29 June 2017

Eddie McGrath and West Side's waterfront racketeers

In his first book-length project, Neil Clark  takes aim at the mobsters of New York's West Side waterfront. This selection of subject puts Clark in the footsteps of giants. 

An early journalistic account of waterfront corruption and racketeering by Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. On the Waterfont, a fictional film handling of gangster rule along the wharves, won a trunkload of 1954 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Writing. More recently, historian Nathan Ward revisited the Hudson River docks for his 2010 book, Dark Harbor, examining Malcolm Johnson's groundbreaking effort to bring waterfront organized crime to light.

While much of the material in Dock Boss is familiar, Clark expands on previous coverage with information drawn from court and prison files, FBI archives and other state and federal agency records. He delivers an informative and intriguing history. The Greater Toronto Area resident strays just a bit from the beaten path and approaches the subject through the life and career of a real-world "Johnny Friendly," Eddie McGrath.

An altar boy in his youth, McGrath became a clever, charming and resourceful criminal on his way to the leadership of an influential and largely Irish-American underworld organization. McGrath attained official recognition from the International Longshoremen's Association and the American Federation of Labor and proved himself useful to corrupt union officials and national racketeering networks.

McGrath's life story is a virtual Who's Who of Gotham outlaws. On his way to boss status, he benefited from alliances with such figures as "Big Joe" Butler, "Peck" Hughes, "Red" McCrossin, "Farmer" Sullivan, Andrew "Squint" Sheridan, John "Cockeye" Dunn and James "Ding-Dong" Bell. The résumés of his associates and his underworld rivals featured service with some of New York's most notorious gang chieftains, including Dutch Schultz, "Legs" Diamond, "Mag Dog" Coll and Owney Madden. Working relationships with Joey Rao, Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo and Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto, eventually brought McGrath into contact with syndicate bosses like Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello.

Due to a (perhaps fortunate) stay in Sing Sing Prison, McGrath played a relatively minor role in the most exciting portion of Dock Boss, the mid-1930s conflict between the Butler and Yanowsky gangs for control of the West Side dock rackets. It was a true gangland war. Clark's description of the bloody one-and-a-half-year conflict, from late December 1934 to summer of 1936, moves rapidly from one shooting to the next and still manages to consume about forty pages of the book.

The war set the stage perfectly for McGrath. With allies and rivals eliminated through bullets or courtroom convictions, McGrath and his partners, John Dunn and Georgie Daggett, assumed control of the former rackets of the Butler Gang and quickly established control along the docks.

Clark takes the time to explain the atypical workings and the special economic and historic value of New York City's docks, as well as the rackets used by gangsters, union leaders and politicians to profit from them. He notes and explains the strong Irish influence on the West Side piers and the surrounding neighborhoods. He explores the corruption-encouraging "public loader" system unique to the Big Apple, which significantly increased the cost of goods moved off of ships in New York harbor. The "shape-up" method of rewarding cooperative longshoremen with work - illustrated in the movie On the Waterfront - is also detailed. The author even describes the competitive pressures on labor leaders that drove them to support the McGrath outfit. Clark is well-versed in this field, proof of his extensive research.

This reviewer can manage only a few minor complaints about Clark's work (in addition to his insistence on using the "Oxford comma"):

