16 August 2018

'Dandy Phil' exits in his pajamas

On this date in 1962...

Shreveport Times
Nancy Kemp, a private nurse caring for aging gambling racketeer Philip F. "Dandy Phil" Kastel, was startled by the sound of a gunshot on Thursday, August 16, 1962. The noise came from inside Kastel's ninth-floor apartment at New Orleans' Claiborne Towers, Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street.

Entering the bedroom of her patient, she found a pajama-clad Kastel slumped in a chair, a gunshot wound through his skull and a .38-caliber handgun on the floor beside him.

Kastel's wife Margaret, who had a separate bedroom, was awakened by the shot. She was terribly upset but apparently not surprised by the obvious suicide. Phil Kastel had been distraught by his failing eyesight and a recent discovery of cancer in his abdomen. When police arrived, she told them that her husband had spoken about killing himself.

Police found the bullet that caused Kastel's death embedded in the bedroom wall. A coroner's examination determined officially that the wound was self-inflicted and confirmed the diagnosis of cancer.



Philip Kastel
Government records and press reports indicated that "Dandy Phil," longtime gambling racketeer and close friend of New York-based crime boss Frank Costello, was sixty eight years old at the time of his death. That was probably just an estimate, as available Kastel-related records suggest a range of birthdates spread out across more than a decade.

Census records believed to be of Philip Kastel's family in 1905 and 1910 suggest that he may have been as old as seventy-seven when he passed. A World War II draft registration card shows Kastel's birthdate as April 2, 1891, making him seventy-one. The 1940 U.S. Census suggests a birth year of 1892 or 1893, making him sixty-nine or seventy. During a 1931 trip to Havana, Cuba, Kastel said he was born on March 2, 1893. Social Security records contain a birthdate of April 2, 1893. Those birthdates would have made him sixty-nine.

When Kastel was called to testified before the Senate's Kefauver Committee in 1951, he told the committee that he was born in New York in 1898. If that was true, it would have made him just sixty-three or sixty-four when he breathed his last.

13 August 2018

What happened to girl wounded by stray bullet?

Media quickly lost interest in
Connecticut girl caught up in
New York City underworld hit

When Mafia assassins opened fire in a crowded Manhattan intersection at midday, Aug. 11, 1922, they inflicted a mortal wound on their target but also wounded two bystanders.

The intended victim, Umberto Valente, died an hour later at St. Mark's Hospital. A young girl and a municipal street cleaner - "collateral damage" in the hit - were rushed to Bellevue Hospital for treatment of gunshot wounds.

Agnes Egglinger
Street cleaner Joseph Schepis, forty-two, suffered a wound to his throat that was not life-threatening. Eleven-year-old Agnes Egglinger, a visitor from Connecticut, was more seriously hurt.

Newspapers in New York City and around the country told of Agnes being struck by a stray slug in the right chest. The New York Daily News, "New York's Picture Newspaper," ran a photograph of the girl. The papers said the young girl might lose her life. It appears, however, that no one in the media thought of following up to see whether Agnes survived.

Public records indicate that she did. Federal and state census records show Agnes becoming an adult, and state records appear to show her marriage as well as her death.

Agnes was the third child - and first daughter - born to Harry and Erna Schultz Egglinger of Jamaica, Queens, New York. At least two additional siblings were born after her. Harry worked as a metal lathe operator. The Egglinger family moved in 1919 from Queens to New Haven, Connecticut, first settling at 34 Sylvan Avenue and later moving about a mile south to 42 Hurlbut Street. While in New Haven, Erna's younger brother Reinhold Schultz, Jr., - Agnes' Uncle Reinhold - lived with the family as a boarder.

New York Daily News, Aug. 12, 1922.
Scene of the attack on Valente.

In early August of 1922, the Egglingers went to visit Erna's father, Reinhold Schultz, Sr., at his Manhattan home, 232 East Twelfth Street. They were a few days into their visit when a feud within the New York City Mafia erupted in gunfire at the intersection of East Twelfth Street and Second Avenue.

Agnes and her four-year-old sister Dorothy were playing on the sidewalk, as gunmen loyal to Manhattan gang boss Giuseppe Masseria murdered Umberto Valente. Valente, a trusted assassin of Brooklyn-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, had failed in an assassination attempt against Masseria just three days earlier (a half-dozen striking garment workers were wounded - at least one fatally - when their group got in the way of the getaway car and mobsters fired at the ground to disperse them). Little Dorothy was fortunate to escape injury as the bullets flew on August 11; reports stated that a slug passed through the fabric of her dress.

Masseria
The media lost track of Agnes Egglinger after her arrival at Bellevue Hospital. But the 1925 New York State Census showed that Agnes was alive and living with her family at 12009 Baisley Avenue back in Jamaica, Queens. Sometime between the 1922 visit to Manhattan and the 1924 birth of Agnes' little brother Alfred, the family had returned to New York from New Haven, Connecticut. Agnes, eighteen, also appeared in the 1930 United States Census. She was still living with her parents, though their address had changed to 120-19 153rd Street, Queens. Harry Egglinger owned the home at that address. The census placed the home's value at $10,000 and noted that it was equipped with a radio.

A decade later, eighteen years from the shooting that nearly cost Agnes her life, the 1940 U.S. Census found the twenty-eight-year-old in her parents' home on 153rd Street. Her two younger siblings were also still in the household, and an older brother was renting rooms in the house for himself, his wife and their young son. Agnes was working as a clerk in an insurance office.

While available records are not definitive, it appears that the Agnes Egglinger who was accidentally shot in the summer of 1922 was the same Agnes Egglinger who became the wife of Frank Seelinger in Queens in late September of 1946. It could be argued that marriage was a greater threat to her health than a bullet. Records show that Agnes Seelinger died in July 1949 - twenty-seven years after the nearly fatal gunshot wound and less than three years after taking her wedding vows.

Sources:
  • "1 dead, 2 shot, as bootleggers again fight on East Side," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Bootleggers at war," Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 2.
  • "Cloakmaker, victim of gunman, dies; 3 more in hospital," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 20.
  • "East Side bad man killed as shots fly," New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "Eight men shot in mysterious battle on street," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Gang kills gunman; 2 bystanders hit," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Gunman's volley fatal to striker," New York Times, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 13.
  • "Gunmen shoot six in East Side swarm," New York Times, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Man dies from bullet, girl is seriously hurt," New York Evening Telegram, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Mystery in rum street battle near solution," New York Tribune, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "New Haven girl wounded in New York bootleggers' feud," Bridgeport CT Telegram, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One killed, two shot in pistol battle," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One man killed, two wounded, in gang war," New York Call, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 4.
  • "Three shot down in crowd in East Side gang warfare," New York Evening World, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Valente's arrest balked by murder," New York Evening World, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 3.
  • New York City Death Index, certificate no. 8666, July 3, 1949.
  • New York City Marriage License Index, license no. 10522, Sept. 28, 1946.
  • New York State Census of 1915, Queens County, Jamaica village, Assembly District 4, Election District 27, Ward 4.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Queens County, Baisley Park village, Assembly District 4, Election District 36, Ward 4.
  • United States Census of 1920, Connecticut, New Haven County, City of New Haven, Enumeration District 505.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Queens County, Baisley Park, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 41-376.
  • United States Census of 1940, New York State, Queens County, Enumeration District 41-1287B.

