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.)

23 November 2016

Magaddino's wrath

On this date in 1961:

Thanksgiving Day hunters in Penfield, New York (just outside Rochester), discovered the beaten, mutilated and burned remains of a male murder victim. 

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 26, 1961.

Days later, the FBI laboratory - using fingerprints from the remains - identified the victim as Albert George Agueci. Agueci, 39, a resident of Toronto, Canada, had been a narcotics racketeer working with the Magaddino Crime Family based in western New York.

Albert Agueci, his brother Vito and 18 other people were charged in the summer with participating in a large narcotics operation. The arrests strongly suggested that regional crime boss Stefano Magaddino was engaged in narcotics trafficking in violation of a Mafia Commission policy.

Albert Agueci
Albert Agueci and a number of co-defendants were released on bail. One co-defendant, William "Shorty" Holmes, was soon found shot to death in the Bronx.

As the date of trial approached, Albert Agueci disappeared. Vito and ten other defendants in the narcotics case were on trial in U.S. federal court in New York City when Albert's charred remains turned up.

The brutal gangland slaying was viewed both as a Magaddino disciplinary effort and as the boss's attempt to distance himself from the narcotics ring.

For more about Agueci, Magaddino and the Mafia of western New York, see DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II.

22 November 2016

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

Part Two in a Three-Part Series on the true story of Gay Orlova - Read Part One


Gay Orlova, from Vanities Photo book, Ninth Edition
The immigrant Russian girl with big dreams of Broadway fame had achieved success within the first five years of entering the United States. Now calling herself Gay Orlova she earned a coveted spot in Earl Carroll's Vanities show, and received regular hype from the press. By 1932, Carroll even gave her a few speaking roles in sketches opposite Andre Randall (Ironically, Orlova was never a top billed cast member in any of Carroll's productions).  Even her mother Antolina adopted the 'Orlova' surname. On the surface, life was grand.
"Earl Carroll, famed nudie tycoon of the-girl-in-the-bathtub episode." - The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1935.
Despite the high times of life in the fast lane, a lingering concern had apparently been haunting her.  Though barely out of her teens, Orlova was worldly, savvy and street smart. In order to avert any immigration problems that could arise, the dancer determined a quick marriage would automatically make her a U.S. citizen.  Edward Finn, the nineteen year old, second balcony usher of the Majestic Theater was her mark.  To the dismay of his friends and mother (who warned the situation was a 'gold brick'), Finn accepted Orlova's proposal and the two were married on March 1, 1934.  There was to be no honeymoon bliss though, as Orlova insisted Finn immediately go inform his mother of the marriage. "You must go home and spend the night with her and square yourself," she commanded.  Finn agreed but suggested they spend a few hours together before her show that evening, to which his bride quickly dismissed -"I'm going shopping with a girlfriend."  Orlova explained they'd have little time to meet up at the show, handed him a ticket so he could at least attend, and closed the conversation with - "Call me up tomorrow."


"If you had to marry an usher, why from the second balcony?" - Earl Carroll, in a memo pinned to backstage bulletin board, 1934.


The following day, Mrs Finn sailed for England, telling hubby she'd see him in a few months. Odd as the entire situation seemed, Finn reminded himself how thoroughly incredible, unbelievable really, that someone of his status - $10 a week salary earner - could be wed to this stunning superstar. She had indeed assured him the arrangement would be worthwhile.  Then he recalled Gay's comforting promise, "That doesn't matter," she cooed. "You move right In here with me. I have Influential friends who will get you a Job with big money."  It was a statement young Finn would not forget, and one that would come back to haunt Orlova. Oh, and as for those 'friends?'  Yes, she already had one on her arm, stockbroker J. Theus Munds.  Like the men before him, Munds would not last.  Orlova's breathtaking allure could only be matched by someone with a truly sinister charm.  She was about to meet him... in Miami of all places!

Gay Orlova had returned from several months of performances at the Dorchester Hotel in London, summer of 1934 had morphed into fall and still Edward Finn's marriage to her was, as the press mocked, "Kiss-less." Earl Carroll had been planning to take his Murder at the Vanities show on the road, and promised to be all the flash and grandeur one would expect from his troupe of chorus girls.  Orlova was on the roster, and headed south to perform a 'fan dance' for the grand opening of Carroll's Palm Island Revue, scheduled to open on New Year's Eve. Tagging along... the stockbroker boyfriend.

