31 January 2017

55 years ago: Brooklyn's heroic outlaws

On this date in 1962, Gallo gangsters became neighborhood heroes.

Noticing a fire in a nearby apartment building, Lawrence and Albert Gallo (brother Joey Gallo was in prison at the time), Anthony Abbatemarco, Leonard Dello, Alfonso Serantino, John Commarato and Frank Illiano rushed into the building and rescued six children from a third-floor apartment. They also succeeded in extinguishing the blaze before firefighters arrived.

Anthony Abbatemarco (top left), with Albert Gallo, 
Frank Illiano and the six children they rescued 
from a burning apartment in 1962.

Abbatemarco, Iliano and Albert Gallo were photographed with the children for local newspaper reports. It was a rare moment of positive publicity for the Gallo faction, then engaged in a desperate war against the leadership of the Profaci Crime Family and hampered by intense police scrutiny.

When interviewed, Albert Gallo joked, "We'll probably get locked up for putting out a fire without a license."

Biography of Anthony Abbatemarco.

29 January 2017

La Smootch Mort II

In the previous installment we were introduced to Chicago's Kiss of Death Girl-Mary Collins and John Sheehy her first paramour to bite the dust.The distinction of being the second hoodlum to fall as a result of Mary Collins’s curse goes to North Side gang leader and pal of victim number one, Dean O’Banion, who was put on the spot the following November 10.  It was said that Collins and O’Banion were one time paramours. It was also suggested hat they may simply just been friends, so the reader can decide for themselves.

#2


Victim number three was the young—he never saw his twenty-second birthday—Mister Irving Schlig. Starting off with two cars, Schlig became a successful bootlegger. His gang’s modus operandi was to sell alcohol to crooked pharmacists and then come back the following night and steal it, and then sell it back to them.

Irving was also a progressive gangster attempting to take advantage of modern technology. He bought an airplane and paid a pilot to teach him to fly. After a mere two hours of flight training, Schlig flew to Canada for a cargo of booze. Unfortunately for the neophyte pilot, engine trouble on the return trip forced him down in a Kalamazoo, Michigan, cornfield. He destroyed his cargo lest he be caught with the goods. A month later he bought another plane and on August 27, 1925, he and an associate named Harry Berman took off for the airfield for another trip to Canada. The following morning they were found dead on the roadside near the airfield. Both had been shot through the back of the neck.

 #3

By the time of Schlig's murder, Mary’s ghastly reputation was already spreading through gangland. One of those picked up for the murder was gangster Eugene “Red” McLaughlin, who, when told that Mary was going to testify against him, stated, “If you drag that broad in you’ll never hang me. All her friends get the bump before they get the rope.” Red was eventually released for lack of evidence.

Coming up- Nos. 4 & 5...

28 January 2017

La Smootch Mort



Ah, the Prohibition Era; a time when a guy with a fast car, a dream, and a machine-gun, could make oodles of kale supplying an insatiable citizenry with their much desired clown juice. For a bootlegger, one of the grand things about having the grands in your pocket was being able to blow some of it on a jane before getting yourself dead.

For the gangsters of old, romance and death went together like gin and tonic, a situation that produced one of the semi-legendary figures to come out of this alcohol fueled epoch: The “Kiss of Death Girl”, so called because a large number of her paramours ended up on the slab. Lots of women lost their men to the gun but a “Kiss of Death Girl,” had more than the average bear. New York City had one and so did Chicago. We shall examine the Windy City’s hexed vixen first.

Her name was Mary Collins and she was a North Sider who became acquainted with the gangsters of her bailiwick in the early days of the Dry Era. The first of Mary’s fellas to end up with a toe tag was a friend and fellow gun man of North Side gang leader Dean O’Banion named John Sheehy.

Kiss of Death Girl a.k.a. Mary Collins

The end of Sheehy came in a speakeasy known as the Rendezvous on the evening of December 7, 1923. As the story goes, Sheehy simply asked for a bucket of ice and was told no by the waiter. Gangsters don’t like to hear no; so Sheehy went to the bar to fetch it himself, but again was told no. One writer put it that it was Mary, whose birthday they were celebrating, that wanted the ice so she could throw the cubes at the band’s drummer and this is why Sheehy’s request was denied.

Sheehy didn’t appreciate the inhospitable nature of both the waiter and club’s steward so pulled out his roscoe and killed them both. Before Sheehy and Mary had a chance to vacate the premises however, police arrived and Sheehy managed to wing one of them before catching a bullet himself and expiring the next day.

Headline for Sheehy shooting

In our next installment we'll meet victims #2 and #3 of the Kiss of Death Girl.