See also:

10 August 2018

Dallas gambling chief ends his own life

On this date in 1932...

Warren Diamond, fifty-five-year-old Prohibition-Era gambling czar of Dallas, Texas, ended his own life at his Highland Park West home on August 10, 1932.

Austin American Statesman
Diamond had been a patient at St. Paul Hospital (formerly St. Paul Sanitarium, located at the western corner of Bryant Street and Hall Street). Early on the morning of Wednesday, August 10, he decided to leave the hospital. He called for a taxi and rode three and a half miles to 4224 Armstrong Parkway, the large home he shared with his wife Nellie. A surprised and uneasy Nellie greeted him at the door. Diamond brushed past her and proceeded to his upstairs bathroom. Knowing that her husband had been despondent over his health issues, Nellie quickly summoned George Foote, Diamond's longtime friend and business associate.

A short time later, a gunshot was heard.

Foote entered the bathroom and found Diamond dead of a bullet wound to the head. An automatic pistol was on the floor a couple of feet from Diamond's body. A coroner's investigation determined that Diamond committed suicide at about 8:45 a.m.

Newspaper reports of his death referred to the gambling racketeer as a "sportsman and philanthropist" and as a former druggist. Later reports revealed that he suffered from an untreatable cancer of the prostate and his deteriorating condition drove him to suicide.

Diamond death certificate
Diamond's funeral was held on the morning of Friday, August 12. The Rev. Louis Harrington, pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, conducted the services. Diamond was interred in a family mausoleum he earlier constructed at the Grove Hill Cemetery. His pallbearers included two of his known lieutenants, F.L. "Dub" McClanahan and Ben Whitaker.

(Findagrave.com)
Diamond's gambling empire, assembled over decades, was dismantled after his death. George Foote, his top aide, reportedly took over the Dallas-area policy (numbers) rackets. Ben Whitaker, who also dabbled in bootlegging, assumed control over the bookmakers and wire news service. Dub McClanahan took the popular no-limit craps games.

Gambling operations within Diamond's old headquarters at the St. George Hotel, between Main Street and Commerce Street, were taken over by Dallas Mafioso Joseph Civello. Civello's operation, which included craps, bookmaking and a race wire service, was said to be under the protection of the local police department.

Behind the scenes, a former Warren Diamond apprentice was scheming to take control of it all. Benjamin "Benny" Binion reportedly broke away from the Diamond organization in the latter half of the 1920s and established his own organization at Dallas's Southland Hotel. His operation was said to be protected by Galveston-based mob boss Sam Maceo.

St. George Hotel on Main Street (smu.edu)

Just a few years after Diamond's death, Binion was regarded as the top man in Dallas gambling. In 1936, he started to force independent bookmakers to make protection payments to him. Control of policy rackets was nailed down with the fatal shooting of holdout independent operator Ben Frieden in September of that year. The St. George Hotel gaming rooms fell under his control when Joseph Civello was arrested on a federal narcotics charge (local police protection was little help). Years later, Civello was released from prison and pardoned after evidence surfaced that his own attorney and his trial judge conspired to remove him from the Dallas gambling scene through a narcotics frame-up.

Political changes in the late 1940s made Dallas an unfriendly place for Benny Binion. He moved on to become a key figure in the growth of gambling casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sources:
  • Cartwright, Gary, "Benny and the boys," Texas Monthly, October 1991, p. 137.
  • Edgerton, Harold J., "Joseph Francis Civello," FBI report, file no. 92-2824-137, NARA no. 124-10290-10440, May 17, 1968, p. 26-29.
  • Glass, Mary Ellen, excerpts of interview of Lester Ben "Benny" Binion, "World Series of Poker: A retrospective," University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research, May 20, 2009, accessed Aug. 9, 2018. (https://gaming.unlv.edu/WSOP/BennyBinion.html)
  • Kuykendall, Leo E., "Lester Benjamin Binion," FBI report, file no. 92-3241-7, NARA no. 124-90088-10054, Feb. 28, 1958, p. 11-12.
  • Reid, Ed and Ovid Demaris, The Green Felt Jungle, Cutchogue NY: Buccaneer Books, 1963.
  • Death certificate of Warren H. Diamond, Texas State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, certificate no. 33744, Aug. 1, 1932.
  • John F. Worley Directory Co.'s Dallas City Directory 1925, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1925, p. 866.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1929 Vol. XLII, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1929, p. 361.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1932 Vol XLV, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1932, p. 615.
  • "Warren Diamond ends life after leaving hospital," Dallas Morning News, Aug. 11, 1932, p. 1. Funeral announcement, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 12, 1932.
  • "Wealthy sportsman found dead at Dallas," Austin American Statesman, Aug. 10, 1932, p. 1.
  • McCormick, Harry, "Crime in Texas III: Benny Binion Dallas' gift to racket ranks," Dallas Morning News, Feb. 13, 1951, p. 1.

06 August 2018

Unlucky date for Steel City underworld bosses

August 6 has been a bad date
to be a Pittsburgh Mafia boss.

On that date in 1929, thirty-nine-year-old underworld chief Stefano Monastero was murdered as he went to visit an ailing henchman at St. John's General Hospital on Pittsburgh's North Side. 



Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Calogero Spallino (also known as Sparlino), free on bail as he awaited trial for an attempt on the life of Monastero rival Joe "Ghost of the Hill" Pangallo, went into St. John's for appendix surgery. Stefano Monastero drove to the hospital in an armored automobile, featuring steel plating and three-quarter-inch bulletproof glass windows. But he had to leave the protection of the vehicle to enter the building. When he emerged, shotguns erupted from a nearby parked car.

Pangallo
Monastero was knocked down by the shots. One of his assailants then approached with a handgun and fired into the boss's head to finish the job. The murder remained unsolved, but Joe Pangallo was generally believed responsible.

Stefano Monastero rose to power about 1925, assuming control of a regional underworld network in western Pennsylvania assembled largely by the linked Calderone and Landolina families. Monastero and his older brother Salvatore ran a produce business but earned considerably greater income through North Side stores that provided ingredients and equipment for bootleggers. Monastero had been fighting a gang war with Pangallo since about 1927. (In September of that year, the local press reported on a car bombing that threw Pangallo twenty feet into the air but failed to kill him.)

