24 May 2017

On This Day in 1933: Lepke & Lucky Linked to Broadway Shootout



The well-dressed patrons of Broadway's evening thoroughfare likely expected to be wowed and dazzled by any number of eateries, cabarets or simply the neon lit spectacle.  Slugs from automatic shotguns? The unmistakable scent of gunpowder? A wildly out of control car chase?  No, these were not what visitors  foresaw, but a loud outdoor show they most certainly did get, and it ended with bloody collateral damage.

Irene Savage
On May 25th, 1933, As people were filtering in and out of various establishments around Manhattan's 80th and 81st street, two sedans raced by (one report claimed three vehicles were involved), with one vehicle's occupants visibly the aggressor, firing high-powered shotguns and/or machine guns at the other.  The gun battling pursuit, though short-lived, ended when the presumed dominant car sped off east on 81st while the bullet-ridden loser vehicle crashed into a fence on 84th.  All of the firefight participants escaped - including two bloodied, limping mobsters who fled the wrecked vehicle.  The shooting, however, put three of four civilian victims in the hospital:  Irene Savage, 24, took a bullet in the shoulder, Walter O' Donald, a visiting shopper from Hornell New York, suffered a presumed minor scalp grazing via shotgun slug, Sadie Fontine, 45, suffered the worst injuries, hit directly with a bullet in the back and shrapnel in her hips. Edward Safern, whose car was struck by stray bullets, suffered no physical injuries.

Waxey Gordon
Despite plenty of witnesses  the only physical evidence retrieved from the scene - blood throughout the crashed car, two pearl colored fedoras with New Jersey haberdashery labels, car registration to an 'Edward Rosen' of the Bronx, and the inch think glass of the vehicle windshield.  The thick car windows were obviously intentional 'bullet proofing' (though proved a failure against the high powered rounds), the hats helped in the police theory that a bootlegging war involving Irving Wexler, aka Waxey Gordon could be the motive, but upon following up the registration lead... it appeared Edward Rosen was a manufactured name, and the vehicle didn't belong to anyone at the given address in the Bronx.

"As police locked the trio up, they announced they had definite information that a beer war between Gordon and two men whom they named as Louis "Lefty" Buckhalter and Charles Luciano, has been ended by a truce." - Associated Press, September 1, 1933.


Lepke Buchalter 1933
It took a few months for all the puzzle pieces to fall into place, climaxing when police pinned charges on Charles 'Chink' Sherman, his brother Henry, and Jack Weinstein.  The trio had already been in custody for other weapons and narcotics charges, and were noted as being "the few remaining members of the Waxey Gordon Gang."  Although the three men denied any participation in the May 25th shootings, information led police to identify two other involved individuals, both of whom carrying reputations  known to certain law enforcement entities, yet not very familiar to the larger public.  Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter and Charles Luciano.  Indeed, in 1933 neither man was a household name, but within the underworld they possessed quite a resume and status.
Lucky Luciano 1931

Waxey Gordon, once allied with Luciano, Lepke, Meyer Lansky, and so on, had been losing favor with the group and feuds erupted between the factions, which included Dutch Schultz who, at the time, was in good graces with the likes of Luciano.  Some theorize it was Meyer Lansky who filtered tips to police that eventually put Gordon away on narcotics charges.  In any case, Gordon was in jail, several allies had been murdered both in New York and Los Angeles, and 'Chink' Sherman's fate would be far worse than that of the innocent bystanders caught in his gang's fusillade. 


Sherman, who had bad blood with Dutch Schultz dating back to knife and gunfights in 1931, met the grim reaper in 1935. His body... discovered in a shallow lime pit within a barn in Monticello New York.  Sherman had been shot in the arm, his skull showed a bullet wound and that of a blow from a fire axe, presumably.  The property where the body was found belonged to the Drucker family.  It took another five years before the connection was made that Sherman's grave was one of several in the region, and that  one of the property owners -  Jack Drucker - served as an icepick wielding member of Murder Inc. The greater gangland irony - Schultz, who also eventually fell out good graces with the fellas, was gunned down by Murder Inc. henchmen barely two weeks before Chink Sherman got whacked. Further, 1935 was also the year that Charles Luciano's name escalated into public recognition,  having made much larger headlines in regard to theories of who may have ordered the Dutch Schultz murder.





