31 December 2016

A solid start, better things ahead

The Writers of Wrongs website opened for business this past Oct. 22. As 2016 draws to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the early stages of this joint project of crime history authors.

Three authors are currently posting to the blog. Several other authors are preparing to participate.

Site "analytics" reveal a total of 5,741 pageviews, divided among the 30 posts published during the 70-day history of the site. The site has averaged a new post every 2.3 days. The average post receives just over 191 reader-visits. Statistics show the number of site visitors is dramatically increasing.

Links to individual blog posts have made their way to Facebook, Twitter and Google+, as well as CosaNostraNews and DeadGangster websites.


Through its first 70 days, the Writers of Wrongs blog received visitors from eleven different countries. About 76% of visitors were U.S. residents. Nine percent were from the United Kingdom. The countries of Germany, Canada and France contributed a combined ten percent. The site also had visitors from Australia (1.3%), Ireland (1.2%), Russia (0.7%), Netherlands (0.6%), China and Italy.

Our most popular single post to date was "Behind the Mug: Lucky Luciano's 1931 Arrest," by Christian Cipollini. That post has been viewed 595 times since it was published just two days ago.

Our most-visited post to date
We thank our readers for their support. We wish you all the best in 2017 and promise that you will find many interesting items on the blog during the year ahead.

30 December 2016

One week left in giveaway

There is just one more week to enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

The giveaway promotion is being run by Goodreads.com and is open to U.S. residents only. Three signed paperback copies of the book will be randomly awarded on Jan. 5, 2017 - the anniversary of Charles Sberna's execution in Sing Sing Prison. Odds of winning depend on the number of entries.

For more information or to enter, visit Goodreads.

To learn more about the Sberna case, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

29 December 2016

Behind the Mug: Lucky Luciano's 1931 Arrest... There's more to the story!

Charles 'Lucky' Lucania, 1931.
Charlie Lucky’s name and reputation had certainly garnered the attention of some media entities and law enforcement by spring of 1931, yet to the public and many police departments outside of Manhattan - he was still largely an unfamiliar figure. Lucky's infamy began to grow exponentially following the events that unfolded later in the year.  Our story today addresses an incident that occurred just two months before he kick-started that career-boosting rise in notoriety (we are of course talking about the underworld housecleaning of sorts (which included the murder of Joe 'The Boss' Masseria April 15, 1931 and Salvatore Maranzano on September 10, 1931)

On the evening of February 2, all hell broke loose in Manhattan, or so it has been implied, when two Jersey cops decided to spend their day off in Big Apple, and crossed paths with one Charles Lucania, aka Lucky.

No News is Good News?

To jump forward a bit, the altercation ultimately provided one of the baddest of badass mugshots the world of organized crime had seen to that point, but oddly – very few details of the incident have ever surfaced to accompany the sinister picture. So then, what happened?  If one were to fill in some blanks with their own theories, then perhaps it's safe to say that fate, destiny, and possibly a lot of mouth-running and temper-flaring led to an physical altercation, subsequent arrest, unusual dismissal, and most peculiar - barely a damn thing ever mentioned in the media. Therefore, this little anecdote is rife with theoretical possibilities. Here's the lowdown on facts, hearsay and outlying oddities:

As Luciano's lengthy rap sheet clearly discloses, he was arrested on February 2, 1931 and charged with two first-degree felony assaults. On February 4, he stood before Judge Joseph F. Mulqueen in the Court of Common Sessions, whereby both felony indictments were discharged; case dismissed.Seems fairly cut and dry, but here's where it all gets interesting...


A sinister photograph with an elusive tale lurking behind it.  The 1931 mugshot of Charles 'Lucky' Luciano hadn't been publicly displayed until 1935, when the press began circulating it (in lieu of current photos, which did not exist) following the murder of Arthur 'Dutch Schultz' Flegenheimer in 1935. Luciano and John Torrio were considered 'of interest' to investigators following the murder.


Fight Club...

Lucky's arrest came at the hands of the two aforementioned off-duty New Jersey police officers, but not before some serious ass-kicking took place, and according to one so-called 'in the know' reporter of the time - it wasn't Luciano on the receiving end of said ass-kicking.  Hickman Powell, author of  'Lucky Luciano: The Man Who Organized Crime, shed a little light on the melee, albeit brief and underscored by era-commonplace journalistic over-sensationalism.
 

