25 April 2017

Old 'Black Hand' lie finds a new teller

I figured I would give Stephan Talty's new book, The Black Hand, a try. Any book that gets a movie deal involving Leonardo DiCaprio before it even has been released must be good, right?

After many years of research into the Black Hand, Joseph Petrosino, the NYPD Italian Squad and the early Mafia, I have some familiarity with the subject matter. I acquired the Kindle version as it was released this morning. (Fourteen-ninety-nine?! For a stream of electrons? Are you KIDDING me?) I quickly looked it over. I noted that it has an index, a bibliography and some endnotes - items important to those of us who do research.

I set to reading it, but I didn't get very far before I found something troubling. Chapter 1 begins with a description of what Talty claims was the first U.S. murder performed by a Sicilian "Black Hand Society." This was the killing of Francisco (Talty spelled the name Fransisco) Domingo on January 3, 1855.

According to Talty, the victim was found dead of multiple stab wounds - more than a dozen in all, plus another one across his throat from ear to ear - near the Mississippi River a short distance from New Orleans. Domingo apparently had been dead awhile, as Talty notes the blood on the neck wound was "caking thickly in the heat." (Must have been a particularly warm January in New Orleans.) The waters of the river, Talty says, were just a few feet from the corpse's "out-flung hand."

This is intended to show us that an organized "Black Hand Society" (Talty often refers to it as "The Society") was already extorting payments and murdering uncompliant targets in America at that time.

In the book's endnotes, Talty shares the blame for this tale with historian Michael L. Kurtz. Talty correctly points to Kurtz. That historian started off a 1983 article in the Louisiana History journal with precisely the same January 3, 1855, murder story and almost precisely the same wording (even the same misspelling of Francisco). Kurtz wrote that Domingo had been stabbed "over a dozen times, and his throat was slit from ear to ear."

In that article, Kurtz indicated that the details of the Black Hand murder of Domingo came from a couple of sources. One was the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper and the other was (insert ominous music here) the book Brothers in Blood by David Leon Chandler.

I should mention that Chandler is someone to whom I owe an odd sort of debt. If his 1975 book had not contained so many obvious fabrications, I probably never would have chosen to spend so much of my time and resources digging up and writing about TRUE crime history (thereby avoiding the poverty and obscurity I now cherish).

Kurtz's citation of Chandler was correct. Brothers in Blood did report an elaborate story relating to the Domingo killing. Chandler claimed that Domingo, a truck farmer, was stabbed eighteen times (Eighteen! proving that when Chandler concocted a story, he went all in) and was also slashed across the throat (the "ear to ear" thing was added by Kurtz) before being dumped at the New Orleans levee. The murder of Domingo, according to Chandler, was never solved.

Chandler insisted that Domingo was identified as a Sicilian despite his Spanish-sounding surname. That's strange but very convenient, considering the whole Sicilian Black Hand theme he was about to explore.

The author went on to state that Domingo's widow provided authorities with samples of extortion letters her husband had received. These were signed, Chandler said, by hand prints in black ink. So, there we have the appearance of the dreaded Black Hand that so excited Stephan Talty that he led off his first chapter with this incident.

However, even Chandler, who elsewhere delivered his misinformation with great conviction, was somewhat hesitant to connect the Domingo killing with a Sicilian criminal organization. He noted that Black Handers were not always organized and not always Sicilian or even Italian. He also explained in a footnote that the ethnic backgrounds of the victim and the killer in this case were uncertain.

Chandler reported that the details of his story came from the January 4, 1855, issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper.

The fact that Chandler said these things caused me to doubt them. It didn't take long to find out the truth of the Domingo killing. We will simply have to wonder why Kurtz and Talty repeated the Chandler tale (and imagined they would get away with it).

Daily Picayune of June 24, 1855, thought the case was solved.

I quickly found articles on the killing in the New Orleans Picayune, New Orleans Bee and New Orleans Daily Delta. These articles were entirely in agreement that Francisco Domingo was fatally stabbed at about five-thirty in the afternoon of Thursday, January 4, 1855 - not Jan. 3. Domingo and a man named Guillermo Ballerio (or something spelled reasonably close to "Ballerio"), both fishermen (neither farmed trucks or anything else), had an argument during supper inside a home they shared on Marigny Street with a number of other fishermen. They decided to settle it like gentlemen. When Ballerio quickly found himself at a disadvantage in the fisticuffs, he opted to settle it like something other than a gentleman. He pulled a knife and plunged it into Domingo's side.