Monastero's Mafia pedigree was noteworthy. He was the son of Pietro Monastero, a Caccamo native who was among those charged with the 1890 Mafia murder of Police Chief David Hennessy in New Orleans. Stefano Monastero was very young, living with his mother and brothers in Sicily, when Pietro Monastero was killed by a lynch mob at Orleans Parish Prison in 1891. The family relocated to New Orleans following Pietro's killing and moved from city to city in the U.S. before settling in the Pittsburgh area.

On the same date three years later, recently installed Pittsburgh boss John Bazzano was called to a meeting of the nation's Mafia leaders on Hicks Street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. He was to answer for his involvement in the recent murders of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, racketeers John, James and Arthur Volpe. Bazzano did not leave the August 6, 1932, meeting alive.

Pittsburgh Press
The Volpes, under the protection of New York underworld power Vito Genovese, were gunned down within Bazzano's Rome Coffee Shop on Pittsburgh's Wylie Avenue on July 29. Genovese, suspecting that the Volpes were victims of an anti-Neapolitan conspiracy among Calabrian and Sicilian Mafiosi in Pittsburgh, New York and Cleveland (including Bazzano and Nick Gentile in Pittsburgh; Albert Anastasia, Joe Biondo and Vincenzo Mangano in New York; Frank Milano in Cleveland), assembled the disciplinary hearing for Bazzano.

During the meeting, the forty-four-year-old Bazzano did not deny responsibility for the murders of the Volpes. Instead, he called on other Mafia leaders to join in a war to exterminate the Neapolitans in their organization.

Bazzano's words and recent deeds presented a threat to the still-shaky underworld alliances that emerged from the bloody Castellammarese War concluded one year earlier. His punishment was immediate. He was gagged and tied with rope, while his body was punctured more than twenty times with ice picks. Some of the wounds reached his heart, causing a fatal hemorrhage. The body was found August 8, wrapped in burlap near the intersection of Centre and Clinton Streets in Red Hook. It could not be identified until relatives from Pittsburgh arrived in New York looking for Bazzano.

Authorities subsequently learned of an assembly of U.S. Mafiosi at New York City and rounded up fourteen underworld figures from Brooklyn (Albert Anastasia, John Oddo, Cassandro Bonasera, Ciro Gallo, Joseph Traina) and Buffalo, New York (Paul Palmeri, Salvatore DiCarlo); Pittsburgh (Calogero Spallino, Michael Bua, Michael Russo, Frank Adrano) and Pittston, Pennsylvania (Santo Volpe, Angelo Polizzi); Trenton, New Jersey (Peter Lombardo). The suspects, represented by attorney Samuel Leibowitz, were quickly released for lack of evidence.

More on these subjects:

03 August 2018

Eight "Black Sox" players banned from baseball

On this date in 1921...

Landis (center) as he is appointed commissioner

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced on August 3, 1921, that eight players involved in the "Black Sox" scandal would never again be permitted to play organized baseball.

His announcement came one day after a jury found the players not guilty of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and dares no tell his club about, will ever play professional baseball.
Freeport IL Journal-Standard

The players banned from the game for life were
  • Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte, pitcher
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, outfielder
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman
  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, outfielder
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher

Landis, a veteran federal judge. had been given broad powers to protect the game when he was appointed baseball's first commissioner late in 1920. Major league ballclub owners feared at the time that the Black Sox scandal, just coming to light, would do permanent damage to the reputation of baseball.

Though there had been rumors about the 1919 World Series being "fixed" through the influence of gamblers, the 1920 regular season was almost finished when grand jury investigation was launched. Charles Albert "Commy" Comiskey, president of the White Sox ballclub, suspended the seven suspects who were still on his team (Gandil was no longer with Chicago at the time). This action was taken despite the White Sox remaining in contention for the 1920 American League pennant.

Eddie Cicotte appeared before the grand jury and admitted he was part of a conspiracy to throw the World Series in exchange for cash. Joe Jackson made a similar confession. Eight players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920. They were placed on baseball's "ineligible list" for the 1921 season and  went to trial that summer. By the time of the trial, the Cicotte and Jackson confessions were missing, and the players were denying any cooperation with gamblers.

See also:

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series (Writers of Wrongs, Sept. 28, 2017)

30 July 2018

Murders his pal on "Good Killers" orders

On this date in 1921...

Asbury Park Press
Aug. 19, 1921
Two old friends from Sicily, recently reacquainted in New York City, went out hunting in the woods along New Jersey's Shark River on July 30, 1921. Only one of the men returned.

Bartolomeo Fontana, the survivor of the hunting trip, later confessed to New York City Police that he deliberately brought his pal Camillo Caiozzo into the woods and shotgunned him to death on orders of a Brooklyn-based criminal network known as "the Good Killers."

Investigation of the Good Killers revealed an interstate organization responsible for many murders around New York City and Detroit, in the United States, and in the Castellammare del Golfo region of Sicily. Gang commanders included Stefano Magaddino, who would soon rise to lead the Mafia in Buffalo, New York.

More about this murder and the Good Killers gang:"The Good Killers: 1921's glimpse of the Mafia," by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

22 July 2018

Vendetta killings at New Orleans' French Market

On this date in 1869...

French Market, New Orleans

Two leaders of a Sicilian underworld faction were murdered on the morning of July 22, 1869, outside New Orleans' French Market.

Joseph Banano and Pietro Allucho, top men in a coalition of gangsters who emigrated from the Sicilian provinces of Messina and Trapani, died almost instantly from shotgun and pistol wounds. They had been involved for some time in a bloody feud with the Palermo-based Agnello Mafia organization. They recently returned to New Orleans after hiding out with friends in Galveston, Texas. Efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict were abandoned following the assassination of Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello in April 1869 and the succession of Joseph Agnello to his brother's leadership post.

New Orleans Times
The murders of Banano and Allucho occurred at the foot of Ursulines Street, beside the busy produce market. Though many people were nearby at the time, all claimed not to have seen the shooting.

The attention of police Officer Beasley, stationed nearby at the Levee, was attracted by the first shotgun blast that felled Allucho. From a distance, Beasley saw Joseph Banano attempt to help his collapsing friend Allucho and saw Salvatore Rosa, standing beside a "spring wagon," fire a second shell from his gun into Banano's side. As Beasley rushed to the scene, Rosa dropped his shotgun into the wagon, drew a pistol and fired again into Banano. After that, he tossed the pistol into the wagon, and another man drove the wagon quickly away.

Rosa saw Beasley approaching and attempted to escape, but the officer grabbed him after a brief chase.

