15 October 2017

New Orleans police chief ambushed, murdered

On this date (Oct. 15) in 1890, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy was fatally shot by several Mafia assassins a short distance from his home. He succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Scene of Hennessy assassination

Hennessy attended a meeting of the city's police commission during the early evening of October 15. The meeting broke up at about nine o'clock. Hennessy was driven back to police headquarters at the southwest corner of Common (Tulane Avenue) and Basin Streets. Captain William O'Connor of the private Boylan Protection Agency met him there to escort the police chief home. Hennessy, perceived as a partisan in a local underworld feud, received a number of death threats from the local Mafia. City fathers hired the Boylan agency to keep him safe.

New Orleans Police Chief David C. Hennessy
Hennessy
Though Hennessy had a reputation for punctuality (he lived with his widowed mother and tried to avoid worrying her), the chief did not immediately head home. Instead, he and O'Connor, long acquainted, chatted at police headquarters for more than an hour. They left the building a few minutes after eleven.

While Basin Street was the most direct route between Hennessy's office and his home on Girod Street, heavy rains of earlier in the day had caused some flooding in the area. Hennessy and O'Connor took a significantly lengthier route, riverward on Common Street and then up Rampart Street to the intersection with Poydras Street. At that corner, the two men stopped into Dominick Virget's Oyster Saloon for a late snack. A teetotaler, Hennessy had a glass of milk with his plate of oysters.

At eleven-thirty, the men stepped out of Virget's and continued up Rampart Street. They paused in front of the McDonough schoolhouse at the corner of Rampart and Girod, about one and a half city squares from Hennessy's home. O'Connor said goodbye to Hennessy at that point, though he had been assigned with seeing the chief all the way home. O'Connor crossed the intersection diagonally to his left - his intended destination is unknown - while Hennessy turned right on Girod.

The chief took only a few strides and then halted as a young man darted out of a Girod Street doorway and ran toward Basin Street whistling loudly. The youth turned right onto Basin and disappeared around the side of Mrs. Ehrwald's second-hand store.

Hennessy assassins fired from beneath shed roof
The assassins' first
shots were fired from
beneath this shed roof
Hennessy managed just a few steps more. As he reached the front of the residence at No. 269 Girod Street, shotgun pellets tore into him from his left. The initial blast, originating from the darkness under a shed roof on the opposite site of Girod, shredded his umbrella, disabled his left hand and knocked him backward. Hennessy instinctively drew his ivory-handled Colt revolver. Another blast of shotgun pellets ripped through his slacks and shattered his right knee. On his way to the ground, the chief was struck by pellets in the chest and abdomen and then in the face and neck. Hennessy fired his revolver into the darkness across the street as he struggled to stand up.

Two shadowy figures stepped into Girod Street. Illuminated by a streetlamp and within sight of some residents whose attention was caught by the gunshots, they advanced toward the fallen police chief. They fired large-caliber slugs into Hennessy's midsection and then ran off.

Mortally wounded, Hennessy managed to rise to his feet. He stumbled a few yards in the direction of home. At the corner, he turned onto Basin. He dragged his disabled leg just a few more paces and collapsed onto the front steps of No. 189 Basin Street. Captain O'Connor, at most only a single square away when the gunfire erupted, somehow reached the chief's side far too late to fulfill his function as bodyguard.

"They gave it to me," Hennessy gasped, "and I gave it back the best I could."

O'Connor asked if the chief could identify his attackers. Hennessy reportedly replied, "Dagoes."

 - - - 

Hennessy died before he could provide any additional identification of his killers. Suspected Mafia members and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring in the assassination of the police chief. Nine men, including New Orleans-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, were the first to be brought to trial early in 1891.

Captain William O'Connor, who should have been the prosecution's key witness in the case, was never called to testify. O'Connor might have explained the timing and the route of Hennessy's walk home, factors that brought him late at night into a well-planned ambush. The captain also might have explained his own fortuitously timed departure from the chief's side - just seconds before the shooting began - and his slow return to the chief after the shooting had finished and the assassins had run off.

None of the accused men were convicted. Six of those tried, including Macheca, reputed Mafia boss Charlie Matranga, and Asperi Marchesi, the boy-lookout who whistled upon the arrival of Hennessy, were acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict for three other defendants identified by witnesses as shooters of the police chief.  After the trial, some jurors revealed that they had been concerned that Captain O'Connor did not testify.

Angered by the jury verdict, a mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, and murdered Macheca and ten other prisoners.

 - - - 

Read more about Police Chief Hennessy
and the early Mafia of New Orleans:


Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon
(Available in softcover and Kindle e-book formats)

07 October 2017

Mafia leader's corpse discovered in Long Island

Cutolo
On this date (Oct. 7) in 2008, a body excavated from a roadside in Farmingdale, Long Island, was officially identified as that of William "Wild Bill" Cutolo, former underboss of the Colombo Crime Family. The partly decomposed remains, found wrapped in a tarp beneath a grassy area east of Route 110, were identified through dental and medical records.

Cutolo had been missing and presumed dead since 1999. On May 26, 1999, the forty-nine-year-old underworld leader told his wife Marguerite "Peggy" Cutolo that he was going to a meeting with acting boss Alphonse T. Persico in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He never returned. His death was immediately suspected when he did not show up for a weekly dinner with his crew at the Friendly Bocce Social Club in Brooklyn that evening.

Investigators noted that Cutolo's underworld rackets - including a lucrative loan sharking operation - and business interests were immediately taken over by Alphonse Persico. In 2001, Persico pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, loan-sharking and money-laundering charges. The case was built in part on Cutolo financial records found in Persico's possession.

In 2006, Persico and his top aide John DeRoss were tried in federal court for racketeering and murder. They were charged with ordering the killing of Cutolo. That case ended in mistrial, but Persico and DeRoss were retried and convicted on the charges in 2007. For that trial, Cutolo's wife emerged from the federal witness protection program to testify against them. In addition to noting that her husband was on his way to meet with Persico when he disappeared, Marguerite testified that, the day after the disappearance, John DeRoss showed up at the Cutolo home demanding all of "Wild Bill's" money and financial records.

Persico
On Feb. 27, 2009, Persico and Cutolo were given life prison sentences. At the time, prosecutors believed that Cutolo's remains had been disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean and would never be found. It was argued that Persico and DeRoss, fearing that Cutolo and his faction (described as remnants of the Vittorio Orena faction that years earlier warred with the Persicos for control of the organization) intended to take over the crime family, had Cutolo murdered.

Acting on a tip from informant Joseph "Joey Caves" Competiello, agents of the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team and police officers from Suffolk County began digging at several Farmingdale locations on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008. They hoped to find the bodies of Cutolo, Richard Greaves and Carmine Gargano, all believed murdered by the leadership of the Colombo Crime Family.

They discovered the tarp-wrapped body, said to still be wearing a pair of Italian loafers, the following Monday, Oct. 6. In addition to dental records, the body was identified as Cutolo's through a distinctive physical feature - the tip of the right middle finger was missing.