"3/7/1930. Operating a gambling device. Ten deputy sheriffs conduct a raid within a resort hotel in Miami. Upon entering the top floorof the hotel, they discover tables filled with gamblers and cash. A total of $73,575.05 was collected. Sheriffs took $60, 090 from one gambler and a pittance of twelve cents from another. Deputies identified two of the gamblers as Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Charles Lucania. Lucky was allegedly the ‘banker’ and the only person armed. He had a revolver. All were charged with vagrancy and gambling. Lucky was fined $1000 and released." - Christian Cipollini, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend.

Palm Island... also the location of Al Capone's grandiose estate.  The significance of this real estate factoid?  Al's house was a frequent winter getaway spot for several of the nation's top gangsters. Call it fate, but on December 28th, Charles "Lucky" Luciano arrived in Miami to hang out with Al's brother Ralph 'Bottles' Capone.  Because Charlie had been arrested in Miami in 1930 (he was in possession of a revolver, but charged only for gambling), he was required to register with police, which he promptly did.  He and Ralph decided they would attend the Earl Carroll show to ring in the New Year. 
Al Capone's Palm Island Estate, circa 1930.
Continue on to read Part Three


http://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.”
"Arabian Nights Adventure of the Poor Theater Usher." The American Weekly, June 13, 1937, p. 3.
Henderson, W. J., "In Vanities," New York Sun, 1932, p. 26.

20 November 2016

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

Galina Orloff
Galina Orloff, aka Gay Orlova
aka 'Gay Orlova'
Born Petrograd Russia, 29 January 1915
Died Paris France, 12 February 1948

The stunning Broadway dancer, best known by stage name 'Gay Orlova,' lived a life filled with 'tragic comedy.' Propelled into infamy for her scandalous affair with New York's 'Public Enemy Number 1' during the spring of 1936, Orlova's fairy tale life was only just beginning to unravel. A newsmaker long before the Lucky Luciano affair, and sadly - fodder for gossip columns for some years after, the shapely and sharp-tongued beauty never secured 'true love' and cycled through a series of jobs, lovers, failed marriages that ultimately ended in tragedy.

"Until her meeting in the south with Luciano the shapely Russian was one of
the most popular of the Vanities line and, although Ziegfeld's (Follies) is the more illustrious name, Broadway connoisseurs' rate Carroll as his peer in picking beauties." - Robert Sell, 1939.

Sinai Ship Manifest, 1929.
Galina's life began in an era of turmoil, marked by a world war and a revolution within her homeland.  Her father Sergei died in 1927 and within two years she and her mother Antolina would pack up and move about Europe.  France is where the teenage Orloff developed a love of dance, but mother and daughter were still in transition. America was their chosen destination.  Antonina and Galina (on a student visa) boarded the Sinai in Constantinople on March 17, 1929, and arrived in Rhode Island on April 6. The pair soon settled in Brooklyn, but Galina had no intention of pursing a traditional education in the United States.  Her heart was set on Broadway.



The dream came true. By 1931 Galina Orloff, barely sixteen years old, had adopted a pseudonym, began showing up at casting calls, and caught the attention of producer Earl Carroll. Gay Orlova  landed a role in  Carroll's Vanities, and subsequently drew the attention of entertainment writers who were equally captivated by the catchy name and striking looks. The papers would fawn over her, but with a tinge of snarky mocking. Then again, there's no such thing as 'bad' publicity, or is there? And then there were the would-be suitors that salivated over the lot of seductive starlets. Orlova - a cigar smoking femme fatale - equipped with a larger-than-life personality and charm  - cast a spell upon men of all makes and models, from lowly ushers to highfalutin businessmen. 

"So they delve into the classics and the name books, encyclopedias and probably even dictionaries, to find such nom de theater... The prize winner in this category is Gay Orlova."  - Paul Harrison, 1934.

Charles "Lucky" Luciano, 1936
Orlova had also continued jaunting across the pond from time to time, which presented a potential problem.  She was still in the United States on a student visa, which doesn't last forever.  Desperately trying to avert the possibility of deportation, Orlova hatched a diabolical plan while performing at the Majestic Theater in New York, and it focused with laser accuracy upon one very young, naive theater worker named Edward W. F. Finn.  She had noticed how the nineteen year old usher couldn't keep his eyes off her, and so it began... the showgirl extraordinaire made her move.  Gay Orlova flirted briefly before going in for the kill, ultimately requesting Finn's hand in marriage.  Oh yes, he did indeed say, 'Yes!'