Six slugs were found to have penetrated Allucho's side and chest and to have caused extensive damage to his lungs. Banano's right ribs were shattered by five slugs. A pistol in his pocket was broken into pieces by the projectiles, and one of the pieces was driven two inches into his body. A pistol shot wound was found on the other side of his body.

City newspapers differed in their accounts of what immediately preceded the attack and did not reveal their sources of information. (Judging from their slants, the competing stories appear to have come from sources close to the competing underworld factions.)

The New Orleans Times portrayed the incident as an ambush. It said Rosa hid himself in the back of the spring wagon until Banano and Allucho, "quietly engaged in conversation," were close by. Rosa then "simply shot one man after the other down as they stood in their tracks," the newspaper reported. The Times also linked the incident to shots fired an hour and a half earlier. At that time, Joseph Agnello was stopped by police. Agnello insisted that he had not done any shooting but was shot at by unknown men.

The New Orleans Daily Picayune suggested a self-defense motive for Rosa. It said Rosa was walking between St. Philip Street and Ursulines Street when he was threatened by a group of men at Ursulines. He reportedly ducked into a nearby building and armed himself. When he emerged, he fired into the threatening crowd.

Rosa was well known to police as a dangerous gunman. He was arrested two years earlier and charged with the murder of Erastus Wells at the Poydras Market. He was acquitted in that case. More recently he was charged in the apparently unintended killing of grocer David Clark, struck by gunfire during an eruption of the Sicilian underworld feud at the end of March, 1869, and also with attempting to kill a witness against him in the Clark homicide case.

As Rosa was locked up, there was speculation that he would use a self-defense argument to escape conviction. But he would never face trial. While incarcerated, Rosa developed a mysterious illness. He was said to be nearly dead when authorities agreed to release him in bail in August. He died August 21, 1869.

Two rumors were widely circulated after his death. The first was that he had been poisoned in his jail cell by Banano and Allucho followers. The other was that he had not died at all, but used phony reports of illness and death to escape from his underworld rivals and from the law.

New Orleans Daily Picayune

Sources:
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Martha Macheca Sheldon, Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia, Second Edition, 2010.
  • "An attempt to kill," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 7, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Again arrested," New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 7, 1869, p. 12.
  • "Another tragedy - Two Sicilians killed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 23, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The two last assassinations," New Orleans Times, July 23, 1869, p. 1.
  • "The Sicilian disturbances," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 24, 1869, p. 2.
  • "The homicides - a week of blood," New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 28, 1869, p. 2.
  • "Death of Rosa," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 22, 1869, p. 9.
  • "Salvador Rosa," New Orleans Death Records Index, Aug. 21, 1869, Ancestry.com.
  • "Unfounded rumor," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Aug. 25, 1869, p. 2.
Read more:

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

20 July 2018

SoCal Mafia tries (again) to take out Cohen

On this date in 1949...

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles area gambling czar Mickey Cohen, a frequent target of Mafia assassination attempts, was shot as he left a Sunset Strip eatery in the wee hours of July 20, 1949. Three companions, including a state agent assigned to guard Cohen, also were wounded in the attack.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Edward Herbert in front of Sherry's
Cohen, then thirty-five, his thirty-eight-year-old aide Edward "Neddie" Herbert, twenty-six-year-old actress Dee David and state agent Harry Cooper emerged from Sherry's Restaurant, 9039 Sunset Boulevard, just before 4 o'clock in the morning and approached Cohen's black Cadillac. Shotguns erupted from across the street. Cohen inexplicably crouched just as the guns went off and, as a result, was the least wounded of the group. He took a slug to the right shoulder.

Edward Herbert, a recent addition to Cohen's gang and the scarred survivor of another recent gangland attack, was struck by several slugs. His spinal cord was damaged, and he was instantly paralyzed from the midsection down. He lingered near death for about a week, as doctors tried surgery and blood transfusions. He died of his wounds and complications on Thursday morning, July 28.

Los Angeles Times
Cooper and Cohen
shortly before the shooting
Dee David was wounded in her back. She was treated at Citizens Emergency Hospital. She recovered quickly.

Two large-caliber slugs struck Harry Cooper in the abdomen. Cooper had recently been assigned - somewhat curiously - by state Attorney General Frederick Howser to serve as a bodyguard for Cohen. As Howser made that appointment, he also urged city and county law enforcement agencies to steer clear of Cohen. Cooper was rushed to Hollywood Receiving Hospital. His condition was critical for some time, but the agent eventually recovered.

The gunmen were well positioned for their escape. They lurked behind tall grass and brush on an old abandoned building foundation. A stairway behind the foundation led downhill into the backyard of 9035 Harratt Street. After firing into Cohen and his companions, the gunmen fled down the stairway, through the Harratt Street home's yard and down a residential driveway. They climbed into a waiting automobile and sped away.

Underworld celebrity

Cohen had been often in the news since the June 20, 1947, Beverly Hills murder of his friend and underworld associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. Authorities believed that Cohen controlled gambling throughout southern California following Siegel's killing. In the summer of 1948, Cohen survived an assassination attempt.

Cohen
The following March, seven Cohen gangsters were arrested fleeing from the scene of the brutal beating of Alfred Pearson. When certain police officials ordered that the gangsters not be charged and that records relating to their arrest be destroyed, a grand jury investigation was launched. The investigation exposed Cohen connections to law enforcement and resulted in conspiracy indictments against Cohen, a number of Cohen henchmen, three police officers, an attorney and a local businessman. Trial was originally scheduled for June 27, 1949, but later postponed to October.

In May 1949, police determined that another attempt had been made on Cohen's life. The gang boss's car was reportedly brought to a local garage with bullet holes in its body and blood staining its interior.

Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron was bothered by reports of corruption in the police department. On July 15, 1949, less than a week before the shooting at Sherry's Restaurant, Bowron went to the radio airwaves to promise the citizens of Los Angeles that graft would be exposed. "I want to know what police officers have received favors from Mickey Cohen or his mob and all matters relating to bookie operations within the city," the mayor stated. "I want to know if there are any possible connections between police officers and organized crime in any way at all..."

Attorney General Howser's assignment of agent Cooper to guard Cohen came to light just one day before the shooting.

Los Angeles Times

Investigation

Cohen recovered from his wound while under heavy police guard at the Queen of Angels Hospital. Though he told investigators he had no idea who was responsible for the shooting, there was reason to believe he was lying.

Some in the hospital overheard a Cohen telephone conversation on July 23. Cohen, obviously angry, said into the phone, "I know who did it. They've crippled me for life. Can't use my right arm. But I'll take care of them in my own way. The investigators keep coming up, keep asking me who did it. That's the end. I can handle this and I will handle it."