Just once. Not more than a dozen times or eighteen times. And just in the side. Not across the throat.

Domingo was never found dead by the side of the Mississippi with his blood baking in the (January) heat. He was, in fact, taken to Charity Hospital. Doctors could do little more than keep him comfortable and await the inevitable. Domingo died at the hospital the following day.

The newspaper accounts mention nothing about extortion, nothing about Domingo's wife, nothing about an inky Black Hand and nothing about Sicily. And it turns out they had good reasons for these omissions.

The case Chandler said was never solved, well, it actually was solved and almost immediately. Ballerio was arrested. An inquest at the end of the month found that he had caused the death of Domingo by penetrating Domingo's lung with a knife. Ballerio was charged before Recorder Seuzeneau in February and brought to trial before First District Judge Robertson in June. A jury returned a guilty verdict for manslaughter late on the evening of June 19 (or perhaps early in the morning of June 20). On June 24, Judge Robertson sentenced Ballerio to serve seven years at hard labor in the penitentiary.

OK, so that's the story from the Daily Picayune and the Bee and the Daily Delta. But the stories of Chandler and Kurtz (and, by extension, Talty) still could have been drawn on some nonsense published in the January 4 issue of the New Orleans True Delta newspaper. That's the one Chandler and Kurtz claimed to use as their source. Maybe that newspaper - and no others - published the stuff about the wife and the Black Hand and Sicily and multiple stab wounds and the Mississippi River and... all that.

There aren't many copies of the January 4, 1855, True Delta floating around. But with help from Becky Smith, head of Reader Services of the Historic New Orleans Collection at the Williams Research Center, I obtained a copy of that issue.

New Orleans Daily True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855.

It didn't even mention the Domingo killing. And, if you think about it, that actually makes a good deal of sense because those historians placed the killing one day earlier than it actually occurred. True Delta went to press on January 4 before the stabbing happened and a day before Domingo died. The newspaper did not mention the incident even in the January 5 issue. Whether it did so sometime after that seems of little consequence. The Chandler and Kurtz citations of True Delta were False.

Funny thing about Domingo's surname. He had that Spanish-sounding name because - you may want to sit down for this - he was Spanish! He and Ballerio were both from Manilla in the Philippines. As you probably recall, the Philippines were a Spanish colony from the time of Magellan's visit there in 1521 until the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. A listing of passenger arrivals in New Orleans actually shows Spanish citizen Francisco Domingo, then 25, entering the U.S. from Havana Cuba aboard the Brig Salvadora on September 13, 1847.

Interesting side note: the criminal phenomenon that first became known as the Black Hand had its roots in Spain.

After all of this, I was left staring at Talty's book wondering if I should try to read another paragraph. I decided instead to skip around to a few random pages to check things out.

I noticed Talty's use of an alternate spelling for Petrosino biographer Arrigo Petacco's surname. (The name appears as "Petacco" on his book, Joe Petrosino, but has also often been written as "Pettaco." I "Googled" it, and found quite a few uses of this spelling.) There was a far less common alternate spelling for the name of the Trinacria cafe ("Trinarcia" - don't bother "Googling" that one).

The book included an often repeated but still inaccurate mention of Petrosino working as a city street sweeping "whitewing." (The white uniform that inspired that nickname was not in use until years after Petrosino had moved on to other things. He and the other sweepers actually swept streets in their own clothes.) And there was an interesting Talty insistence that Vito Cascio Ferro was such a genius that he masterminded the courtroom defense of 1903 Barrel Murder suspects even though he could not have anticipated their arrest and fled New York for New Orleans as soon as he became aware of it.

In my final random selection, I found some familiar stuff about Petrosino's ostensibly Irish assistant "Hugh Cassidy" actually being an Italian with the real name of Ugo Cassidi. I think I first saw that written in NYPD: A City and its Police by James Lardner and Thomas Reppetto. It's a neat story. But it makes me wonder about the Irish-born city police officer named Hugh Cassidy listed as a resident of East 119th Street in the 1900 U.S. Census. (Coincidence?)

Stephan Talty and Leonardo DiCaprio have no reason to care what I think. But I am unimpressed with what fourteen-ninety-five buys these days.