Gioeli
The story of Cutolo's murder was made public in Brooklyn Federal Court in March of 2012. "Big Dino" Calabro, a Colombo Family capodecina, cooperated with authorities and testified against his underworld associates. According to Calabro, Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli (who later rose to acting boss) arranged the 1999 hit. Cutolo was to be called to a meeting of crime family leaders. Gioeli planned to drive Cutolo to the meeting at the home of Calabro's cousin, "Little Dino" Saracino. There Cutolo would be killed and his body disposed of.

Calabro recalled; "When the time came, we were sitting in the basement. [Calabro was apparently looking out a basement window at Saracino's house, expecting to see Gioeli and Cutolo walk up.] We seen one set of legs walking by, not two. I went outside to see who it was, and it was Billy Cutolo. I shook hands with him. He asked me where to go. I showed him the stairs. He walked ahead. I pulled out my gun and shot him in the head. I closed the door. I went outside. I seen Tommy. He said, 'What happened?' I said, 'It's done'"

Cutolo's body was then tied up and wrapped in the tarp and buried in what at the time was a wooded lot.

According to prosecutors, Calabro was promoted to capodecina as a reward for eliminating the Cutolo threat.

Sources:

  • Newman, Andy, "Reputed Colombo mob family boss pleads guilty to racketeering," New York Times, Dec. 21, 2001.
  • "Mistrial is declared in mob murder case," New York Times, Nov. 4, 2006, p. B3.
  • Algar, Selim, "Mob widow points finger at Persico," New York Post, Nov. 9, 2007.
  • "Is a mob hitman buried in Farmingdale?" Eyewitness News, WABC-TV, New York, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • "F.B.I. digs for mob bodies on L.I.," New York Times, Oct. 2, 2008, p. B6.
  • "F.B.I. may have found body in search of L.I. burial site," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 27.
  • Marzulli, John, and Leo Standora, "Corpse found at Long Island mob dig may be Wild Bill Cutolo," New York Daily News, Oct. 7, 2008.
  • "Body identified as missing mobster's," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 28.
  • Feuer, Alan, "Awaiting an awkward burial," New York Times, Oct. 9, 2008, p. 31.
  • Wilson, Michael, and William K. Rashbaum, "11 years after officer's slaying, reputed mob figures are indicted," New York Times, Dec. 19, 2008, p. 38.
  • Marzulli, John, "Former Colombo family boss indicted in 1997 murder of NYPD cop Ralph Dols," New York Daily News, Dec. 19, 2008.
  • Marzulli, John, "Colombo boss Alphonse Persico sentenced to life in prison for 1999 hit," New York Daily News, Feb. 27, 2009
  • "Colombo organized crime family acting boss Alphonse T. Persico and administration member John J. DeRoss sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of William 'Wild Bill' Cutolo and related witness tampering," press release of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, Feb. 27, 2009. (LINK)
  • Rashbaum, William K., "F.B.I. resumes search for mob graves," New York Times, March 9, 2009.
  • Secret, Mosi, "Witness testifies how plot to kill officer was set up," New York Times, March 28, 2012, p. 22.
  • MobNews blog entries for "Cutolo." (LINK)

28 September 2017

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series

On this date (Sept. 28) in 1920, eight players on the Chicago White Sox baseball team were indicted by a Cook County, Illinois, grand jury for conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. The eight were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series (five games to three) to the Cincinnati Reds in what became known as the Black Sox scandal.

Following the indictments, prosecutors tried to locate former featherweight prizefighter Abe Attel, believed to be the link between the players and a gambling syndicate that made payoffs to players and benefited financially from bets on the longshot Reds. At the time, the New York-based Atell, reputedly an associate of Arnold Rothstein and "Legs" Diamond, threatened to release a damaging story with regard to the fixing of the World Series but denied he had a role in it. A Rothstein representative told the press that Rothstein was approached about entering into a conspiracy but refused to take part.

Chicago Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920

Two of the indicted players confessed to the conspiracy. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte admitted he received $10,000 from the agent of a gambling syndicate for his role in throwing the series. Outfielder "Shoeless Joe" Jackson confessed to investigators that he received $5,000. Jackson said he asked for $20,000 but was paid the lesser amount through pitcher "Lefty" Williams.

The others indicted were:

  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, centerfielder;
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman;
  • Fred McMullin, utility;
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop;
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher;
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman.

New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920.

Cicotte met with White Sox owner Charles "Commy" Comiskey in the morning before he testified to the grand jury, and confessed to him. "I don't know what you'll think of me, but I got to tell you how I double-crossed you," Cicotte told the team owner. "I did double-cross you. I'm a crook. I got $10,000 for being a crook."

The pitcher reportedly told grand jurors that Risberg, Gandil and McMullin pressured him for a week before the World Series started: "They wanted me to go crooked... I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and kids don't know this. I don't know what they'll think. I bought a farm. There was a $4,000 mortgage on it. There isn't any mortgage on it now. I paid it off with the crooked money."

The Sun and NY Herald, Sept. 29, 1920

Late in 1920, baseball team owners decided that a new central authority was needed for the sport. They voted to install federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. Negotiations over the authority of the office continued into early 1921. Ultimately, Landis was given complete power over all the participants in the sport's major and minor leagues.

Before the 1921 baseball season began, Landis put the eight accused White Sox players on a list that made them ineligible to participate in professional baseball at any level.

In the summer of 1921, the eight defendants were brought to trial. Signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson could not be located and the two players recanted. All of the accused players were found not guilty. There was widespread belief that jury acquittal would be followed by reinstatement in baseball.

One day after the August verdict, Landis announced that his decision on the players' ineligibility was final:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball... Regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

(When Cicotte attempted to arrange a semi-professional exhibition game in Saginaw, Michigan, a month later, Landis threatened to permanently throw out of baseball any player who participated in the event.)

Eddie Cicotte won 29 games for the White Sox during the 1919 regular season. Though it was thought that his career was over in 1915, he returned stronger than ever in 1916 and was a major factor in the White Sox World Series win over the New York Giants in 1917. Cicotte was known for an unusual delivery that some said made his "shine ball" unhittable.

Joe Jackson, considered one of the finest outfielders ever to play the game, joined the Sox six years earlier after playing six years for Cleveland. He batted .351 in the 1919 season and was a lifetime .356 hitter. Over the course of his big league career, he totaled 1,772 hits and 202 stolen bases.

Buck Weaver entered baseball as a shortstop with the White Sox in 1912. He moved to third in 1917 (when Risberg joined the team) and established a reputation as one of the league's best at the "hot corner." Though Weaver admitted he was aware of the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series and did not report it, he insisted he had no part in it. After batting .296 in the regular season, he turned in a .324 average in the Series against the Reds. Following the decision of Landis, Weaver fought unsuccessfully to win reinstatement to baseball.