Jack Dragna
The Los Angeles Times reported on the conversation in its July 24 issue. The authorities questioned Cohen about it that day. But he denied the conversation occurred at all and insisted he did not know who the gunmen were.

The police identified three suspects and brought them in for questioning. Joseph E. Messina, a former barber who was believed involved in gambling, was interrogated and released. Tony Brancato, a Kansas City mobster who relocated to southern California, was taken into custody on July 24 on a charge of suspicion of attempted murder. A Brancato associate, Anthony Trombino, surrendered to authorities on July 25. Brancato and Trombino were released on the twenty-seventh.

Cohen checked himself out of the hospital against his doctor's orders on July 29, in order to attend the funeral services for Edward Herbert. Following the services at Willen Mortuary on Santa Monica Boulevard, Herbert's remains were transported by plane to New York City for burial. Cohen intended to fly to New York and even made plane reservations but changed his mind at the last minute and went to his home. He later told the press, "It would cause too much commotion. It wouldn't do any good to go East now." Cohen reportedly paid $1,500 in hospital bills for himself, Edward Herbert and Dee David and several thousand dollars for Herbert's copper coffin.

Detectives seemed to be on the right track as they connected the shooting at Sherry's Restaurant with underworld gambling rivalries, particularly the long rivalry between Cohen and the Dragna Mafia clan of Los Angeles.

Near the end of July, Ignatius "Jack" Dragna was questioned. Dragna admitted knowing Cohen and also admitted attempting to compete with Cohen's organization in a horse-race wire service racket some years earlier. But Dragna claimed he long ago gave up on that racket and knew nothing about the shooting.

The case remained unsolved.

Weasel's account

Several decades later, Mafia turncoat Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno revealed what he knew of the incident. According to Fratianno, Mafia boss Jack Dragna was obsessed with the idea of killing Cohen and enormously frustrated with Cohen's series of lucky escapes.

Fratianno said Dragna ordered Dominic "Jimmy Regace" Brooklier and Arthur "Army" DiMaria to ambush Cohen outside Sherry's. Their getaway car, according to Fratianno, was driven by Simone Scozzari.

None of those individuals were charged in connection with the shooting that killed Edward Herbert and wounded Cohen, Cooper and David.

Dragna died in February 1956. The next year, Simone Scozzari was one of the Mafiosi noted at the Apalachin, New York, Mafia convention. Scozzari rose to the position of underboss of the Los Angeles Mafia. He was deported to Italy in 1962.

DiMaria reportedly remained a soldier in the crime family. He died in 1972, nine years before being publicly accused of murder by Fratianno.

Brooklier was a recent addition to the crime family at the time of the Cohen shooting, and his assignment as a gunman was intended to test his mettle. His botching of the Cohen hit did not prevent him from rising within the organization. Brooklier became boss of the crime family in the mid-1970s. His poor handling of the organization and hostility toward Fratianno helped convince Fratianno to cooperate with the FBI. Brooklier died in federal custody in 1984.

Mickey Cohen, Dragna's longtime nemesis and longtime target, died of natural causes in the summer of 1976.

Sources:
  • "Jury investigating Cohen case summons four more witnesses," Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Bowron asks grand jury action in police scandal," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen jailed, officers get suspensions," San Bernardino County CA Sun, March 23, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen to appear at grand jury's inquiry," Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Two Mickey Cohen pals arrested in Phoenix home," Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Attorney halted booking of Cohen gang, jury told," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Jury investigating Cohen case summons four more witnesses," Los Angeles Times, March 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Mickey Cohen, three police officers and nine others indicted in conspiracy," Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Last two Cohen men surrender in beating case," Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1949, p. 23.
  • "Cohen and 12 others to go on trial June 27," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1949, p. 2.
  • "New search starts for Allen records," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Court postpones Mickey Cohen and henchmen's trial," Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1949, p. 6.
  • "Bowron vows all-out inquiry of police graft," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1949, p. 2.
  • "Howser assigns officer to protect Mickey Cohen," Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Gang guns wound Cohen and 3 aides," Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Circumstances aid escape of gunmen," Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1949, p. 6.
  • "Mickey Cohen, henchmen blasted in gang warfare," Santa Rosa CA Press Democrat, July 21, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Cohen lets it slip, he knows assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Angry Cohen refuses to tell who shot him," Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Control of race information seen as Cohen attack motive," Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Sheriff acts to bar gangs from strip," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Cohen fails to fly east as planned," Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Former Cohen rival quizzed in shooting," Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1949, p. 1.
  • "Explosion near home upsets Mickey Cohen," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 3, 1949, p. 2.
  • Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno, New York: Times Books, 1981, 36-37.
  • Feather, Bill, "Los Angeles membership chart 1920-50's," Mafia Membership Charts, Nov. 7, 2017. 
  • Murphy, Kim, "The godfather's son," Los Angeles Times Magazine, Sept. 17, 1989, p. 14.

18 July 2018

Mafia infiltrates Federal Bureau of Investigation

On this date in 1975...

Camden Courier-Post
Former FBI office clerk Irene Kuczynski on July 18, 1975, admitted in federal court to photocopying secret Bureau investigation files and providing the copies to New Jersey underworld figure John DiGilio.

Mrs. Kuczynski, twenty-two, and her husband George, twenty-four, testified as the first prosecution witnesses in the Newark, New Jersey, federal trial of DiGilio and three other men. (The case initially involved several other co-defendants.)

DiGilio
Mr. Kuczynski testified that he was approached in 1971 by defendant Peter Szwandrak of Bayonne, New Jersey, who worked with him at Western Electric in the Newark suburb of Kearny. Szwandrak knew that Mrs. Kuczynski, then eighteen, was a member of the stenographic pool at the FBI's Newark offices and asked if she could obtain copies of information the FBI had assembled on DiGilio's criminal activities. Szwandrak promised "there'd be money in it" for the young married couple if they assisted DiGilio.

Refusing at first to take part in the plot, Mrs. Kuczynski only agreed after suffering several beatings at the hands of her husband. She then made photocopies of parts of DiGilio's file several times between fall of 1971 and spring of 1972. She hid the copies and smuggled them out of the office.

"I would put them in my purse and sometimes I would put them in a knitting bad and other times I would put them in my girdle to take them out," she stated.

Asked her reason for participating in the scheme, Mrs. Kuczynski first responded, "Because I loved my husband very much and I didn't want to lose him in any way." She then recalled her initial hesitation and revealed, "George beat me up black and blue numerous times."

After receiving the copied pages, Mr. Kuczynski delivered them to DiGilio or to DiGilio's co-defendants. He stated that he met with DiGilio in a back room of the Italian American Civil Rights Club in Bayonne. DiGilio provided payments between $20 and $200 for the papers. "Some of them were good, and some of them he didn't like and he wanted better stuff," Mr. Kuczynski explained when questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Robertson.