27 January 2017

Crime Does Not Pay -- Serialized Morality Tales of the 1930s

In 1935, crime spree bandits like Midwestern desperadoes Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson had been killed.  Likewise, inner-city gangsters of Chicago and New York who had been prominent in the "Big Six" era of organized crime were also gone -- either to prison or dead through mob retaliation.  The disappearance of these criminals from the American landscape left the public hungry for information about them.  Enter magazines like True Detective, Sterling and Liberty.  They created a new genre of the gangland memoir.  At the same time, J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I.'s director, had positioned himself as an anti-crime pundit.  He was clamping down the lid on the way these stories were told.  The gangland gravitas seething inside women like Evelyn Frechette (Dillinger's moll), Florence "Cokey Flo" Brown (a material witness in the trial of Charles "Lucky" Luciano), and other women on the verge of disaster went into print.  One such publisher,  MacFadden Publications, would send a ghost writer into prison or wherever these offenders lived after the fact.  Even city dailies joined the trend.  These stories went into syndication and were featured across the United States.  For the authors of these memoirs, the payment was nominal.  "I got $25.00 and a couple of gowns," said Mary Kinder, Dillinger moll and girlfriend of Pete "Harry" Pierpont.

Joseph "Fatso" Negri
Some of gangland's molls avoided the pathos of the paid-by-the-page sob story.  One moll not treated kindly by the press was Helen "Mrs. Baby Face" Gillis.  While still a fugitive after the death of her husband in an F.B.I. shootout, Helen Gillis appeared on the front page of Chicago's papers with "Kill Widow of Baby Face" captioned beneath her young face.  Mrs. Gillis went into prison undoubtedly relieved to escape further press coverage. 
            
The art of the memoir was not lost on women in hiding.  Florence "Cokey Flo" Brown, the chief material witness who testified against Charles "Lucky" Luciano in his 1936 trial for compulsory prostitution, had her story published in Liberty in 1937 while her actual whereabouts were unknown.   
Women were not the only gang associates who were called upon to write for these rags that sold for $.25.  Joseph "Fatso" Negri, an associate of Lester "Baby Face Nelson" Gillis, became a chronicler of the last weeks of the Nelson gang in True Detective.  In the series, which ran for several months, Negri introduced the mob expressions and jargon that might have been lost.  "Nelson always used the words 'to charge on,' in speaking of bank holdups, Negri wrote.  "The six of us tried to pile into one car, but it couldn't be done, what with everyone lugging along his machino and wearing his bulletproof vest." 

With the dawn of the Second World War, the crime-does-not-pay stories became old hat.  For those survivors of the 1930s criminal era, these serialized memoirs had helped to pay legal fees and keep the rent paid for a while.  These first-person accounts of gangland served a purpose that went beyond twenty-five bucks and a couple of gowns.  Today avid crime researchers, jaded by the age of technology, are still fascinated by these original stories of gangland.      



Ellen Poulsen"
Author of "Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang,"
"The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial,"
and a forthcoming biography of Captain Matt Leach of the Dillinger saga.



26 January 2017

55 Years Ago Today: Lucky Luciano's Death

January 26, 1962. Charles 'Lucky' Luciano suffers fatal heart attack.
Having just endured yet another session of police interrogation (this time was about a drug ring), Lucky Luciano was exhausted but determined to keep a scheduled meeting with would-be biopic producer Martin Gosch.  The latter was arriving from Spain, where he'd taken up a home-away-from-home in the late 1950's. Gosch had been meeting with Luciano periodically since at least 1960.  Both wanted a movie made, although Lucky and movie producers historically had great differences of opinion in storyline.

The pair did in fact meet at the Capodichino airport in Naples on January 26, 1962. Gosch's plane arrived just after 4:00 pm, and he was greeted by Lucky and an English-speaking police officer named Cesare Resta (Luciano invited Resta to help prove he was not making drug deals). Inside, Lucky sipped on a fruit drink, chatting with Gosch. Shortly after 5:00 pm, as they were walking toward Lucky's car in the parking lot, the aging gangster stumbled, uttering the last words, "Martin, Martin."

Gosch knew Lucky had a heart condition, but it was too late (when onlookers saw the producer trying to place a pill in the fallen man's mouth the foundation for conspiracy theories was inadvertently laid).  The airport's on-staff physician arrived, placed a stethoscope to Luciano's chest, then clearly stated the finality of situation, albeit in a laconic, matter-of-fact way - "This man is dead."