  •  Chapters are unusually short. With about 270 pages of text divided up into forty chapters, the average chapter length is less than seven pages. Some chapters are only about three pages long. It is likely that many readers will view this as a positive thing. But I found the chapter interruptions annoying, as they often occurred where there was no logical break in the story. The Butler-Yanowsky War, for example, is a single logical event occurring over a fairly short period of time. However, it is broken up among five or six chapters. 
  •  While the text is generally well written, it would have benefited from an editor's attention. There are occasional misspellings, a bit of indecision over whether to use U.S.- or Canada-preferred spellings for terms ("cheque," "offense"/"offence," for example) and some incorrect dates and figures (passage of Volstead Act, percentage of alcohol in beverages permitted by the Harrison Act, date of the police raid of Tully house...). 
  •  There is also a frequent and annoying use of the name "Greenwich" to refer to the Manhattan neighborhood of "Greenwich Village." In this reviewer's experience, the name "Greenwich" on its own refers to a district in London, the base for worldwide timekeeping, a town in southwestern Connecticut and a town and village in upstate New York. When a shortened name for "Greenwich Village" is needed, it generally takes the form of "The Village."
  •  The author may have been overly accepting of earlier histories, including the Pulitzer-winning articles by Malcolm Johnson. Some small Dock Boss flaws (these turned up when this reviewer closely examined newspaper records of early McGrath arrests) can be traced to Johnson's work and reports based on Johnson's articles. 
  •  Dock Boss provides a bibliography and an index - useful tools for researchers - but does not include notes. The absence of source citations for statements of fact in the text appears to have been the result of publisher policy. This may be mildly frustrating for some researchers, but it should not be interpreted as a lack of documentary support. Clark has proved to this reviewer's satisfaction that he has command of the available sources in this subject area. 

Nitpicking aside, Neil Clark has produced a solid history and an enjoyable read. With luck, he will soon set to work on additional crime-history projects.

Dock Boss; Eddie McGrath and the West Side Waterfront (Barricade) by Neil G. Clark is scheduled for a July 1 release. An excerpt from Dock Boss can be found in the summer 2017 issue of Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement.


26 June 2017

Summer 2017 issue of Informer

Informer - Aug 2017
Informer - Aug 2017 - AVAILABLE NOW
in print and electronic editions

IN THIS ISSUE:
- Excerpt from Dock Boss by Neil G. Clark, scheduled for release this summer by Barricade Books. It is the story of Eddie McGrath and the mobsters who controlled New York City's West Side waterfront.
- Lennert Van`t Riet and David Critchley provide a groundbreaking history of Frank Zito's little-known but influential Springfield, Illinois, Mafia organization.
- Justin Cascio explores the career and family connections of the "Capitano," Angelo Di Carlo, who held key underworld positions on both sides of the Atlantic.
- Edmond Valin digs through government records to discover the identity of Bonanno Family informant, "Willie the Tilemaker" Dara.
- Bill Feather provides details on the founding of twenty-nine United States Mafia organizations.
- Richard Warner reviews books on an axe-wielding killer, the origins of street gangs and revered New York law enforcement officer Joseph Petrosino.
- In The Warner Files, Richard Warner outlines recent changes in the Chicago Outfit.

25 June 2017

June 25, 1906: Murder at the Garden

On this date in 1906, prominent architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden. The shooter was Harry Kendall Thaw, of Pittsburgh. Thaw, the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune, held a grudge against White, whom he blamed for thwarting his efforts to achieve the respect of high society. White was also the former lover of Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been a popular model and chorus girl and was the inspiration for the movie The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.
At trial, Thaw went with a temporary insanity defense (“temporary” probably being the only part that was exaggerated). The jury wound up deadlocked. At the second trial, Evelyn Nesbit took the stand and testified that Stanford White had abused her and that Thaw was just acting in her defense. She performed this task in exchange for the promise of a divorce and a million dollars from Thaw.  The jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw received a sentence to the state mental hospital at Matteawan. Nesbit received her divorce, but not the money.
Thaw escaped from Matteawan in 1913 and fled to Canada. He was eventually apprehended and extradited to New York. After receiving a new trial, he was found sane and not guilty of murder. He was released from state custody in 1915.
Thaw was arrested again in 1916, this time for the abduction and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump (no relation to Forrest). He was found not guilty by reason of insanity (it’s like déjà vu all over again). In 1924, Thaw was judged sane and released from the asylum where he had been incarcerated.
Harry Thaw died of a heart attack in Florida in 1947. In his will, he left Evelyn Nesbit ten thousand dollars, about one percent of his estimated net worth.
Further reading:
Murderpedia – Harry Thaw  
Wikipedia – Harry Kendall Thaw

20 June 2017

70 years ago: The end of 'Bugsy' Siegel

On this date in 1947, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was killed at the home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, 810 North Linden Drive in Beverly Hills, California.

Siegel, a transplanted New York racketeer, was an organizer of west coast gambling rackets and developer of the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Siegel was known to be a close associate of Meyer Lansky and Mafia boss Charlie "Lucky" Luciano.