Mr. Kuczynski found it profitable to turn the documents over a few pages at a time. He told the court that DiGilio provided him "an extra $200 as a Christmas bonus."

At the time the reports were stolen, the FBI was investigating DiGilio's role in loan sharking and extortion rackets in New Jersey and New York City. Federal authorities identified DiGilio as an important member of the Genovese Crime Family. Some of the stolen documents were transcriptions from FBI electronic surveillance. In addition, documents included the names of four underworld informants.

The Kuczynskis were charged for their part in the document theft in 1974, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against DiGilio. The government held them in protective custody.

DiGilio, a forty-two-year-old resident of Paramus, was brought to trial for aiding and abetting the document theft. His co-defendants were Bayonne residents Szwandrak, Harry Lupo and John Grillo.

Before the trial began, the defense team argued that DiGilio was not mentally competent to stand trial due to brain damage suffered during a twelve-year boxing career. After hearing competing testimony from expert witnesses, federal Judge H. Curtis Meanor pronounced DiGilio competent in June. Just as trial was scheduled to open, DiGilio won a short postponement because of injuries he claimed he suffered in an automobile accident. The only witnesses to the accident were three DiGilio associates who had only hazy recollections of it. (DiGilio had a history of conveniently timed but unverifiable health problems. Once he collapsed during a trial and claimed to be suffering from a heart ailment. Doctors found his heart to be healthy. For an earlier trial, DiGilio appeared at the defense table in a wheelchair.)

A few days after the Kuczynskis testified, DiGilio defense counsel called witnesses who stated that George Kuczynski came up with the document theft plan on his own as a money-making scheme and offered documents to a number of Bayonne-area individuals investigated by the FBI.

During the trial, a large number of "burly supporters of DiGilio" took seats in the courtroom gallery. During recesses, these spectators lined up in the hallway to give DiGilio a friendly slap on the back and wish him luck. One of the well-wishers, according to New Jersey press reports, was former Middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano. (Graziano and other boxers attended a DiGilio trial in 1987 as well.)

Asbury Park Press
A number of DiGilio's boxing pals came out to show 

support during a 1987 trial. They included Rocco 
Graziano, Joe Frazier and Jake LaMotta.


The trial jury deliberated for nine hours on July 30 before finding DiGilio, Lupo and Szwandrak guilty. Defendant Grillo was acquitted.

In September, Judge Meanor sentenced DiGilio to nine years in prison (one year less than the maximum sentence) and a $10,000 fine. Szwandrak and Lupo were sentenced to six months behind bars.

For their part in the document theft, the Kuczynskis were given five-year suspended sentences in mid-February of 1976. They were assigned new identities and relocated through the witness protection program.

DiGilio remained free pending his appeal. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia the following summer trimmed about eight years from his sentence.

DiGilio's troubles with the law continued for about another decade. Through that time, he became a liability to Mafia higher-ups. In late May of 1988, his lifeless body was found floating in the Hackensack River near Carlstadt, New Jersey.

The final years of John DiGilio's life are discussed in "Death of 'Benny Eggs' severs link to Genovese Family's foundation," on The American Mafia history website.

Sources:
  • "DiGilio is ruled sane after secret hearing," New York Daily News, June 20, 1975, p. 82.
  • "DiGilio too hurt to stand trial?" Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 15, 1975, p. 24.
  • "Ex-FBI typist sold data to an alleged mobster," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 19, 1975, p. 30.
  • "Typist admits copying FBI data on DiGilio," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 19, 1975, p. 3.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Ex-FBI clerk tells of smuggling out reports for Mob," New York Daily News, July 19, 1975, p. 5.
  • "DiGilio lawyers vilify accuser," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 25, 1975, p. 2.
  • Wechsler, Philip, "Witness is called 'liar all his life' in FBI file trial," New York Daily News, New Jersey Edition, July 25, 1975, p. 7
  • "Rival lawyers assail DiGilio defendants, witnesses," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 30, 1975, p. 13.
  • "DiGilio, 2 men guilty," Asbury Park NJ Press, July 31, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Mobster convicted in FBI case," Camden NJ Courier-Post, July 31, 1975, p. 31.
  • "DiGilio out on bail during his appeal," Camden NJ Courier-Post, Sept. 13, 1975, p. 3.
  • "Secrecy protects thieves," Asbury Park NJ Press, Feb. 24, 1976, p. 24.
  • "Sentence sliced," Elmira NY Star-Gazette, June 12, 1976, p. 7.
  • "Body of a reputed mobster is found in a bag in river," New York Times, May 27, 1988, p. 19.

10 July 2018

KC's Lazia is gunned down at his home

On this date in 1934...

Sedalia Democrat
Two gunmen fatally shot John Lazia, underworld-connected political boss of Kansas City's north side "Little Italy," July 10, 1934, as he stepped out of a car in front of his apartment building.

Lazia and his wife had spent the evening of Monday, July 9, with their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carrollo, in the Lake Lotawana area, where the Lazias had a summer home. They returned to Kansas City in the early morning hours of July 10 in an automobile driven by Carrollo. Mrs. Lazia was seated in the front, beside Carrollo, while Lazia and Carollo's wife sat in the rear.

They pulled into the semi-circular driveway of the Park Central apartment building, 300 East Armour Boulevard, where the Lazias lived. When the car stopped under the building's front entrance canopy, John Lazia emerged from a rear seat and began to open the front door to help his wife from the car. At that moment, two gunmen opened fire on Lazia with a machine gun and a shotgun.

Mrs. Lazia
As Lazia fell wounded, he called out, "I'm shot. Get Marie out of here. Step on it, Charlie!"

Carrollo did as he was instructed. The gunmen advanced and fired more shots into Lazia's body. They then ran off into an alley beside the apartment building, climbed into a waiting automobile and escaped.

Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital (then about two miles away on East Linwood Boulevard). Doctors tended to his wounds - he had been struck by slugs in his chest, shoulder, head, back and arms - and administered three blood transfusions. They were unable to save Lazia. He died at the hospital at just after two o'clock that afternoon.

Lazia claimed not to know who shot him. In his final moments, he told Dr. D.M. Nigro, "I don't know why they did it. I'm a friend to everybody. I don't know why they did this to me."

Newspapers noted that Lazia was an important lieutenant in the political machine of Kansas City Democratic boss Thomas J. Pendergast. It was said that Lazia personally controlled 30,000 votes in the city. The killing brought considerable negative attention to the Pendergast machine. It was the second time that Lazia had damaged the organization. The machine's connections to the region's underworld had been exposed through Lazia's trial for income tax evasion five months earlier. At the time he was murdered, Lazia was free on bond awaiting an appeal of failure to file convictions that resulted in a one-year prison sentence, five years' probation and a fine.