Prior the the official autopsy report, rumors of 'poisoning' were published.  Once the autopsy was revealed to the public (months later) it showed the true non-dramatic reality... Lucky Luciano had a bad heart and that bad heart gave out..  Still, there continued to be whispers of assassination, carried out to silence the once great mob boss ( be it for the proposed movie, or his alleged drug ring). Despite the media misreporting, conspiracies, and - even if it was true - the 'International Drug Ring' implications that dogged him for decades... Lucky Luciano got to have his day, because soon he would be going home. 
1962, Naples Italy. Mourners pay last respects to Lucky Luciano at the Cemetery of Poggioreale.


"No solemn funeral service can be celebrated for someone who lives in 'obvious concubinage'." - Don Guido San Martino, officiating priest of the Most Holy Trinity Church of St. Joachim.

On January 29th, Don Guido San Martino, priest of the Most Holy Trinity Church of St. Joachim, gave requiem mass for Luciano.  The priest publicly stated the mass would be "without special pomp" and he felt great discomfort knowing the deceased party's 'live-in' relationship with twenty-four year old Adriana Risso (sometimes identified as Rizzo).  As for the whole 'gangster' element, the priest apparently wasn't quite as concerned, stating the service was - "For his soul and has nothing to do with what his life may have been."

Well, the service contradicted the priest's plans, yet surely unfolded just as the hordes of cops (American and Italian, plainclothes and uniform) expected.  There was pushing, shoving and verbal threats, mostly all aimed at the estimated one-hundred and fifty reporters present. Among those in attendance who were not press or police:  Lucky's brother Bartolo, nephew Salvatore, girlfriend Adriana Risso, a few American wiseguys, and although confined by law to remain in the town of Avellino's borders,  another deported gangster/friend, Joe Adonis, sent a wreath adorn with the phrase, "So Long Pal."

"Be quiet or I warn you I am going to knock someone on the head." - Unidentified elderly mourner threatening a photographer.

Luciano's mahogany casket left the church in an ornate hearse pulled by eight horses. Brother Bartolo had been trying secure permission to bring Lucky's remains back to New York for burial in the family mausoleum, so in the interim the casket would be kept in the chapel of the Cemetery of Poggioreale.  On February 7th, 1962, Salvatore 'Charlie Lucky Luciano' Lucania officially came home.  Without any religious service this time, Luciano reached his final resting place - St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York.  He purchased the mausoleum in 1935 (reports of the pricetag vary in range from $25,000 and $30,000), and was designed with capacity for up to sixteen coffins.




A few interesting things that happened within the weeks and months and years following Lucky Luciano's death:

  • Bartolo Lucania evicted Adriana Risso from Lucky's apartment.
  • The official autopsy report was released that June, debunking the 'poison' theories.
  • Cameron Mitchell, the American actor who agreed to play the role of Lucky in Gosch's planned movie production, received multiple death threats, presumed to be from Italian Mafia.
  • Gosch never made a biopic, but did collaborate with Richard Hammer to create the highly-contentious book 'The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano.'
  •  Gosch was actually working for producer Barnett Glassmen, according to a 1975 New York Times 'Letter to the Editor.' The letter further claims Luciano didn't particularly like Gosch and basically discussed a 'fictional' story, not memoir.
  • Adriana Risso, Lucky's last love interest, was one of five beneficiaries listed to receive royalties from the book's sales.
  •  
Sources:

Tension Marks Lucky's Funeral. Reuters. New York Post, January 29, 1962, p. 20.
Luciano's Funeral is Today. AP. The Kingston Daily Freeman, January 1962, p. 1.
Cipollini, Christian. Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Strategic Media Books, 2014.
Summers, Anthony & Robbyn Swan. Sinatra: The Life, Vintage, 2006.
Rick Porrello's American Mafia
Scaduto, Tony. Letter to the Editor. New York Times. 27 April 1975.

25 January 2017

New book: 'Robbing the Post Office'

Howard K. Petschel's latest book, Robbing the Post Office: A Target of Opportunity, is available through Amazon.com.

The book covers such topics as the 1924 Rondout mail train robbery in Illinois and the 1962 Plymouth mail truck hijacking in Massachusetts. (In each of those cases, criminals relieved the U.S. Postal Service of cash and other items worth more than $1 million.)

The author is a former postal inspector who has previously written about stamp counterfeiting and postal service robberies.

Paperback, 190 pages.
ISBN 978-1879628526

Link to this book on Amazon.