New York Post
Binghamton NY Press
Los Angeles Times
FBI Report, p. 1.
FBI Report, p. 4.
FBI Report, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times

Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle

Los Angeles Times


17 June 2017

Fruits, vegetables may be hazardous to your health

Police restrain John and Philip Scalise after they view the body of their murdered brother.
On this date in 1957 - Frank "Don Ciccio" Scalise, a top lieutenant (and former boss) of the Mafia organization that soon would become known as the Gambino Crime Family, was murdered at a Bronx produce shop. (The killing served as inspiration for a scene in the movie, The Godfather.)

New York Times
Scalise, a resident of 211 Kirby Street on City Island in the Bronx, stopped at Enrico Mazzare's produce shop, 2380 Arthur Avenue, in the afternoon. He spent ninety cents on peaches and lettuce and was putting change back in his pocket, when two gunmen appeared and opened fire on the Mafia leader.

Four slugs struck and instantly killed Scalise. He suffered gunshot wounds to neck, head and arm. The gunmen exited the store, jumped into a double-parked black sedan and sped away.

Mazzare witnessed the killing but provided little useful information to the police: "Suddenly two men brushed by me. I heard some shots, and I looked around. These two men were hurrying by me again. They weren't wearing coats and they had their sleeves rolled up. They got into an old black sedan and went up Arthur Avenue." Mazzare was taken into custody as a material witness.

Scalise's blue 1956 Cadillac was parked a couple of blocks away on Crescent Avenue, near the candy store run by his brother Jack. Police brought Jack and Philip Scalise to Mazzare's shop to identify their brother's remains. (Jack left the country for Italy a short time later. He was spotted on a visit to the U.S. in 1959 and quickly brought before a grand jury investigating the 1957 murder.)

Later in the day, Bronx District Attorney Daniel V. Sullivan told the press, "Thus far this appears to be definitely a gangland killing. [Scalise] was regarded as a big shot and kingpin in this area."

Frank Scalise and Charlie Luciano.
Federal authorities suspected Scalise of involvement in an international narcotics smuggling operation. Scalise had been sought by police for questioning related to several murders. Investigators knew that Scalise was a lieutenant to crime boss Albert Anastasia and a close friend of exiled Mafia leader Charlie "Lucky" Luciano.



Sources:

  • "Underworld figure murdered in Bronx," New York Times, June 18, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen end Scalise's life," Albany NY Times-Union (Associated Press), June 18, 1957, p. 5.
  • "Scalise slain; pal of Costello and Luciano, Albany NY Knickerbocker News (Associated Press), June 18, 1957, p. 7.
  • "Scalise bank box divulges no clue," New York Times, June 19, 1957, p. 40.
  • "Scalise data checked," New York Times, June 20, 1957, p. 21.
  • "Hint Scalise doubled as 'loan shark,'" New York Post, June 20, 1957, p. 40.
  • "Police photograph funeral of Scalise," New York Times, June 23, 1957, p. 58.
  • "Bronx' Scalise gets gangland sendoff," New York Post, June 23, 1957, p. 2.
  • Katz, Leonard, "Bail cut, witness to Scalise murder is let out of jail," New York Post, July 9, 1957, p. 21.
  • Katz, Leonard, and Abel Silver, "Scalise: Little Italy's fourth unsolved murder," New York Post, July 28, 1957, p. 12.
  • "Scalise brother flies in, seized," New York World Telegram and Sun (Brooklyn), April 4, 1959, p. 1.
  • "Scalise brother held," New York Times, April 5, 1959, p. 34.
  • "Scalise inquiry begins," New York Times, April 7, 1959, p. 19.
  • "Scalise in Paris," Kingston NY Daily Freeman (Associated Press), April 28, 1959, p. 5.

14 June 2017

San Francisco boss succumbs to blood disorder

On this date in 1937 - Francesco Lanza, Mafia boss of the San Francisco area, died of natural causes. His son Mariano Vincenzo (James) was deemed too young to succeed him, and the role of boss was passed to Tony Lima.