Sources:
AP. "Gang Gunners Hit Two Women On Broadway." Geneva Daily Times. 25 May 1933. P.3.
"Auto Gun Duel Injuring Three Laid to Beer Feud." Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 25 May 1933. P. 8.
Cipollini, Christian. "Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend." Strategic Media Books. 2014.
AP. "Sherman, One of Few Left Of Gordon's Gang, Nabbed." Buffalo Courier Express. 1 September 1933. P. 3.









19 May 2017

The Long Black Veil: The Widows of Frankie Yale

Before 1925, women associated with mobsters were rarely seen in the newspapers.  The mob funeral, which spawned a mid-1920s genre of photojournalism, would lift the blackout on mob women and their children.

With Prohibition, newspapers kept mob activity in the face of the law-abiding.  It was a time when everybody read the paper.  While gangland hits were making the front page, some vestiges of Edwardian morality kept most gangsters' molls away from the camera lens.  With the mob funeral, photojournalists at last found a tasteful way to portray the mystery women connected to gangland. 

Summer in the city and gangland murders made for dramatic sendoffs.  By 1925, the war between the Torrio/Capone and Genna factions raged on Chicago's West Side.  On June 13th, Mike Genna of the alcohol-making Genna family was mortally wounded in a battle with police officers.  Angelo Genna had been killed three weeks prior on May 26th, and Anthony "Tony" Genna would die on July 8th.



Aerial photos of the Genna corteges lining the streets showed a strange ink blot.  Closer inspection revealed a cluster of black-garbed women of the Genna family, bereaved of sons and lovers.









New York reporters would not be outdone by Chicago.  On July 1, 1928, Frankie Uale, whose ethnic name was often anglicized to "Frankie Yale," became the first recorded New York mob boss to die in a submachine gun ambush.  (Some initial accounts attributed his wounds, which rendered him unrecognizable, to a shotgun blast.) 

Yale, a strikebreaker, racketeer and fixer in the parlance of the day, was a Capone associate.  He is said to have been the assassin of  "Big Jim" Colosimo.  Uale was killed as he drove his expensive sedan down a Brooklyn street in broad daylight.  A car bearing Illinois or Indiana license plates fired six shots aimed at his head.  His car crashed through a fence and stopped in a yard as pedestrians ran for cover. 

The press covered the lavish funeral from a unique angle.  Frankie Yale had not one but two widows, each with her own children in attendance.  No aerial or bird's eye view of this event would satisfy photographers, who used close-up techniques to snap tear-stained faces hiding beneath yards of black tulle.   

There was the "aging Mrs. Maria Yale with her two children..." and there was "the other woman, Lucienda, for whom the gangland emperor deserted Maria."

Public records indicate the likelihood that Maria (nee' Pea) might have been the only Mrs. Frankie Uale.  The two were married on March 1, 1917 in Brooklyn.  No record of a divorce or subsequent remarriage is recorded for Frankie Uale in New York City.


Sources: 

March 3, 1929, 'Chicago Gangland:  The True Story of its Murders, its Vices and its Reprisals," by James O'Donnell Bennett, Chicago Daily Tribune

July 2, 1928, "Rich Flowers Smell of Guns and Revenge," New York Daily News.

Kings County Groom Index

Photos:  Collection of author




  

18 May 2017

Another King falls


Thirty-eight year old Bill Kirkillis was a former Chicago hoodlum who had moved to Massillon, Ohio, and had become known as the "King of Columbia Heights," a section of that city. On this date back in 1931, Kirkillis was exiting an apartment and heading for his car when a gunman opened fire on him. One of the four shots plowed into his right side and made it to his hear, killing him.

Kirkillis had been recently released from the workhouse where he did a stint for stabbing a man. He had also been picked up on suspicion of killing another. However, police believe that Kirkillis was  bumped off for tipping off Federal Prohibition agents about speakeasies belonging to his rivals.

 


16 May 2017

88 years ago: Capone arrested in Philadelphia



May 16, 1929 - Chicago crime lord Al Capone and his lieutenant, Frank Rio, were stopped by police detectives outside the Stanley Theatre, southwest corner of Nineteenth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Washington Post
May 17, 1929
The notorious gangsters insisted they were in Philadelphia to kill only time, while waiting for the next Chicago-bound train. Detectives found that both men had handguns. Capone and Rio were arrested for carrying concealed deadly weapons.

Authorities determined that Capone and Rio were returning from an underworld peace conference at Atlantic City, New Jersey, when automobile problems caused them to miss the afternoon Broad Way Limited train at the North Philadelphia Station. The next train was scheduled to leave North Philadelphia some hours later, and the two gangsters decided to relax in the theater.