23 January 2017

Tune In to AHC's 'America: Fact vs Fiction' for Secret Societies & American Villains

Fiction' premiered the new season on January 21st.  On Saturday February 4th, Episode number 7 'Secret Societies' is scheduled to air - one of two episodes that a Writers of Wrongs regular contributor will be appearing (Yes, it's me, and special thanks to Writers of Wrongs Thomas Hunt for referring me to the studio)

Tune in or set your DVR for what should be another interesting examination of history's myths and misunderstandings.  Subjects discussed during the filming of my segments included; the Mafia in New Orleans, Al Capone, and some other goodies you'll just have wait and see (I'm there with you, as I have no idea what made the cut or not!)

The following week, Saturday February 11, Episode 8 'American Villains' also addresses some 'mob history' so be sure to check it out as well.

Check your local listings for updated schedule and channel.




21 January 2017

Tried to 'take the money and run'

Early Pittsburgh Mafia boss Gregorio Conti assembled a fortune through fraud and double-dealing. In September 1919, he decided to take the money and run. He didn't run quite fast enough. 


On the eve of his planned departure from western Pennsylvania, he was shot to death within his parked automobile. Three associates were in the automobile with him at the time. They claimed to be innocent of the killing. All three said a small, slight-built man jumped up on the car's runningboard, fired the fatal shots and escaped so quickly that they could not act to prevent or to capture him. Police didn't believe the story. They figured it would have taken a giant to reach far enough into the car to fire the shots through the back of Conti's driver's seat, and that giant would have been virtually in the lap of a passenger as he fired. Further, the murder weapon was recovered and turned out to be a pistol that required time-consuming manual cocking between shots.

Read more about Conti and his untimely end in:
The American Mafia history website's Conti biography. 

18 January 2017

Hollywood Homicide


Was back on this date in 1933 that Tinsel Town lost one of their, if not thee, top bootlegger. Booze baron Harry Meagher, said to have a number of Hollywood stars as both friends and customers,was pulling up to his home when neighbors heard a series of pops and then a crash.

See, what happened was somebody gave Harry the works while Harry was pulling up to his abode, then this somebody, who was in the passenger seat at the time, turned his gun and killed James North who was in the back seat. Or did he give North the works first and then kill Meagher? Either way the result was the same. The car jumped the curbed and crashed into a light post. The killer got away while Meagher and North stayed put.

Why did Harry get dead? Three reasons were offered so you can pick one:
1) Gangsters from Chicago (or other eastern parts) were muscling in on the lucrative L.A. scene and it was just to bad for the local boys.
2) Harry himself was expanding into Arizona and Utah and them local fellas there weren't to keen on the idea.
3) It was an attempted robbery gone wrong.

PS
That third guy in the headline? He was an ex-boxer named Mickey Arno. He was killed about the same time and his body was found under a bridge near Long Beach. Police thought he may have been an associate of Meagher, then, after awhile, they thought that maybe he wasn't an associate of Meagher's.  Could of just been one of the coincidences.

13 January 2017

$5000 awarded to family of lynch victim

On this date in 1894, a federal jury returned a sealed verdict in a lawsuit related to an alleged New Orleans Mafia leader who was killed by a lynch mob three years earlier.

Rocco Geraci was one of the eleven victims of the Crescent City lynchings at Orleans Parish Prison in March 1891. He was one of a total of eighteen men arrested and held for trial as principals and accessories in the assassination of local Police Chief David Hennessy. The lynchings occurred after a jury failed to convict a number of the accused assassins.

As a mob swarmed the prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, the warden opened the cells of the Italian prisoners and advised them to hide themselves as best they could within the institution. Seven prisoners, including Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis, Frank Romero and Charles Traina rushed toward the women's side of the prison. A well-armed group of New Orleans citizens soon arrived at the women's courtyard, and the seven Italians emerged from their hiding places and assembled in a group in the corner of the courtyard. Some crouched and others knelt, begging for mercy. At close range, the gunmen opened fire. A second volley was then fired into the group.

Geraci was among the prisoners shot in the courtyard.

All but Bagnetto were killed by the gunshots. The gunmen dragged Bagnetto outside the prison and hanged him from a tree. Three other prisoners were located and killed on an upper floor of the prison. One other prisoner was hanged from a lamppost outside the building.

Suit was filed in the spring of 1892 against the City of New Orleans on behalf of Geraci's widow and their children. The city was charged with failing to adequately protect Geraci, a foreign national, while he was in government custody. Damages amounting to $30,000 were sought. The case was the sixth suit stemming from the lynching deaths to be heard in United States Circuit Court. Each of the previous plaintiffs had been awarded cash compensation from the municipality.