Originally from Castelbuono, Sicily, where the family surname was Proetto, Francesco Lanza entered the U.S. through New York in the early 1900s. His family, including two-year-old Mariano Vincenzo, joined him in New York in February of 1905.

The family made its way west during the World War I years and settled in San Francisco by the start of Prohibition. A low-profile Mafioso, Lanza ran produce-related businesses and became a legal supplier of grapes to illegal wine-making operations across the U.S. He remained far in the background while more conspicuous underworld figures perished in Prohibition Era gangland conflicts.

In the 1920s, he became part-owner of a vineyard in Escondido, California. Nick Licata, a Mafia leader from the Los Angeles area, later partnered in that business. California Mafioso Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno recalled Lanza as San Francisco's regional Mafia boss and partner with Giuseppe Alioto in a restaurant at the city's Fisherman's Wharf.

Lanza died at the age of 64. Historian Christina Ann-Marie DiEdoardo noted that the apparent cause of Francesco Lanza's death was aplastic anemia, a blood disease that could have been treated through transfusions. "Ironically," DiEdoardo wrote, "this made him the only boss around during the Booze Wars who died because his blood stayed in his body..."

A couple of decades after Francesco Lanza's death, his son James became boss of the San Francisco crime family. Unnoticed by the early 1950s Kefauver Committee, his name came up during the McClellan Committee hearings later in that decade. It was believed that James Lanza traveled east for the 1957 Apalachin convention as representative of San Francisco but managed to escape the notice of authorities. His presence in New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania, hotels at the time of the convention was noted. The FBI began watching Lanza in the late 1950s and conducted electronic eavesdropping on his operations in the early 1960s. A widely publicized U.S. Justice Department listing of U.S. Mafia leaders in the late 1960s named James Lanza as the boss of the San Francisco crime family. James Lanza died in February 2006 at the age of 104.

Sources:

  • "Mafia's leadership list updated by Justice Dept.," Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, Aug. 22, 1969, p. 7
  • "San Francisco deaths," Oakland CA Tribune, June 15, 1937, p. 35. 
  • California Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno, New York: Times Books, 1981, p. 137.
  • DiEdoardo, Christina Ann-Marie, Lanza's Mob: The Mafia and San Francisco, Santa Barbara CA: Praeger, 2016.
  • Hart, Arthur V., "Meeting of hoodlums, Apalachin, New York, November 14, 1957," FBI report, file no. 63-4426-171, NARA no. 124-90103-10092, July 8, 1958, p. 103.
  • Investigation of Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Hearings Before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Part 32, 85th Congress, 2d Session, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958.
  • Mudd, Herbert K. Jr., "La Cosa Nostra San Francisco Division," FBI report, Aug. 23, 1968, file no. 92-6054-2397, NARA no. 124-10297-10131, p. Cover-C.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Sicilia, departed Palermo on January 26, 1905, arrived New York City on Feb. 10, 1905.
  • Polk's Crocker-Langley San Francisco City Directory 1934, San Francisco: R.L. Polk & Co. of California, 1934, p. 635.
  • SAC San Diego, "La Cosa Nostra AR - Conspiracy," FBI airtel, file no. 92-6054-1907, NARA no. 124-10222-10055, March 13, 1967, p. 4.
  • SAC San Francisco, "Mariano Vincenzo Lanza, aka James Joseph Lanza," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-3432-87, NARA no. 124-10222-10385, Dec. 29, 1960.
  • Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com.
Read more about the Lanzas of San Francisco in:

11 June 2017

Vendetta ends life of 'Black Sam' Todaro

Son, wife, nephew of murdered 'Big Joe' Lonardo
participate in the slaying of Cleveland Mafia boss

Salvatore Todaro
On this date in 1929 - Cleveland Mafia boss Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro was murdered in front of a Porrello corn sugar warehouse at Woodland Avenue and 110th Street. Though recent killings in the region had resulted from underworld rivalries, authorities determined that the assassination of Todaro was an act of personal vengeance.