Sources:

  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975.
  • Kurtz, Michael L. "Organized Crime in Louisiana History: Myth and Reality," Louisiana History, Fall 1983, New Orleans: Louisiana Historical Association, 1983, p. 355.
  • Lardner, James and Thomas Reppetto, NYPD: A City and its Police, New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
  • Talty, Stephan, The Black Hand, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
  • List of passengers arrived from foreign ports in the port of New Orleans, quarterly abstract, September 1847.
  • United States Census of 1900, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 940.
  • New Orleans True Delta, Jan. 4, 1855; Jan. 5, 1855.
  • "Third District: Another Probable Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 5, 1855, p. 1.
  • "Third District: Probable Murder," New Orleans Bee, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 1.
  • Third District: The Supposed Murder," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Jan. 6, 1855, p. 2.
  • "Inquests," New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, Feb. 2, 1855.
  • "Committed for murder," New Orleans Daily Delta, Feb. 11, 1855, p. 8.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 20, 1855, p. 2.
  • "City intelligence," New Orleans Bee, June 21, 1855, p. 1.
  • "The Courts," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 24, 1855, p. 4.


24 April 2017

New Orleans removes Liberty Place monument

Early this morning (Monday, April 24, 2017), city of New Orleans workers dismantled and removed the Liberty Place monument, commemorating the 1874 battle between local conservative militias and Louisiana's Reconstruction Era government.

The battle occurred after the validity of state election results was questioned by both major political parties. Rival election boards announced the election of different governors, and competing state legislatures were assembled. For months, the political situation worsened as rival groups prepared for armed conflict.

Joseph P. Macheca, the subject of Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, captained a force of Sicilian immigrants that played a pivotal role in the battle and helped conservative Democratic "White League" forces to rout the well-armed Metropolitan Police, comprised largely of Republican-aligned African Americans and led by superintendent Algernon Badger, and a Republican state militia commanded by former Confederate General James Longstreet.

Following the battle, U.S. President Ulysses Grant ordered federal troops into New Orleans to restore Reconstruction government control. The conflict has been referred to as the last battle of the U.S. Civil War. 

Liberty Place monument at its original location,
the "neutral ground" median on Canal Street.

The "Liberty Place" monument - a 35-foot white stone obelisk - was installed in the center of Canal Street in 1891. (In that same year, Macheca and ten other men held at Orleans Parish Prison were attacked and murdered by a mob.) A white-supremacist message was inscribed upon the structure decades later. Controversy surrounded the monument and its racist inscription. That inscription was subsequently covered by a carved stone plaque dedicating the monument to those killed on both sides of the 1874 conflict.

Due to a Canal Street construction project 28 years ago, the obelisk was removed. There was a considerable argument over whether it should be replaced. Several years later, it was installed at a less visible location on Iberville Street. It remained a divisive symbol for the community.

The Liberty Place monument was the first of four Confederate Era monuments scheduled for removal in the city. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the press yesterday (April 23), "There's a better way to use the property these monuments are on and a way that better reflects who we are."

Read more:

20 April 2017

The murder of New Orleans boss Joseph Agnello

On this date in 1872, New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier.

New Orleans Daily Picayune
April 21, 1872
Successor to the leadership of his brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was seriously wounded in several attacks in 1870-72, but managed to recover each time. Agnello was expected to die after a shooting at Poydras Street and Dryades in September of 1871, but he shocked physicians with his quick rebound. He finally met his end after at least two gunmen (and as many as four) from a rival underworld faction cornered him at the dock at six o'clock in the morning, Saturday, April 20, 1872.

After briefly exchanging fire with his attackers, the thirty-nine-year-old Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief. He was struck by shotgun blasts as he went over the rail of the schooner and fell onto the deck.

New Orleans Republican
April 21, 1872
Agnello regained his footing momentarily, only to be struck in the midsection by a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa (reportedly also known as Vincent Orsica). The slug passed through his body from right to left, ripping through his heart and leaving a gaping exit wound.

Two bystanders were injured by flying lead. Customhouse official Joseph Soude was struck in the back by shotgun shot and died of his wounds as he was helped to his home. A youngster named Edward Nixon was wounded in the leg.

Police arrested Maressa and Joseph Florda (also known as Ignazio Renatz) for the killing. Florda had previously been arrested for counterfeiting. The accused were held at the Third Precinct's Jackson Square police station, where they argued that they shot Agnello in self-defense. Authorities recovered an Enfield rifle, two double-barreled shotguns and a horse pistol from the area of the shooting. One of the shotguns was found fully loaded (this belonged to Florda, who raised it to fire but noticed a police officer nearby and decided to drop it instead).