Geraci heirs began presenting their case on Jan. 12, 1894. Their first obstacle was proving that the Rocco Geraci killed at the parish prison was the same person as the Francesco Geraci noted in public records. Police Captain John Journee and local businessman Joseph Provenzano were called to the stand to establish his identity. Testimony resumed the following day with Geraci's brother Salvatore and businessman J. Salomoni. Closing arguments were delivered by the plaintiffs' attorneys Chiapella and Sambola and city attorney O'Sullivan.

Boarman
As in previous cases, the charge delivered by Judge Alexander Boarman to the jurors left them little choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge apparently felt $5,000 was an appropriate reparation - he had already allowed for several retrials of cases in which lower amounts were awarded.

Jurors brought back their verdict just a bit late for the court session of Jan. 13. The verdict was therefore sealed. It was revealed as the court day opened on Jan. 14. The plaintiffs were victorious in the amount of $5,000.

As a number of the related lawsuits were brought up for retrial, the City of New Orleans found new grounds for its defense. It successfully argued that the articles of Civil Code protected the municipality against suits relating to loss of life (though it specifically allowed suits relating to property damage). A retrial of the suit filed on behalf of the widow and children of Pietro Monastero was found by Judge Parlange to have no merit. In a 20-page decision, Parlange supported the city's position that it was exempt from such lawsuits.

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

07 January 2017

The way of all gangster flesh

The final four years of Prohibition saw over two hundred New York City gangsters shot, garrotted, or stabbed to death with ice picks. Some simply vanished never to be seen again. My new ebook: ON THE SPOT: Gangland Murders in Prohibition New York City 1930-1933 brings these murders back in full detail. In addition to all of the bootleggers, drug dealers, gamblers and other underworld sorts who were "bumped off", "taken for a ride", and "put on the spot", the reader will learn about the victims of the gang wars fought between Dutch Schultz and Vincent Coll, Waxey Gordon and the Bugsy Seigel - Meyer Lansky mob, the Mafia's Castellammarese War and the battle waged between Brooklyn's Shapiro Brothers and the boys from Murder, Inc. Over two hundred gangland executions are discussed, most for the first time since they occurred all those years ago.



06 January 2017

Her Face for the World To See

Her Face for the World to See
In the era of Harold Robbins, she wrote the book on love, mob-style.  From the mid-1950s to 1961 Liz Renay had the kind of troubles that only organized crime could render – subpoenas, jail, abandonment, disgrace, paranoia.  She had spiraled into the mob as a beautiful showgirl dating Albert Anastasia’s reputed bodyguard Tony “Cappy” Coppola.  Using him as a springboard, she bounced from New York to Hollywood, where Mickey Cohen introduced her to the casting couch. She leant Cohen some money and the gratuity ruined her life.  After a barrage of subpoenas and a grand jury appearance resulted in a perjury charge, a hanging judge threw her into jail for three years.  Her story’s title cried big tears:  My Face for the World to See.   
Liz Renay – striptease dancer, B-girl, gun moll – confessed with no footnotes.  It’s not a perfect way to get the history, but in firsthand accounts of a woman’s life with the mob, it beats a blank.  The genre of not-really-true crime confessionals had been established earlier with the publication of the Roaring Twenties madam Polly Adler’s memoir, A House is Not a Home, the raunchy masterpiece of ghostwriting which became a bestseller.  In this type of confession genre, there is no documentation, no tangible facts save for what’s on public record – and fact-checkers have to look up newspaper records and court documents to establish timelines hiding beneath the innuendo.      
Renay’s story does not resonate historically like Polly Adler’s tale of vice in the age of Tammany.  It does, however, put a personal spin on the intense pressure that mob associates felt in the McClellan era.  Renay blamed her three-year commitment on Robert Kennedy’s vow to get Mickey Cohen.  The tax evasion case against Cohen in 1961 and ’62 swept Renay into prison on a suspicious technicality after she’d been set free on probation on the perjury charge.   “Could Robert Kennedy be so base that he’d smash my life...?”     
For Adler and Renay, the dangers were everywhere.  The D.A. had boiler-plated their names onto blue-backed subpoenas while the mob tailed them to within five feet of every police station house.  In an uncharacteristic way, their memoirs detailed lurid true-crime with a tender twist.  After a meeting with New York District Attorney Frank Hogan, Renay’s only thought is to take a warm bubble bath.  Polly Adler detested the experience of the prison shower messing up her salon-styled hair.   The editors chose to focus these molls' indignities on the trivialities of hair and makeup;  
Maybelline  saved their world.  
Consider that Renay talked about Albert Anastasia; Adler dished about Detroit’s Purple Gang.   Their musings were not based on specific activities but rather, gifts, proposals, manners – nothing to rival the revelations of Joseph Valachi or Henry Hill.  Neither woman was ever coaxed into protective custody or witness protection for selling out the secret of Cappy’s botched marriage proposal or the Purple Gang’s crass behavior while visiting Adler’s house of prostitution.        
The warnings issued to known crime figures who have flirted with memoirs are well-known among readers of true crime nonfiction.  Those who did cross the line to talk lived out their lives in federally sanctioned hiding places.  Yet Renay and Adler carried on without the mob connections of their wild days.  Renay knew that after-the-fact meant just that.  She left the life of a moll for a 1970’s reinvention as a campy film star.

There are legions of historical gun molls who, framed in their black & white photos taken in courtrooms, mob funerals and police stations, didn’t change with time but remain frozen in whatever era they typify.  (See Reney below, on trial and accompanied by her loving daughter.)    
By turning their tawdry experiences into literary stock, Adler and Renay elevated themselves and in doing so, escaped the mob.  It wasn’t easy.  Polly Adler’s worst John would prove to be the U.S. tax man.  Liz Renay made her image pay as an old stripper for the new age.  They both found life after organized crime.  More realistically, they stayed alive. (This blog is reprinted from an article originally submitted to the Las Vegas Mob Museum.)

05 January 2017

Hooray for Hollywood!



On this date in 1933 movie star Betty Compson was playing cards with producer E.D. Leshin in her Los Angeles home. The doorbell rang, and when Compson answered it, a gunman forced his way in. The actress and producer were forced upstairs into Betty’s bedroom where both were bound with piano wire and had tape placed over their mouths. 
The bandit helped himself to over $40,000 worth of jewelry and escaped. Fifteen minutes later Compson wriggled free and untied Leshin. The police were called and she filed a report. The following day, detectives came to question her further, but she told them that she had changed her mind and didn’t want the police to pursue the case. Detectives stated that she received a phone call from the robber threatening her during their visit. She denied it, stating only that she feared for her safety.  In the end, the bandit reached out to her lawyer and the jewelry was returned to the actress.  Although she denied it, the police felt that the robber had ransomed back the jewelry.
Being a star during Hollywood’s golden-years wasn’t always sunshine and champagne.

Sberna goes to The Chair

On this date in 1939, Charles Sberna was sent to The Chair. Though he had been convicted of participating in the killing of a New York City police officer, many believed - and many still believe - he was innocent. 

At trial, codefendant Salvatore Gati took the witness stand to confess his own involvement in the incident that led to Police Officer John H.A. Wilson's death. But Gati insisted that Sberna was not present. Gati named two other men as his accomplices. Prosecutors from District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office apparently did not give serious consideration to the testimony or to Sberna's alibi.

Some of the evidence collected at the scene
of the killing of Police Officer Wilson.

The only witness who connected Sberna to the killing of Wilson had serious credibility problems of his own. He likely would have been on trial himself for a number of offenses if Dewey's office had not needed him to testify against Sberna. Did public officials have an anti-Sberna bias that prevented them from dealing even-handedly with the case?

Only much later, after Sberna had been executed in Sing Sing Prison's death device, did journalists wonder about other men who were suspected of involvement in Wilson's killing but never faced trial for it. Were those men released because bringing them to justice would have exposed a terrible injustice done to Sberna?

Excerpt from Wrongly Executed? The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

"...Thursday, January 5, 1939, was the 457th consecutive day that Charles Sberna and Salvatore Gati spent behind bars. It was also the last. The Death Row prisoners were granted the luxury of selecting their afternoon and evening meals. Sberna requested an early meal of lamb chops, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls and butter with coffee. He also asked for Chesterfield cigarettes. His requests for cigars and some other items were refused. Gati made no request for his early meal other than to be allowed to eat a can of pork and beans from his own supply. Sberna placed an additional large request for his supper. He ordered roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh tomatoes, rolls and butter, coffee, ice cream and cake. Gati’s requested supper was just another can of pork and beans. The condemned men may have hoped for a last-minute reprieve from Governor Lehman, though Lehman had made it clear by then that he did not intend to interfere with their punishments. They must have understood the reality of the situation as their heads were shaved to allow for direct connection of an electrode with their scalps. During the day, Sberna was visited by his wife, and Gati was visited by his mother Teresa..."


03 January 2017

Joe Adonis deports himself

On this date in 1956:

Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto settled into a luxurious $740 suite aboard the ocean liner S.S. Conte Biancamano. At noon, the liner sailed from New York harbor bound for Genoa, Italy, and Doto's self-imposed exile from the United States began. 