"Lucky's a perfect gentleman and I don't know why they say such mean things about him." - Gay Orlova, 1936. 




Little did young Finn know that his bride-to-be was already the mistress of the man District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey would label, "America's Greatest Gangster."

Continue on to read Part Two -


http://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.”
Albuquerque Journal, 1939 24-December: 15.

16 November 2016

Out of prison, into hospital

On this date in 1939, infamous Chicago gangland chief Al Capone was freed from prison and immediately taken to Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore to be treated for paresis.

A brother of Capone served as the family spokesman on the occasion. Refusing to address Capone's physical and mental health, the brother said Capone was, "in a cheerful mood and doesn't hold a grudge against anybody."

Capone had been sentenced to eleven years in prison following a tax evasion conviction. He served seven years of the sentence before being released.

Newspapers described "paresis" vaguely as a softening of the brain. They mentioned that a "malaria treatment" was planned for Capone at the hospital.

The condition was an inflammation of the brain resulting from late-stage syphilis. Its symptoms included dementia and paralysis. The malaria treatment involved infecting the patient with malaria in order to bring on a high fever. In a number of cases, the fever provided temporary relief from paresis symptoms.

Logan Ohio Daily News, Nov. 18, 1939.

Leonard Falzone (1935-2016)

Leonard Falzone died Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, at the age of 81. Calling hours are today (Wednesday, Nov. 16) from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lombardo Funeral Home, 885 Niagara Falls Boulevard in Buffalo. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mark's Church in Buffalo.

Additional information on Falzone has been posted:

DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime
Leonard Falzone (Jan. 26, 1935, to Nov. 12, 2016)


"Born Jan. 26, 1935, in Buffalo, Leonard F. Falzone was a longtime leader of the mob-plagued Laborers International Union (LIUNA) Local 210. Convicted of racketeering in 1994, Falzone was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Efforts by authorities to prosecute him for more violent offenses were unsuccessful..." ( Read more )

15 November 2016

Bad-bills bust

On this date in 1909, agents of the United States Secret Service and detectives of the New York Police Department Italian Squad arrested Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and a dozen of his aides.

Morello and the others were charged with participating in a counterfeiting ring. Authorities initially suspected that they were importing counterfeit U.S. currency printed by associates in Italy. It was later determined that the phony bills were generated at small printing plant on a farm in Highland, New York.

The arrests concluded a Secret Service investigation of more than half a year. Morello had been watched by the Secret Service for years.

New York Tribune, Nov. 16, 2016
For more about Giuseppe Morello:

14 November 2016

Party-crashers

Syracuse Herald-Journal, Nov. 15, 1957
On this date in 1957, the American Mafia's convention at Apalachin, New York, was revealed by New York State Police. 

As officers, assisted by agents of the federal Treasury Department, set up a roadblock and began taking a close look at the luxury automobiles parked at the secluded Joseph Barbara estate in Apalachin, dozens of Mafiosi darted out of the Barbara home and attempted to drive or run away from the scene. That suspicious activity permitted police to gather up the fleeing gangsters and take them in for questioning. Leading underworld figures from around the country were identified. It has been speculated that a number of other Mafia conventioneers escaped the notice of authorities merely by remaining within the house until police had departed.

The incident became a media sensation and prompted state and federal investigations. It ultimately compelled federal authorities - including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who long resisted the idea of an vast criminal conspiracy - to recognize the existence of a nationwide Mafia network.


See DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, for a detailed discussion of the Apalachin convention and its aftermath.

12 November 2016

Murder Inc. turncoat Abe Reles falls to his death

On this date in 1941, informant Abe "Kid Twist" Reles fell to his death at the Half Moon Hotel, Coney Island. 

Reles
The thirty-five-year-old Reles, who had been cooperating with authorities in Murder, Inc., prosecutions since early in 1940, was expected to testify shortly against big shot Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Earlier court appearances had been in murder cases against Harry "Happy" Maione, Frank "the Dasher" Abbandando, Martin "Buggsy" Goldstein and Harry "Pittsburgh Phil" Strauss. Reles also aided California authorities in obtaining indictments against Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Frank "Pug" Carbo for the November 1939 Hollywood murder of Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg.