Capone's surprising stay in Pennsylvania began with a night in police lockup and would stretch on to a year. Treating the charge dismissively, the next day the Chicago boss and his aide pleaded guilty. They appeared stunned when Judge John E. Walsh sentenced them to one year sentences in state prison.

The U.S. press immediately began speculating that Capone orchestrated his arrest and conviction in order to escape the vengeance of underworld rivals. Chicago's St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred only three months earlier. Some claimed that former Chicago underworld leader Johnny Torrio had come out of retirement to order Capone to have himself arrested so things in the Windy City could cool down.
 

"Al Capone's long stay in Philly" 
in this back issue of Informer.

http://www.magcloud.com/browse/Issue/112621

Gone Fishin'

Police had been searching the Cincinnati area for all around bad man Jack Parker. Parker, 35, operated out of the city of Hamilton, Ohio, and was known as a bank robber, gunman and killer. Police wanted him in connection with the murder of a man in a Kentucky roadhouse.

Since the murder, Parker had been hiding out in a fishing camp. On this day in 1928 some visitors picked him up at his hideout and took him for a ride, literally. The following day his body was found in a shallow pool of water at the bottom of an embankment. Police reasoned that he had been riding in the back seat of the car when the person in the front  passenger seat turned, and shot him in the face four times. He was then dragged from the car and rolled down the embankment. Cincinnati gunman Robert Zwick was subsequently credited with the killing.


15 May 2017

Perhaps he should have knocked first



On this date in 1932, two Detroit gangsters, Sam and Andrew Farrera. were doing some business in Toledo, Ohio when some local gangsters decided that they didn’t need any Motor City hoodlums muscling in. The Farreras, and another guy, were parked in their cousin's driveway when a car load of rivals pulled up and opened fire. The windshield of the Ferraras’ car shattered, sending glass into Sam’s eyes. His vision impaired, Sam managed to slip from the car and dive through a basement window. His brother caught a bullet in the hand.


After the first barrage, the attackers pulled around the corner and one of them, John Incorvaia, alias Engoria, 33, jumped from the auto and returned to the house with an automatic pistol. Not bothering to knock, Incorvaia rushed into the house and opened fire. Moments later he dropped dead with two bullet wounds, one of which pierced his head. Mabel Candela, a cousin of the Ferreras, confessed to the shooting saying that she fired in self-defense. 


13 May 2017

The King is Un-Crowned



On the morning of May 12, 1928 sixty-year old Gaetano Acci-who was known to Chicago police by some other names, including; “the Wolf: ,“King of the Blackmailers” and “The Muscler"-was seen leaving his home at  1066 Polk Street and getting into a sedan with four other men. 

Later that day he and his cohorts were spotted miles away in the town of Rockford, Illinois. The following morning, eighty-nine years ago today,  a motorist traveling along a quiet stretch of road outside the town of Harvard, Illinois, discovered Acci's body and alerted authorities. Turns out that the "King of the Blackmailers" had extorted four bullets from someone's gun. Two went to his head, and two to his body.

Acci was known to prey on Italian residents of Chicago's west side. On his corpse were found six letters addressed to different people demanding money. According to police, a week prior to his death, they had set a trap for him and planned to kill him when he stopped to pick up a faux payment package, but he never showed up. Subsequently the underworld save them the trouble.

95 years ago: End of DiGiorgio

Feared California Mafia leader killed in Chicago barber chair

Chicago Tribune
May 14, 1922

May 13, 1922: Vito DiGiorgio, the leader of southern California's Mafia, was shot to death in a barbershop at Oak and Larrabee Streets in Chicago.

DiGiorgio, forty-three, was returning from a Mafia meeting in Buffalo, New York, and stopped off in Chicago for a couple of days. He, thirty-five-year-old James Cascio and an unidentified third man visited the barbershop of Salvatore DiBella and John Loiacono, 956 Larrabee Street. The location was in the center of a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago's Near North End. DiGiorgio sat down in a barber's chair, while Cascio and the third man busied themselves at a pool table in a rear room.

Just a few minutes later, two gunmen burst into the shop and, without saying a word, shot DiGiorgio in the side of his head and put three bullets into Cascio. Both victims died of their wounds. The gunmen, accompanied by the man who entered the shop with DiGiorgio and Cascio, fled through a rear door.

Police found papers in DiGiorgio's pockets that linked him to an address on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. DiGiorgio had lived in New Orleans for years, managed a grocery business and earned his underworld reputation there before relocating to southern California. He may have returned to his home in the Crescent City after being wounded in an attempt on his life at Los Angeles in the summer of 1921.