The death of Agnello marked the end of a Mafia war in New Orleans that started in 1868. Mafiosi originating in Palermo, Sicily, were briefly eclipsed in the Crescent City by underworld factions transplanted from Trapani and Messina and by the Stuppagghieri organization based in Monreale.

Sources:
  • "Murder in the Second District," New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869, p. 1.
  • "La Vendetta: shooting affray on Poydras Street," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 6.
  • "The city," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 2.
  • "Another Sicilian vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Sicilian feud again," New Orleans Republican, April 21, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Italian war," New Orleans Republican, April 23, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The Sicilian vendetta," Nashville TN Union and American, April 30, 1872, p. 3 [reprinted articles from the New Orleans Picayune and New Orleans Times-Democrat of April 21].
  • "Vicentio Ossica...," New Orleans Republican, June 4, 1872, p. 5.
Learn more about the early New Orleans Mafia:

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca
and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

19 April 2017

85 years ago: Luciano, Lansky nabbed in Chicago

Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania,
Meyer Lansky, John Senna, Harry Brown.

On this date in 1932: Police arrested New York racketeers Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania and Meyer Lansky during their visit to underworld colleagues in Chicago. 

The two men had been under surveillance around the clock since arriving in the Windy City two days earlier. They were picked up by police as they headed out of their hotel to board a train back to New York. Police found them in the company of Chicago Outfit figures Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Harry Brown and John Senna.

Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1932.


66 years ago: Mangano murder

On the morning of April 19, 1951, Mrs. Mary Gooch of 7501 Avenue X in Brooklyn, was walking through the tall grass of a marshy area in her Bergen Beach neighborhood when she discovered a man's dead body. 

Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951.
For Mrs. Gooch the discovery may not have been quite as startling as it would have been for others. It was said that two years earlier, she stumbled across another dead body in the same location - south of Avenue Y near the foot of East 72nd Street. Mrs. Gooch summoned the police.

The partly dressed corpse was lying face-down in the dirt. It was wearing no pants, shoes or coat but had on a white shirt, white shorts and undershirt, black socks, black tie and gold tie clip. The tie clip was still fastened neatly in place.

Police noted three close-range bullet wounds to the man's head - one at the top rear of the neck, one in the right cheek and one in the left cheek. Time of death was estimated at 10 to 20 hours earlier. There were no identifying papers on the body. Through an examination of fingerprint records, police identified the victim as Philip Mangano, 50.

A resident of 1126 84th Street in Brooklyn, Philip Mangano was known to be a waterfront racketeer and political manipulator; a top aide to his brother, Brooklyn-based Mafia boss Vincent Mangano (some sources indicate that Philip was his brother's underboss); and an associate of Mafia leader Joe Adonis. There was a short police file on Philip Mangano. He was arrested twice, once in 1923 for homicide, but never convicted.

Finding no dirt on the bottoms of Philip's socks, detectives concluded that he was murdered at another location and carried to the Bergen Beach marsh for disposal. They surmised that a ten-foot length of rope found near the body was used in its transport.

Philip's wife Agatha, 46, told police that she last saw her husband at a Brooklyn accountant's office on the morning of April 17.

Authorities were unable to locate Vincent Mangano. Investigators of the Kefauver Committee had been having the same trouble for several months. (Though initially believed to be in hiding, Vincent Mangano was eventually presumed dead. He was ruled dead by a Brooklyn court in October 1961. His remains were never found.)

The Kings County District Attorney's Office interviewed seventy-five people, including Mafia big shots like Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis - over the course of the next two days, but learned nothing of value to the murder investigation. Adonis reportedly suggested that Philip Mangano was killed because of an affair with a woman. No evidence could be found to support that theory. And prosecutors also dismissed reports that Philip Mangano had been targeted for mob discipline after secretly meeting with federal investigators.

Philip's 22-year-old son told prosecutors that he believed Philip was killed because he was trying to pull away from the Mafia. He said his father had made two recent trips to Virginia to purchase a construction firm.

Philip was buried quietly on April 23, 1951, at Holy Cross Cemetery. His hearse left the Boyertown Chapel, 38 Lafayette Avenue, a half-hour before its scheduled time in order to avoid reporters. There were no church services. Three empty limousines were sent from the chapel to pick up family members at other locations.

Years later, Albert Anastasia was revealed to be the killer of both Philip and Vincent Mangano. Anastasia seized control of the former Mangano Crime Family and remained its boss until his own bloody end in 1957.