Todaro took power in the local crime family after the October 1927 murders of boss Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo and his brother John. His position was secured with the murder of Lonardo loyalist Lorenzo Lupo the following spring. The Lonardo faction, closely aligned with the national Mafia leadership of boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila, was replaced by an administration of Todaro and the Porrello brothers. The new regime was supported by rising New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Masseria. (Masseria had relatives in Cleveland.)

The murdered Lonardos were given a lavish gangland funeral - reports said their caskets were silver. But Lonardo kin almost immediately began experiencing money problems.

Concetta Lonardo and Fannie Lanzone Lonardo both claimed to be the widows of Joseph Lonardo. Though never formally married, Concetta had lived with Lonardo for many years until their 1925 separation and she was mother to their five children. Fannie was with Lonardo in the last few years of his life and claimed that the two had been married in Sandusky, Ohio on September 8, 1925. A court battle between the widows tied up the family fortune - cash and property estimated to be worth $200,000. Lacking financial resources, Concetta faced the loss of the family home at 13700 Larchmere Boulevard. She reached out for support from the new underworld boss.

Concetta Lonardo
(Cleveland Public Library)
Early in 1929, she began making regular visits to the front of the Porrello corn sugar warehouse - the Mafia leadership's local headquarters. Todaro dutifully stepped out of the building to meet her at her car, a maroon and black Chrysler Model 75 coupe, and provide her with some money. (Cleveland detectives considered the possibility that these were blackmail payments extracted by the Lonardo family under threat of cooperating in the investigation of the Joseph and John Lonardo murders.) Concetta was generally driven to the meetings by her oldest child, eighteen-year-old Angelo.

On the afternoon of June 11, Concetta's twenty-two-year-old nephew Dominic Sospirato came along for the  ride to see Todaro. As usual, Todaro emerged from the warehouse to greet his former boss's widow. As he crossed the sidewalk toward the waiting car, gunshots were heard and "Black Sam" collapsed. He had been shot five times. The Chrysler sped away.

Todaro's brother-in-law, Angelo Sciara, witnessed the shooting and gave authorities the names of the occupants of the car. Concetta was later taken into custody as a material witness, though she claimed to know nothing of the fatal shooting of Todaro. Angelo Lonardo and Dominic Sospirato could not be located. Concetta and the two young men were all indicted for first-degree murder.

“Black Sam” Todaro's funeral featured an expensive bronze and silver casket and abundant floral tributes, but restrictions on the use of marching bands and the route of the cortege were put in place by local Safety Director Edwin Barry.

On November 12, Concetta went to trial alone for the Todaro murder. The prosecutor argued that she must have known that occupants of her automobile planned to shoot and kill Todaro. The state's case included a jury visit to the Cleveland corner where Todaro was killed. After a deliberation of more than six hours, the jury acquitted her.

Angelo Lonardo in later years.
The not-guilty verdict seems to have encouraged Angelo Lonardo and Dominic Sospirato to come out of hiding and take their own chances with a jury. They surrendered to authorities in February 1930, pleading not guilty to the murder charges against them. They were convicted of second-degree murder on June 11, 1930 (the anniversary of Todaro's killing). They were immediately sentenced by Judge James B. Ruhl to life terms at the Ohio State Penitentiary. A successful legal appeal gave them a second chance, and they were both acquitted at retrial in November 1931.

Authorities briefly considered Lonardo a suspect when Rosario and Raymond Porrello and their bodyguard Dominic Mangino were murdered in February 1932.

Many years later, the seventy-seven-year-old Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo, by then a former Cleveland Mafia underboss who had become a government informant, testified before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Early in his testimony, he matter-of-factly stated, "...My father was murdered by Salvatore Todaro in 1927. In revenge, my cousin, Dominic Sospirato, and I killed Todaro."