St. Louis Star and Times shows location of victim and gunmen

Investigation goes nowhere

Otto P. Higgins, director of the local police force, took personal charge of the Lazia murder investigation. Joe Lusco, a north side political rival of Lazia, was immediately brought in for questioning. Police also rounded up more than twenty of Lusco's followers.

Lusco
Lusco was reputed to be part of Casmir Welch's political organization, which battled the Pendergast machine. A feud between the Lusco and Lazia factions had already claimed a number of lives, including that of Ferris Anthon, believed killed by Lazia-affiliated gunmen in the summer of 1933.

Lusco, however, insisted that any problems he ever had with Lazia had been resolved long ago. Lusco told investigators that he and Lazia were the closest of friends. Without evidence against the rival faction, police were forced to release Lusco and his men.

There was some suspicion that Lazia was targeted due to the arrests of two men for the killing of bank messenger Webster Kemner during a robbery earlier in the year. Sam DeCaro and Charles Taibi were charged with the Kemner killing. DeCaro was quickly tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Taibi was awaiting trial at the time of Lazia's murder. There were rumors that Lazia provided information to police that linked DeCaro and Taibi to the slaying of Kemner.

Lazia
Eventually, the local authorities suggested that Lazia was killed by gangsters from outside the region. Lazia, they claimed, had enraged distant gang bosses by refusing to allow their men to operate within the Kansas City area.

In the fall of 1934, federal agents found interesting connections between the killing of John Lazia and the Union Station Massacre in Kansas City a year earlier. Kansas City gangster James LaCapra told authorities that Lazia aided gangsters "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Adam Richetti and Verne Miller in their failed but bloody attempt to free Frank Nash from federal custody. Agents also discovered that markings on machine gun bullets used in the massacre were a match for bullets recovered at the scene of Lazia's murder, suggesting that the same machine gun was used in both incidents. Authorities felt this was an indication that Lazia was killed by former allies rather than by known enemies.

Stand-up guy?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Police and press seemed not to consider that Lazia's recent income tax case had anything to do with his killing, though testimony in that case revealed to press, police and public the connections between political bosses and underworld bosses, the amount of money generated through local gambling rackets and the specific amounts that had been paid to county law enforcement personnel to ensure protection of those rackets. In fighting the government's case, Lazia went to the witness stand, named business partners and described financial transactions. And his fight did not end with his conviction.

When the jury returned a generous verdict, finding him guilty only of misdemeanor failing to file returns for two years and acquitting him of felony tax evasion, Lazia did not act in the way expected of a "stand-up guy." He went to the press and stated, "I'm a victim of prejudice. I feel I've been convicted on charges that never would have been placed against most businessmen."

Though a federal judge in spring 1934 overruled a request for a new trial, Lazia pressed ahead with an appeal, further increasing the exposure of his underworld colleagues. One month before his murder, Lazia learned that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Omaha, Nebraska, would hear his appeal in October.

Saying goodbye

Lazia's remains were placed in a casket reportedly valued at $5,000. Some sources described the casket as silver-plated bronze, others as silver-lined copper. A wake was held at the home of Lazia's sister, and an estimated 10,000 people visited through the night.

St. Louis Star and Times shows funeral procession
On the morning of July 13, about 1,000 people were still crowded around the sister's home as the funeral procession to Holy Rosary Church commenced. More thousands lined the route to the church. Thomas J. Pendergast participated in the sendoff, along with former north side political boss Michael Ross and City Manager H.F. McElroy. The procession included 120 cars and was followed by four trucks filled with floral offerings.

Lazia
The most noteworthy floral piece was a large wheel and axle with an obviously missing second wheel. That was sent by Pendergast. Newspapers called attention to the fact that flowers had been sent from individuals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and other U.S. cities. Even Joe Lusco sent flowers.

Following the funeral Mass, Lazia's remains were taken to St. Mary's Cemetery to be buried next to the graves of his father and mother.

Though John Lazia was dead and buried, the U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue was not quite done with him. About a week after the funeral, Collector of Internal Revenue Dan M. Nee filed a lien of $62,280.01 against the Lazia estate, including property owned by Lazia's widow. The government argued that Lazia failed to pay $48,847.76 in owed taxes for the years 1927 through 1930 and also owed interest and fines totaling $13,432.25.

Sources:
  • "John Lazia, Kansas City politician, goes to trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 5, 1934, p. 4.
  • "Gambling den 'fixing' bared in Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 6, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Says protection of Lazia's resort cost $500 a week," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 7, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Maze of tax data piled up at Lazia trial," St. Louis Star and Times, Feb. 8, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia deposits put at $153,871 for two years," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 9, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia had money; was it taxable? Is issue at trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 10, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Move by Lazia's lawyers to halt tax evasion trial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11, 1934, p. 16.
  • "Lazias lived on $150 a month, wife testifies," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Prosecutor asks for 'horse sense" in Lazia verdict," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 13, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia convicted on two counts in income tax case," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is guilty on two charges," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 14, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Lazia is sentenced by Judge Otis," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 7.
  • "John Lazia gets year in jail on U.S. tax charge," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 28, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A new trial for Lazia is probable," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 9, 1934, p. 6.
  • "Lazia hearing Saturday," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, April 10, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia denied retrial," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 14, 1934, p. 2.
  • "Lazia appeal will be argued in Omaha," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, June 1, 1934, p. 2.
  • "John Lazia dies after being shot by two gunmen," Sedalia MO Democrat, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "John Lazia shot down by 2 unidentified gunmen today," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Machine-gunners shoot John Lazia, Pendergast's aid," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 10, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Politicians are dazed by death of Johnny Lazia," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 3.
  • "A Chillicothe young man to aid of wounded man," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 11, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Great throng files past John Lazia bier," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12, 1934, p. 3.
  • "Italians honor Lazia, lies in $5,000 casket," Jefferson City MO Post-Tribune, July 12, 1934, p. 10.
  • "The Lazia funeral to cost $40,000," Chillicothe MO Constitution-Tribune, July 12, 1923, p. 1.
  • "Thousands line funeral route of John Lazia," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 13, 1934, p. 1.
  • "Government files $62,280 lien on John Lazia estate," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 21, 1934, p. 3B.
  • "John Lazia linked with massacre of 5 at Kansas City," St. Louis Star and Times, Oct. 11, 1934, p. 3.

02 July 2018

July 1958: Profaci infuriates McClellan Committee

On this date in 1958...

