18 February 2017

92 years ago: Explosion in Pittsburgh

On this date in 1925: A massive explosion destroyed two buildings and severely damaged several others in the Produce District of Pittsburgh.

The 5 a.m. blast seemed to originate inside the office safe of the Landolina Bros. & Co. wholesale produce firm at 2028 Penn Avenue. The safe itself was obliterated, turned into shrapnel by the detonation within. Investigators wondered if the bomb was placed by a "Black Hand" extortion gang or personal enemies of the East End-based Landolina family.



Fires broke out following the explosion, and it took firefighters until 10 a.m. to get the blazes under control. Though an estimated $110,000 worth of damage was caused, authorities said no one was killed or injured.

In addition to the Landolina building, an adjacent building at 2026 Penn Avenue, owned by produce merchant William J. Joyce, was destroyed. Another Joyce-owned building at 2024 Penn was thrown sideways by the force of the blast and was described in the press as sagging "crazily over the wrecked street." Two bank buildings - the William Penn Trust Co. at Penn Avenue and 21st Street and the Franklin Savings and Trust Co. across the street - were damaged. Warehouses in the district were forced to dispose of large quantities of produce, as shards of shattered window-glass became embedded in the foodstuffs.


Police immediately arrested Angelo Valeti of 2028 Spring Way in Pittsburgh, a partner in the Landolina firm. A witness saw him in the area just before the explosion. Authorities were searching for other roomers at the same Spring Way address who disappeared after the explosion. According to reports, Valeti and others had been arrested and fined just weeks earlier for their roles in a suspicious fire.

At the time of the explosion, no one suspected that it was triggered by an underworld rivalry. By the fall of 1928, however, the Landolina family - originally from the Trabia-Caccamo-Termini Imerese area of Sicily and related to western Pennsylvania Mafia chieftain Salvatore Calderone - was known to be embroiled in a regional bootlegging feud.

In July of that year, 75-year-old Nicaso Landolina was shot to death at his home, 203 Mayflower Street, while he was watering flowers in his front yard. Police noted that Nicaso was carrying a revolver in his pocket as he tended to the garden. An investigation showed that the Landolinas had received a number of threatening letters from Italian gangsters. Two months later, Nicaso's nephew, Anthony, was shot to death in front of 1619 Penn Avenue. Rumors suggested that Anthony had learned the identities of the men and had sworn to kill them. They got him first.

10 February 2017

40 years ago: Mafia executes SoCal informant

Bompensiero
On this date in 1977: Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero, a longtime leader of the southern California underworld, is shot to death near his apartment in the Pacific Beach neighborhood of San Diego.

At about 8:30 p.m., police found Bompensiero in a pool of blood on the sidewalk in front of an alley. Nearby were four spent .22-caliber cartridges and cigar stub Bomp was chewing on when he was shot. The Mafioso had four bullet wounds in his head. One slug hit him in the neck near the spine. One entered through his right ear. Two cracked through his skull closely together, creating a large hole behind the ear. Bompensiero was declared dead on arrival at Mission Bay General Hospital.

Detectives found no witnesses. No one had even heard the shots fired. The authorities concluded that a silencer was used by the killer.

Some cash and a notebook were found in Bompensiero's pockets. The notebook held coded loansharking figures and telephone numbers for phone booths around the United States. Bompensiero was convinced that law enforcement agencies had tapped into his own home phone and the phones of other Mafiosi and only communicated with underworld associates through pay telephones. He was said to have been returning home from a nightly visit to a phone booth when he was shot.

Bompensiero was well known to the police as a leading figure in the Los Angeles-based Dragna Crime Family. He was said to occupy the position of consigliere in the organization and to oversee rackets in the San Diego area.

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 1977.

As the story of Bompensiero's assassination hit local newspapers, rumors surfaced that the San Diego underworld chieftain had been supplying information to the FBI for more than a decade. Several years later, Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno testified in federal court that southern California Mafia bosses ordered the murder of Bompensiero because he betrayed the underworld code of silence.

Read more about Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero.

08 February 2017

Coming soon...ish!

The Joe Petrosino story is coming to the big screen. To have your book sold to Hollywood before it is even released must be a very cool thing.

07 February 2017

108 years ago: Future mob boss arrives in NYC

On this date in 1909: Seventeen-year-old Stefano Magaddino of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. San Giorgio

Magaddino's immediate destination was the home of his brother Gaspare, on Brooklyn's North Fifth Street near Roebling Street. The area was already a fair-sized colony of immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo. (It would later become the base of power of the Bonanno Crime Family.)

Magaddino frequently traveled around the U.S. His 1913 marriage in Brooklyn did not settle him down. Within a few years, he moved his family to South Philadelphia but continued to spend considerable time in New York City. He also traveled to Buffalo, Chicago and possibly Detroit.

Shortly after the start of Prohibition, Magaddino relocated to the Buffalo area. Almost immediately, he was selected boss of the western New York Mafia (previous boss Giuseppe DiCarlo died July 9, 1922). Magaddino remained the chief of the underworld in western New York and nearby Canada for more than fifty years.

Stefano Magaddino appears on Line 15 of this page
of the S.S. San Giorgio passenger manifest.

Read more about Magaddino and the Mafia of Western New York in 
DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

02 February 2017

La Smootch Mort IV



On June 7, 1930, a tugboat chugging through a drainage canal outside of Chicago churned up a body that had been weighted down with seventy-five pounds of iron. Inside the dead man’s suit was a photo of pretty girl with the inscription, “Gene, I’ll be loving you always, Maria.” Could Maria have been Mary Collins? According to one writer; yes. As the body sat on the slab waiting for identification, somebody called Tom McLaughlin, the president of the Checker Cab Company, and asked him if his younger brother, Eugene “Red” McLaughlin—the very same gangster who was arrested for the murder of  victim number two, Irv Schlig— was missing. Tom said that Red hadn’t been seen in two weeks. The caller then told him about what the police dragged out of the drainage canal and Tom raced over to the morgue. There he officially identified the corpse as his younger brother. Shown the photo Tom reportedly said, “Yes, that’s Mary all right. I told him she was poison and he would get his, if he went around with that skirt.” Apparently Red laughed off the curse, not realizing he was victim number six.
 
 #6

The seventh and final gangster to succumb to the Kiss of Death girl was Sam Katz, an extortionist who specialized in kidnapping gamblers and holding them for ransom. One day, Katz and Mary were picked up and taken in for questioning. In regards to the Kiss of Death curse, one of the detectives told Mary, “Why don’t you quit this bird. Give him a break—Let him alone.” Both the Kiss of Death girl and Katz laughed it off. Two months later on July 16, 1932, Katz and two accomplices showed up to a gambler's office to shake him down. The trio had already kidnapped his brother once, and they threatened to kidnap him if he didn’t come up with a payoff. The gambler called the police and a trap was set. When the gangsters showed up to collect their loot, the gambler gave them a hundred bucks. They told him to go get more, so he left his office and the police ran in. The gangsters were told to put up their hands but Katz went for his gun and received a fatal blast from a shotgun for doing so. His confederates too, were killed.
Headline for #7

 

01 February 2017

La Smootch Mort III


Th saga of the Kiss of Death Girl continues with victim number four. We are told that he was another North Side bootlegger, named John Phillips, who a Mary Collins chronicler tells us, was at a night club called the Northern Lights with Ms. Collins and a few others. Because of their raucous behavior, the police were called. Phillips and his cronies were quicker on the draw then the cops and the gangsters walked the officers out of the club at gunpoint. Before they could get too far however, reinforcements showed up and Phillips was killed in an ensuing shootout. A newspaper search found one mention to support this claim but an actual news story covering the shooting proved elusive. There was however, a bandit named John Phillips killed in Chicago in a shootout in 1931. Perhaps the journalist got his dates mixed up and took some dramatic license. 

Number five, David Jerus a.k.a “Jew Bates”, was also a pal of Dean O’Banion’s. By 1930 Jerus had relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, but distance couldn’t protect him from the curse. On December 5 of that year, Jerus and a confederate named Coates, tried to take a guy for a ride in Covington, Kentucky. The intended victim however, had a gun and a will to live. Once in the back he seat he drew his gun and shot both Jerus and Coates, who managed to shoot him back. Jerus lingered for a bit before officially claiming the number five title.

Headline for #5