New Orleans Daily
Picayune, June 12, 1908

Cascio was said to have Buffalo and New Orleans addresses.

DiGiorgio (image at left) appears to have been closely aligned with New York-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and may have secured his position as southern California boss through D'Aquila's insistence. (D'Aquila inserted his personal representatives into crime family leadership positions in a number of U.S. cities, including Boston and Philadelphia.)

At the time, D'Aquila was attempting to consolidate power by moving against supporters of the former Giuseppe Morello regime in New York and elsewhere. A Los Angeles-area Mafia faction led by Jack Dragna and Salvatore Streva had connections with Morello.

Sources:
  • "The Serio explosion a Black Hand deed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 12, 1908, p. 1.
  • "Shot down by mystery assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1921, p. 13.
  • "Two men killed in Black Hand feud," Logansport IN Pharos-Tribune, May 13, 1922, p. 8.
  • "Double murder in 'Little Italy' baffles police," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1922, p. 18.
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Death Records Index, Ancestry.com.
  • United States Census of 1920, Louisiana, Orleans County, Precinct 2, Ward 8, Enumeration District 130.
  • Vito DiGiorgio World War I draft registration card, serial no. 1117, order no. A1450, Div. no. 7, New Orleans, Louisiana, Sept. 12, 1918.
See also:
http://amzn.to/2q08aOg

12 May 2017

Sam Hunt Loses a Friend



Harry Hyter was a gangland sort dating back to at least the early 1920s when he was involved with a bootleg gang operating out of Gary, Indiana. His record also consisted of a handful of arrests for robbery. By the early Thirties he was known as a “hanger-on” of the Capone gang and was a pal of ranking Capone gunman, Sam Hunt.

 Harry Hyter

On this date back in 1931, somebody(ies), for some reason, fired  bullets into Hyter’s head and chest. His body was then driven out to an area called “Jaranowski’s woods” and dumped. While searching his body, police found a number of cards listing amounts of gallons so figured that Hyter was still actively engaged in bootlegging.

10 May 2017

There is a First Time for Everything






A little after midnight on this date back in 1931, Luigi Piazza pulled into a gas station near Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Greensburg is a small town in western PA outside of the city of Jeanette. At this time Jeanette, located in Westmoreland County, was home to numerous glass factories and a large portion of it's fifteen thousand inhabitants supplied much of America with it's glass. It was Piazza's job to supply these inhabitants with alcohol.


As Piazza sat in his car listening to the gas pump ding, I like to imagine him thinking to himself, "Gee wiz, there has never been a gangster bumped off with a Tommy gun in all of Westmoreland County. Being a bootlegger here sure beats doing it in Chicago."

Obviously we don't know what Piazza was thinking at the time but while he was thinking whatever it was that he thought, a large touring sedan pulled into the station and parked next to him with the back window curtains closed. After it came to a stop the curtains parted and the muzzle of a Thompson machine-gun, said to be the first ever used in Westmoreland County, came forth. As the station attendant continued to pump petrol into Piazza's car,the gunman pumped a number of rounds into Piazza. 

Mission completed, the sedan pulled away as Piazza slumped to the floor of his car. An ambulance was called and the bootlegger was rushed to the hospital where he died later in the day.

08 May 2017

It's the Big Sleep for the Leader of the Pillow Gang



Carmelo Fresina was a St. Louis gang leader involved in bootlegging and extortion. He was looking at some bootlegging trials and told his wife, prior to leaving their house at 9 p.m. on the night of May 7, 1931, that he was going away for a few days to “fix those liquor cases against me.” Thirteen hours later an Illinois State Highway patrolman found him reposing in the tonneau of his car. 


At some point during the night of May 7 or the early morning of May 8, Fresina was sitting in the front seat of his car when somebody in the rear fired two bullets into his head. In no condition to drive himself to his final resting spot, Fresina was removed to the floor of the back seat and his assassin(s) drove the car to Edwardsville, Illinois and left it on the side of a road.


Carmelo Fresina


A few years previously he and a few cohorts were involved in a bit of underworld chicanery that resulted in shooting. One of the bullets pierced Fresina’s posterior (though painful, he fared better than his confederates who ended up dead) and since that time, it was said, that wherever he went he carried a pillow with him to sit on. As a result, the local police referred to his mob as the Pillow Gang.

PS.
The Pillow Gang, which operated out of St. Louis and was headed by Fresina, should not be confused with the “My Pillow Gang” currently operating out of Minnesota headed by this guy:


Not Carmelo Fresina