"Lucky was accused of participating in a vulgar street brawl, beating up two Jersey City policemen who had ventured across the river into Manhattan." - Hickman Powell, from Lucky Luciano: The Man Who Organized Crime

Back of mugshot. Luciano's chosen alias of the day was 'Charles Reed'.

Further adding intrigue to the entire scenario was the controversial judge who dismissed the charges.  Joseph Mulqueen had chalked up a high number of dismissals during his time on the bench, which was certainly an issue raised by his detractors.  That fact, paired with a documented denial of gang existence, makes for all the more conspiratorial fun and conjecture.

Notwithstanding the Judge's record and often-contentious reputation, the case may have been in Luciano's favor simply because the two  out-of-town, off-duty cops may have rather saved some face than explain why they were involved in a fight in the first place. Or perhaps the duo of Officers Phillips and Henshaw did appear in court and Mulqueen heard the explanation, dismissing on principal.  The answer we do not know... yet.  Rest assure, there's one crime historian who's definitely going to dig for the facts, and hopefully divulge a 'part two' to this little underworld mystery.


www.ganglandlegends.com

Also read...

28 December 2016

They gave at the office

Eighty-five years ago today, Philadelphia gangsters Sam Grossman and Al Skale sat in the office of their second-story gambling and drinking resort, the "Jewish Social Cub." It was located at the south east corner of Girard Avenue and Watts Street. Sam and Al were former lieutenants in gangster Mickey Duffy's gang. Former because Mickey was rubbed out in an Atlantic City hotel the previous summer. Both Grossman and Skale had been picked up as material witnesses and were currently out on bail.

Grossman sat at the desk, Skale  perched on top. They may have been divvying up the nights receipts as the former had $1,000 in his hand as five armed-men entered the club and headed directly for the office. Once inside the quintet played a hot number with their .38s. No encore required.

Police were pretty quick to respond. When they entered the office, they found Grossman keeled over the desk, that grand tight in one fist a gun in the other. His eyes were glazing over but, not wanting to take any chances, a cop knocked the gun from his hand. Skale was blown off the desk and found floundering on the floor amidst $400 in small bills and an ever increasing puddle of his own blood.
"Who shot you?", a cop asked,
"[expletive of your choosing] that. I don't know. Get me out of here."
Grossman was questioned but either couldn't or wouldn't respond.

Both men were taken to the hospital where they died a short time later.

                                            Skale (l) and Grossman (r) prior to perforation.

21 December 2016

Death of the Mafia's "Buffalo Bill"

On this date in 1932:

A longtime leader in the Mafia of Western New York, Benedetto Angelo Palmeri died of natural causes at the age of 54. Widely known as Angelo and referred to by the Italian community as "Don Nitto," 

Palmeri had been ailing for months with symptoms of hypertension and kidney inflammation. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, Dec. 21, 2016, Palmeri stepped out of his home at 295 Jersey Street in Buffalo and climbed into his automobile. He was scheduled to meet a friend.

A pedestrian happened to observe Palmeri slump behind the steering wheel and summoned assistance from the firehouse across the street. Firemen took the unconscious and dying Palmeri out of his car and attempted without luck to revive him. Though no autopsy was performed, officials decided the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Palmeri was well known for his tendency to wear cowboy hats and holstered sidearms. This fashion statement, combined with his Western New York hometown, caused the press to refer to him as "Buffalo Bill."

Born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, Palmeri reached the United States in 1906. His brother Paolo, who also became an important U.S. Mafioso, crossed the Atlantic to join him in New York City a few years later. Angelo Palmeri moved on to Buffalo in 1911 and became a top lieutenant, business partner and valued friend of regional Mafia boss Giuseppe DiCarlo. He helped to establish a Mafia foothold in Niagara Falls, New York, and paved the way for Stefano Magaddino's arrival in Western New York in 1922.

News of Palmeri's death elicited great sorrow and grief within the Italian colony of Buffalo's West Side. The Buffalo Evening News wrote:

His death Wednesday brought sincere expressions of sorrow from hundreds of American citizens of Italian ancestry whom he had befriended in times of need... To the police he was known as a man who had close contact with many illicit enterprises, who had such power that he was able to bring peace between warring liquor runners – but to the citizens of the lower West Side he was their individual welfare department, a man who could and would aid them when pride kept them from appealing to the organized charities... Especially sad were the members of upwards of a score of families whose only source of food each Christmas for years had been Angelo B. Palmeri.

