life, but the crime boss continued to weaken throughout the winter. By the beginning of April 1919, the forty-four-year-old Egan was on his deathbed at his North City home at 4551 Arlington Avenue. Control of the gang fell to Tom's younger brother Willie.

Thirty-five years old in 1919, Willie Egan ran a popular saloon/restaurant known as Egan's Buffet at the corner of Fourteenth and Franklin streets. While a brilliant gangster and politician, Willie wasn't the natural leader of men that his older brother Tom was, and it just so happened that Willie assumed control over St. Louis's most powerful gang at an extraordinarily crucial time.
St. Louis gang boss Willie Egan
With the impending Prohibition of alcohol on the horizon, the dynamic of power in St. Louis's underworld was shifting away from the traditional political clubs to more open criminal businesses such as bootlegging. There was also a particular segment of Egan gang members who desired to make money through quick and decisive means such as armed robbery. These gangsters tended to be younger and more violent than their political war-trained predecessors; police would nickname them "The Red-Hots." As such criminal behavior tended to upset the apple cart and attract undue attention from police, Tom Egan would have squashed any notion his men had of bank robbery like a bug. However, by the spring of 1919, Tom was not in the position to squash much of anything. As a result, several of the "Red-Hots" began plotting a lucrative caper as their boss lay dying.

While the exact identities of the perpetrators of the upcoming heist were never made public, both the St. Louis police and Egan gang informant Raymond Renard would attribute it to Egan's Rats. Their target was the Baden Bank, located at 8200 North Broadway Avenue in the North City neighborhood of Baden. One suspected participant in the robbery was Max Greenberg, a clever member of the crew who would notoriously break away from the Egan mob and join the arch-rival Hogan Gang two years later. Baden, a residential neighborhood with a large German immigrant population, had somewhat lower crime rates than the rest of the city of St. Louis. Thus, they would not be expecting an armed robbery of their central bank branch.

Egan gang member Max Greenberg
Thursday, April 10, 1919, dawned fair and cool in St. Louis, the temperature around forty-four degrees. The Baden Bank opened for business at nine o'clock that morning. On the premises were the bank president, Frank W. Giese; head cashier Martin W. Muntzel; assistant cashier F.R. Baumgartner; teller Henry J. Fischer, and stenographer Ruth Pohl. Business was very light that morning, and nothing initially indicated that this would be any different than a usual business day. At precisely ten o'clock, a blue-black 1915 Hudson Super Six Phaeton containing eight men parked at the curb next to the bank's Baden Avenue side entrance. Two men remained in the front seat with the motor running while the other six exited the vehicle. All eight men were dressed identically in light gray raincoats and plaid flat caps; five of their number had handkerchiefs tied around their lower faces. When describing the heist to investigators a half-decade later, Ray Renard guessed that the outfits were Max Greenberg's idea. In retrospect, it was indeed a smart move to have the bandits dress identically, as adrenalized witnesses would instinctively focus on those outfits when describing the robbers to police. As one man stood guard near the side door, his masked cohorts rushed inside the bank.
   
There was no guard on duty that morning. In its ten years of operation, the Baden Bank had never been robbed. In fact, the very notion of bank robbery seemed inconceivable to most St. Louisans in 1919, the type of violent crime that belonged to the distant dime-novel past of Jesse James and his ilk. At the moment of truth, the bank's vault stood wide open as the employees "checked up" the money for the day. The five masked intruders leveled identical Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistols at the startled employees. Ruth Pohl let out a shriek as the lead bandit yelled out, "Throw up your hands!"
   
As there were no customers currently in the bank to deal with, the armed quintet quickly strode through the door that led behind the counter and cage. As three gunmen kept the employees covered, the other two produced cloth sacks and began gathering up stacks of cash from the shelves before cleaning out the loot from the open vault. The robbers also quickly searched counter and desk drawers for any money. At one point, one of the heisters noted an ostentatious diamond ring on cashier Martin Muntzel's finger and tried to snatch it. Muntzel twisted and raised his arm around so the bandit could not grab it. The frustrated gangster thrust the barrel of his .45 into the plucky cashier's face and told him, "Put both your hands up, or I'll kill you!" With their two cloth sacks now full, another of the robbers suddenly barked, "You all get in that vault." Muntzel, who had managed to save his diamond ring from its intended thief, protested that they would suffocate inside. Another bandit, described as being unusually tall, said, "We won't do anything like that." Still holding their hands up, the five bank employees were quickly herded into the vault. The bandits then closed the inner "day" door while leaving the massive vault door open. The heisters then made for the side door through which they had initially entered. It was later calculated that they had been in the bank for precisely four minutes as if operating on a strict time limit.
   
No sooner were they out the door when cashier Martin Muntzel quickly rummaged through an open safe-deposit box and fished out an old, single-action revolver. Muntzel then ran to the front door in time to see the bandits' Hudson Phaeton turning south on North Broadway. The escaping robbers, adrenaline pumping, were startled to hear the crack and pinging of three bullets fired through the bank's screen door by the gritty cashier Muntzel. Their driver immediately opened the throttle and accelerated down the avenue. A passing foot patrolman was roused by the sudden gunfire and saw the blue-black Hudson heading south at an increasing rate of speed. The unnamed officer commandeered a passing mail truck and ordered its driver to give chase. Standing on the truck's running board and hanging on with his left arm, the officer fired on the Hudson with his service revolver. One of the bandits, who seemed to be about thirty years old with a black mustache, leaned out of the Hudson's passenger side window and returned fire with his .45 automatic. No one was hit in the running gun battle. The Hudson's driver hung a sharp right turn onto Calvary Avenue and almost hit a pedestrian. Undeterred, the getaway driver gunned the Hudson up the avenue's steep incline and threaded the needle between Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries. The larger mail truck had a more difficult time negotiating Calvary's grade and fell behind in the pursuit. The robbers were last seen turning south onto West Florissant Avenue.
   
St. Louis police quickly arrived at the bank and began to take statements from the bank's employees and outside witnesses. The robbers were universally described as being young, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five mostly, save for the older mustachioed bandit who fired on the officer during the pursuit. The pedestrian who was nearly hit at Calvary and North Broadway confirmed details about the getaway car and gave its license plate number as 144933. The plate was quickly traced to a member of Egan's Rats named Ernest "Bergadine" Miller. Now awaiting trial for stealing goods from railroad boxcars (an essential racket of the pre-Prohibition Egan gang), Miller claimed that his Hudson had been stolen sometime earlier. Police didn't buy his alibi and began taking a close look at the Rats while issuing an all-points bulletin for the vehicle. Over fifty suspects were rounded up from all points of North City and downtown St. Louis and put on the grill. Police got precisely nothing to work with. 
   
Around ten o'clock that evening a car driven by Detective Ira Cooper, the first Black detective in the history of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, caught sight of the wanted blue-black Hudson Phaeton as it drove north on Taylor Avenue. Cooper was accompanied by two other Black detectives, William Crockett and Charles Johnson, and gave chase. They noted that the Hudson matched the description of the Baden Bank bandits' getaway car but now lacked a license plate. Now alerted that he was being followed by police, the Hudson's driver hit the gas and turned right on Easton Avenue (modern-day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive).
STLMPD Detective Ira Cooper
Detective Cooper and his partners followed close behind for a few blocks until the Hudson swung south on Pendleton Avenue. A block or two later, the Hudson turned east on Evans Avenue. At that point, the three detectives were suddenly halted in their pursuit. The first version said that two strange sedans had moved away from the curb and blocked their path as the Hudson disappeared down Evans. A second version, related by a police officer who wished to remain anonymous, stated that the trio of sleuths had been forcibly halted by a group of White policemen who were suspicious of three plainclothes Black men driving through the neighborhood at a high rate of speed. Whatever the reason for the delay, Detectives Cooper, Crockett, and Johnson were quickly moving again. At Sarah and Evans streets, the trio picked up two uniformed cops, a Sergeant Armstrong and Patrolman William Teppe. After a brief search, the task force managed to locate the Hudson in question parked near the corner of Cook and Whittier avenues. There was little inside the vehicle except one $20 gold piece, two $2.50 gold pieces, and a nickel.

Throughout the city of St. Louis and the surrounding area, the Baden Bank robbery dominated newspaper headlines. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed an editorial inevitably comparing the robbers to Jesse James. While Egan's Rats wouldn't be publicly linked to the heist until Ray Renard's testimony in 1925, the police had an excellent idea that the trail of guilt led right to Willie Egan's saloon at Fourteenth and Franklin. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the heisters retreated to Egan's Buffet immediately after the job. As bank robbery was not yet a federal offense, the Rats had nothing to worry about from the embryonic FBI (then still officially named the Bureau of Investigation). After the evening papers began hitting city newsstands later that afternoon and the connection to Egan gang member Ernest Miller became public knowledge, they most likely designated one of their number to get rid of the Hudson Phaeton used in the robbery. The car disposal got a little hairy thanks to Detective Ira Cooper and his partners, but it was ultimately successful.
Even the Post-Dispatch Weatherbird commented on the robbery.

It was eventually determined that the Egan crew got away from the Baden Bank with a total of $59,310.15 (a little over $872,000 by current monetary standards). The denominations of their loot included several $1000 gold certificates, two $500 bills, several $50 bills, a total of $1500 in fives, tens and twenties in additions to 60 to 80 gold coins of various denominations. It was the largest bank robbery in St. Louis's history up to that point and would remain so for eleven years. A reward of $1000 was offered for information leading to the apprehension of the perpetrators; it remains uncollected to this day. Other than the four coins found in the getaway car, none of the loot was ever recovered.

On April 20, 1919, ten days after the Baden Bank robbery, gang boss Thomas Egan succumbed to Bright's disease. Egan's death, virtually concurrent with the successful bank job, signaled the beginning of a new phase in the history of his criminal organization. Gone were the days of politically motivated terrorism. No longer would the city and state Democratic politics determine the direction of the gang. After April 1919, the driving force in the Egan universe was cold, hard cash. With the coming of Prohibition and its thousands of dollars in potential bootlegging profits, in addition to the seeming inability of local law enforcement to stop a broad-daylight bank robbery, the city of St. Louis was riper than a summer squash in September. For the "Red-Hots" of Egan's Rats in the spring of 1919, the world was their oyster.

Postscript

- While the eight perpetrators of the Baden Bank robbery remain officially unidentified, some of the Egan gang members suspected of participating included; Max Greenberg, Abe Goldfeder, Ben Milner, Ernest "Bergadine" Miller, Ben "Cotton" Funke, Edward "Big Red" Powers, Clarence "Little Red" Powers, and David "Chippy" Robinson. Out of those eight suspects, only three of them would die of natural causes. 

- Two key members of Egan's Rats, William "Dint" Colbeck and Louis "Red" Smith, had not yet been discharged from the Army after their wartime service in France. Thus, they didn't participate in the Baden Bank robbery.

- At the time of the Baden Bank robbery, three suspected participants; Max Greenberg, Ben Milner, and Edward "Big Red" Powers were free on an appeal bond after their 1917 conviction of theft of interstate shipment in Danville, Illinois. The trio had been sentenced to a total of five years each, but Willie Egan utilized connections that enabled a presidential pardon petition to make its way to President Woodrow Wilson. After spending a few months in 1920 behind bars in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, all three men would be officially pardoned.

- Between April 1919 and November 1924, it was conservatively estimated that Egan's Rats had stolen close to 4.5 million dollars from the various bank, armored car, and messenger robberies that they committed.

- The Baden Bank remained in business until 1984. The building that formerly housed the bank still stands at 8200 North Broadway Avenue in North St. Louis. Other than a few boarded up and broken windows, it looks virtually the same as it did a century ago when Egan's Rats arrived to make their unexpected withdrawal.

Sources

The April 10-11, 1919 issues of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and St. Louis Star.

Daniel Waugh, Egan's Rats: The Untold Story of the Prohibition-era gang that ruled St. Louis, Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007.




09 April 2019

Caught without his chain mail shirt

On this date in 1913:

Crime figure Amadeo Buonomo was buried April 9, 1913, in Queens, New York. He died of a gunshot wound on April 6, a casualty of the 1910s underworld warfare in East Harlem.

The conflict featured a number of New York gangland's more colorful figures:
- Pasquarella Musone Spinelli, owner of the "Murder Stable" and known as the wealthiest woman in the community at the time of her murder in spring 1912;
- Aniello "Zoppo" (the Gimp) Prisco, Black Hand racketeer hobbled after one of his legs was shot to pieces and later killed while in the act of extorting money;
- Giosue Gallucci, cafe owner and lottery racketeer, who was regarded as the "king" of Harlem's Little Italy until his reign was ended by bullets in May 1915.
(See: "Owner's killing is start of 'Murder Stable' legend" on Mafiahistory.us.)

Buonomo stood out from the group due to his unusual wardrobe. It was said that, after becoming involved in the gang war, about the time of Prisco's December 1912 death, he generally wore a chain mail hauberk beneath his clothes to protect against the blades of his enemies. As a Prisco disciple who swore to avenge the Neapolitan gang boss's killing, he had plenty of enemies.

A resident of 1758 Madison Avenue, between 115th and 116th Streets, Buonomo was proprietor of a restaurant at 331 East 114th Street. In addition to his business and the threats of rival gangsters, Buonomo also devoted much of his attention in the period to the plight of his younger brother, Joseph "Chicago Joe" Buonomo. Joseph had been convicted of first degree murder and was awaiting execution in Connecticut. (Joseph was part of a New York-Chicago human trafficking ring. His wife, known by the name Jennie Cavalieri, provided information on the ring to authorities and then ran off to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Joseph found her there and shot her to death on October 22, 1912. After Amadeo's death, Joseph won a new trial in Connecticut, but its result was the same. He was executed by hanging at Connecticut State Prison in Wethersfield just after midnight on June 30, 1914.)

According to published reports, the twenty-seven-year-old Buonomo was not wearing his protective chain mail one evening in early April (the reports suggest it was April 3), as he started down a stairway to a basement wine shop at 113th Street near First Avenue. But it probably would not have afforded him much protection on this occasion, as his attacker opted to use a handgun rather than a knife.

A bullet fired at close range entered his neck. Friends rushed Buonomo to Harlem Hospital, where he lingered for days before succumbing. There were a number of rumors relating to statements he made on his deathbed, but it is unlikely that Buonomo was able to say very much. According to the autopsy, the bullet wound caused internal bleeding into his throat, and Buonomo eventually asphyxiated, drowned by his own blood.

His April 9 funeral, directed by the Paladino and Pantozzi firm of East 115th Street, was an East Harlem spectacle. The hearse, drawn by six white horses, was followed by one hundred carriages of mourners and a forty-two-piece marching band. Buonomo was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

Sources:
  • "Buonomo pays for killing," Bridgeport CT Evening Farmer, June 30, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Coats of mail still in use," Buffalo Enquirer, Oct. 27, 1913, p. 4.
  • "East Side gunmen take second victim," New York Tribune, April 30, 1913, p. 5.
  • "Feudists' bullets avenge slaying of gunman in Harlem," New York Evening World, April 11, 1913, p. 10.
  • "Two more Italians shot," New York Sun, April 18, 1913, p. 5.
  • "White slave's' life here," New York Tribune, Oct. 29, 1912, p. 7.
  • Amadeo Buonomo Certificate of Death, registered no. 11224, Department of Health of the City of New York, date of death April 6, 1913.
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 110-111.
  • New York City Death Index, certificate no. 11224.
  • Thomas, Rowland, "The rise and fall of Little Italy's king," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 12, 1915, Sunday Magazine p. 4.