U.S. authorities found that Doto had reentered the country illegally after a 1948 visit to Cuba, claiming a citizenship that was not rightfully his. In interviews and documents, Doto claimed that he had been born in the United States. Authorities learned that he was born at Montemarano, near Naples, Italy, and brought into the U.S. as a young boy.

In November of 1955, federal Judge Walter M. Bastian agreed to suspend a perjury sentence against Doto if he left the country. Doto also faced a two-year perjury sentence in New Jersey and owed the IRS back taxes for the years 1946 through 1951.

Doto left his wife and four children behind in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Before his departure, journalists clamored for interviews with the reputed Mafia bigshot. Doto eventually agreed to speak to one reporter. Asked how he felt about being forced to leave his family, the longtime rackets boss replied, "I don't feel too good and I don't feel too bad... I'm not bitter. I'm just sorry for them that they have to take this shock."

He repeated his belief that he had been born in America.

Adonis remained in Italy for the remainder of his life. He died Nov. 26, 1971, at the age of 69, days after suffering a massive heart attack. He was a resident of the village of Serra de Conti near Ancona at the time.
Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956.

Sources
"Adonis arrives in Italy," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1956, p. 23.
"Adonis to pay $66,859," New York Times, Feb. 14, 1956.
"Gangdom chief Joe Adonis goes into voluntary exile," Arizona Republic, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 7.
"Il 'boss' Joe Adonis è morto in ospedale," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 8.
"Joe Adonis quits U.S. voluntarily," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 28.
"Joe Adonis, morto ad Ancona era il re di un impero mafioso," La Stampa, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 11.
"Joe Adonis, underworld gambling king, dies," New York Times, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 34.
"L'italiano Joe Adonis è sbarcato a Genova," La Stampa, Jan. 17, 1956, p. 5.
"Ritorno di Joe Adonis dall'America a Napoli," La Stampa, Jan. 4, 1956, p. 5.

02 January 2017

3 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lucky Luciano

Charlie Lucky Luciano cracks a smirk in 1946.


Books and movies and hearsay... oh my!  A century's worth of material has been written on the life and crimes of Salvatore Lucania, the fella we better recognize as Lucky Luciano, but still his story is filled with as many holes as some of the gang war victims he once caroused with.  The 'mystery' that surrounds Lucky is ultimately the kind of thing researchers, historians and mob history aficionados live for, because we all love discovering a new clue or factoid that better paints the true picture. History itself, no matter the realm or subject matter, never ceases to amaze; there's always, ALWAYS something more to discover.  And with that said, here are three cool little facts about Charlie Lucky that you may have not known:


3. Gun Control

Not all RAP Sheets (record of arrest & prosecution) are created equal, keep that in mind especially when studying organized crime of the early twentieth century. Besides the facts that law enforcement entities obviously didn't have many options of technology to share information, and, most mobsters adopted an alias or two (and some literally juggled dozens of aka's) which made identification difficult enough in that era, rap sheets were often innately cryptic, and absolutely subject to human error and/or omissions.Some legal infractions just didn't get listed.

"Eight Gun Permits Ordered Revoked When Probe Shows Wholesale Falsifications" - The Troy Times, July 15, 1933.

Luciano was known to pack heat, as referenced when he (along with an ensemble of notable gangsters including Joe 'The Boss' Masseria and Bugsy Siegel - who was using an alias) was booked in Miami on gambling charges on February 28th, 1930, but the gun wasn't a big issue. Miami authorities only fined him for the gambling violation, although he was required to register with police if and when he ever returned to the city.  A few years later though, Lucky got into a little more gun-related trouble, but oddly it wasn't the weapon he was caught with.

The murders of several witnesses in a case against racketeer Waxey Gordon in 1933 is what prompted authorities in Troy, New York to investigate an unusual common denominator in the slayings - most of the witnesses were known gangsters and possessed gun permits issued in Troy.  Furthermore, many of the permit holders were from out of town (NYC, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles), and all of their permit 'sponsors' had apparently falsified documents. That discovery led to the questioning of  individuals issuing those permits, who incidentally had very groggy memories of why, exactly, they approved the permits.
FBI Record Charles Lucania

On July 15th, authorities revoked eight gun permits, and published the names of both permit holder and the individuals who sponsored them. Among those stripped of a license to carry was of course Lucky Luciano, who almost always used his real surname on official documents. Charles Lucania of 226 Hill Street; vocation listed as 'salesman' on the application. His address in Troy (and Lucky was known to maintain multiple addresses at the time) was less than an hour drive from his old pal Legs Diamond's home in Acra.  Interestingly, within the following two years, Lucky had instituted a contingency plan by securing the bodyguard services of  Lorenzo 'Chappy' Brescia, a big guy who carried a gun and a permit.