Profaci
New York City-based Mafia boss Joseph Profaci, accompanied by attorney Samuel Paige, appeared July 2, 1958, before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee). Conflict between the committee and the underworld-boss witness was evident from the opening seconds of the testimony.
Chairman John L. McClellan:   State your name, your place of residence, and your business or occupation.
Joseph Profaci:   Joseph Profaci, 8863 Fifteenth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
Chairman:   What is your business or occupation, please?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground it might be incriminating me.
Chairman:   You what?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground...
Chairman:   I don't think you better use the word "refuse." I think that shows disrespect for your government. Do you want to place yourself in that attitude?
Profaci:   I am sorry.
Chairman:   I would use the word "decline." [1]
Senator Irving McNeil Ives, committee vice chairman, got involved in this conversation, and it was established that Profaci was reading his refusal to answer from a piece of paper provided by his attorney. Profaci said he misread the paper, on which was written, "I respectfully refuse..." Following that explanation, Ives suggested to Profaci and attorney Paige that "decline" would be a more appropriate term than "refuse."

The committee then attempted to move back to the issue of Profaci's business but instantly found itself back where it started.
Chairman: Do I understand that you are stating to this committee that if you answered the question as to what is your business or occupation, that a truthful answer to that question might tend to incriminate you?
Profaci: I refuse to answer...
Senator Ives: I wish you would stop using that word "refuse."
Profaci: I decline to answer. I am sorry.

Senator McClellan ordered Profaci to answer whether a truthful explanation of his line of work could be incriminating to Profaci. Profaci attempted to decline again. The chairman pointed out that it could not possibly be incriminating to answer whether he believed another answer would be incriminating. Profaci yielded to that logic and answered, "Yes, I believe" that stating his business would be incriminating. [2]

Though committee members made an issue of Profaci's refusal to answer this rather superficial question, it was hardly surprising. The previous day, reputed Mafiosi James V. LaDuca, Rosario Mancuso and Louis A. Larasso cited the Fifth Amendment in their refusals to answer all manner of questions.[3]

Robert Kennedy
The committee already had an idea of Profaci's business. A summary provided by Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy's investigative staff as the Mafia hearings opened described Profaci: "At Apalachin meeting. Owner of Carmela Mia Packing Co. Number of arrests in Italy and United States. An old-time, well established gangster." [4]

McClellan conferred with counsel Kennedy about whether Profaci was under indictment. "I don't believe he is," Kennedy responded. McClellan attempted to find out by asking Profaci, but received only "I decline to answer on the ground it may be incriminating to me" from the witness.

The chairman turned questioning over to the chief counsel. Kennedy attempted to open things up on a friendly basis. That didn't last long.
Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, we had a talk yesterday, a nice conversation; did we not? Didn't we have a little talk in the office?
Profaci: I decline to answer.
Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, your English was so much better yesterday. What has happened in the last twenty-four hours?
Profaci: I don't catch your words right.
Kennedy: You don't?
Profaci: I don't catch you.
Kennedy: You caught it awfully well yesterday, Mr. Profaci. You spoke very good and you understood everything I said.
Profaci: If you will be patient, I will catch it.
Kennedy: I don't have to be. Yesterday you spoke very freely and easily. Your accent has gotten so bad today. What happened overnight, Mr. Profaci? You understood and answered all the questions I asked you yesterday, and you spoke very easily, with very little accent. What has happened since?
Profaci: I don't catch the words right when you use big words.[5]

Profaci subsequently revealed that he was born in Palermo and became an American citizen. He hesitated to discuss his birth date, his arrival in the U.S. and his naturalization. He declined to answer questions about his early days in Chicago, visit to Joseph Barbara's home at Apalachin, family connections to the Toccos and Zerillis of Detroit, links to union officials and other associates, import/export businesses and investments in clothing manufacturing firms. When Detective Thomas O'Brien came forward to outline Profaci's arrest record in Italy and the United States, Profaci refused to confirm any aspect of the record. [6]

O'Brien and Kennedy stated that Profaci had been arrested at an apparent Mafia convention in Cleveland on December 5, 1928. Profaci would not discuss it. Vice Chairman Ives took the opportunity to ask a direct question.
Ives: May I interrupt? I would like to ask him: Are you a member of the Mafia?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it might be incriminating.
Ives: ...Are you a member or aren't you?
Profaci: No; I decline to answer. No, sir.
Ives: You are not?
Profaci: No, sir.
Ives: You are under oath, you know?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may tend to incriminate me.[7]

Senator McClellan (left), Robert Kennedy (right).
Senator Mundt drew the committee's attention to correspondence from Attorney General William P. Rogers that indicated Profaci might be subject to deportation proceedings. That was generally acknowledged as a possible motivation for Profaci's refusal to answer the questions put to him. [8] Chairman McClellan attempted to resolve the issue, but probably should have known better.
Chairman: Would you like to advise us whether deportation proceedings are now pending against you or not?
Profaci: (Conferred for a time with his attorney.) I don't get you, Senator, excuse me. I am sorry.
Chairman: Let me see if I can get it to you so you will get it. Has any action been started to deport you? You know what "deport" means, don't you?
Profaci: Yes, sir.
Chairman: You know what that means?
Profaci: Yes.
Chairman: Is the government now attempting to deport you from this country?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may incriminate me.[9]

That was all McClellan could take. In halting the questioning of Profaci, he called for a transcript of the testimony to be sent to the Department of Justice to aid in the denaturalization and deportation of Profaci: 
We should rid the country of characters who come here from other lands and take advantage of the great freedom and opportunity our country affords, who come here to exploit these advantages with criminal activities. They do not belong to our land, and they ought to be sent somewhere else. In my book, they are human parasites on society, and they violate every law of decency and humanity.... [10]
When he opened the committee's Mafia-related hearings on June 30, Chairman McClellan stated, "There exists in America today what appears to be a close-knit, clandestine, criminal syndicate. This group has made fortunes in the illegal liquor traffic during Prohibition, and later in narcotics, vice and gambling. These illicit profits present the syndicate with a financial problem, which they solve through investment in legitimate business. These legitimate businesses also provide convenient cover for their continued illegal activities...

"In these hearings, and the ones to follow, we are going to call in some of the leading figures in the national criminal hierarchy. These people are all involved in legitimate enterprises, management and labor... As a starting point for our hearings, we intend to focus on the criminal group which held a meeting at the home of Joseph Mario Barbara, Sr., in Apalachin, N.Y., on November 14, 1957. The discovery of this meeting by the New York State Police had the effect of revealing the scope of the interrelationships of some of the leaders of the national crime syndicate..."[11]

Notes:
  1.  Hearings before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee), Part 32 - "Mafia," 85th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958, p. 12337-12338.
  2.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12338.
  3.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12231-12321.
  4.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12199.
  5.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339
  6.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339-12349, 12351-12353.
  7.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12346.
  8.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12353-12357.
  9.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  10.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  11.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12192-12193.