Sources:
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Neilsen, Sgt. William T., Criminal Complaint, Cleveland Police, June 11, 1929.
  • Porrello, Rick, The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn Sugar and Blood, Fort Lee NJ: Barricade, 1995.
  • Reports of the Detective Bureau, Police Department of the City of Cleveland, Oct. 13-16, 1927; June 13, 1929; July 2, 1929.
  • United States Census of 1930.
  • United States Census of 1940.
  • Zicarelli, Det., Information report to Inspector of Detectives Cornelius W. Cody, Oct. 16, 1927, Nov. 16, 1929.
  • "2 brothers murdered in bootleg war," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 14, 1927.
  • "Hits new lead in murder of two Lonardos," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 15, 1927.
  • "Police seek gunman in yellow car," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 1, 1928, p. 1.
  • "Seize gunman as suspect in Lupo murder," Cleveland Press, June 1, 1928, p. 1.
  • "Police hunt Lonardo, Jr. as slayer," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 12, 1929.
  • "Lonardo's son indicted for feud killing," Cleveland Press, June 12, 1929.
  • "Bootleggers in Cleveland open warfare," Mansfield OH News-Journal, June 12, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Mrs. Lonardo indicted with son in murder," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 1929.
  • "Detectives see blackmail sign as murder clue," Akron OH Beacon Journal, June 13, 1929, p. 20.
  • "Slain 'baron' given gangster funeral," Cleveland Press, June 15, 1929.
  • "Royal burial," Wilmington OH News-Journal, June 17, 1929, p. 4.
  • "Mrs. Lonardo faces trial for murder," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Nov. 12, 1929, p. 29.
  • "Try woman for gang murder in Cleveland," Zanesville OH Times Recorder, Nov. 13, 1929, p. 3.
  • "Gang murder trial," Zanesville OH Times Recorder, Nov. 14, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Acquit Mrs. Lonardo of Todaro's murder," Mansfield OH News-Journal, Nov. 15, 1929, p. 19.
  • "Fails to get share of Lonardo estate," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Feb. 24, 1930, p. 23.
  • "Cleveland racketeers are under pen life sentence," Chillicothe OH Gazette, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Cleveland men found guilty," Mansfield OH News-Journal, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Extermination of gang about complete today," Piqua OH Daily Call, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "United States Courts," Cincinnati Enquirer, July 19, 1930, p. 20.
  • "Marriage here basis of suit," Sandusky OH Register, July 22, 1930, p. 12.
  • Kenen, I.L., "Corn sugar racket has taken seven lives in Cleveland with five marked for death; once mighty Porello clan is tottering," Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 4, 1930, p. 13.
  • "Acquitted at retrial," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Nov. 25, 1931, p. 9.
  • "Free two convicts," East Liverpool OH Evening Review, Nov. 25, 1931, p. 11.
  • "Jail Lonardo in probe of feud killings," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 28, 1932.
  • Koziol, Ronald, "Jailed mob chief agrees to testify in casino trial," Chicago Tribune, Aug. 29, 1985, p. 10.
  • Culnan, Dennis, "Former boss calls Mafia disrespectful," Cincinnati Enquirer, April 16, 1988, p. A4.
Read more about Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro, Prohibition Era underworld murders and the Mafia organizations of the region in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume I - to 1937 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

10 June 2017

Youngstown racketeer Farah killed at his home


On this date in 1961: Mike Farah, 56, was practicing his golf swing outside his Warren, Ohio, home, when gunshots from a blue Chevrolet cut him down. 

Mike Farah
Two or three shotgun blasts were fired. Farah's hip was badly damaged and some of the fired shot penetrated the side of his abdomen. His 16-year-old daughter Grace witnessed the shooting. She said the Chevrolet pulled up to the curb, about 30 feet from where her father was standing. Shotguns were fired from the rear seat of the vehicle, and it then sped away around a corner toward Youngstown, Ohio.

Farah dragged himself into the house, and an ambulance was summoned to take him to the nearby hospital. About two hours later, Farah died of internal bleeding.

Police found the blue Chevrolet abandoned just a half mile from Farah's home. They determined that it had been stolen from Canton three months earlier.

Mike Farah was known to authorities as the former part-owner (with his brother John and Tony Delsanter) of the Jungle Inn gambling casino, in Liberty township, just outside of Youngstown. James "Jack White" Licavoli, Cleveland-based Mafia leader, also appeared to hold an interest in the establishment. (Licavoli was known to have partnered with Mike Farah in the Girard Novelty Company in Niles and the Triangle Novelty Company in Warren.) The casino, opened following the repeal of Prohibition, proved itself impervious to law enforcement until the late 1940s, when the Ohio governor sent in agents from the state liquor control board. The Jungle Inn was closed after a raid in 1949.