While Buchalter was on trial (along with Louis Capone and Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss for the September 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen), Reles was housed on the sixth floor of the Half Moon along with government witnesses Sholom Bernstein, Max Rubin and Al Tannenbaum.

According to the official story, Reles decided at about 7 a.m. to try to escape from government custody rather than testify. Authorities said he exited his sixth-floor window and used a rope of tied-together bedsheets to lower himself to the window below. The rope was fastened to a radiator pipe using a length of electrical cord. It reportedly was not fastened very well, and detectives said it detached as Reles attempted to open the screen and window on the fifth floor.

Reles's body was later discovered on an extension roof about 42 feet below his last estimated location. Noting that the body came to rest a good distance from the hotel wall, some investigators and journalists quickly decided that Reles had been thrown out of his hotel room window. Reles became known as the underworld canary who could "sing" but could not fly.

New York Post, Nov. 12, 1941.

New York Times, Nov. 13, 1941.

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 1941.

09 November 2016

Behind the Mug: The Bug & Meyer Mob's 'Group Arrest'

Cipollini/Ganglandlegends Collection
Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel, 1928
The cliche is true: A picture is worth a thousand words. As such, why not kick off a periodic series that looks behind the still photos and hopefully reveals a few more gangland goodies in the process.

Let's begin with the 'Bug & Meyer Mob' - circa 1928.


Voicing a Grievance to the Wrong Crowd

John Barrett (police also identified him under the alias Elliot Muggins) had some 'issues' with the way fellow gang members were divvying up the profits earned from their stolen goods racket (specifically furs and other garments). Barrett voiced the problem aloud; some say he went so far as talking to law enforcement, or stole back a little cash in retribution.  Whether or not Barrett had any ground to stand on was, ultimately, quite irrelevant and dangerous.  See, Barrett was part of a gang run by, and associated with, an ensemble of hoodlums who would become the future wave of organized crime royalty.  Barrett, to put it bluntly,  was a nobody that had a beef with a somebody. That somebody was known to police as 'Little Meyer.'

Bang, Bang... You're Not Dead

Around 5:30 pm on January 29th, 1928, John Barrett arrived to a residence on Forty-Fourth Street in Sunnyside Queens. Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter was the host, and although Barrett would later call the gathering a 'party,' it was more likely organized as a 'sit down' type of event. A group of individuals hailing from both the Bug and Meyer Mob and Lepke's gang commiserated for several hours. Accounts of what exactly took place during and after the gathering are varied, one of which suggests Lepke, technically being from a separate gang, would make a good arbitrator, albeit a bias one.  Barrett plead his case and/or defended his actions. Lekpe, ironically a man who some would later refer to as the 'Judge,' allegedly sent Barrett out of the room so a decision could be made. We can all pretty much assume what that verdict entailed.

Sometime close to 8:30 pm, Barrett was coerced or forced into an automobile, where he was told to sit shotgun. Next to him was the driver; behind him were three other men.


Meyer Lansky, 1928.

The quintet traveled only a few blocks when someone in the back seat drew a pistol and fired at Barrett. The round struck Barrett in the back of the head (he later described feeling like he was hit with a blackjack). Immediately realizing he was being 'taken for a ride,' Barret claimed he kicked Siegel's foot off the gas, and leaped from the vehicle.  The would-be victim, bleeding but very much alive, did in fact make a run for it and successfully hailed a taxi.  The cab driver, however, had no idea where the nearest hospital was located, so Barrett opted for a trip to his parents' house at 523 Grand Street in Manhattan, just a few doors down from his own residence.

To his mother's horror, Barrett arrived bloodied and frightened, so she quickly summoned an ambulance from Gouverneur Hospital. Police from both Manhattan and Astoria became involved after the hospital reported Barrett's injury.  From his hospital bed, Barrett had no reservations in divulging the identities of his assailants to detectives. He explained where he had been, that he was trying to collect $5000 owed to him by some of the attendees, and who was in the vehicle - specifically naming twenty-three year old Meyer Lansky, of 125 East Third Street, Brooklyn, as the shooter. Initially, Barrett told police the driver was Benjamin Siegel, and the two other passengers were Joseph Benzola (aka Benny the Gambler, Bennie Benzola) and Samuel 'Red' Levine.  That story changed over time, quite dramatically. 