2. Inked Up

From comic book series LUCKY
Tattoos, even Lucky Luciano had some.  He was however quite meticulous in hiding epidermal decorations from public view, hence why very few images of his ink have ever surfaced and why little has ever been mentioned in historical accounts.  Despite his efforts to keep the ink under wraps, the tattoos were noted and described - sometimes in great detail - by a handful of eagle-eyed journalists, and of course by police.

"He constantly mopped his neck with a handkerchief as we talked, then shed his suit coat and drew back his shirt sleeves, revealing faded tattoos on each forearm.There was a nude on the left arm and a crest with the face of a jack on the right. If the tattoos clashed with his immaculate attire, so did his language. His soft-spoken conversation was flavored with Brooklynese, and the "youse guys" kept creeping in." - Jack Anderson, 1959.

Here's the lowdown on Lucky Luciano's skin art:

Tattooed Gangster
He acquired the tattoos as a teenager, the year was 1913 to be exact.  The right, inner forearm featured a 'Sailor's head' (though the design could easily be confused with a 'Jack'), stars and a heart, the word 'Lucky', and the date '1913'.  The left, inner arm was adorn with a bawdier imagery: a topless pinup girl, kneeling with her arms placed behind her head, and two banners reading, respectively,  'True Love' and 'Forever'.


Lucky took particular care to shield the pinup girl tattoo from photographers, but glimpses of the larger inkwork, located on his right arm, can bee seen in a few accessible press photographs, while far more detailed representations are present within the very-rare-yet-very-much-existing personal photo albums of he and his close friends (*even in personal photos he was methodical in keeping the pinup girl out of view).

"These tattoos...I got them when I was seventeen." - Luciano's reply to journalist Oscar Fraley's question, 'Regrets?' 1960.




1. Television Interview... With SOUND

It was no secret that Lucky hated being exiled to Italy. Although the press (and police) had hounded Lucky relentlessly with questions, flashbulbs ( and even some silent film footage) ever since his headline-making vice trial in 1936, it wasn't until around 1949 that Lucky had begun to willingly accept the occasional interview request - particularly from visiting American journalists (and usually with the caveat of no audio or motion picture recording). Some have suggested it was Luciano's way of connecting with a home he'd never get to visit again, and his interviews became more frequent through the 1950s.
Lucky gives interview in 1949


"It has-gotten so that every time a columnist gets within feet-wetting distance of the coast of Italy he owns to two objectives: the interviewing either of Luciano or Ms Ingrid Bergman, on the basis that they provide provocative copy." - Columnist Whitney Bolton, 1952

In early 1952 NBC dispatched newsreel photographers Charles and Eugene Jones to Europe. The brothers - known for traveling the world equipped with a state of the art camera - had gained notoriety for their coverage of the Korean War and their films were often featured during NBC's Camel News Caravan. In sending them to Europe, the network basically wanted the twenty-five year old twins to get stories on anything relevant, from politics to society. Gene's wife Natalie accompanied them on the European trek, and she would become a groundbreaking history-maker in her own right.

Stopping in Naples, Italy that April, the Jones trio became aware of Lucky Luciano's presence, so they took a room in the same hotel and set out to request an interview. Lucky refused at first, though he invited them to the track and to dine. Surprisingly though, the Jones's convinced Lucky to do an on-camera interview, sound included. Besides the significance of the interview being the only known audio/visual combo recording of the exiled gangster, the interview was conducted by Natalie Jones - and this was a time in history when the phrase 'Good Ol' Boy Network' applied to many segments of society, not the least of which being television journalism.

Luciano's mere agreement to do such an interview made the newspaper columns back in the States, which included teasers of the conversations viewers would soon see and hear. Some reports of the exclusive interview were straightforward, others quite scornful. Regardless of the opinions, this was to be a pretty big television event it seemed and the Jones family had more locations, personalities and subjects to cover before returning home at the end of the year.  When they returned, brothers Charlie and Gene had a book published - Double Trouble: The Autobiography of the Jones Twins and Natalie had become a staff foreign correspondent and then in the 1970's - an Academy Award nominee.

Now for the disheartening part of this all...

As of this writing, the author (me) had tried, in vain, for several weeks to locate the Lucky Luciano recording. Upon contacting NBC,a representative of the NBC News archives expressed that while the footage may still exist somewhere, the odds are it doesn't anymore. All things considered, the mission is now in full effect... let's find this piece of history, shall we?!