Authorities in the region believed that Farah continued to be involved in racketeering, though he insisted that he was retired. He was charged with assault with intent to kill following an attack against Trumbull County Republican chairman and Board of Elections member Jean Blair in June 1959. In that case, he was convicted on a lesser charge of assault and battery and was sentenced to four months in county jail, a $200 fine and court costs. He did not begin serving that sentence until his the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Farah served two and a half months of the sentence before being released on March 31, 1961. Common Pleas Judge G.H. Birrell granted Farah's freedom in consideration of his good behavior while behind bars.

The Jungle Inn
Before "retirement," Farah had been imprisoned on racketeering charges (later pardoned by the governor) and for operating a still.

The Farah murder was counted as the fourth in a series of shootings in Mahoning and Trumbull counties dating back just over a year. The first was Joseph "Sandy" Naples, killed along with his girlfriend on the front porch of her home. Joseph Romano was struck by a shotgun blast but survived. He said he could not identify the shooters. "Big John" Schuller was shotgunned to death while fixing a tire on his car at the side of the highway. Authorities determined that the tire had been rigged to go flat. Additional murders of underworld figures would follow in the very near future.

Rumors indicated that the shootings were part of an effort by Cleveland mobsters to take direct control of gambling operations in the Youngstown area.

Sources:
  • "Motion filed by Mike Farah for new trial," Dover OH Daily Reporter, Jan. 6, 1961, p. 12.
  • "Warren rackets figure released," Salem OH News, April 1, 1961, p. 8.
  • "Around Ohio," Akron OH Beacon Journal, April 1, 1961, p. 19.
  • "Ohio mobster slain in own front yard," Pittsburgh Press, June 11, 1961, p. 7.
  • "Racketeer Farah slain in Warren," Akron OH Beacon Journal, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Warren racket boss Mike Farah slain by gunmen," Salem OH News, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Youngstown racketeer fatally shot," Chillicothe OH Gazette, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Clues sought in murder of rackets boss," Sandusky OH Register, June 12, 1961, p. 7.
  • "Purple gang member quizzed on slayings," Sandusky OH Register, Aug. 1, 1961, p. 1.
Read more about Mike Farah, the Jungle Inn and Youngstown racketeering in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II - From 1938 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

02 June 2017

'Al Capone's Beer Wars' set for June 6 release

http://amzn.to/2s2p8w8
John J. Binder's latest book, Al Capone's Beer Wars, is scheduled for release in hardcover and Kindle and Nook e-book formats on Tuesday, June 6. It can be pre-ordered now through Amazon.com and other booksellers.

Although much has been written about Al Capone, until now there has been no complete history of organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition. This book, based on twenty-five years of research, covers the entire era, 1920 to 1933. Binder, an authority on Chicago organized crime history, discusses the bootlegging gangs in the region and examines other major rackets, such as prostitution, gambling, labor racketeering and narcotics.

Binder focuses on how the Capone gang — one of twelve major bootlegging mobs as Prohibition began — gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. Binder also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizens' groups, against organized crime. In the process, he refutes numerous misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other organizations, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and gangland killings.



Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition by John J. Binder.

01 June 2017

June 1, 1948: Death of a Blues Legend


On this date in 1948, bluesman John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (not to be confused with another musician who had appropriated his name), was murdered during a robbery in Chicago, IL. 

Williamson was walking home after playing a gig at Chicago’s Plantation Club when he was attacked by a man armed with an icepick. His last words were reported to have been, “Lord have mercy.” Details of the crime are hard to come by, but there is no indication that the killer was ever brought to justice.

Here’s Sonny Boy performing his 1947 hit “Shake the Boogie.”

 

 Further reading:

 Biography.com - Sonny Boy Williamson

 Encyclopedia Britannica - Sonny Boy Williamson (American Musician)

The Blues Harp Page – Sonny Boy Williamson I

 Fact Monster – Sonny Boy Williamson

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