Memory Loss, a Common Underworld Ailment

March 7, 1928.  Three of the four men originally named as 'assailants' by John Barrett had already (and willingly on the advice of their attorney) turned themselves in to police. The defendants were Meyer Lansky, Joseph Benzola and Samuel 'Red' Levine (Siegel had not been arraigned). All of the aforementioned had rap sheets that, combined, consisted of assault, narcotics and robbery charges. None of the trio admitted to any wrongdoing of course, but were facing Felony Assault charges in the Long Island courtroom of  Magistrate Benjamin Marvin. Barrett, however, suddenly succumbed to an ill the judge had witnessed time and time again. 'Not them,' Barrett told the judge; the accused were not his attackers. Barrett didn't know who tried to kill him, but it wasn't the three standing before him in court. Magistrate Marvin was appalled and threatened Barrett with a charge of perjury. The effort was futile; Barrett wouldn't budge. After spending two weeks recovering in the hospital, and a couple weeks thereafter in the care of his parents, Barrett completely recanted his accusations.

"They have had so much experience in courts that it's a waste of money to get lawyers," the aggrieved magistrate proclaimed. "This is the best drilled thing I ever saw."

With that verbal condemnation, the judge dismissed Lansky, Levine and Benzola. As the trio began to exit, Manhattan detectives were ready in wait to take custody of all three, as suspect in a robbery investigation (Siegel was also picked up again).  And as the suspects were led away, the dispersing courtroom audience garnered some colorful description by a reporter from The Daily Star.

"Fully half of those present followed them (Lansky, Levine, Benzola) out," the newspaper remarked. "Shifty-eyed men hurrying from the courthouse and disappearing in different directions when they reached the sidewalk."
Joseph Benzola Sing Sing, 1930.


What Happens in a Hospital Room...  It Doesn't Stay There, Apparently.

Decades after the Barrett incident, another Bug and Meyer 'associate' revealed what took place between the time Barrett was shot and when the Magistrate heard the case.  These 'revelations' were made during the INS deportation attempts against Meyer Lansky.  Daniel Ahearn, the teller of the tale (serving a thirty year prison sentence at the time), spoke at length on the subject, detailing an elaborate and sinister scheme hatched by Lansky and Siegel, one that would put Barrett in the grave for good. The plot involved Ahearn himself who, as a trusted Barrett friend, was to bring a chicken dish to the hospital. That chiboni was poisoned, and as fate or common 'mob' sense would have it - Barrett declined the food. Barrett had the chicken examined and sure enough it was laced. Allegedly, he spoke aloud, pointing the finger directly at Lansky's Italian friend - Charles "Lucky" Luciano"That's Luciano's way," Barrett hissed. "They kill sneaky." Later, while continuing recovery at his parent's home, Barrett instructed his mother to allow nobody access, no friends were permitted to visit (though a few made attempts).  The entire situation did however encourage Barrett to back-peddle when the case went to court. And, Lansky chose not to retaliate any further, assuming (or so it has been said) that Barrett learned his lesson and would be loyal from then on out.

Aftermath Anecdote

Back to Ahearn though, his motivations for bringing up the thirty-year old case was likely two-fold; he may have been hoping for some leniency in the thirty year incarceration he was enduring, and, perhaps bad blood still ran through his veins. After the Barrett incident, a feud developed between Ahearn and Bugsy Siegel directly, with Lansky indirectly (he always sided with friend Siegel).  That feud led to drive-by shooting (allegedly carried out by Siegel) of which Ahearn -hit by several rounds - narrowly survived.


Sources:

Lacey, Robert. Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life, Little, Brown & Company, 1991, p. 56-59.
Nash, Jay Robert, The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 2, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, p.570-573
"Wounded, Blames Others in Auto," The Brooklyn Standard Union, January 30, 1928, p.3. 
"Swears Accused Are Not Ones Who Attacked Him," The Daily Star, March 8, 1928, p. 3.
FBI, Subject: Meyer Lansky, File Number 92-2831 Sub A, p. 15.
FBI, Subject: Meyer Lansky, File Number 62-97928, p. 2-8.

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