Click here to read a brief biography of Bendetto Angelo Palmeri on the book website of DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.


15 December 2016

Chance to win a copy of 'Wrongly Executed?'

Three author-signed trade paperback copies of Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution will be awarded through a promotional drawing on Goodreads.com. No purchase is necessary to enter. Entries will be accepted until Jan. 5, 2017, the anniversary of Charles Sberna's meeting with the Sing Sing Prison electric chair. Details are available on the Goodreads.com website.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sbe... by Thomas Hunt
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13 December 2016

Book Spotlight: Organized Crime in Miami by Avi Bash


A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, the latest release from Arcadia Publishing's 'Images of America' series showcases such photographic storytelling - this time the focus is Miami and Mobsters.


Where did all the gangsters go when it was cold and blustery?  Where it was warm of course, and Avi Bash's new book Organized Crime in Miami covers everything from the 'land boom' of the Roaring Twenties to the flow of both liquor and mobsters that drenched 'Magic City.'
Bash, a lifelong resident of Miami and longtime collector/researcher of organized crime history and relics, filled the 127 page book with rare photographs and documents culled from his own collection, all detailed and accompanied by fascinating anecdotal information.  The narrative takes readers through the who, what, why and when of the underworld's foray into the tropical paradise.

  
Interestingly, Bash points out that although it was Al Capone's vacation presence that garnered much of the world's attention on an underworld presence in the region - in reality, vice lords had been there for quite some time.  Not only did Big Al bring on a hurricane of media attention, but he also often brought in his cronies from Chicago, New York and beyond.  This wasn't all rest and relaxation of course, and as Bash demonstrates through mugshots and arrest reports - most of these guys were operating the gambling empire both in Miami and nearby Cuba.

Among the 191 amazing photographs in Organized Crime in Miami, readers will see a very rare Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel mugshot, family photos of various mob associates (Meyer Lansky's brother Jake for example), and stunning examples of the architecture from Capone's Palm Island estate to the majestic Biltmore Hotel where Thomas 'Fatty' Walsh was gunned down.
Organized Crime in Miami is available from Amazon, Arcadia Publishing, and Avi Bash's author site

11 December 2016

Prohibition Era organized crime in Chicago

John J. Binder's latest book, Al Capone's Beer Wars is now available for pre-order through Amazon. The 400-page book is expected to be released in hardcover and ebook formats by Prometheus Books in June 2017. 

According to the publisher's writeup on Amazon, Binder covers the history of organized crime in Chicago through the entire Prohibition Era, 1920 to 1933. He discusses "all the important bootlegging gangs in the city and the suburbs and also examines the other major rackets, such as prostitution, gambling, labor and business racketeering, and narcotics."

Al Capone's Beer Wars rests on a foundation of 25 years of research, involving many previously unexplored sources. Binder, a Chicago-area resident, is the author of two previous books on organized crime. He lectures frequently on Chicago underworld history and has contributed his expertise to underworld documentaries shown on cable networks A&E, AMC, Discovery and History.

Link to Amazon.com website

09 December 2016

Death of former Boardwalk boss

On this date in 1968, eighty-five-year-old Enoch "Nucky" Johnson died of natural causes at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in New Jersey. Johnson had been the Prohibition Era political boss of Atlantic City. 

During his reign, the city was a friendly location for organized criminals. Johnson's relationships with the underworld were brought to light during a feud with the New York Evening Journal newspaper in the early 1930s. His control over Atlantic City ended with his successful 1941 prosecution on federal tax evasion charges. Johnson lived a quiet life after his release from prison in 1945.

Asbury Park NJ Press, Dec. 10, 1968. Camden NJ Courier Post, Dec. 10, 1968.

05 December 2016

Caught in Cleveland

On this date in 1928, Cleveland police discovered a convention of U.S. Mafiosi at the Hotel Statler on Euclid Avenue and East 12th Street. 

Scores of detectives and uniformed police officers quickly surrounded the hotel and raided rooms occupied by out-of-town visitors with Italian-sounding names. Twenty-three men were arrested as suspicious persons. Eighteen of them were found to be armed. Among the suspects were known crime figures from Chicago, New York, Buffalo, Tampa and St. Louis.