Sources:

  • "Two Sox confess," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1. 
  • "Eight White Sox are indicted; Cicotte and Jackson confess gamblers paid them $15,000," New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Eight White Sox indicted for throwing 1919 series; Cicotte confesses plot," The Sun and the New York Herald, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "The man who rescued baseball," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1920.
  • "Players plan fight," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1920, p. 19.
  • "Majors and minors reach agreement," New York Times, Jan. 13, 1921, p. 1.
  • "White Sox players banned by Landis," New York Times, March 13, 1921, p. 16.
  • "Baseball leaders won't let White Sox return to the game," New York Times, Aug. 4, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Landis warns players," New York Times, Sept. 22, 1921, p. 24.
  • Pomrenke, Jacob, "Closing the door on Black Sox reinstatement," The National Pastime Museum, thenationalpastimemuseum.com, Jan. 4, 2016. (Link)
  • "SportsCenter Flashback: The Chicago Black Sox banned from baseball," ESPN Classic, espn.com, Nov. 19, 2003. (Link)
  • "Buck Weaver," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Eddie Cicotte," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Shoeless Joe Jackson," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)


18 September 2017

'Gangland Boston' due in October

Gangland Boston, due out in October 2017, is the newest book by Boston Globe crime reporter and author Emily Sweeney. (In 2012, Sweeney released an Images of America book entitled, Boston Organized Crime.)


From publisher Lyons Press: "Organized criminals have haunted Greater Boston’s history, lurking just around the corner or inside that nondescript building. Packed with photos, sidebars, and maps, Gangland Bostonreveals the secrets of these places, showing how the Italian mafia and Irish gangs rose to power, how the Winter Hill gang ascended to prominence, and how James “Whitey” Bulger became the region’s most feared crime boss. These are the places where deals were made, people were killed, and bodies were unearthed. From South Boston to the North End, Chinatown, Downtown, and Charlestown; Somerville, Brookline, and more . . . come and see where mobsters lived, worked, ate, played, and died."

The book will be available in paperback through Amazon.com.

Signed copies can be ordered now through Sweeney's website: www.bostonorganizedcrime.com/

14 September 2017

1874 White League revolt in New Orleans

J.P. Macheca, later linked with local Mafia,
played key role in Reconstruction Era battle

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
On this date in 1874, New Orleans merchant Joseph P. Macheca played a critical role in the White League's defeat of a militia/police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction-Era Republican state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures. The conservative Democratic administration formed its own militia, calling it "Louisiana's Own," and prepared for conflict.

Macheca
Following failed negotiations on September 14, 1874, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street, at the edge of the French Quarter. Badger personally commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the U.S. Customs House and the levee. The police force was made up largely of recent African-American recruits. Longstreet oversaw militia units further from the levee.

White League paramilitary forces, including many Civil War veterans, were already assembled behind barricades along Poydras Street, a few blocks uptown from Canal. They hoped to lure Republican forces into an uptown trap. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Joseph P. Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Initially hiding behind piles of unloaded freight on the levee, the unit used an approaching train to cover its movement toward Badger's left flank. Macheca's three hundred men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) consisted largely of Italian and other European immigrants drawn from the French Quarter.

New Orleans Bulletin
Sept. 18, 1874
As the train passed, Company B swarmed in from the levee. Badger's inexperienced police were taken completely off-guard. Most fled into the French Quarter. Badger was injured when his horse was shot from under him. He was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the police commander.)

Following the collapse of Badger's position, other Republican units melted away downtown into the French Quarter. The White League militia did not immediately pursue, and its victory was not complete until the following morning, September 15. It was then that White League Colonel John G. Angell began to probe across Canal Street and found no Republican resistance. Several blocks into the French Quarter, Angell discovered Macheca's men in control of key Republican positions, including the Republican arsenal. Macheca turned over to Angell thousands of seized weapons,  two artillery pieces and hundreds of prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control in the city only for a short time, as U.S. President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place" and referred to it as the final battle of the Civil War. (A monument to the battle was installed on Canal Street in 1891. The monument, which became a symbol for the white supremacist movement, was removed during 1989 construction on Canal Street and later erected on Iberville Street. It was dismantled on April 24, 2017.)

Apparently uncomfortable with its debt to the Italian-American force commanded by the Louisiana-born, ethnically Italian Macheca, the White League sought to minimize Macheca's role in histories of the event. (The White League record, published in the New Orleans Daily Picayune and New Orleans Bulletin on Oct. 2, noted that Colonel Angell was ordered to advance from Canal Street on the fifteenth. The report stated vaguely, "By 10 o'clock A.M., Col. Angell was in the possession of all the enemy's important points below Canal street, having received material assistance in this movement from Capt. Macheca.") However, accounts have survived showing that Macheca was first to arrive at the side of fallen General Badger and that he turned over captured Republican strongholds in the French Quarter to Colonel Angell. In addition, when Macheca felt slighted by local press coverage, he sent his own account to the New Orleans Bulletin (see image).

Map of the battle.
A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld. Sixteen years after the Battle of Liberty Place, Macheca and members of the New Orleans Mafia were arrested in connection with the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. Macheca was one of eleven men killed after an angry mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison early in 1891.

Read more about "Liberty Place," Joseph Macheca and the early New Orleans Mafia in:





12 September 2017

Eighty Years Ago in F.B.I. History - The Firing of Indiana State Police Captain Matt Leach

He was livin' in the U.S.A., as the song title goes.  Because of his privileged status as a law enforcement officer in the democracy called the United States of America, when he was found to be guilty of wrongdoing, he was simply fired.  Across the universe, in 1937 Stalin's Soviet Russia, officials such as Leach coming up against authority would be deemed enemies of the State, would disappear into Siberia for twenty years of forced labor and/or solitary confinement, or more likely be executed.  Period.  But Leach got an American slap on the wrist, all things considered, when he was fired from his post as Captain of the Indiana State Police at the behest of the F.B.I.
The most recognized photo of Matt Leach

The Indianapolis field agents of the F.B.I. had tried for the previous four years to work with Captain Leach on cases as diverse as John Dillinger, Al Brady of "The New Dillinger Gang," and the notorious "Head and Hands" murder/amputation case that had graced the State of Indiana with tabloid realism gritty enough to rival the New York Daily News.

When the F.B.I. agents grew tired of Leach, they called him an obstructionist and demanded his dismissal. Through relationships garnered with public officials on the Indiana State Police Board, Indianapolis field agents got Leach publicly disgraced.  

Before Captain Matt Leach became a statistic as having had his state policing career terminated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he had tried to cooperate with the special agents working in Indianapolis  and Chicago.  Leach was riding high on the crest of the Dillinger campaign when, in 1934, the agents of Justice Department (as the F.B.I. was called before 1935), walked into his Indianapolis office and leafed through his files.  They then took Leach's files, compiled through extensive use of informants and material garnered from a private investigator named Forrest Huntington, into their own widely distributed memos which were written under their own names.  After the F.B.I. entered the Dillinger case, Leach was pushed on the sidelines and hushed by his own people -- notably Governor Paul V. McNutt and Safety Director Al Feeney, both of whom had sponsored Leach up from his humble beginnings as a Serbian immigrant and volunteer National Guardsman.
Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt, 1933-1936


An immigrant, Leach rose from his origins as the child who spoke English to the grocer for his Serbian mother, a boy beaten by his drunken father until he one day fought back, a young restless man who joined the National Guard while still underage and who fought in the Mexican Conflict and the First World War.  Later, his name was linked with outlaw JohhDillinger.