Sources:
  • Bonanno, Joseph, with Sergio Lalli, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 170-171.
  • Gale, J.H., "Criminal Intelligence Digest," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-955, NARA no. 124-10223-10411, Feb. 11, 1965, p. 3.
  • SAC New York, "La Cosa Nostra," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-669, NARA no. 124-10287-10234, July 2, 1964.
  • "Mafia purge seen as probe figure is taken for ride," Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951, p. 1.
  • "Aide of Joe Adonis is found shot dead," New York Times, April 20, 1951, p. 18.
  • "Raiders seized coat in inspector's home," Brooklyn Eagle, April 22, 1951, p. 3.
  • "No clue in Mangano case," New York Times, April 22, 1951, p. 66.
  • "Mangano burial hour shifted to forestall public," Brooklyn Eagle, April 23, 1951, p. 9.
  • "Adonis, Anastasia queried in murder," New York Times, April 28, 1951, p. 21.
  • "Seek 'passion crime' in Mangano killing," Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1951, p. 2.
  • "Mangano killing motive," New York Times, April 29, 1951, p. 60.
  • Reid, Ed, "Mafia leader Mangano's killer known," Brooklyn Eagle, June 26, 1951, p. 1.
  • Gage, Nicholas, "Carlo Gambino, a Mafia leader, dies in his Long Island home at 74," New York Times, Oct. 16, 1976, p. 28.


DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. 2
by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona

14 April 2017

114 years ago: The Barrel Murder

New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service are called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel at Manhattan's 11th Street and Avenue D. 

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
The agents recognize the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members the previous night. Police arrest known members of Morello's organization, including boss Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They are unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learn that Cascio Ferro has fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim is soon identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believe the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor.

Police are able to trace the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They find that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox is in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Authorities are certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing but cannot assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:



10 April 2017

80 years ago: NYPD detective fatally shot

Detective Michael J. Foley
On this date in 1937 - Gunmen attempting to rob the Cafe Boulevard restaurant in Manhattan fatally shot Police Detective Michael J. Foley.

The incident led to the wrongful conviction and nearly to the execution of New York resident Isidore "Beansy" Zimmerman.

In 1938, Zimmerman and four other men were convicted of the murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The case against Zimmerman rested on testimony of alleged accomplices who received immunity from prosecution, a common occurrence in high-profile cases handled by the office of District Attorney Thomas Dewey. Those witnesses stated that, while Zimmerman was not present when Detective Foley was shot, he had planned the armed robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting.

On the day scheduled for execution, Governor Herbert Lehman commuted Zimmerman's sentence to life in prison. "Beansy" was taken from Death Row and evaluated for emotional problems by medical staff before being moved to the prison's general population. He spent the next twenty-three years in penitentiaries - Sing Sing, Auburn, Dannemora and Green Haven. Bitter over his treatment and emotionally scarred from his near-execution, Zimmerman was an uncooperative prisoner and frequently served disciplinary terms in solitary confinement.

Isidore 'Beansy' Zimmerman
Later investigations revealed improper actions by Dewey assistant Jacob Rosenblum. Rosenblum was found to have hidden evidence of conflicting statements by the witnesses used against Zimmerman.

In January 1961, the New York State Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Zimmerman. Prosecutors decided not to retry the flawed case. Zimmerman was released from prison in February 1961. The original indictment against him was dismissed in March 1967.

In 1981, two decades after he was released from prison, New York Governor Hugh Carey agreed to permit a Zimmerman lawsuit. Zimmerman won a court judgment of $1 million in the late spring of 1983. He was left with $660,000, after paying off his large legal expenses. He had little time left to enjoy the money. He bought a new car and took a short vacation in the Catskills before he died.

Sources:
  • “Detective is slain battling 4 thugs,” New York Times, April 11, 1937, p. 21.
  • “Indicted in police death,” New York Times, April 23, 1937, p. 2.
  • “Five are convicted in police killing,” New York Times, April 15, 1938, p. 11.
  • “5 young bandits sentenced to die,” New York Times, April 23, 1938, p. 32.
  • “3 die, 2 are spared for hold-up death,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1939, p. 42.
  • Howard, Jane, “Wrong man in jail,” LIFE, May 15, 1964, p. 57-64.
  • “Resigns as Dewey aide,” New York Times, Dec. 31, 1941, p. 20.
  • Isidore Zimmerman v. City of New York et al., Supreme Court of New York, Special Term, New York County, 1966, ny.findacase.com, accessed May 5, 2016.
  • “Jacob J. Rosenblum dead at 73; Dewey homicide bureau chief,” New York Times, Jan. 24, 1971, p. 65.
  • Zimmerman v. State of New York, Court of Claims, 76 Misc. 2d 193, 1973, casetext.com, accessed May 5, 2016.
  • “What price a Zimmerman?” New York Times, June 5, 1983.
  • McFadden, Robert D., “Isidore Zimmerman, 66, man unjustly jailed for a murder,” New York Times, Oct. 14, 1983.