The sole representative of Buffalo was Salvatore "Sam" DiCarlo. The youngest son of western New York's earliest known Mafia boss, at the time Sam DiCarlo was a trusted member of Stefano Magaddino's underworld organization.

Fourteen of the twenty-three arrested men were photographed by police as a group. Giuseppe Profaci is at center, seated in a wheelchair due to a recent accident. Sam DiCarlo of Buffalo stands behind him. Joseph Magliocco is to the right of DiCarlo. Pasqualino Lolordo of Chicago is seated to the right of Profaci.

The others arrested on December 5, 1928, were Pasqualino Lolordo, Giuseppe Giunta, Frank Alo, Tony Bella, Emanuele Cammarata, James Intravia, Sam Oliveri and Giuseppe Sacco from Chicago;  Giuseppe Profaci, Giuseppe Magliocco, Vincenzo Mangano, Giuseppe Traina, Andrea Lombardino, Salvatore Lombardino, Giuseppe Palermo and Michael Russo from New York and New Jersey; Ignazio Italiano and Giuseppe Vaglica from Tampa; Giovanni Mirabella and Calogero SanFilippo from St. Louis; Paul Palazzola of Gary, Indiana; and Sam Tilocco of Cleveland. (The suspects gave various stories to explain their presence in Cleveland. Officials accepted only the tales told by Mangano and Traina, and those two Mafia leaders were quickly released. The rest were interrogated by police and immigration officials and then arraigned.)

Portsmouth OH Daily Times, Dec. 5, 1928.

Police expressed their certainty that other organized criminals were staying elsewhere in the city. Rumors indicated that Chicago's Al Capone had been seen in the area.

Local authorities believed they had broken up a meeting called to settle feuds over Prohibition Era corn sugar, a necessary commodity for moonshining operations. They were mistaken. The bloody corn-sugar wars of the Cleveland underworld already had been resolved.

Some historians have suggested, quite wrongly, that the Cleveland gathering was the first formative convention of the U.S. Mafia (a number of writers have referred to the criminal society as the "Unione Siciliana"). Actually, a national Mafia network had been in place for many years, and meetings of Mafiosi occurred fairly regularly.

Masseria
Other explanations have been offered. Some say that the convention was called to reallocate underworld rackets following recent gangland assassinations, to resolve underworld disagreements in Chicago or to recognize the ascension of Profaci to the rank of family boss. However, local or regional issues would not warrant the calling of a national convention. It appears far more likely that the convention's purpose was to recognize the U.S. Mafia's new boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria.

At war with reigning boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila since the dawn of the Prohibition Era, Masseria had assembled the strongest and wealthiest crime family in the country. The recent murder of D'Aquila on a Manhattan street left Masseria's appointment as boss of bosses a mere formality. Though Masseria's own home base was in New York City, many of his kin resided in Cleveland, and Masseria allies in Cleveland had recently defeated a pro-D'Aquila faction there. The city would have been an entirely appropriate selection for a Masseria coronation.

Critics of this view note that Masseria and his allies were not among those taken into custody at the Hotel Statler. Of course, with much of his family in the area, there would have been no reason for Masseria to stay at any hotel. And police publicly expressed their disappointment that the hasty raid at the Statler allowed other conventioneers to get away.

Read more about the 1928 Mafia convention in Cleveland and other Cleveland underworld events in:

02 December 2016

Dellacroce's death

New York's Gambino Crime Family was fractured with the death by natural causes of underboss Aniello "Neil" Dellacroce on this date in 1985.

The seventy-one-year-old Dellacroce succumbed to cancer late on December 2 at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, New York. He had been scheduled to go on trial in Manhattan the following year as a defendant in the Mafia Commission Case. He also faced federal racketeering and tax evasion charges.

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 4, 1985.

Following Dellacroce's death, his protege John J. Gotti organized the December 14, 1985, assassination of crime family boss Paul Castellano. Gotti assumed control of the crime family.

Dellacroce
The organization had been an incomplete blending of Sicilian and non-Sicilian factions for decades, with intra-family violence flaring up from time to time. Albert Anastasia, leader of mainland Italians in the organization, rose to power by deposing Sicilian boss Vincent Mangano in 1951. Carlo Gambino, head of the Sicilian Gambino-Castellano group, is believed to have conspired in the 1957 assassination of Anastasia. Orderly succession within the organization is believed to have been on the agenda of the 1957 Apalachin, New York, Mafia convention, broken up by the appearance of law enforcement officers.

Gambino's rise to boss was contested by Armand Thomas Rava. Some arrangement within the family appears to have been reached following the disappearance of Rava. Dellacroce stepped into Rava's role as opposition faction leader, and Gambino designated him as family underboss. Dellacroce made his headquarters the Ravenite Social Club, located on Manhattan's Mulberry Street in the area where Dellacroce was raised.

Gotti
Apparently believing that its leader was next in line to become boss, the Dellacroce faction was up in arms when Paul Castellano took over following the 1976 death of Gambino. Dellacroce reportedly kept the peace by ordering his followers to take no action against Castellano. Gotti decided that Dellacroce's death canceled the prohibition against violence.

See also Who Was Who entries for:

01 December 2016

He Done Her Wrong

When one thinks of the Golden Age of Hollywood, one doesn’t normally think about crime but Hollywood’s top stars lived with a constant fear that they could become the victims of armed robbers, extortionist or kidnappers. One of the most preyed upon movie stars was Mae West. She was the victim of both extortionists and armed bandits. Regarding the latter, in 1932 Mae was set up by a man named Harry Voiler, whom she considered to be a friend. Voiler was the manager of famed speakeasy hostess Tex Guinan and had ties to Chicago’s underworld. He moved to Hollywood in 1932 along with Guinan in search of Hollywood riches.
A bad guy at heart, Voiler just couldn’t help himself when it came to easy dough. Because Mae’s limousine was in the garage Voiler took to chauffeuring the actress around. On one occasion Mae opened her purse and pulled out a wad of $3,400. This plus the thousands in jewelry that Mae was always draped in was too much for Voiler to ignore. Knowing that he would be driving her around that night he got in touch with a couple of Los Angeles hoodlums and set up a robbery.  That evening, September 28, Voiler picked up Mae at the Paramount Studios and drove her and her manager back to Mae’s house. As Mae’s manager ran up to her apartment to feed her pet monkey, a man stepped up to the car and jerked open Mae’s door. With a gun hidden under a handkerchief, he demanded Mae’s purse and her jewelry.  Once he got what he was after he he told Voiler to take off.
Mae wanted to go to the police but Voiler said that she should wait to see if the robbers try to ransom back her jewelry, he even volunteered to act as her go between,  so the star agreed to wait. In the following weeks Voiler said that the bandits were willing to negotiate and that he would have to fly to Arizona to meet with them, so Mae sent him. Once there he called Mae and said that they had all her jewelry and were demanding $3,200 for it and were not willing to negotiate. Mae refused. With his plan backfired, Voiler was forced to sell the stuff elsewhere.
After the incident with Voiler Mae went to the police and, although it took over a year, Voiler was finally uncovered as the master mind behind the crime. Unfortunately for Mae, by that time, he was back in Chicago and the police were unable to extradite him.
                        Mae West shows the underworld that they won't be able to mess with her.

28 November 2016

Blonde Ambition - The Tale of Galina Orloff: Broadway Starlet, Gangster's Girlfriend - Part Three


Gay Olova, 1940.
This is the 3rd & final chapter...

Back to Part 2

As 1934 faded, the new year began with Gay Orlova completely enamored by Charles "Lucky" Luciano. She promptly dropped the stockbroker boy toy who funded her wardrobe and spending allowance, and as for the husband back home in New York - Edward Finn - well, he wasn't even an afterthought. The cigar-smoking showgirl/scarred-face gangster duo quickly became close, and Orlova basically moved into Lucky's luxurious Waldorf Astoria pad. Everything was looking good for both, but the party was about to end through a series of legal entanglements that would consume each of their lives.
"Carroll, a judge of female flesh
without equal, stated unequivocally Gay was the most beautiful
bimbo who ever worked for him.." -Lee Mortimer, 1959.

New York City had a new District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey. He was a crusader (be it for righteous reasons or political gain - that's debatable) set on taking out the 'big fish' of Gotham's underworld.  Arthur 'Dutch Schultz' Flegenheimer was number one on that list. The Dutchman got whacked though (and many believe Luciano was very much behind the assassination) and therefore Dewey had to pick a new target.  Lucky Luciano fit the bill.  Charlie Lucky earned the Public Enemy No. 1 spot immediately after Schultz's death.  Investigators were very anxious to 'speak with' Lucky and Johnny Torrio (Al Capone's former mentor), but the two were conveniently 'resting' in Florida when the Dutchman got nixed.  Dewey went to work, and with the help of his staff, found a way to put a case together against Luciano - Prostitution.
 "The most dangerous and important racketeer in New York City if not in the country" - Thomas E. Dewey, characterizing Lucky Luciano, 1936
Upon hearing of Dewey's intention, Lucky fled to gangster-friendly Hot Springs Arkansas.  Gay Orlova spent a great deal of time with him there as well.  Still, Dewey diligently continued putting together a case against Luciano because sooner or later... he'd get the gang boss back to New York.   That moment of truth arrived in spring of 1936 when - after much legal back and forth battles - Luciano's luck ran out. Unlike how the government generally went after top mobsters, the DA's angle wasn't the tried and true Tax Evasion charge. Dewey had him extradited and charged with Compulsory Prostitution. He proclaimed Lucky the head of nationwide vice ring, and knew that of all vices... the sex trade would likely gain him no sympathy in court and the court of public opinion.

Orlova became the target of both prosecution and defense teams.  "I don't want her mixed up in this case," Lucky told his lawyers. When she was called into Dewey's office, the staff were both shocked and awed. Gay Orlova was adorned in diamonds, a fur coat, but most of all - spoke to the prosecution team as if they were the the shocking ones.  To Orlova, the expensive accoutrements were the norm, and she was not one to filter her thoughts. As for helping the DA, that wasn't going to happen. She continually spoke of Lucky with admiration, albeit a bit unorthodox in using the word 'sinister' as a compliment!

Lucky Luciano, 1936.
Luciano went to trial and was made an example of.  The judge sentenced him to a 30-50 year term! Meanwhile, Orlova began feeling paranoid.  Word spread that 'people' had been following her ever since Lucky was extradited to New York.  Plus, she still had to deal with her husband, whom she hoped would just divorce her. Simply put, a divorce wouldn't effect her citizenship.  Edward Finn had, by the time Lucky Luciano had become a household name from the sensational vice ring trial, become aware of his bride's love affair.  He was going to do something, but not divorce.
“Oh, I’m infatuated with Lucky. He’s so sinister.” - Gay Orlova, 1935.
1937 should have been a welcomed change, considering how tumultuous her life had been the previous year.  However, Orlova's worst was yet to come.  First, she outright told husband Finn to "get a divorce" as she boarded a ship to France. Her plan was to get some dancing gigs and photo shoots in Paris, a city she felt comfortable and safe in.  Finn, on the other hand, took a trip straight to the courthouse and requested an annulment.  Upon pleading his case, Judge Cohalan remarked, "Have we reached a point where we should dissolve marriages because a woman won't support a man?" The court's discontent took a backseat to further convincing testimony, and Edward Finn got the judgement.

Gay Orlova denied entrance to United States, 1937.
Back in Paris, the now-brunette Gay Orlova had no idea of what husband Edward had been up to. On August 11, she boarded the liner Normandie and sailed for New York (ironically, the Normandie was seized by the United States during WWII, and while being converted into a troop ship - caught fire. Suspicions of Nazi sabotage led to the government enlisting the help of the mob to protect New York's harbor, the imprisoned Lucky Luciano being a pivotal figure in the mix).  Upon arrival, authorities denied her entrance. Contrary to many news reports of the time, Orlova was not deported, but she did have to remain on the ship and sail back to France. Had Finn filed divorce, Orlova would have retained citizenship; annulment did exactly what it was designed to to - made it like she'd never been married, and no citizenship.
"He was lovely to me. I even gave up my broker friend just for him. Then I was with Lucky a lot in New York." - Gay Orlova, 1936.
Back in Paris she continued to model and dance.  Then, opted for wedding bells once more, this time with a French Count whom she'd allegedly met some years prior. Three weeks after the marriage Gay divorced the Count, yet the pair remained quite close, that is until WWII interfered. Late September 1939, the French nobleman was called to duty near the Maginot Line. Orlova, always persistent when she wanted something, journeyed the northern border of France. The two reunited, but military police were extremely suspect of the flamboyantly dressed woman hiding out in a deserted village. Both the Count and Orlova were taken into custody and interrogated for hours. The word 'spy' had been muttered, and Gay knew what happens to spies - firing squad.  Finally the truth of their former marriage (and of course who they both were) reached the officers; both were set free. Orlova told to return to Paris immediately, which she did.
Gay Orlova, 1940. Photo courtesy of Christopher Jones

“All those headlines about the reunion Gay Orlova planned with Lucky Luciano came as a complete surprise – not to say shock – to him. He hasn’t heard from her in many years.” - Dorothy Kilgallen, 1946.


Over the course of several more years, the American press would periodically 'check in' on Gay Orlova, or perhaps better stated - would publish brief and unflattering grapevine gossip. Lucky's sentence got commuted and he was exiled to Italy 1946. Upon such news, whispers a purported 'reunion' soon emerged. True or merely conjecture, such a meeting never transpired.  Sadly, the most disheartening rumors were often quite true. After the apparent dissolution of any further relations with the French Count, Orlova spent time in Spain, where she met and began an affair with Pedro Eyzaguirre, the Chilean Secretary of Legation. He wasn't the only man in her life, but certainly the one she envisioned a future with. Wishful thinking again, plans were not going to materialize as she'd hoped. Gay Orlova wanted marriage. Eyzaguirre, a married man, was unable, or unwilling to get a divorce. Some reports circulated that she was destitute, others that she was depressed.  The latter was unfortunately true. 

Walter Winchell's 'On Broadway' column, 1948.

In 1948, Galina Orloff, aka Gay Orlova, turned on the gas inside her Paris apartment.  Her death went largely unnoticed, save for a single brief, inconclusive and cold mention in Walter Winchell's syndicated column on February 28th. According to Patrick Modiano (novelist and 2014 Nobel winner in literature), in his memoir Pedigree (published in 2015) Orlova (who he stated had an affair with his father) carried out her suicide on February 12th, and was interred in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (the Russian Orthodox section of Cimetière de Liers).


That same year, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, found the love of his life while living in exile. Her name was Igea Lissoni, a former ballerina with whom he spent the better part of a decade with until her death (breast cancer) in 1958.  Lucky granted interviews to a number of American reporters who visited Naples. He was usually quite cryptic in responses to the questions regarding actual crimes and the subject of Gay Orlova. To the former, a jaded tongue lashed out at corrupt politics. To the latter, he never spoke in any detail, only addressing the time frame of their affair, and generally only mentioning how he spent a lot of money on material things and women.


www.ganglandlegends.com



Sources:
Cipollini, Christian, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Strategic Media Books, 2014, p. 57-69.
Donati, William, Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss, 
Modiano, Patrick, (translated by Mark Polizzotti), Pedigree: A Memoir, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 13.
Raines, Robert K, Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello, Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p. 56-57.
"Luciano's Ex-Sweetheart Escapes Death as a Spy," The Philadelphia Enquirer, October 24,1939, p. 2
"Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky's Girl," Albuquerque Journal, December 24, 1939, p. 15.
"Lucky's Dear Friend," The Morning Herald, April 24, 1936, p. 1.
Sell, Robert. “Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky’s Girl.”
Norman, Charles, "Prosecutor of New York Rackets Strings Bow for "Big Shots" Only," The Florence Times, August 10, 1936, p. 5.


Lait, Jack. “Broadway and Elsewhere: Opium, Politics, Love.” St. Joseph Gazette, 1949 2-September: 4.

Winchell, Walter, "Broadway," Albany Times Union, September 23, 1940, p. 4.
Winchell, Walter, "Broadway," St. Petersburg Times,  February 24, 1948, p. 32

26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Sberna and Gati both were convicted and executed for the 1937 murder of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson. Gati admitted his role but insisted that Sberna was not present for the crime. Names of other possible Gati accomplices were revealed, but prosecutors made little effort to check into them.

Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue.

That first article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna took as his bride Carmela Morello, daughter of former Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and niece of New York City rackets leaders Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova.

Sberna's own family background remained a mystery until later research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. Giuseppe Sberna was a vocal leader in the East Harlem-based Bresci Circle, the nation's largest anarchist organization. Local, state and federal authorities hunted Giuseppe Sberna, but he escaped to his native Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in New York. Learning this, I began to wonder whether Charles Sberna, so closely connected to so many fearsome public enemies, possibly could have received a fair trial. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Accused cop-killers Charles Sberna (left)
and Salvatore Gati (right) in court.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have committed the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)