John Dillinger
Leach was "Dillinger's Nemesis," the lawman most hated by Dillinger.  Leach was equally hated by Dillinger's friend and gang member, Harry "Pete" Pierpont.  The Dillinger "Trigger Man" once tried to shoot Leach, before he was talked out of this would-be capital crime.
Dillinger Trigger Man Harry Pierpont
On the day that he was fired on September 4, 1937, Leach demanded a hearing even though this would have meant negative publicity in his darkest hour.  The charges that the F.B.I. filed against him were lengthy and repetitive.  Most notably, he'd given information to the newspapers that amounted to police secrets in the Brady Gang case.  His patron, Governor McNutt, was no longer in office by 1937 and he had no backers.

It was clear he'd lost his balance, obvious that he was on a downward spiral that had started back in 1933 with his unpopular reputation among the hardened, streetwise investigators and back alley cops in East Chicago and Indiana Harbor and Chief Michael Morrissey in Indianapolis.  Yet he was liked and respected in Chicago by Captain John Stege -- and both Stege and Leach were kept in the dark by the F.B.I. on the night Dillinger was killed at the Biograph Theater in Chicago's North Side.


The federal agents said he was unprofessional, guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer.  How that
Foreground, The Indiana Statehouse
must have hurt Captain Matt Leach!  His hearing, held in the Indiana Statehouse in the presence of bored office workers on a break, amounted to nothing more than a kangaroo court.  He was given a day to defend himself for his conduct going back over four years.

Indiana field agents testified against Leach and the conclusion was that his firing was upheld.
 








From there he went into an abyss, depressed and unemployed until finding work as a salesman. He signed up for more military service and served in World War II.  Not
Mat Leach was featured almost daily in news reporting in 1934.
to make a hero of the man.  He was controversial and particularly disliked by factions around Indiana for going after publicity in a world where a real cop always laid low.

Yet he revolutionized the way the public viewed police officers.  He dressed neatly, with perfectly folded handkerchief, collar and tie, his every detail flawless.  He was a self-educated student of the criminal mind and used interrogation techniques which relied heavily on his playing the good cop verses the heavy-handed, third degree methods in place at the time.






Matt Leach lived until June of 1955, when he was killed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a horrendous accident which claimed the lives of himself, his wife Mary, and two other people, one of whom was pregnant.  He and his wife were on the way home from New York on a search for a ghost writer and/or publisher for the book he planned to write on Dillinger.    
Make and Model of the other car involved in the accident, which sent Leach and his wife thirty feet down a roadside ravine.  

There are many myths and rumors associated with Matt Leach.  Here is a sample:

True or False:  Outlaw John Dillinger once sent Leach abook entitled, "How to be a Detective."
Ans.:  False.  The book, actually a pamphlet, was sent to Leach by an Indiana news reporter who admitted to sending it to Leach in January of 1934.

Ellen Poulsen, Author, Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, and The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial.  

Co-author, with Lori Hyde, of a soon to be released biography of Captain Matt Leach:  Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the F.B.I.

Lecturer, avid researcher and television commentator on the crime wave of the 1930s.




@Ellen Poulsen on FaceBook


  

    

06 September 2017

This day in crime history: September 6, 1901



On this date in 1901, US President William McKinley was shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. President McKinley died eight days later from his wounds. Czolgosz was subdued at the scene by the crowd and taken into custody. He was tried in NY State court and convicted of murder. He was executed in the electric chair at Auburn Prison on October 29, 1901.

This video is of a reenactment of the execution of Leon Czolgosz. The original film was shot by Thomas Edison in 1901.



Further reading:

University at Buffalo: Leon Czolgosz and the Trial

Biography: Leon Frank Czolgosz

Wikipedia: Leon Czolgosz

05 September 2017

End of 'Village' influence over Genovese clan?

"Venero Frank 'Benny Eggs' Mangano, one of the Genovese Crime Family's oldest and strongest remaining links to its traditional Lower West Side foundation, died of natural causes in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on August 18, 2017. He was ninety-five years old. 

"The Greenwich Village area was a stronghold of the organization that became known as the Genovese Family since a young Vito Genovese joined forces with Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria in the Prohibition Era. Venero Mangano's parents, newcomers to the United States, settled in the area in the early 1910s ..."

» Read more at The American Mafia history website (mafiahistory.us).

28 August 2017

Macheca and the Civil War black market

On this date (Aug. 28) in 1863, Joseph Macheca of New Orleans was tried and convicted in a Union military occupation court in connection with a scheme to steal and sell barrels of U.S. Army pork and beef.

Daily Picayune
The barrels officially belonged to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. They had been loaded aboard the steamship North America, a government transport, at Port Hudson, Louisiana (recently fallen to the Union forces after a 48-day siege). The North America steamed its cargo up the Mississippi River in support of the 4th Massachusetts' advance to Cairo, Louisiana. Remaining barrels were brought to New Orleans, and the ship captain and a steward sold some to Macheca for resale through the Macheca family produce store in the city.

While other conspirators were sent to prison, young Macheca was merely ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Joseph Macheca previously had enlisted for service in the Confederate Army and returned home to New Orleans in advance of the Union invasion of the city. Union occupiers generally controlled businesses and provisions in the region. The produce business of Macheca's step-father - a native of Malta and a British citizen - was one exception.

Following his conviction, Macheca left New Orleans for Texas, where he reportedly gathered a small fortune through smuggling. Macheca returned after the Civil War and became a close ally of New Orleans Mafiosi while building a produce business and a shipping line.

Macheca was among those charged, tried and acquitted of the 1890 assassination of Police Chief Hennessy. The New Orleans merchant was one of eleven prisoners murdered after Orleans Parish Prison was stormed by an anti-Mafia mob in 1891.

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

15 August 2017

Meyer Lansky: Opponent of the American Nazi Bund

Meyer Lansky was a mobster who today is known for his longevity and intensity.

A taciturn man, Meyer Lansky nevertheless put his money where his mouth was in the 1930s, when he challenged the rise of United States-based Nazism and Fascism.  To Lansky, a Jewish man, this was personal.

Lansky's attempts to send in roughnecks to disrupt and prevent the meetings of the German-American Bund are documented in at least two published works.  These stories are familiar to gangster buffs.  His commitment to stopping the growth of Nazism in America was transmitted through columnist Walter Winchell and within unpublished interviews with author Paul Sann that Lansky gave later in his life.

He is credited with creating at least one riot that prevented the leader of the German American Bund, Fritz Kuhn, and his wife, Elsa, from speaking at a Nazi-Fascist event on New York's Upper East Side in the 1930s.

Lanski used his muscle and might to fight the bigotry of the German-American Bund.  Its members stood to "unite the various forces of intolerance, racial hatred, Nazism and Fascism in the United States," according to a congressional report into Un-American Propaganda activities which was conducted in 1940.




The face of the Bund was undoutedly Fritz Kuhn.  During his rise to power in the thirties, Kuhn raised $3,000 and presented it to Adolph Hitler in 1936.  Kuhn would be defeated via imprisonment by 1939.  Yet during his few short years in the spotlight, Kuhn sponsored many extremist Nazi and Fascist groups, and encouraged them to attend his meetings. During the height of his power, Kuhn controlled at least seventy "posts," or units of the Bund.  These groups had deceptive names which evoked a religious component -- the "Christian Front," and the "Social Justice Society" to name two.  While hiding behind this fraudulent labeling, Kuhn led his factions and would mislabel his organization as "a political group whose primary purpose was to promote the welfare and best interests of the citizens of the United States."






By 1939, Lansky's anti-Nazi /Fascist mission -- which never ameliorated his guilt in the eyes of the criminal justice system -- was taken over by the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League, which tried to seek the deportation of Kuhn.  Their basis for pursuing deportation was information that Kuhn possessed a criminal record.  On November 3, 1939, Kuhn was convicted of grand larceny and forgery in theft of money stolen from the Bund.  The United States Government then went about trying to effect the deportation of Kuhn's wife, Elsa Kuhn.













In 1943, it was reported that Kuhn was imprisoned at Dannemora.  In the 1940s, Dannemora or Clinton Correctional Facility a/k/a "Siberia",  also housed Inmate Charles "Lucky" Luciano and his co-defendant from the Prostitution Bonding Combination Conviction of 1936, David "Little Davie" Petillo (shown at right).

One might assume that Meyer Lansky's friend, Lucky Luciano, with the possible help of Petillo, found ways to get revenge on Kuhn "mob style" once the American Nazi was imprisoned inside the walls of Dannemora.      

(Photo source of David "Little Davie" Petillo:  NYC Municipal Archives)





Sources:

Report of the Un-American Propaganda Activities under the category of Nazi-Fascist organizations, Wednesday, January 3, 1940; H. Rpt. 1476.  Serial Set Vol. No. 10440, pp 14-16, 18, 24.

The Jewish Chronicle, May 12, 1939.

Miami Herald, November 30, 1939.

Lacey, Robert. Little Man:  Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life. Little, Brown & Co., 1991

Newark, Tim.  Mafia Allies.  Zenith Press, 2007.  



Ellen Poulsen is the author of The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial, and "Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, as well as a forthcoming book tentatively entitled, Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the F.B.I.

www.Dillingerswomen.com
www.Lucianotrial1936.com

11 August 2017

Live by the sword...

Mafia assassin Umberto Valente
killed in East Village shooting

On this date in 1922: Mafia assassin Umberto Valente was gunned down in a bold daylight shooting on a busy Manhattan street corner.

Valente was seen with a group of men at the intersection of East 12th Street and Second Avenue at about noon, when he suddenly darted into the intersection toward a taxicab. Two other men also moved into the intersection, drew handguns and opened fire on the fleeing man.

Valente reached the runningboard of the taxi and tried to return fire before collapsing unconscious to the street. His attackers fired a few shots toward a gathering crowd and made their escape through the basement of an apartment building at 233 East 12th Street.

Stray slugs wounded a New York street cleaner and an eleven-year-old girl from New Haven, Connecticut, who was in New York City visiting her grandfather.

NYPD Detective Sgt. Kirk witnessed the end of the gunfight from a streetcar. He rushed to the fallen Valente and commandeered an automobile to take Valente to St. Mark's Hospital. Valente never regained consciousness. He died of his wounds about an hour later.

According to an often repeated underworld legend (told and likely created by the notoriously inventive David Leon Chandler), the gunman who fired the fatal shots into Valenti was Salvatore Lucania (later known as Charlie Luciano), at that time an underling of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Evidence in support of the tale is lacking. Lucania's only documented brush with the law in August of 1922 occurred near the end of the month when his car was pulled over for a traffic violation.


Investigators determined that Valente had been responsible for the attempted murder of Giuseppe Masseria a few days earlier on August 8. Masseria surprisingly escaped unharmed - except for a couple of bullet holes through his straw hat - after being cornered by a gunman near his home, 80 Second Avenue (less than half a mile from the spot where Valente was killed). On the afternoon of the eleventh, police found Masseria at his home, insisting that he had not been out of the building and knew nothing of the attack on Valente. His denials were unconvincing. It was assumed that Masseria either directly participated in or ordered the shooting of Valente.

Already awaiting a murder trial for the shooting death of Silvio Tagliagambe two months earlier, Masseria was charged also with the murder of Valente.

Police hypothesized that Masseria and Valente, both known to be involved in Manhattan bootlegging and gambling rackets, had become underworld rivals. Much later, authorities learned that Masseria and allies were engaged in a gangland war with reigning Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila. Valente had been assigned by D'Aquila to eliminate Joe the Boss.

Sources:
  • "Eight men shot in mysterious battle on street," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen shoot six in East Side swarm," New York Times, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Cloakmaker, victim of gunman, dies; 3 more in hospital," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Gunman's volley fatal to striker," New York Times, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 13
  • "Car used in street battle traced here," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 18.
  • "1 dead, 2 shot, as bootleggers again fight on East Side," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One killed, two shot in pistol battle," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One man killed, two wounded, in gang war," New York Call, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 4.
  • "Mystery in rum street battle near solution," New York Tribune, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "East Side bad man killed as shots fly," New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "Gang kills gunman; 2 bystanders hit," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Valente's arrest balked by murder," New York Evening World, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 3.
  • "New Haven girl wounded in New York bootleggers' feud," Bridgeport CT Telegram, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Bootleggers at war," Philadelphia Inquirer (Associated Press), Aug. 12, 1922, p. 2.
  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975.
  • Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilanti, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993.

27 July 2017

1909 Connecticut murder linked to NYC Mafia

On this date in 1909...
An orchardman in Danbury, Connecticut, is ambushed and shot to death at his doorstep on Hospital Avenue. Newspaper reports immediately link his murder to the Morello-Lupo Mafia organization in New York City and to the famous Barrel Murder case.

Giovanni Zarcone of Danbury
Near the centennial of this murder (now eight years ago), I was invited to speak about it at the Danbury Museum and Historical Society. A couple of documents were prepared for that event: One was the text of my remarks and the other was a collection of related images. Links to these documents are provided below.

An article relating to the murder and its background was published in the July 2009 issue of Informer: The Journal of American Mafia History. That issue remains available in print and electronic formats through the MagCloud service.


26 July 2017

Embryo of the FBI

On this date in 1908: Former U.S. Secret Service operatives were assigned to serve under Chief Examiner Stanley Wellington Finch of the Justice Department. The following year, the DOJ's new investigative arm was given the name, "Bureau of Investigation." In 1935, it was rechristened, "Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Stanley W. Finch
Aside from a staff of accountants used to monitor financial dealings of the U.S. court system, the DOJ had no investigative staff before July 26, 1908. When it needed to engage in an investigation of a federal crime, it hired private detectives or "rented" operatives from the U.S. Secret Service.

The practice had a number of flaws. It was costly and inefficient. The quality and technique of a private investigator could not be controlled. Secret Service agents were primarily loyal to their full-time bosses in the U.S. Treasury Department. The inter-department renting of operatives also could be cut off at any moment through Congressional budgeting measures.

Finch reportedly argued for some time for the creation of an investigative unit within the DOJ. U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte of the Theodore Roosevelt Administration was convinced to give the idea a try. He hired a group of former Secret Service men in the summer of 1908. On July 26, Bonaparte placed the group under the command of Finch.

Finch remained at the helm until 1912, when he was appointed special commissioner for the suppression of white slave traffic. His successor at the Bureau of Investigation was Alexander Bruce Bielaski, who continued as chief through the Great War and into the early stages of America's first "Red Scare."

23 July 2017

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (1 of 4)

Bay Ridge boys, heading out for summer evening swim,
were first to encounter grisly contents of discarded sack

(Jump to Part 2)
Joseph Donahue, Robert Pearsall
and John Mulqueen (left to right)

On this date in 1902...
Fourteen-year-old John Mulqueen and three of his friends slid down the grassy slope from the foot of Seventy-third Street in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. As they moved through trees and tall weeds toward the rocky shore of New York Bay, they began removing their clothes. The sun had set on a steamy Wednesday, July 23, 1902, and the boys were ready for a cooling swim.

Before heading into the water, the four teens fanned out, looking for remote hiding places for their clothes. None wanted to take the chance of falling victim to the “chaw beef” trick. That practical joke involved tying tight knots into the shirt and pants of a bather. When the victim came out of the water, he would need to use teeth along with fingers to get the knots out. Onlookers would cheer, “Chaw beef, chaw beef...,” as the knots were undone.

Young Mulqueen carried his garment bundle off into the grass, where he spotted what looked to be a large and very full potato sack. The boy found the object irresistible. He pulled a small knife from his clothes and put a slit into the sack. Underneath, he found another container, which appeared to be made of tougher material.

He gathered his friends and began slicing into the inner liner. When the dusk light fell upon a portion of the sack’s contents, the boys recoiled. A man was inside, naked and lifeless.

“It’s a dead man!” Mulqueen shouted.

The boys, stunned by what they saw, retreated and hastily put their clothes back on. Mulqueen, who lived a few blocks away at 321 Seventy-fourth Street, decided that the police were needed. He suggested that two of the group leave at once for the Fort Hamilton Police Station on Eighty-sixth Street near Fifth Avenue. The other two should keep watch on the area, he said. Joseph Donahue of 346 Seventy-fourth Street, Robert Pearsall of 1671 Third Avenue and William Chambers of 206½ Chambers Street all agreed that Mulqueen’s plan was sound. However, none of the boys wished to be left behind with the bagged corpse. They decided on an alternate plan – they would all go together to fetch the police.

By road, the distance between their favorite swimming spot and the station was about one and a half miles. But the layout of Bay Ridge in 1902 – sprawling farms, large vacation estates and smaller homes surrounded by woods through which paths had been carved – allowed a more direct route and cut the trip to the station by about a third.

Desk Sergeant Hughes somewhat reluctantly listened to John Mulqueen’s story. He doubted that the boys had stumbled upon a corpse in a bag of potatoes, but dispatched three police officers with Mulqueen and his friends in a patrol wagon to investigate.

The Brooklyn officers followed Mulqueen’s direction to the sack and quickly verified his tale. Unprepared to conduct an investigation on the dark shore, the officers decided to take the large bundle back to their station. With considerable difficulty, they dragged the sack and its contents up the twenty-foot-high slope to the intersection of Seventy-third Street and Shore Road, loading it into the patrol wagon.

A thorough examination of the corpse and its wrappings was conducted under the lights at Fort Hamilton Station. The outer covering was indeed a large potato sack. Stenciled on it were the words, “Paton’s Selected Scotch – 168 lbs.” Police determined that the inner lining had been assembled from some floor matting sewn into the shape of a bag. Another bag was found over the head of the victim. Around that was wrapped a few pages from the Sunday, July 13, issue of the New York Times.

Despite the date of that newspaper, investigators could see that the victim had been dead not longer than twenty-four hours. He was a fairly large and powerfully developed man, with a height of about five feet and ten inches and a weight approximated at two hundred and forty pounds. He had gray eyes, black hair and a lighter color mustache. Police guessed that he was roughly thirty eight years old.

The cause of death was readily apparent. A deep gash ran across the victim's throat from ear to ear, nearly disconnecting the head from the torso. The coroner noted that only a single cord of neck muscle remained intact. The victim had bled out quickly, possibly losing as much as a gallon of blood in the moments following his murder.

Two other short stab wounds were found on the neck and face. A number of other wounds on the body were noted. The victim’s left thumb and forefinger were missing, the result of a much older injury. Several scrapes looked to be defensive injuries. Bruises were visible all over the body. Several larger bones had been broken. The coroner theorized that the broken bones might have occurred after death, as the body was stuffed into the floor mat bag. Heavy twine had been used to fold the body in half by joining the upper spine to the lower legs. This, too, was seen as a measure taken to allow for easy disposal of the victim.

Detectives and patrolmen returned to the shore with lanterns to search for additional clues. They discovered another potato sack, which held a black suit, a shirt, shoes and a derby hat. The suit and shirt had been cut into large strips and were stained with blood. With the clothes, the detectives found two folded documents. One was a bill of lading for a tomato-based product imported from Italy. The other was a notice of eviction relating to a commercial establishment at 165 Columbia Street. Though the victim remained nameless, the documents suggested he was an Italian merchant doing business on Columbia Street.

Further up the slope from the spot where the body had been found, Officers Burns and White noted that a section of fence had been knocked over and several saplings crushed. From the available evidence the detectives concluded that the two potato sacks had been driven to Shore Road and thrown onto the slope from a vehicle. They speculated that the perpetrators of the crime, believing the water was closer to the road than it actually was, expected the sacks to roll out into the bay. Area residents reported seeing a wagon stopping briefly in the area during the night.

(Jump to Part 2)

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (2 of 4)

Victim identified as 'Joe the Grocer,'
Sicilian immigrant living under assumed name

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)

Police officers under the command of Captain Michael Devanney of Fort Hamilton Station and sleuths of the Brooklyn Detective Bureau led by Captain James G. Reynolds met at Columbia Street to follow the only clues to the victim’s identity.

167 Columbia Street
Detective Sergeant Antonio Vachris was one of the investigators dispatched to the scene by Captain Reynolds. Vachris, born in France to an Italian family making its way to the United States, was a longtime resident of Brooklyn and knew its Italian population well. He spoke Italian and some Sicilian dialects. One of the few non-Democrats to advance through the ranks of the Brooklyn police, Vachris secured promotion several months earlier from roundsman - street supervisor of patrolmen - to detective sergeant in an unusual way. He sued administrators of the New York Police Department, charging that he had been performing detective sergeant duties at Brooklyn headquarters for years while being denied the corresponding title and pay. The courts found in his favor and compelled Police Commissioner “Colonel” John N. Partridge to appropriately grade Vachris and others in his situation.

The building at 165 Columbia turned out to be a second-hand furniture store owned by Mary Noonan. The police awakened Noonan, who lived in an apartment above her business, and asked her about the eviction notice. She directed them to a grocery next door at 167 Columbia.

'Joe the Grocer' Catania
In the apartments above that store, police found grocer Giuseppe Catania’s wife and six children. Vachris learned that Catania, known in the neighborhood as “Joe the Grocer,” had been missing since Tuesday morning. The disappearance had been reported to police at the Fort Hamilton Station and at the Mulberry Street headquarters in Manhattan. Catania’s son Charlie and son-in-law Dominick Tutrone had been searching for him all over the city.

The murder victim reportedly had lived in Brooklyn for more than twenty years under the assumed name of Catania (Secret Service records later referred to him as Giuseppe DiTrapani), since emigrating from his native Palermo, Sicily. He initially worked as a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks and lived for a time in a Sicilian neighborhood on Union Street.

Catania’s wife collapsed and wept loudly after hearing of her husband’s demise. The police learned very little from their initial attempts to question her. Her wailing woke a number of neighbors and drew them to the apartment. Police interviewed the small crowd and began piecing together a possible explanation for the murder.

Det. Sgt. Vachris
They learned that Catania fought with a man named Troia or Trica on Sunday, July 20. Catania showed up at Troia’s second-floor apartment on Hicks Street near the intersection with Summit and attempted to collect an old grocery debt of fourteen dollars. Troia refused to pay. The disagreement became physical, and Troia shoved Catania down a flight of stairs.

When police asked Mrs. Catania to confirm that her husband had fought with Troia, she became more talkative. She dismissed the fight as a possible cause for further violence. She told Vachris that her husband and Troia patched up their relationship on Monday. Troia, she said, pledged to pay his debt the following day.

According to Mrs. Catania, her husband left their home on Tuesday morning to meet Troia and collect his money. He then intended to head into Manhattan to pick up a case of imported tomato paste a friend had moved through the New York Customhouse. Catania had less than three dollars on him when he left the house, she said. She did not know if he ever made it to Manhattan.

She insisted that her husband was very well liked in the neighborhood. He spent his evenings at home, on the front steps, chatting with neighbors. He liked to drink, she said, but never drank too much.

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (3 of 4)

Suspect Troia quarreled and fought
with Catania over $14 unpaid debt

(Return to Part 2)   (Jump to Part 4)

Detective Sergeant Vachris and two other officers headed down toward Red Hook, Brooklyn, to check in on Troia. Lighting their way with a candle, the officers climbed the stairs of 604 Hicks Street at close to three o’clock in the morning. Immediately, they found reason to doubt that Troia’s apartment could be the scene of the Catania murder. The stairs were so narrow that it would have been impossible to move Catania’s lifeless body down them without leaving blood stains on the walls. The investigators saw no blood on the walls or the doorframes. They noted, however, that a panel in the door at the top of the stairs had been cracked.

Vincenzo Troia
Vincenzo Troia slowly answered the police knocks on his door. He opened the door and took a moment to blink himself fully to consciousness before starting to answer a barrage of questions.

He said he knew of Catania and owed him some money. He reported that he saw the grocer on Monday. There had been some unpleasantness the day before, but on Monday he apologized. He promised at that time to pay the owed fourteen dollars, and the two men shook hands. He had not seen Catania since that time. The broken door panel was the result of an angry Catania kick on Sunday, he said. He told police that he was twenty-six and unmarried and came to Brooklyn from Palermo about a year earlier.

The police placed Troia under arrest and searched his apartment and his clothing for traces of blood. There was none. The suspect went quietly along with the police, while detectives questioned residents of the neighborhood. Speaking with investigators, a Hicks Street barber confirmed the Sunday fight between Troia and Catania. After Catania tumbled down Troia’s stairs onto the sidewalk, the barber said, Troia charged at him. The two wrestled a bit before the barber separated them. According to the witness, neither man threw a punch or drew a weapon during that scuffle.

NY Tribune, July 25, 1902
When the Coney Island Police Court opened later that morning, Troia was brought before Magistrate Albert Van Brunt Voorhees Jr. and processed on suspicion of homicide. Troia identified himself to the court, said he was twenty-four years old, a native of Palermo, single and employed as a fruit packer for Brooklyn businessman Luigi Nosdeo. He insisted he was innocent of Catania’s killing. Voorhees committed him to Raymond Street Jail.

While the Sunday argument and Catania’s alleged appointment with Troia on the day he disappeared were evidence enough to hold Troia on suspicion for a few days, they were insufficient to convict him of murder. Brooklyn police spent much of the day Thursday trying to build a credible case against the prisoner.

They discovered that Luigi Nosdeo’s business ventures included a livery stable at 629 Hicks Street that was filled with horses and wagons. Investigators speculated that Troia could have used one of the wagons to haul Catania’s body out to Bay Ridge, but they could find no blood evidence in any of the wagons or any indication that Troia had borrowed one of the vehicles. Detectives moved on to examine every wagon they could find in the South Brooklyn Italian community. None showed any signs of having been used to transport Catania.

The murder weapon and the scene of the crime were just as elusive. Without those essential elements, there could be no hope of conclusively identifying the murderer.

Police turned their attention to four unidentified Sicilian men who lived in a room behind Catania’s store and were known to be friendly with Troia. They learned that two of those men had escorted Troia to Catania’s apartment on Monday as brokers of peace. Police interpreted Troia’s apology and his promise of payment as a deception designed to lower Catania’s guard. They therefore viewed the men who accompanied Troia during the apology as possible accomplices.

Fort Hamilton Police Station
Catania’s son Charlie revealed that the four men were the only ones in the neighborhood apparently uninterested in the grocer’s disappearance on Tuesday. Ordinarily, he told the investigators, the men would ask about his father when he was not around. On Tuesday, when Catania was conspicuously absent, they greeted Charlie without mentioning his father.

Two of the men Charlie found suspicious were interrogated by police late on Thursday, as Catania’s body was brought to the front parlor of his Columbia Street home for a wake. The men claimed to know nothing about the murder, other than what they had read in the newspapers. No weapons and no signs of a violent struggle were observed in their apartment.

During the day on Friday, a large crowd of mourners filed through the black draped front parlor of the Catania home to pay respects to the grocer and offer condolences to his family. The room was kept dark, the only light emanating from a tall candelabrum. Due to the darkness and to the high collar the undertaker placed on the body, Catania’s enormous neck wound was unseen. A well attended funeral was held at the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary on Saturday afternoon. (The Brooklyn Eagle reported that religious services were canceled, "the pomp and ceremony of an Italian funeral being considered sufficient.") The grocer’s body was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery. Police officers and detectives were on hand through every stage of the funeral, examining the faces of attendees and listening to their hushed conversations.

(Return to Part 2)   (Jump to Part 4)

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (4 of 4)

Investigation by Brooklyn police stalls,
Secret Service links killing to Mafia

(Return to Part 3)

Just a few days into the investigation, Detective Sergeant Vachris decided that there was no workable case against Troia or the four men who lived behind Catania’s shop. He began to explore other possibilities. One of those was provided by Catania’s son-in-law Dominick Tutrone, who spoke about it with a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper on Saturday morning.

“He was a good man,” said Tutrone. “When my wife [Catania’s oldest daughter] died, he was very kind to me. And, as if he did not have children enough of his own, took my two little ones home too.”

“What is your opinion of this murder?” the reporter asked.

“I do not know what to think. It seems too horrible to contemplate. I cannot think that this man Troia had anything to do with it. It seems impossible to believe that for such a trivial thing as fourteen dollars such a murder would be committed... Italians do not kill their friends for so slight a cause. There is something else behind this. Vengeance, I believe.”

Tutrone indicated that Catania had lived a peaceful life for all of his two decades in Brooklyn. He said, however, that a vendetta could have arisen from some earlier incident in Catania’s home city of Palermo, Sicily.

“These people cherish a wrong a long, long time, years and years,” Tutrone explained. “Of course there is talk, lots of it. But I do not know of anything that he ever did in Sicily that would result in his murder. He was not killed for his money. That is certain, for he had no money. He was not killed by any enemy he had made in this country. I am sure of that. Then the only thing that is left for us to believe is that this thing was done to settle up some old score.”

According to the Eagle, the “lots of talk” to which Tutrone referred was gossip relating to a Palermo offense allegedly committed by Catania against one or two men. One wild rumor specifically charged that he murdered two fellow Sicilians. The Italian quarter of Brooklyn, the newspaper said, was convinced that the families of the injured parties had tracked Catania to Brooklyn and avenged their relatives.

Vincenzo Troia was discharged from custody on July 29. The police admitted that, while there was evidence of some bad blood between Catania and Troia, they had no evidence linking Troia to the Catania killing.

William Flynn
Detective Sergeant Vachris gradually came to support a version of the vendetta theory. Unlike the Palermo murder rumor, the detective’s version left Catania innocent of any wrongdoing. The grocer merely testified against men charged of murder in Palermo. As a result of the testimony, the defendants were convicted and sentenced to twenty-year prison terms. They swore revenge. Fearing for his life, Catania fled to Brooklyn. Over the years, he became comfortable and forgot about the murderers he helped convict. When the two men were released from prison, they learned of Catania’s whereabouts, traveled to Brooklyn and fulfilled their vendetta.

Months later, part of that theory was supported by the arrest on Brooklyn's Washington Street of recent Sicilian immigrant Liborio Laveri. Investigators learned that Giuseppe Catania had been a government witness two decades earlier when Laveri was charged with the kidnapping of a merchant in Termini Imerese, Sicily. Laveri served a long prison sentence. Upon his release, he traveled to the U.S. and reached New York just one month before Catania's murder, becoming a resident of Main and Front Streets in Brooklyn. There was no evidence tying Laveri to the murder, but he was held at the Adams Street Police Station while authorities worked to have him deported as an undesirable alien.

Police interest in the Catania murder diminished over time. The case remained officially unsolved.

However, the murder became a matter of intense interest to Agent William J. Flynn and his fellow Secret Service men of the New York bureau. The Secret Service had been trailing suspected members of a gang of Brooklyn and Manhattan counterfeiters for more than a decade. That gang of immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi was believed to be importing counterfeit currency within shipments of produce and olive oil from Mafia contacts in Sicily. While the Secret Service had managed to shut down some of the smaller operators in the counterfeiting ring, men who had been caught passing phony bills, it had little evidence against the suspected leaders.

Ignazio Lupo
As the police attributed the slaying of Catania to an unknowable team of old-world assassins, Flynn developed a contrary opinion. Believing the Columbia Street shop to be one of a number of New York area groceries used to distribute phony bills, Flynn was certain that Catania was killed because of his habit of drinking and chatting socially with his Brooklyn neighbors. The grocer occasionally drank a bit too much and chatted about things others wished to keep secret, Flynn concluded. Catania’s near-beheading was an act of savage discipline administered by ruthless higher ups in the counterfeiting ring.

When the corpse of a nearly beheaded murder victim turned up in a barrel on a Manhattan street the following spring, Flynn's agents recognized the victim as a man recently in the company of the Mafia counterfeiters they were trailing. Flynn announced that the same gang, led by Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo, was responsible for both the "Barrel murder" and the killing of "Joe the Grocer" Catania.

Flynn's suspicions were confirmed by underworld informants, and New York police noted the Catania murder in Lupo's file. However, neither Mafia boss was ever brought to trial for the killing.

(Return to Part 3)

Sources:
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 42.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Reports of April 14, 19, 20, May 1, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Ignazio Lupo criminal record, New York Police Department, Ignazio Lupo Prison File, #2883, Atlanta Federal Prison, NARA.
  • United States Census of 1880, New York, New York County, Enumeration District 42
  • United States Census of 1900, New York, Kings County, Ward 8, Enumeration District 100.
  • "Police board's big detective shake-up," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1900, p. 1.
  • "Patrolmen offer protests," New York Times, Feb. 6, 1900, p. 9.
  • "Band of assassins murdered Catania," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 24, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Boys find a man's body sewn in a sack," New York Times, July 24, 1902.
  • "Brooklyn police suspect an Italian of concealing murdered victim in a sack," New York World, July 24, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to the slayers of the man in the sack," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Murder due to vengeance it is believed," New York Press, July 25, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Body found sewed in a sack identified," New York Times, July 25, 1902, p. 14.
  • "Arrest in sack murder," New York Tribune, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Old vendetta in Sicily behind Catania killing," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1902, p. 18.
  • "Bay Ridge murder mystery," New York Times, July 26, 1902.
  • "No proof that Troyia murdered Catania," New York Times, July 27, 1902. 
  • "May be a victim of a vendetta," New York Tribune, July 27, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to sack murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 29, 1902, p. 16.
  • "Catania fled from vendetta," New York Herald, July 31, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Clew for sack murder found," New York Tribune, July 31, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Trica returned to Sicily," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Palermo police trying to solve Catania mystery," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Catania's slayer may yet be caught," Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Unlucky Catania a witness," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 5, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Former brigand caught here," New York Press, Dec. 6, 1902.
  • "May have been killed for spite," New York Tribune, Dec. 6, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Slain man in a barrel; may be a Brooklyn crime," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Coiners' gang killed him," New York Sun, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Counterfeiters cut throat of the man whose body was packed in barrel of sawdust," New York Press, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Eight Sicilians held for barrel murder," New York Times, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Like the Catania murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 17, 1903, p. 15.
  • "Desperate gang held in murder mystery," New York Times, April 17, 1903, p. 3.
  • “Barrel murder mystery deepens,” New York Times, April 20, 1903, p. 3.
  • "Anthony F. Vachris dies; retired peer of detectives," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 6, 1944, p. 11.