06 April 2017

67 years ago: Bullets take KC political leader, aide

On this date in 1950, Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta were found dead inside the First District Democratic Club headquarters,  716 East Truman Road, on the North Side of Kansas City. They were found, several .38-caliber bullet wounds in their heads, at about four o'clock in the morning.

Binaggio was found dead in his political club office.
Binaggio, 40, was the Democratic Party boss in the North Side, where many Italian-Americans resided and voted. A one-time follower of the late Democratic machine boss Thomas Pendergast and John Lazia, who was murdered in 1934, Binaggio served as a link between Missouri Democratic politicians and the Italian underworld of Kansas City and St. Louis. His command of the North Side vote gave him great political power across the state. He was believed to be a close ally of Kansas City Mafiosi, including James Balestrere.

Binaggio's political faction rivaled and quickly eclipsed the Pendergast machine when, after the death of Tom Pendergast, that organization was controlled by Pendergast's nephew James.

Gargotta, 49, was Binaggio's bodyguard and right-hand-man. The local press noted that Gargotta been arrested forty times in a thirty-year period. Charges of murder, gambling, robbery, extortion, carrying concealed weapons and violating liquor laws were all dismissed. Gargotta was convicted once, on an assault to kill charge stemming from the attempted murder of Sheriff Tom Bash. Gargotta served a 19-month prison sentence for that offense. Gargotta also rose to power under the guidance of Pendergast and Lazia.

Before his murder, Binaggio announced that he would soon be leaving politics. His failed efforts in recent years to win approval for legal gambling in the State of Missouri was a costly disappointment to his underworld associates. Binaggio's political manipulations and criminal connections were constantly in the press during that time, and Binaggio became the target of federal investigations.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1950.
Binaggio's body was found slumped in a swivel chair behind a desk in the headquarters' outer office. There were powder burns around his wounds, indicating that a pistol had been placed against his head and fired.

Gargotta's body was found on the floor near the door. He had a gunshot wound to the base of his skull, apparently due to a bullet fired from some distance. Three other wounds in the left side of his head were closely grouped and powder burned.

Recommended books on the Kansas City underworld:

01 April 2017

148 years ago: New Orleans boss murdered

On this date in 1869, New Orleans Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello is shot to death during an underworld feud. 
New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869.

Agnello, accompanied by his godson and bodyguard Frank Sacarro, was on a walk around the French Quarter when a noise from Old Levee Street behind him caught his attention. When he turned back to resume his walk, a bareheaded man in a long frock coat stepped forward and pointed a brass-mounted blunderbuss pistol at the boss's head.

The pistol fired, launching chunks of metal into Agnello's skull and killing him instantly. Some of the blunderbuss's projectiles missed the mark and cracked through the windows and walls of the Joseph Macheca produce store and the Norman & Reiss bakery on Toulouse Street. Sacarro's left index finger was wounded when he thrust out his left hand toward the weapon as it fired.

The gunman in the frock coat fled through the bakery pursued by Sacarro, who drew a pistol and managed to wound him with a shot. The gunman, leaving behind a trail of blood, escaped through a rear exit. Frank Philips, a baker working at Norman & Reiss, was wounded in the right leg by some flying lead.

In the summer, authorities arrested Joseph Florada (who may also have been known as Gaetano Arditto) as a suspect in the Agnello killing. Sacarro would not identify the Florada as the man he saw shoot his godfather, and the suspect was set free.

Agnello had been leader of a Mafia organization comprised of Palermitani. His enemies, an alliance largely made up of Messinesi and Trapanesi, had a momentary advantage in an underworld struggle that had already lasted several months, since the killing of Litero Barba, reputed leader of a Messinian gang. The war was not yet over, however. Raffaele Agnello's brother Joseph stepped up to the leadership of the Palermitani and continued the fight until his own murder in 1872.


For more about this subject: