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His commitment to stopping the growth of Nazism in America was transmitted through columnist Walter Winchell and within unpublished interviews with author Paul Sann that Lansky gave later in his life.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.

19 July 2017

Robbing Zukor's Wife



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


Police find Labriola and Weinberg


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


Needle Nose and Weinberg


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

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


Lottie and Adolph Zukor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

12 July 2017

Bonanno boss shot down in Bushwick eatery

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

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

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

Binghamton NY Evening Press

New York Times

Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle

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



09 July 2017

Garvan battled radicals and Mafiosi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NY Evening World, June 12, 1919.

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

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

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

New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920.

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

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

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

1920 Wall Street bombing.

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

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

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

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

Read more:


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